Babe Ruth Manages Japan
Every news service but the Christy Walsh Syndicate carried the 1934 news that Babe Ruth was finished playing for the New York Yankees (because they wouldn't allow him to manage), and apparently some folks were listening.
Boston or Washington?
Impressed by the crowd on hand for Ruth's last game at Fenway (where the Red Sox drew 610,640 all season), manager Tom Yawkey still wanted to bring Babe to Boston. Again he was talked out of it by general manager Eddie Collins, who knew that Senators owner Clark Griffith was hard up for cash and would take the right offer for Joe Cronin. When Yawkey did just that with an incredible $250,000 offer to Griffith a few weeks later -- a record purchase price that dwarfed the cash portion of Babe's sale -- Cronin was off for Massachusetts.
This left a managerial position open in Washington, but Ruth was clearly too costly for Griffith. An offer of $15,000 was made, but Babe wanted double that. In the end, the Senators wound up with old friend Bucky Harris.
While he was still uncertain of his future, Ruth did what came naturally; he had fun. Heading to Japan on a barnstorming tour with an All-America All-Star squad, he was actually getting his first chance to manage as the official field skipper of a team that included Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Jimmie Foxx, and Charley Gehringer. There would be 22 exhibition games overall, including five in Shanghai and Manila.
Babe Ruth Attacks Asia
Ruth was a hit in the Orient. He rode through the streets of Tokyo in an open car, waving an American flag in one hand and a Japanese flag in the other as thousands roared with delight. Posters adorned with a caricature of the Babe advertised the games, and crowds of up to 80,000 (tickets had been sold out for weeks) packed the two stadiums where the Japanese exhibitions against local pro and college teams were held. Ruth played every inning of every contest (quite a contrast from his American season) and was the leading hitter for both average (over .408) and homers (13) on the trip.
It was 1920 all over again. Ruth clowned with Japanese players and batboys, and in one hilarious photograph was captured trading caps with a youngster whose head couldn't have been much bigger than Babe's nose.
He managed to find his way to the geisha houses and golf courses, and when a local newspaper 20 years later ran a poll of the most famous people in Japan the previous four decades, Ruth was the only foreigner to make the list. Memorials honoring his visit would survive long after the war that ravaged the country shortly thereafter.
In his autobiography published six years after Pearl Harbor, Ruth said he had felt genuinely welcomed in Japan. "In my living room on Riverside Drive," he continued in his book, "I still have the large Japanese vases on which are entered my batting exploits of that visit to Japan. But I broke up some of the other souvenirs one Sunday afternoon in December 1941."
Examined by Mack
Unbeknownst to Ruth, he was also being watched closely by a member of his own party during the trip. Philadelphia A's owner Connie Mack -- then 72 years old -- was considering stepping down as his team's manager after 33 years, and by accompanying the American squad to Japan to help run things, he could take a closer look at Babe. Mack had always gotten along well with Ruth, and like other owners, knew his presence would help at the gate.
"The Home Run Twins," once very close friends, had not been on speaking terms for some time. As different as two men could be -- Gehrig shy, conservative, and tight-fisted; Ruth wild, outgoing, and exorbitant to the point of foolishness with his tipping -- they had nonetheless been bridge partners and fishing buddies for years.
Before their falling out, Gehrig had been in awe of Ruth like everyone else and appreciated the extra money he received as a partner during many of the Babe's barnstorming activities. But the fishing and card games were finished, and in time the pair no longer even shook hands when Ruth finished a home run trot with Gehrig on deck.
The feud caused understandable tension on the Japan trip, as the Gehrig and Ruth families sought to avoid each other at all costs. It also divided the American team into pro-Babe and pro-Lou factions, and Mack noticed. Because it was generally believed the whole mess had been the result of Claire's stubbornness, Mack decided he would be better off continuing to manage himself -- which he did for 16 more years before retiring at age 88.
Ruth never knew of Mack's interest and continued enjoying himself. Following the exhibitions in Shanghai and Manila, the team split up, with the Ruths going on to Paris (where Babe lamented his anonymity) and London (where he mastered cricket in one swing).
When the S.S. Manhattan docked in New York on February 20, 1935, Ruth was well-rested and ready to find a job. He had a surprise waiting for him. Find out what Babe Ruth had in store on the next page.
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