by Art Lasky
523,624 people claim that they were there that historic day. The day Babe “the Sultan of Swat” Ruth calmly pointed to center field then hit the next pitch out of the park, exactly where he had pointed. Ask any of them where that was, you’ll 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. Says something about human nature; some people feel the need to claim a piece of history as their own. Ask the same people about his greatest accomplishment, and you’ll get many different answers: greatest home run hitter in history, greatest clutch hitter, greatest slugger, most walks in a season. Sadly, few people know of his greatest sporting accomplishments. I witnessed them and only realized, years later, that I had seen Babe Ruth’s at his greatest.
You see, before the Babe took up the slow-paced boring sport of Baseball, he was a competitor in the one pure sport: competitive eating.
You see, before the Babe took up the slow-paced boring sport of Baseball, he was a competitor in the one pure sport: competitive eating. He never admitted 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. His feats are legendary: 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 tragic end. I first saw Pudgy at the annual Nathans’ 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 was there when he set record after record, never stopping to burp, or even swig water to wash the dogs down. That kind of behavior was for lesser mortals. His fame grew, stretching from the Rockaways to the Bowery and beyond.
He was well in the lead when tragedy struck; with a horrible scream, Pudgy collapsed sobbing on the boardwalk.
Then came the fateful day, April 11, 1913. The Peoples 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. Pudgy was there; as were his two biggest competitors Armand “Le Cheval” De Gaulle, and Morris “Shmaltzy” Lipmann. Pudgy was in superb form, cramming one knish after another down his throat, barely pausing to swallow or breath. He was well in the lead when tragedy struck; with a horrible scream, 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 never regained his form.
Once an athlete always an athlete, though. Roughly a year later, Pudgy disappeared, and Babe Ruth appeared on the baseball scene. While you can’t push one hotdog every six seconds down your throat when your cramming finger’s been injured. In the lesser sport of baseball, you can still deal a 93MPH 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.
Babe’s First Career previously appeared in Drunken Boat, summer 2014.
ART LASKY is a retired computer programmer. After 40 years of writing in COBOL and Assembler he decided to try writing in English; it’s much harder than it looks. He lives in New York City with his wife/muse and regularly visiting grandkids.
Lasky’s had stories published in Third Flat Iron Anthologies, Fall Into Fantasy, The Rabbit Hole, and The Gray Sisters. You can find his work by searching Amazon in science fiction and fantasy for “Art Lasky.” You can contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ARTLASKY.