Monday Mascots #1: Little Ray, Babe Ruth’s mascot

4 05 2015

I’ve decided this will be Babe Ruth week here on the Lifetime Topps Project.  Why?  Well, it’s not because today is Star Wars Day!  No, it’s because Wednesday is the 100th anniversary of the first major league home run from the Sultan of Swat.  I’ll be doing 5 “baseball & culture” features this week, and two of them are new features on this blog.

This is the first of those new features under the “baseball & culture” section of my blog.  In addition to two types of “Saturday Suds” themes (beers to drink and places to drink them), I’ve done songs, movies, and later this week will cover my first book.  This is a different theme – I’d like to write about mascots in the game.  And this first one will be a different take from what you’d probably think of as far as “mascots”.  I’ll probably follow-up with the more traditional idea later – the San Diego Chicken would make the most sense.

But to go with the Babe Ruth theme, I Googled “Babe Ruth mascot” to see if he had some kind of affiliation or something.  I was expecting maybe a corporate sponsorship or something.  Instead I found the story of Ray Kelly.

Mascot/Team:   Little Ray (New York Yankees, 1921-1930)

Little Ray Babe Ruth Mascot

Background:   Babe Ruth was always known for being great with kids.  Beside the fact that he was the most transcendent athlete in the history of American sports, he was known for being great with his younger fans.  Ruth was never known as the most mature guy out there, and when he became famous at a young age, it’s likely that he felt far more comfortable with a pack of 10-year old kids than he was with the elite circle of Harry Frazee or Jacob Ruppert.  Being raised for the most part at the St. Mary’s School for the Boys in Baltimore, he was credited for wanting to give back.

In 1921, Ruth was in his second year with the Yankees; this was before “The House that Ruth Built”, and the Yankees were renting the Polo Grounds from the Giants.  That year, Ruth saw a father and his young son playing catch at a park near his house, and the ever-friendly Babe joined them.  Babe was so impressed with Ray Kelly, that the next day the 3-year old was at the Polo Grounds for the Yankees game as Ruth’s “official” mascot.  “Little Ray” was there when Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 – the picture above is from the ballpark’s opening.  Kelly kept that role for a decade, until he was 13.  Even after leaving the team to attend school, Kelly and his father did get to attend the 1932 World Series in Chicago as Ruth’s guest.  He maintains to this day that Ruth did in fact call his shot in the third game of the series.

Outside of baseball:   After his Yankee days, Little Ray grew up to serve as an Army sergeant in World War II.  He later graduated from Pace University and worked as an accountant.  My grandfather fought in WWII and I’m an accountant – so I can relate on some level.  Though I was never a professional ballplayer’s mascot :).  Kelly passed away in 2001, 6 years after the baseball world “rediscovered” his story around the celebrations for Ruth’s 100th birthday.  Here’s a little more detail on his story.

Baseball card connection:  There are no baseball cards of “Little Ray”, but you can usually find prints of one of the 4 or 5 photos on eBay at any given time.

Update: I found one in the MegaCards Conlon Collection!  The back of the card details times when Ruth actually switched around and hit from the right side of the plate.

1992 MegaCards Ruth 1923 Ray Kelly

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