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Baseball Seventy years on, fans still gather at the grave of the Bambino

Items left by visitors decorate the grave of George Herman (Babe) Ruth and Claire Ruth at the Gates of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., on Aug. 15, 2018. Seventy years after Babe Ruth’s death, fans still flock to his grave with tributes: baseballs, bats, beer and more.

Seth Wenig/The Associated Press

Amid the serene graves at Gate of Heaven Cemetery sits the one where visitors leave baseballs and bats instead of bouquets – tributes to a baseball superstar who still outshines others seven decades after his death.

It’s the resting place of Babe Ruth, the indelible slugger and larger-than-life personality who died on Aug. 16, 1948.

Considered by many to be the greatest player in baseball history, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees legend set home-run records – 60 in one season, 714 in his career – that stood for decades, and he remains one of the sport’s defining figures. If someone knows one name in baseball, it’s likely his: the Sultan of Swat, the Bambino, the Babe or, officially, George Herman (Babe) Ruth.

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Ruth began as a left-handed pitcher and became a slugging outfielder, playing for 22 major-league seasons before retiring in 1935. In his prime, he would hit more home runs personally than some entire teams would and he was known for his flair on and off the field. Former U.S. president George H.W. Bush once wrote that although he got to attend many enjoyable events as president and vice-president, meeting Ruth at Yale University while Bush was a student and baseball team captain there “topped them all.”

After Ruth died of throat cancer at the age of 53, tens of thousands of fans came to pay respects as his body lay in state for two days at the original Yankee Stadium, dubbed the House That Ruth Built. People jammed the streets around St. Patrick’s Cathedral during his funeral.

At his grave at the suburban cemetery owned by St. Patrick’s trustees, visitors over the years have left countless bats, balls, caps and T-shirts, as well as beer, whisky, cigars, hot dogs and once even an entire sausage-pepper-and-onion pizza to honour a man known for his prodigious appetites, field superintendent John Garro said.

Another time, he said, someone asked – unsuccessfully – to sleep over in the cemetery in the run-up to Boston’s 2004 World Series win. It ended an 86-year drought fans called “the curse of the Bambino,” supposedly cast upon the Red Sox for sending Ruth to the Yankees. The grave was so heavily visited during Boston’s 2004 World Series run that two cemetery workers were assigned specifically to watch over it, Garro said.

The tributes continue to proliferate quickly enough that workers tidy up every other week and do a more thorough clear-out every couple of months.

Still, “we like to keep some stuff there,” Garro said, “because it keeps the whole thing going.”

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