Art Lasky

The Great Bambino – His First Career

I found a note folded into my father’s journal. It is of such great interest and importance I feel compelled to relate it to you word for word:

At last count there are 523,624 people who claim that they or their father or grandfather was there that historic day when Babe ‘The Sultan of Swat’ Ruth calmly pointed to center field and promptly hit the next pitch out of the park, exactly where he had pointed. If you ask any of the people which ball park you will get 379,007 Yankee Stadiums, 71,921 Polo Grounds, 24,325 blank looks and most of the rest will give you the right answer: Wrigley Field. I guess there’s something in human nature that wants to attach itself to greatness, even at the expense of reality. Ask those same half million or so people about his greatest accomplishment and you will get loads of different answers: greatest home run hitter in history, greatest clutch hitter, greatest slugger, even a record for most walks in a season.

Sadly, few of these people, few people anywhere for that matter, know of his greatest sporting accomplishment. I was one of the privileged few to have witnessed it, and one of the fewer still to realize, years later, that I had seen Babe Ruth’s greatest achievement. You see, before the Babe took up the slow paced boring sport of baseball he was a competitor in the one true sport: competitive eating.

He never admitted to it, but there is no doubt in my mind that Pudgy Mushmelon (yes, the Pudgy Mushmelon!) was in fact George Herman Ruth Jr., the Babe. I don’t have to tell you of the legendary Pudgy ‘The Stomach’ Mushmelon. We all remember his record of 73 hot dogs in 10 minutes, the mixed double record of 24 double cheeseburgers half American and half Swiss in 10 minutes and of course the tragic end to his young career.

I was there at the beginning, and I was there at the sad end. I first saw Pudgy at the annual Nathan’s hot dog eating contest on Coney Island. I watched as the young fellow calmly crammed 62 hot dogs down his maw to obliterate the competition. I witnessed him set record after record, never stopping to burp, or even swig some water to wash the food down. That kind of behavior was for lesser mortals. His fame grew, stretching from the Rockaways to the Bowery and beyond.

Then came the fateful day, April 11, 1913. The People’s International Gluttony Fest or P.I.G. Fest as it was known. The world’s most prestigious knish eating competition, held at Gabila’s Knishes in Brighton Beach, right on the boardwalk. Pudgy was there, as were his two biggest competitors Armand ‘Le Cheval’ De Gaulle, and Morris ‘Schmaltzy’ Lipmann. Pudgy was in superb form, cramming one knish after another down his throat, barely pausing to swallow or breathe. He was well in the lead when tragedy struck: with a horrible shriek Pudgy collapsed sobbing on the boardwalk. My dreams are still haunted by that fateful scream. He had bitten his cramming finger.

His career was over. In a highly competitive sport like eating, where every competitor is a finely tuned machine; an injury to your cramming finger is a career ender. Pudgy tried for a while, but, he never regained his form.

But, once an athlete, always an athlete. Just about a year a year after the incident Pudgy disappeared, and Babe Ruth appeared on the baseball scene. While you can’t push one hot dog every six seconds down your throat when your cramming finger's been injured, in the lesser sport of baseball you can still deal a 93 mph fastball, and you can still knock them out of the park at will. Look closely at Babe, in most pictures you can see a hint of sadness over true greatness lost.

Art Lasky

Art’s an old guy; who’s been writing in Assembler and COBOL for the last 30 years. He recently decided to try writing in English. It’s not as easy as it looks. He was born in Brooklyn, and currently resides in Manhattan with his wife/muse and occasional visiting grandchildren.