I meet with the old woman at the nursing home in South Boston. We sit on the porch with a view of Boston Harbor. I do not want to be here, but she has pestered me so often with her letters, saying she has important sports news. I have no idea what this news could be.
"Ms. O'Moynihan..." I say.
"Call me Bubbles," she says. "That was my stage name. I've kept it."
Bubbles says that she is 90 years old, that she used to be a dancer. As a girl she lived on D Street, not five blocks from where we are sitting, but she moved to New York when she was 17. On her own. That was where she says she met Harry Frazee. "You know of Harry Frazee?" she asks.
October 15, 1991
"Certainly," I say. "The famous former owner of the Boston Red Sox. Every schoolchild in New England has heard of Harry Frazee. You actually knew him?"
"Knew him? Ha! I saved him."
Her story—so ludicrous I hesitate to repeat it here—is that she was, for a short time, Harry Frazee's mistress. She says that back in 1919, Frazee was going to sell Babe Ruth—to the New York Yankees, of all people. She says she changed his mind.
Frazee, according to Bubbles, was losing money on a number of ventures, notably the Red Sox and a string of Broadway plays he had backed. He had fallen for her while she danced in the chorus of one of the plays, and now was planning to make her the star of a new play called No! No! Nanette! He needed cash.
Bubbles claims that Col. Jake Ruppert, owner of the struggling New York Yankees, had offered $125,000 plus an important $300,000 mortgage payment on old Fenway Park for Ruth. Even though the slugger had hit a record 29 home runs in 1919, Frazee figured he could sell Ruth, finance the show and capture Bubbles' heart.
"He was crazy, that Frazee," says Bubbles. "The deal was set to be signed December 26. I guess he forgot I was from Boston. I'd been a Red Sox fan all my life. My father was one of the Royal Rooters. Sell Babe Ruth? I told him I'd rather watch Babe Ruth play baseball for the Sox than be the biggest star on Broadway any day."
"So because of you, he didn't make the deal?" I ask.
"I wouldn't even talk to him until he changed his mind," says Bubbles. "He called me up on Christmas Day and said the deal was dead. Babe Ruth was my Christmas present."
I try not to laugh at the implications of her preposterous tale. The Babe, a Yankee? I have followed the Red Sox since I was a child. I sat in the third deck at Fenway Stadium with my father watching all those great Bosox teams of DiMaggio, then Mantle. I exulted in all the championships they brought to Boston, celebrating into the night in Kenmore Square. I was captured by the lore of the team, by the sad death of Lou Gehrig (Pride of the Red Sox), and by Frank Sullivan's perfect game in the '56 World Series. I remember the day Ted Williams hit his 61st off Tracy Stallard of the Yankees and the day Mike Torrez struck out Bucky Dent to win the pennant. Ask me anything about the Red Sox. I know Whitey Ford's birthday.
Try as I might, I cannot picture Ruth in pinstripes playing for that star-crossed team in the little ballpark in the Bronx. 1 know the Yankees are literary darlings, with their angst and unfulfilled dreams. But I am a man who likes winners. Ruth was the ultimate winner, the cornerstone of the Red Sox dynasty.
"Do you have anything to prove all of this?" I ask Bubbles.
"I don't," she says. "I burned all of Frazee's letters after we broke up."
The part in No! No! Nanette! never developed, she says, and eventually she moved back to Boston. "My health is not great," says Bubbles. "But I find that the Red Sox are a great solace. I listen to the games most nights on my portable radio out here on the porch." She says, alas, it has been a long season. The team is young. The pitching is not great. She somehow expected more.
"You're a sportswriter," she says. "You go over to the Red Sox clubhouse and tell Stump Merrill he has more important things to worry about than Don Mattingly's hair. Would you tell him that for me?"
I say I'll try. It's the least I can do.