Once Babe Ruth realized his 1935 deal with the Boston Braves held no management potential and was not what it had appeared to be, the results were inevitable. Soon, Babe Ruth would retire.
Embittered and embarrassed, Ruth failed to appear at various promotional functions. One merchant, upset by a snub at his store, returned 500 unsold tickets to team owner Emil Fuchs.
Fighting with Fuchs
Soon Babe and the Judge were feuding openly. "You attend to your end of the business, and I'll attend to mine," Ruth said during one such fight. "Mine is on the field." Unfortunately, his argument didn't really hold much weight; whatever his business on the field was supposed to have been, Babe knew he wasn't living up to it. His age, weight, and legs wouldn't let him.
"He couldn't turn, you see?" recalled Wally Berger, who played alongside Ruth in center field. "He'd go in pretty good to field a ball, but he couldn't turn on those damn knees and ankles. So that made my job no easier. Every time there was a ball hit out toward Babe, I'd be out there to back him up."
The man who had carried teams to championships was now counting on others to carry him. He just couldn't cope with that. On May 12, Ruth told Fuchs and manager Bill McKechnie he wished to be put on the voluntarily retired list -- a move meaning he could remain Braves property while not being on the active roster. Babe's goal was to hang onto his titles and keep his managerial chances alive.
The Judge would have no part of it. His eye on the till at all times, Fuchs convinced the humbled hero to stay on as a player at least through the club's upcoming western road trip, where ticket sales and profits were expected to be strong. Babe made some comments about quitting that made the papers but agreed to go on the trip. "I'd be mighty sorry if he retired," said the sweet-talking Fuchs. "Perhaps this trip will restore his peace of mind."
Babe Hits the Road
At first it didn't. The Braves played woefully in St. Louis and Chicago, and Ruth's average fell to .155 amidst complaints of watering eyes and a persistent cold. He homered and made a pair of fine catches against the Cubs on May 21, then moved on with the team to Pittsburgh. He managed just one single over the first two games at spacious Forbes Field but sent right fielder Paul Waner to the wall with three deep drives that would have been home runs in any other park. Perhaps his swing was finally starting to come around.
The finale of the Pirates series was Saturday, May 25. Facing lefty Red Lucas in the first inning, Babe hit a two-run homer into the lower right-field grandstands. Former Cubs bench jockey Guy Bush was pitching when Ruth came up again in the third, and the result was the same -- a two-run homer, this time into the upper grandstands. A third at bat in the fifth produced a run-scoring single, and Bush was still on the mound in the seventh when Ruth came to the plate a final time.
Connecting on a curve ball, Babe sent a drive fifty feet over the double-deck roof in right field and completely out of the park, marking the first time the feat had been accomplished at Forbes Field. It was only the second time Ruth had ever hit three homers in a game, and Bush tipped his hat to his old rival as Babe limped around the bases. "I never saw a ball hit so hard before or since," Bush said afterward. The Babe still could swing the lumber.
It was his 714th -- and last -- major league home run. Despite this brief respite, his physical condition was winning out. His wife Claire, Braves' traveling secretary and former teammate Duffy Lewis, and others urged Ruth to quit then and there, but muttering something along the lines of "I can't, I promised that...I'd finish all the towns on this trip," he plodded on.
Cincinnati brought three strikeouts the first day and a trio of hitless games, and Ruth struck out twice and walked twice in the first contest at Philadelphia May 29. Both cities had welcomed his arrival with Babe Ruth Days.
On May 30, in the first game of a Memorial Day doubleheader against the Phillies, Babe hurt his knee going after a fly ball in the first inning. He left the game, watched the Braves get swept, and never played in the majors again. Fuchs had grown increasingly frustrated and desperate -- he was losing more money each month and had borrowed against his Braves stock -- and he and Ruth were at it again.
The Judge yelled at Babe for not appearing in a doubleheader at Boston the following afternoon (he claimed his knee hurt too much), but the final straw came when Ruth asked for a few days off to go to New York and a swanky reception aboard the luxury ocean liner Normandie. He figured his injury would keep him from playing against the Dodgers in the following series anyway, so what was the harm?
"Nothing doing!" said the Judge. "You stay here." Babe supposedly offered to suit up for an exhibition game scheduled in Haverhill, Massachusetts, the next afternoon before leaving, but Fuchs wouldn't budge. The pressure point for both had been reached, and in the middle of that afternoon's game against the Giants, Ruth sent word to the pressbox he had something important to tell reporters right then and there.
The Last Straw
"I hate to say what I'm going to say," Ruth told writers hastily gathered in the Braves' clubhouse. "I'm not quitting, but I'm going on the voluntary retired list. That means I can't play for at least 60 days anyway. I want it understood that I don't want to get out of baseball. If Judge Fuchs were to sever connections with the Braves, I'd gladly come back. But I won't have anything to do with the club as long as Judge Fuchs has."
Reaction was mostly as expected. McKechnie said he was sorry to see Ruth go and denied having ever mentioned anything about Babe breaking training rules or other team regulations. Braves players swamped their teammate for autographs when he told them of his plans before the game, and Fuchs gave him his unconditional release while making the ridiculous claim, "I did everything I could to help him along, but I guess it wasn't to be."
Ruth and his family left the very next morning for the drive back to New York. McKechnie came to see them off, and Babe later said this proved the manager had not felt ill will toward him. If McKechnie did believe Ruth was disrupting the ballclub, it was soon obvious they were no better off without him.
Braves in the Basement
The Braves were 10-27 and in last place as Babe drove away, and they wound up 38-115 -- the worst record by any National League team during the 20th century. They not only finished 611/2 games out of first place, they were 26 games out of seventh.
Just how bad were they? Even with his .181 batting average and only 71 at bats, Ruth's six home runs ranked second on the club.
If there was any consolation for Babe, it came in July -- when Fuchs was forced at last to sell out to Charles Adams. A little over a year later the Judge officially declared bankruptcy.
The Shut Out
In spite of his optimistic tone in the Boston press conference, Ruth was not to return to major league baseball in 60 days or ever again as a player. Even with a bad reputation among his fellow owners as a near-bankrupt bumbler, Fuchs still had the support of his brethren when it came to evaluating player attitude. If the Judge said Babe was a bad soldier, then a bad soldier he was -- and not somebody they wanted in their organization. It was the old boy network in full force, and Babe was the victim.
As it became apparent he wasn't going to play again, Babe still held out hopes for a managerial post. He had been shut out by Yankees general manager Ed Barrow and owner Jacob Ruppert, erred in judgement with Frank Navin of Detroit, and come close to getting jobs in Philadelphia and Boston. Surely there would be more chances, and this time he would be ready and willing.
The offers never came.
"It was the biggest disappointment of his life -- no question about it," Babe's daughter Julia Ruth Stevens said 60 years after the Braves fiasco. "He felt even if he didn't make good -- and he was sure that he would -- he should have been given the chance. That's what hurt him the most."
Proudly, Ruth said during the 1935 World Series that if owners didn't give him his shot by the winter meetings in December, "I'll look outside baseball for a job." Just as his last salary demands failed to move Barrow and Colonel Ruppert, the threat caused not even a stir. Just like that, Babe was out of the game.
But Babe Ruth wasn't one to fade into the shadows. Discover what he did with his post-baseball life on the next page.
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