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ON HISTORICAL GROUNDS
The Last Homer at Ebbets
By Leo J. Callahan
It wasn't Campy or the Duke who clubbed the last home run in Ebbets Field. It was Red Ruffino, a kid with attitude from Bellerose in Queens.
His given name is Richard, and on that Monday afternoon when the ball left the yard, the storied and once-venerable major league ballpark had been vacant for more than eight months. The cold-hearted departure of the Dodgers from Brooklyn happened in mid-October of 1957, and the sting of it all was still in the air on June 23, 1958, when Ruffino came out of the third base dugout and stepped into the batter's box. He was a right fielder, a high school junior not yet seventeen. On the lineup card that day, he was penciled in fifth in the order, batting a wretched .167. Red knew, though, there was thunder in his bat, if only he could make it obey and meet the ball.
When he dug in, it was the home half of the first inning; the chalk lines were still fresh, two runners were on, and there were two outs. The first two pitches came in like mortar rounds. Each time Red whiffed, the ball exploded into the catcher's mitt. On the third pitch, he made contact. For a brief moment, as the ball climbed into the sun-filled sky over left-center field, the laws of gravity failed. When the ball finally dropped, it rattled around in the empty seats behind the Schaefer Beer and Lucky Strikes signs.
The next day the New York Daily News ran a photo of Red, hatless, in mid stride, his right foot coming down on home plate, surrounded by delirious teammates. It was a golden moment, the stuff of boyhood dreams. The opposing catcher, Frank Fernandez, later to be a New York Yankee, couldn't bear to watch it. The unthinkable had happened: the brazen three-year-old VBs from Martin Van Buren, the newest high school in Queens, had ganged up inside that abandoned baseball shrine and beaten heavily favored Curtis High School of Staten Island, 53, to win the New York City PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) Championship. The VBs haven't won the title since.
Red says the ball traveled 372 feet that day, landing in the tenth row of the bleachers. No one measured the distance, but there's no doubt the ball was crushed and that it left Ebbets Field on the fly. The Daily News, The New York Times, the Herald Tribune, and the World Telegram all reported that it cleared the 351-foot marker with plenty to spare. The New York Post writer marked it at 360 feet; the Long Island Press reporter said it was 365 feet. He also called it a "sky rocket" home run. The Times reporter said it was a homer "of major-league variety."
For everyone in the dugout that day, Ruffino's mighty blow became a twenty-four-carat memory. Even today, the players, all in their mid-sixties, recall with fondness the sweet taste of triumph from that unlikely season of 1958.
To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Winter 2006 issue.
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