“Tremain Leading Babe Ruth by Safe Margin”

9.26.2021 [archived ~ originally published 8.27.2015]

This headline was on the front page of the Itasca News on September 1, 1927.  It is evident that the editor was caught up in the exhilarating challenge between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig for the home run championship, but who was John Tremain and what did he have on Ruth and Gehrig?

John Tremain

John Tremain (April 1857-December 1929) was a well-known local muskie fisherman.  At the age of seventy-two, he had been catching trophy fish on the lakes of northern Itasca County for nearly thirty years.  He and his family moved from Michigan in the spring of 1903.  By mid-summer his fishing success was recorded in the local papers, where it was noted at least once a season thereafter. 

He was most famous for muskies, and if his name sounds familiar, I did mention him in the May 23, 2021, Reminisce column “Mother-in-law Saved the Fish.”  In that column Tremain is lauded for several typical catches of the fishermen he guided. 

Another newspaper article from early in the 1927 fishing season, describes Tremain’s success. “Shortly after his return from Minneapolis last Sunday, George Herreid yielded to the lure of the fishing rod, and after securing John Tremain, who has been responsible for hooking more Muskies than any other man in Northern Minnesota, went out on Moose Lake in search of the big fellows.

“And John made good again, piloting George right across the path of a fine specimen.  They hooked him early in the evening.  The muskie weighed twenty-four (we had to write it out, “figures won’t lie”) pounds and measured 43 inches in length.  It was much admired by a large number of people here Monday morning.  George is having it mounted.” [Itasca News 6-23-1927]

The Itasca News editor has not yet (publicly anyway) compared Tremain’s fishing prowess with Babe Ruth’s home run record.

Babe Ruth

George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. (February 2, 1895-August 16, 1948) was an American baseball player whose Major League career spanned 22 seasons from 1914 through 1935.  He began his career as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but he achieved his greatest fame as a slugging outfielder for the New York Yankees.  He was one of the first five inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.

Lou Gehrig

Henry Louis Gehrig (June 19, 1903 – June 2, 1941), was an American baseball player who played 17 seasons for the New York Yankees from 1923 through 1939.  In 1939, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and was the first Major League Baseball player to have his uniform number retired.

The Convergence

The September 1, 1927, article in the Itasca News stated, “John says he can get a muskie oftener than Babe Ruth can hit a home run, and just at the present time John has a lead of nine on Babe.” This statement is absolutely true.  On August 31, Babe Ruth hit his forty-third home run against the Boston Red Sox and John Tremain hauled in his fifty-second muskie while guiding for Mr. Freidmann of Chicago. 

Tremain proudly proclaimed that, of his total of 52 muskies, twenty-five of them have been over thirty inches long and two were 48 inches each.  According to the Minnesota DNR, the oldest official record fish for the state was in 1929.  Had trophy fish been documented earlier, no doubt, John Tremain would be listed in a category or two.  As it stands, the record for the largest muskie was caught on Lake Winnibigoshish in Itasca County in 1957.  It was 54 pounds with a length of 56 inches and girth of 27¾ inches.

A month later the season had ended for Babe Ruth, but Tremain has one more fishing excursion.

Congressman Carss and Guide Capture Muskie Laurels ~ Itasca News 10-6-1927

“With the veteran John Tremain as guide, Mr. Carss spent Monday afternoon and Tuesday on Deer Lake in quest of muskies.  They fished from 3:00 to 6:00 Monday afternoon and from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Tuesday.  In this time, they landed five muskies ranging from 34 to 45 inches in length, two Monday and three Tuesday.  The record surpassed any other made here in years and is likely to stand for some time.

“The work of the two days brought John Tremain’s total of muskies for the season up to 64. John says he bests Babe Ruth out by four and started a month after the Babe did.

“Now let Bob Becker and Robert Page Lincoln be fully informed that this IS a muskie region!”

Bob Becker of the Chicago Tribune and Robert Page Lincoln fishing editor of various national sports magazines at different times were sportswriters who were known to have doubted the fishing in Itasca County.

