The Wheeling Memory Project: Joe Gompers Remembers Babe Ruth's Visit to Wheeling
Joe Gompers (99 years old) at Lunch With Books: Local Baseball Legends, April 18, 2023
Transcription from video.
“Ok well, I go back to 1924…I remember at that time baseball was king. Boy, it was great among the kids and all of them had baseball cards and all that stuff. Going out down Market Street when they had the World Series, they had ticker tapes on …coming off the stores and they would have a crowd of people out front, you know. And everybody was just having one heck of a good time. But anyhow, Bauer’s Park or Stogie Park as we knew it at that time wasn’t very far from our home. I lived out on the lower part of McColloch Street right across from the trolley barn. It was very [inaudible] to go over…walk through down across the bridge to the Peninsula and walk up the cemetery …and I can remember watching games from the top of the cemetery [inaudible] my uncle and them would take us over. We had a perfect view. They only problems was mosquitos, they were like B-29s. [laughter] The creek was like a sewer at that time.
But anyhow I have to let you know something about the park. Is everybody familiar with Miller’s place there, you know Miller’s place? [Referring to Miller Transport and Storage at 420 Fulton St, Wheeling, WV 26003] Well if you went down to the National Road and you were heading out like five blocks from the top of the hill, on National Road was the Fulton Bank. It’s the first large building you run into. And right behind Fulton Bank was Fulton School. There was a road that led from National Road right next to Fulton Bank, and strangely enough it was called “Bank Street.”[laughter] But it led from National Road right to the [Wheeling] Creek. Down to the creek was wedged the grandstand between Bank Street and the creek. Of course first basemen…first base came up Bank Street and third base line went up on the creek, followed the creek. Many times we tried to get in, all the time..many times we tried …we tried to steal, tried to go over or we tried to steal into the field, and many times were caught for trying to get over the fence. And I can remember on one occasion the restrooms were simply a series of outhouses behind the third…behind the bleachers and we found one time the …a couple…a couple of the slats on the outhouse were loose, so we climbed through there to get in. [laughter] It wasn’t a pretty picture. And believe me I got hell when I got home. But the worst part about it was we all got in and then darned if there wasn’t a guard there waiting for us. [laughter] But he felt sorry for us and he [inaudible] and he said you can stay and we saw the game that day…
So we heard the Babe was coming to town. You can’t believe what a riot it was! We went out on the trolley and the trolley was packed. I mean it was jammed. And we’re talking about the Depression days, but they always had the money to get in, into a baseball game. But uh, the trolley was jammed. It would stop right in front of the bank and everybody would go and run up Bank Street and try to get in line, to uh, to get a ticket because old Babe was in town. I remember we would uh ask everybody all around, “Hey Babe—hit one over the school or to National Road!” You know. And they would, he would…this was batting practice before the game. Babe would hit that ball and it would go over the school, you know. I don’t know where it landed. [laughs] It might have went to the National Road. And, uh, on one occasion I remember he hit the ball and it went right through one of the windows in that school. He got all the cheers in the world that time! [laughter] But, now Babe … and incidentally, that park was known as one of the best parks in West Virginia at that time. And it was the first, I understand…and I don’t know whether it’s true or not Sean, to have lights…about 1930, 31, best can remember dad saying, it was the first ballpark to see the new lights that the Stogies had. [According to a July 15, 1930 Wheeling Register report, the Stogies beat the Charleroi Governors 8-2 in the “initial night baseball game in the Middle-Atlantic League” at Fulton Park. Register, 07-15-1930, pg. 10. An Intell. report on July 14 called it “the first night baseball game ever played in this section of the country.”4000 people attended and Honus Wagner threw out the first pitch.]
But anyhow, Babe was …he was…his mother died early from what I can tell, as I understand, and I’m told that his father was a bartender and simply couldn’t take care of him. So he asked the Xaverian Brothers if they would kindly look after him and take care of him and they did. And it so happened that the Xaverian Brothers were in charge of Central High School at that time. So when Babe came to Wheeling in 1933 I remember that afternoon – I think it was a night game – and that afternoon, he stopped to see the Xaverian Brothers at Central. Well, when he came in the school, for all intents and purposes, school was out. [laughter] Everybody wanted Babe’s autograph. He was such a gentle, big, a little bear, you know? He never looked like an athlete to me. And I can remember he was so good with the little kids. He came in the grade school and all the little kids were jumping on him, you know. He’d put them on his lap and talk with them. He must have given a million autographs that day [laughs]. Some kids must have got five of them. And I don’t have one. [laughter]. But, I always looked upon him as more Santa Claus than a baseball player. But that was my experience with Babe and I don’t want to take any more of your time Sean…”
Later: “I just would just like to mention one of the owners of baseball in the early years, in the early thirties, and that was Hugh McConkey. Hugh had a little store on the far side of 16th Street, which I considered a strip mall at that time. But anyhow, I remember my dad taking me in there to get an ice cream cone only because he wanted to drink. Every baseball player in the county went to Hugh McConkey’s store. And there would always be activities there…anyway there would always be a load of kids who were always standing on the sidewalk laughing there and doing their thing…”