When Babe Ruth quit the Yanks after the 1934 season following a managerial showdown with Owner Jake Ruppert, in which the colonel blandly affirmed his satisfaction with Joe McCarthy, the question was: what of the Babe's future in baseball?
At this time, the National League's Boston Braves were a limp assortment of players built around the big bat of Center Fielder Wally Berger. In 1934 they finished fourth, as high as they'd finished since 1916, when they came in third; and they gave no indication of improving. Boston fans were avoiding Braves Field.
Owner Emil Fuchs, to whom the tinkle of the cash register was as cathedral chimes, thought Ruth might be a way to woo his patrons. With a glittering bait of meaningless titles, he approached the Babe.
In February of 1935, the Babe signed as vice president, assistant manager and part-time outfielder. Apparently everyone but Ruth knew it was a farcical attempt to capitalize on his drawing power. Manager McKechnie, on the most uncomfortable spot in baseball, wisely said nothing and opened the season with the Bam in left field.
Forty, corpulent and slowed to a gentle trot, Ruth—except for flashes of his old form—was a travesty of his once great self. His eyes were failing, and base hits were few and far between. Boston pitchers, hard-working men, watched fly balls fall for base hits and screamed like wounded animals. Berger wore himself out trying to cover two-thirds of the outfield.
But the fans turned out, and Judge Fuchs bought a bottle of black ink. A small bottle.
On Saturday, May 25, the Braves rolled into Forbes Field to display their new gate attraction to Pittsburgh patrons. Batting less than .200, but with three homers to his credit, Ruth heard more jeers than cheers from fans whose short memory is a gay feature of the American scene.
A DAY FROM THE PAST
The pitching that day wasn't the strongest he'd ever faced, for the Pirate flingers had seen their best days with other clubs—Lucas with the Reds, Bush with the Cubs and Waite Hoyt as a Yankee teammate. Perhaps it was a combination of soft pitching, anger at the fans and resentment at his employers that worked on the once great star. Whatever it was, for that one day the Babe forgot his aching legs, wiped the film from his sad eyes and plucked a day from the past.
He strode to the plate in the first inning with Bill Urbanski on and the venerable Red Lucas pitching for Pittsburgh. Red, with somewhat less respect than he should have shown, served up a fat pitch; Ruth leaned his weight on it, and the ball disappeared into the stands. The startled Lucas yielded another hit and also left the field.
In the third the big fellow came up with Les Mallon on and the ex-Cub work horse, Guy Bush, working for the Pirates. Bush, unperturbed by the fate of his predecessor, wound up and fired away. The Bam wound up and whacked the ball on top of the right field stands and trotted around the bases. The roaring tribute of the unbelieving fans was a gratifying sound.
In the fifth inning the situation was the same, with Mallon waiting on base for a lift home. It was a moral victory for the Pittsburgh hurler that he held the Babe to a single, although he did drive in his fifth run.
By the time the seventh had rolled around, the Braves were behind in spite of Ruth's heroic stickwork. Bush fired one down the middle. The Babe brought his bat around from behind his left ear and sent a towering shot high over the wall into Schenley Park for the longest drive they had ever seen in Pittsburgh. The shattered Bush was led away and given a hot shower to soothe his nerves, Waite Hoyt finishing for the Bucs.
Ruth, with three homers, a single and six runs batted in, quit in the seventh; the fans rose and gave him an ovation that stopped the game.
Eight days later, on June 2, bone-weary and embittered, baseball's greatest player retired from the game.
HE SUFFERED THE TERRIBLE SADNESS OF A PLAYER WHO IS THROUGH