A few weeks ago I shared that I was in the middle of writing a book about my father—Wallace Hebert, aka Preacher. He was not a preacher, having acquired the nickname in elementary school soon after his family moved to Lake Charles after the 1918 storm blew away everything they owned.
I’ll be sharing parts of the book as I go along. It’s titled From the Bayou to the Big League and is divided into three parts. Part I. Born on the Bayou. Early Years 1907-1930. Part II. Leaving the Bayou. Baseball Years 1930-1943. Part III. Back to the Bayou. Later Years 1943-1999.
My goals are: first draft finished by end of July. Book ready to sell at Flea Fest in November. That means I need to bear down and try to write every day. It also means I need someone to demand accountability from me. If you see me at Market Basket or the post office or just wandering around somewhere, ask me how many words or how many pages I wrote yesterday.
Many who read this blog have seen some of my dad’s stories. Some of them will be in the book and I have many more to add. I’ll be sharing some of them with my readers as well as sharing my progress. I hope it will cause you to want to know more about the remarkable man who was in my life a long time.
The following piece of writing is the preface to From the Bayou to the Big League.
He collected nicknames like others collect coins or stamps. The Colossus of Clout; The Wazir of Wham; The Maharajah of Mash; The Caliph of Clout; The Mauling Mastodon; The Big Bam; The Bambino. His last name segued into an adjective—”Ruthian” describing performances of epic proportions.
Yankee Stadium was The House that Ruth Built. A rumor floated around that he had a candy bar named for him—a yummy chocolate concoction with a gooey middle full of nuts. He was, of course, George Herman Ruth, Jr., aka Babe. Scourge of American League pitchers and, for a time, American League batters. He was an outstanding left-handed pitcher for eight years until someone decided they needed his bat every game instead of every four or five days.
His early life was inauspicious. By the time he was eight years of age, he had chewed tobacco and drunk whiskey. Listed as incorrigible, he went to live at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a Catholic reform school. While there he was supposed to learn a trade, and the powers that be decided his destiny was to become a shirt maker. However, he proved them wrong when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League in February 1914. It took him less than five months to make it to the major leagues.
While with the Orioles, Ruth picked up his famous nickname. However, no one seems to know who first called him Babe. He made his major league debut with Boston as a starting pitcher at Fenway Park on July 11, 1914, pitching seven innings for the win but going 0 for 2 at bat. His first major league hit was a double at Fenway in October of the same year.
According to a noted journalist of the day, Ruth was the best left-handed American League pitcher of the 1910s. He did quite well pitching for the Red Sox from 1914 to 1919, winning eighty-nine games and losing forty-six. However, the bat was his forte. Even as a pitcher during his last year at Boston he hit twenty-nine home runs and ended the season with a .322 average. By 1931 he was still going strong for the New York Yankees even though he had been knocking baseballs out of the park for eleven years. He was the Home Run King, and hit homerun number 600 against the St. Louis Browns in August of that year.
Back in May of the same year, a tall southpaw for the Browns took the pitcher’s mound in relief. He was greeted by 40,000 screaming Yankee fans in Yankee Stadium. This was the young, dark haired Cajun’s initiation into the major leagues. His first major league pitch resulted in a single that advanced two runners. The next batter strolled to the plate and took his stance. Who stood some sixty feet away smiling and swinging his bat? The Bambino himself.
With the bases loaded the rookie was facing the most dangerous hitter in baseball. What a way to start a major league career. The pitcher tossed Ruth a curve ball and the Sultan of Swat hit into a double play to end the inning. On his way back to the dugout Ruth had some advice for his adversary. “You can put that slow curve right up your ass.”
The Browns went on to win that game, and the young man from Louisiana beat the Yankees three more times that season. In one game he pitched an eight-inning shutout against the World Champion Athletics. In another game against the Yankees he struck Babe Ruth out three times, and in one inning fanned Ruth and Gehrig back to back.
What follows is not a biography of Babe Ruth. It’s the story of my father Wallace “Preacher” Hebert and his journey from the bayous of Louisiana to the merry-go-round of professional baseball in St. Louis, San Diego, and Pittsburgh, and back to the swamps of home—a ninety-two year romp through the Twentieth Century.