Two Baseball Rookies–One from York, One from Baltimore
It was March 7, 1914. The scene was Fayetteville, N.C., where Baltimore Orioles pitchers and catchers had been sent for “pre-spring training drills.”
One of the rookies was the “brash left-handed pitcher, George Herman Ruth, fresh from St. Mary’s Industrial school in Baltimore.” Another was pitcher J. Ervin “Willie” LaMotte from New Freedom, who had recently signed a two-year contract, standard for rookies.
In an intra-squad game that day Babe Ruth hit his first home run in organized baseball. According to a lengthy article on LaMotte in the March 13, 1952 Gazette and Daily, LaMotte had no way of knowing how many home runs would follow from the Babe, but “he knew it was the longest hit baseball he had ever watched.” The story goes that the ball went into a cornfield and Ruth was around the bases and on the bench before it was retrieved by Billy Morrisette, playing right field.
Ruth went from the Orioles to Boston to the Yankees. LaMotte played some in the minor leagues. After he joined the Army, he was a successful pitcher for the Camp Meade, Md. Team, but then he was shipped overseas with the 313th Infantry in 1917 to fight World War I.
In the Argonne Forest on September 27, 1918, LaMotte was wounded in his throwing arm. Fighting was so heavy medics couldn’t remove him to a field hospital until the next day. In the meantime he took a piece of shrapnel in his right leg. After lengthy hospital stays, LaMotte came back to New Freedom, married and became a cashier at the New Freedom branch of the First National Bank of York. He later received the Silver Star, Oak Leaf cluster and Purple Heart for “gallantry in action.”
His professional career was over, but after a few years, despite lasting effects from his wounds, LaMotte took up baseball again. On a 93-degree day, July 27, 1929, LaMotte, pitching for New Freedom, and Heinie Heltzel, on the mound for Albemarle, both went the distance in a 20-inning Southern York County league name. New Freedom won 2-1.
The article goes on to say that even after his playing days were over, LaMotte could watch a live baseball game in New Freedom from his front window, while watching one on television and listening to a third on the radio. Mrs. Ida LaMotte was said to be a bit dismayed.