One Summer America 1927, a book writtenby Bill Bryson, was the inspiration for this Reminisce column, and one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time. It is hefty, a 562 pages, but chock full of fascinating information about a forgotten summer when America came of age, took center stage, and changed the world forever.

I have extracted some of the information Bryson has gathered on Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the remarkable season. “Ruth in 1927 was the best paid player in baseball and proud of the fact.  He had a three-year contract at $70,000 a year…On his pay, newsmen calculated, Ruth could buy a new car every week or a new house every month.

“All the fans in all the cities were drawn by the same thing – a chance to see Babe Ruth in the flesh, and ideally to watch him swat a ball into the firmament.  That Ruth was locked in a seesaw battle with the youthful upstart Lou Gehrig for the home run championship brought the kind of excitement that made people crush their hats in distraction.  There had really never been anything like it.  At mid-August, Gehrig – impossibly, unprecedentedly – led Ruth by 38 homeruns to 36.  But Ruth came back with towering clouts in Chicago on August 16 and 17, to draw level.   Gehrig went one up again on August 19, against the White Sox, but Ruth matched that the next day in Cleveland to put them even again at 39. 

“By now people were practically having heart attacks.  On August 22, Babe hit his fortieth, Gehrig tied him two days later.  Ruth hit his forty-first and forty-second on home runs on August 27 and 28, in St. Louis.  Gehrig came back with a three-run shot in St. Louis on August 29.  Two days later, back in New York against the Red Sox, Ruth hit the last home run of the month for either player.  Ruth had 43 home runs and Gehrig had 41.”

I also learned that in 1927, Babe Ruth starred in the movie Babe Comes Home with Anna Q. Nilsson. It was a silent, black and white baseball comedy produced by the First National Film Company. The film is considered a lost film, which means that it “is no longer known to exist in any studio archives, private collections, or public archives.” I did locate a short clip of Babe Ruth’s 60th home run in 1927. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOt0Tmwc2Rk)

Baby Ruth Candy Bar

While researching, I decided to check out the “Baby Ruth” candy bar.  It was not named for Babe Ruth and has a controversy all its own.  I can’t effectively condense the explanation from Wikipedia, so here is exactly what I found:

“Although the name of the candy bar sounds like the name of the famous baseball player Babe Ruth, the Curtiss Candy Company traditionally claimed that it was named after President Grover Cleveland’s daughter, Ruth Cleveland. The candy maker, located on the same street as Wrigley Field, named the bar ‘Baby Ruth’ in 1921, as Babe Ruth’s fame was on the rise, over 30 years after Cleveland had left the White House, and 17 years after his daughter, Ruth, had died. The company did not negotiate an endorsement deal with Ruth, and many saw the company’s story about the origin of the name to be a devious way to avoid having to pay the baseball player any royalties. Curtiss successfully shut down a rival [candy] bar that was approved by, and named for, Ruth, on the grounds that the names were too similar.

“In the trivia book series Imponderables, David Feldman reports the standard story about the bar being named for Grover Cleveland’s daughter, with additional information that ties it to the President: ‘The trademark was patterned exactly after the engraved lettering of the name used on a medallion struck for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, and picturing the President, his wife, and daughter Baby Ruth.’ He also cites More Misinformation, by Tom Burnam: ‘Burnam concluded that the candy bar was named … after the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Williamson, candy makers who developed the original formula and sold it to Curtiss.’ (Williamson had also sold the ‘Oh Henry!’ formula to Curtiss around that time.) The write up goes on to note that marketing the product as being named for a company executive’s granddaughter would likely have been less successful, hence their ‘official’ story.”

I am constantly amazed at the unique connection Itasca County has with famous and influential people back during a time when mass travel was limited to the Model T and its contenders, and communication with the outside world was limited to newspapers and magazines.

The final two stories of the resort series for 2021 will appear in the October 10, and October 24 issues of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review. To see archived Resorts with a History, check out my blog chrismarcottewrites.com.

1 Comment

  1. youngv2015 says:

    I love reading Bill Bryson’s work. It is amazing that Itasca Co. had so many connections to famous people. Maybe some of that is because people enjoyed getting away into the wilderness and/or the stories of the wilderness.


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