The Babe Calls It Quits

The Babe Calls It Quits

June 2, 1935

George Herman Ruth — “The Babe” — was easily the most popular baseball player of his time, and arguably of all time. By swatting home runs at a pace the game had never seen, Ruth changed the way baseball was played, and in the process became an American legend.

But even Babe Ruth got old. As America sank into the Great Depression, Ruth’s muscle turned to fat and his legendary power began to fade. Realizing his playing days were nearly over, Ruth began looking forward to making his mark as a great manager. And he expected to do so by taking over from Joe McCarthy at the helm of the team he had made famous — the New York Yankees.

Ruth was sadly misguided. Loyalty to his team and his desire to still contribute on the field led him to turn down offers to manage the Red Sox in 1932 and 1933. But even though Ruth was still a valuable member of his club, Yankee executive Ed Barrow — the man who had moved Ruth from the mound to the outfield in 1918 — had little confidence in the Bambino’s ability to lead a team from the dugout. Instead, he offered Ruth a job as a minor-league player-manager with a Yankee affiliate in Newark. Ruth declined the offer, telling reporters, “I’m a big-leaguer.”

By 1935 most major-league managerial opportunities had dried up for Ruth, and he was regaled with offers to appear outlandish non-baseball events. To wit: Colonel Zach Miller’s Wild West Show offered Ruth $75,000 to travel the country with their circus, parading “on top of a sacred elephant preceded by a calliope playing ‘Take Me Out To the Ballgame’,” after which he would demonstrate “tremendous fungo fly balls and do other slugging stunts, with a special lecture to kids on how to be a dynamite ball bomber.”

Boston politician James Michael Curley, who had brokered the offers to manage the Red Sox, remained passionate about bringing Ruth back to Boston, where he had begun his career in 1914. Curley began to lobby Boston Braves owner Judge Emil Fuchs to hire Ruth as manager. But Fuchs — happy with his current manager, Bill McKechnie — refused, even though he realized that the Babe might be a good gate attraction for his struggling Braves.

Finally, in February 1935, Judge Fuchs called Ruth and offered him a job. The offer was not to usurp McKechnie, but to be a player for a year and have a chance to take over for McKechnie when his contract expired the following season. The Yankees refused to take anything for Ruth — they were happy to give him his release and wished him well in Boston.

Ruth — slightly miffed about his release but excited that a managerial opportunity was in the cards — was not the one fans were used to seeing. Truth be told, he was an aging slugger who hit around .250 in spring training. Even though he connected for two home runs, three RBI and made an incredible catch in the outfield in his first official game as a Brave, within two weeks the Babe came down with a horrible cold that soon had him contemplating the end of his playing career.

His wife urged him to retire, his friends urged him to retire, but Ruth had made a promise to Fuchs that he would play on, at least until a Memorial Day doubleheader in Philadelphia. When that day finally came, Ruth finished his career with an infield ground out. His batting average stood at .181.

During the next two games, Ruth sat on the bench, pained by an all-too-familiar cold and a leg cramp. On June 2nd, 1935, he asked Fuchs for permission to miss a few more games to “represent the Braves” at a swanky party on the cruise ship Normandie. Fuchs refused his request, telling him that he had to play in an exhibition game the next day. A furious Ruth told Fuchs that he would place himself on the voluntarily retired list and go to the party without representing the Braves.

During the ball game that day, Ruth never once stepped on the field. After the game ended, he summoned reporters to the clubhouse and promptly announced he was hanging up his spikes and retiring. Immediately afterward, Fuchs announced that the Babe was fired and “is through with the Braves in every way.” Ruth replied, “That’s fine with me. I’m glad of it.”

After telling the press he was through he called his good friend, sportswriter Grantland Rice. “Get out your golf clubs, kid,” Ruth told Rice. “I’m ready for you now.”