Musings from the sports desk McAtee and the Babe
Long-time Jefferson resident served as fill-in bat boy for the Great Bambino
By BRANDON HURLEY
Whew, what an incredily, adrenaline-deying World Series game we all witnessed last night.
As it kicks into high gear, the most legendary baseball player of all time, Babe Ruth, is never far from conversation.
Not many people, I’m assuming here, of course, can lay claim to the fact they served as the great Sultan of Swat’s bat boy.
A well-known local and businessman certainly can.
Dean McAtee, a long-time Jefferson resident, held one of the most prestigious positions in baseball as a young boy - for a day.
Ruth, the most synonymous name with baseball greats made an appearance in Adel in 1941.
Though McAtee doesn’t remember talking to the man who was rumored to fuel his baseball career with hot dogs and beer – remember, he was only eight – he knows for certain he was the one-time bat boy for MLB legend and former home run king, Babe Ruth.
The man with 714 home runs, the original big stick, with a career batting average of .342 and a staggering OPS of 1.164 graced the humble earth of central Iowa in the early 40s for a celebrity home run derby.
Any way you slice it, Ruth’s statistics are still eye-popping, even 80 years later.
Ruth’s last full major league season was in 1936, at the age of 40. He blasted just six bombs in 28 games and batted a mere .181. He produced one of the best seasons in Major League history in 1927 when he launched 60 home runs, knocked in 153 runners and batted an astonishing .356 with an OPS of 1.258. If anyone produced those numbers in today’s climate, they’d immediately be crowned a Hall-of-Famer or tarnished with the usual steroids claim. But not the great Ruth. Nope, he didn’t know the first thing about steroids – and ironically, health – as he paraded around town with an unhealthy thirst for food, alcohol and women.
By the time he made it to Iowa for the showcase, he was 45 and well past his prime. But he still put on a show for the fans. He was part of a touring group that would hit baseballs at targets, showing off their hitting prowess, blasting home runs as well.
McAtee doesn’t remember much of that delightful evening – he wishes he could recall if he spoke to the Great Bambino or not – but it triggered a curiosity within that he didn’t let fade.
The successful businessman and avid sports fan researched more of Babe Ruth after he made his appearance in Adel. The thing that stood out to the long-time Jefferson resident most was how great of a pitcher he used to be. Though he was too young to remember, or even watch the Babe in his hey-day, he marveled in his popularity.
“I knew he was quite the deal back then,” McAtee said. “But I didn’t know he pitched so well.”
The Babe compiled a career pitching record of 94-46 with a 2.28 ERA, to go with 107 complete games (!!!! what? For comparison to today, there were only 59 total complete games in 2017 - think about that. ) and 488 strikeouts.
McAtee is a baseball lifer, and can you blame him when semi-professional baseball games in Des Moines were a mere 25 cents? He’d hitch hike his way down to the bus stop in Des Moines.
“I liked baseball because I felt comfortable playing it,” he said. “There’s no real pressure and there’s a lot of companionship. About anyone can play baseball. We had a lot of fun, it always was.”
McAtee played pitcher and shortstop for the Adel American Legion team back in high school. They were darn good too, placing third in the state one year.
His favorite professional player as a kid was the legendary Ernie Banks, and later became Stan Hack, a little remembered Chicago Cubs player.
McAtee is a Cubs and Bears fan, he calls himself a double loser.
“I’m an automatic loser rooting for those two teams,” he said.
The history of baseball stuck with McAtee as he aged, often latching onto the magnificent careers or Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Stan Musial. When Feller had his baseball museum in Adel, McAtee would make frequent visits, mingling with a few of the all-time greats.
Perhaps the run in with the Sultan of Swat got the ball rolling on his love for rehashing memories with the greats.
I, for one, think it’s pretty cool that someone locally was a bat boy for the Babe. It’d be like a local second-grader today throwing footballs with Tom Brady or rebounding for LeBron James. Of course, you don’t really see legends making odd retirement tours these days, either, especially not to a small town like Adel. It was a different time then, and boy, would it be cool to see some of the greats of today make an appearance in a small Midwestern town.
What a neat moment that must’ve been for McAtee and central Iowa some 70 years ago.