Did Ruth Law Inspire the Grapefruit League?

Photo courtesy: volcanoseven.com

Photo courtesy: volcanoseven.com

Hope springs eternal. Next year is here. As pitchers and catchers report to various sites around Arizona and Florida to prepare for the upcoming 2016 season, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of mine recently. He had asked me, “Why do they call it the Grapefruit League?” The “it” of course being the Spring Training league in Florida. My answer was simply, “I don’t actually know. I guess, citrus fruit because it’s Florida?”

The debate went on. But why a grapefruit, and not an orange or lemon? Etc.

Truth is, no one is exactly sure as to where the name came from. The concept of Spring Training is almost as old as baseball itself, much of the information regarding the early years was either not documented, or has grown out of lore.

But one story stands out and may very well be the inspiring event.

In 1915 in Daytona Beach, aviator Ruth Law had been throwing golf balls from her airplane to advertise a golf course. At some point, someone suggested throwing a baseball from her airplane. Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager Wilbert Robinson agreed to try to catch the baseball. Law flew her plane approximately 525 feet above Robinson. However, Law realized she had forgotten her baseball and threw a grapefruit that she had with her. When Robinson tried to catch it, the grapefruit exploded in his face.

According to Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center, Law didn’t forget the baseball, it was intentional.

“I guess at some point she realized that might kill the guy. So instead of throwing a baseball, she threw a grapefruit. And the grapefruit hit the manager in the chest and exploded. The manager, for a few seconds, actually thought it was his chest that had exploded from the force of the baseball hitting him. And felt the juice, thought it was blood, screamed out, ‘I’m dying! I’m dying!’ His whole team thought it was great fun ’cause they knew he wasn’t dying — they knew he was just hit by a grapefruit.”

Whether this is the true inspiring event behind the name or not, it makes for yet another interesting story in the long and unique history of our favorite game. Happy Spring everyone!

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