MyRye.com is working with the Rye Historical Society on Papers from our Past. The Rye Historical Society Archives contains centuries of stories, from everyday life in Rye to significant events in American History.
by Alison Cupp Relyea, Director of Programming and Education for the Rye Historical Society
For the past two spring seasons, the Rye community has missed one of its most cherished traditions: the Little League/Girls Softball Opening Day Parade. While softball and baseball got their start in Rye in the 1930s, an official Little League formed in 1959. The Opening Day Parade dates back to the late 1950s. Rye Girls Softball was founded in the 1970s and soon joined in the parade tradition.
Despite the canceled ceremonies, thanks to the tireless work of our community leaders at Rye Girls Softball, Rye Little League and Rye Recreation, the game goes on. The weather is warming up and the diamonds around town are booked solid with back-to-back games. Weekends in Rye are beginning to look familiar again.
Sunday is Mother’s Day, and with a nod to all the moms who will be coaching or on the sidelines cheering this weekend, here’s the story of a day in youth baseball’s early years when a very special baseball mom visited Rye. Mrs. Babe Ruth, as she is named in the Rye Historical Society Archives record for this photograph, came to Rye in the early 1960s when our newly-formed Little League was officially becoming part of the Babe Ruth League. Children lined up for autographs and to meet the wife of one of the greatest baseball legends of all time.
Mrs. Babe Ruth had a name of her own, Claire Merritt Hodgson Ruth. Behind the scenes of her husband’s record-breaking baseball career, Claire was the manager of everything off the field. She was a dedicated mother to both of their daughters, Julia and Dorothy. Julia was Claire’s daughter from a first marriage and Dorothy was Babe’s daughter, and they joined the families together when they married in 1929. Balancing family life with a career in the spotlight, Claire set expectations for her husband regarding family time and planned his training routine. She managed a busy travel schedule and served as Babe’s informal PR agent while raising two children.
When Babe Ruth died in 1948, Claire Ruth kept his memory alive and continued to shape the world of baseball for decades, traveling all over the country to attend Little League dedications like this one in our town. The Babe Ruth League was founded in Hamilton, New Jersey in 1951, giving structure and creating the foundation for youth baseball that continues today for players ages 12 and up. In Rye and nationwide, Little League and Girls Softball Leagues have expanded to serve a wide range of children starting with t-ball for the very youngest players.
Claire Ruth inspired children of all ages and across genders to embrace the game of baseball, and she modeled the dedication, sportsmanship and leadership we foster in players and coaches today. When she died in 1976, Richard W. Case, the president of Babe Ruth International at the time, described her in saying, “Claire was our first lady of baseball.”