Last Hurrah

Everyone wanted to see the Babe the day they retired his number; photographer Nat Fein saw the story.

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Ruth stood two paces from home plate, slightly hunched, Feller's bat in his right hand for support, his own Yankees cap in his left hand by his side, uniform loose on his body. The stands of the big ballpark towered over him. The championship banners he had helped win hung from the facade. A band played "Auld Lang Syne."

Using the Speed Graphic camera his mother had purchased to start his career—such an extravagant piece of business she needed three cosigners for the $90 loan—Fein looked through a viewfinder that showed the scene upside-down. While most of the other photographers used flashbulbs, he used available light. And he captured arguably the most famous image in American sports history.

"The picture is from a low angle, the sweep of the entire stadium, the Babe looking out at his world, the world he once ruled," Sports Illustrated photographer Heinz Kluetmeier says. "...It evokes our emotions without a word being said."

The Babe Bows Out, as the picture later became known, appeared on the front of the Herald-Tribune the next day, and in papers around the country after the Associated Press picked it up. Two months and three days after the photograph was taken, on August 16, 1948, George Herman Ruth died.

Nat Fein received the Pulitzer Prize for the picture in 1949. It was the first sports photo so honored. Fein's newspapering ended with the demise of the Herald-Tribune in 1966, but he took pictures until he died in 2000, at 86.


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