Aviation Pioneer Ruth Law Oliver and the Genesis of the Grapefruit League

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You may know the Florida Spring Training league as the "Grapefruit League," but it wasn't always named such. Rather, it had to earn the moniker from a combination of hubris, stupidity and a willingness for hijinx. So, basically everything you can find on YouTube today.

Dodgers manager Wilbert Robinson and outfielder Casey Stengel got an idea from daring stunt aviation pilot Ruth Law, who was dropping golf balls from the sky for a nearby golf course in March 1915: Law should drop a baseball from the plane that Robinson could catch.

 

So, the plan was set in motion: On March 13, 1915, Law would fly in the air, with Stengel on board (though, later, Stengel would recant his role in the tale, saying it was team trainer Fred Kelly) ready to drop the baseball to Robinson's waiting mitt.

But instead of a baseball, she flung a grapefruit out the plane. Here, again reports differ. Some say that Stengel dreamed up the switcheroo, that he wanted to prank his skipper. But in 1957, Law said she went airborne before realizing there wasn't a baseball on board. With no other choice, she flung out the fruit that was supposed to be part of her lunch. Whatever the real reason, it wasn't horsehide, but citrus that came tumbling from the skies.

Robinson got under it and made the catch, but was soon covered in the "ooze and goo" of the broken fruit, and thought it was his blood.

"Help! I'm dying! I'm bleeding to death!" Robinson screamed.

Fortunately, after players rushed over to help only to realize the situation, they were able to laugh about it. And that -- at least as far as any story that starts this way could be true -- is how the Grapefruit League got its name. And if that's not the real reason, well, it's one of the times that the legend is better than any true story anyway.

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