The story of one of the greatest baseball exhibitions ever played is being told by a Northern Westchester filmmaker who will screen a documentary depicting the tale of Babe Ruth’s game at Sing Sing prison.
On Sept. 5, 1929, the New York Yankee legend and his pinstriped-teammates traveled to the prison for an exhibition against the inmate team, which included some of the most hardened and dangerous criminals in America.
Local filmmaker Jim Ormond is debuting “Babe Ruth at Sing Sing,” his new documentary about the classic 1929 game, which will debut during a special presentation at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11 at the Mount Kisco Public Library.
Ormond said that “focusing on the back-story, this documentary looks at the game through the lens of social history, examining the events in major league baseball, and the American prison system, which led up to the Sing Sing game, where the Great Bambino hit a fastball so hard that it cleared the prison's 40-foot walls, earning the blast the name of "Babe's longest home run ever."
The documentary, “Babe Ruth at Sing Sing,” weaves between the careers of Babe Ruth and Lewis Lawes, who as warden of Sing Sing, was dubbed “America’s Warden.”
According to Ormond, viewers got a look through the eyes of Ruth and Lawes to see how introducing baseball to the prisons was part of the progressive prison reform movement, which sought to move away from 19th Century ideas of crime and punishment.
"This documentary focuses heavily on Lewis Lawes, who was warden of Sing Sing during the 1920s and 1930s and was a quasi-celebrity. Lawes had a popular radio show, wrote Broadway plays, and was on the cover of Time magazine," he said. "Lawes tried to forge a bond of trust with the inmates. When his wife died unexpectedly, he allowed hundreds of inmates to leave the grounds of Sing Sing to attend the funeral. They all voluntarily checked back into Sing Sing afterward."
“The 1920s marked the ‘Golden Age of Baseball. It was also a violent decade - which saw a steep rise in crime, incarceration and a public focus on ‘law and order.'"
The author noted that there is a committee working to create a prison museum at Sing Sing, and "whenever plans for the museum were mentioned in news articles and people discussed noteworthy historical events at Sing Sing, the fact that Babe Ruth and the Yankees played a game there in 1929 always came up."
"I did a little research and saw that the bat Babe used in the Sing Sing game went for $130,000 at auction in 2011," Ormond added. "I realized major league teams played a lot of exhibition games in the 1920s and 1930s, as a way to bring baseball directly to the people. Some games were for players to earn extra income - the average major leaguer during the era only made about $40,000 in today's dollars - so extra income was always welcome. Other games were for civic purposes."
Those interested in seeing “Babe Ruth at Sing Sing” can do so at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11 at the Mount Kisco Public Library.
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