Babe Ruth home run ball is back at UT after 102 years

It took 102 years, but the home run ball that changed the course of America's pastime is now back at home plate. 

On April 4, 1919, Babe Ruth hit a monstrous home run in Tampa. The Great Bambino was a Red Sox pitcher, working out during spring training, when he smashed a 587-footer from Plant Field.

After news of the gargantuan blast hit the papers, Tampa became known for baseball and Ruth became known for his power – prompting his trade to the Yankees.

"If it hadn't happened, baseball might have been a different sport," said Newman.

It has changed hands a few times since 1919, but this week, it landed right back where it started, now in its final resting spot in the Henry B. Plant Museum.

Nancy Newman, whose husband purchased the ball in the early 2000s, donated it and she got to see the display case for the first time Tuesday afternoon.

Image 1 of 4

Gallery: Babe Ruth home run ball at Henry Plant Museum in Tampa

"I didn't know they could make it look so beautiful," she said. "He would [only] bring it out for friends and family."

The Sultan of Swat signed the ball and handed it to evangelist Billy Sunday, who kept it until Tom Newman, of Tampa cigar factory fame, bought it in the early 2000s.

Dr. Tom Newman

"He had balls worth a lot more," said Newman. "Once he had a friend or family member he trusted to keep it confidential, that's the ball he wanted to show."

Dr. Newman died earlier this year from COVID-19. His entire collection was auctioned – everything but the ball.

Curators at the Plant Museum said they hadn't even wondered if the ball still existed, let alone where it might be. Now, it's part of the collection they're tasked with watching over.

Now that the ball is on display for good, the Newman family hopes it can teach pieces of Tampa and baseball history that might otherwise have been lost.

The last time the ball was on the grounds of the University of Tampa, it was soaring over a field that's long been covered over.

"The whole story takes place on the grounds of the Tampa Bay Hotel," said Lindsay Huban of the Plant Museum. "It was Plant Field where the home run was hit. It was Tampa Bay Hotel where the players were staying."

PREVIOUS: Did Babe Ruth's legendary 1919 Tampa home run really go 587 feet?

The plaque in front of UT's business school says Babe's blast landed 587 feet from home plate. Though there is some dispute among historians that the ball actually went almost 600 feet, those facts mean little today. 

Because now, the whole story – from homer to resting place – can be found in the place the legend was born.

"I think we all feel family pride," said Newman. "It went from the Babe's hands to the Billy Sunday Estate, to his safe for 20 years, and now to the city and Plant Museum."