Babe Ruth : biography
There was considerable attention as Ruth reported for spring training. He did not hit his first home run of the spring until after the team had left Florida, and was beginning the road north in Savannah. He hit two in an exhibition against the Bears.Montville, p. 339. Amid much press hoopla, Ruth played his first home game in Boston in over 16 years. Before an opening-day crowd of over 25,000, including five of New England’s six governors, Ruth accounted for all of the Braves’ runs in a 4–2 defeat of the New York Giants, hitting a two-run home run, singling to drive in a third run and later in the inning scoring the fourth. Although age and weight had slowed him, he made a running catch in left field which sportswriters deemed the defensive highlight of the game.Creamer, p. 393.
Although Ruth had two hits in the second game of the season, the season soon settled down to a routine of Ruth performing poorly at the plate and in the field when he played at all, and the Braves losing most games. As the spring progressed, Ruth’s deterioration became even more pronounced. He remained productive at the plate early on, but he could do little else, and he soon stopped hitting as well. His conditioning had deteriorated to the point that he could do little more than trot around the bases. His fielding had become so poor that three Braves pitchers threatened not to take the mound if he was in the lineup. Ruth was annoyed that McKechnie ignored most of his advice. (McKechnie later said that Ruth’s presence made enforcing discipline nearly impossible.)
Ruth soon realized that Fuchs had deceived him, and had no intention of giving him off-the-field responsibility or the manager’s job. He later stated that his duties as vice president consisted of making public appearances and autographing tickets.Montville, p. 340. Ruth also found out that rather than give him a share of the profits, Fuchs wanted him to invest some of his money in the team. As it turned out, both Fuchs and Ruppert had known all along that Ruth’s non-playing positions were meaningless.Creamer, pp. 388–390.
As early as May 12, Ruth wanted to quit. However, Fuchs wanted Ruth to stay on until the Braves visited several parks where Babe Ruth Days were scheduled. Ultimately, Fuchs persuaded Ruth to remain at least until after the Memorial Day doubleheader in Philadelphia. In the interim was a western road trip, at which the rival teams had scheduled days to honor him. In Chicago and St. Louis, Ruth performed poorly, and his batting average sank to .155, with only three home runs. In the first two games in Pittsburgh, Ruth had only one hit, though a long fly caught by Paul Waner probably would have been a home run in any other ballpark besides Forbes Field.Creamer, pp. 395–397
Ruth played in the third game of the Pittsburgh series on May 25, 1935, and added one more tale to his playing legend. Ruth went 4-for-4, including three home runs, though the Braves lost the game 11-7. The last two were off Ruth’s old Cubs nemesis, Guy Bush. The final one, both of the game and of Ruth’s career, sailed over the upper deck in right field and out of the ballpark, the first time a fair ball had been hit completely out of Forbes Field. Ruth was urged to make this his last game, but he had given his word to Fuchs and played in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. The first game of the doubleheader in Philadelphia—-the Braves lost both—-was his final major league appearance. On June 2, after an argument with Fuchs, Ruth retired. He finished 1935 with a .181 average–easily his worst as a full-time position player–and the final six of his 714 home runs. The Braves, 10–27 when Ruth left, finished 38–115, at .248 the worst winning percentage in modern National League history.Creamer, pp. 396–400 Fuchs did not last the season before leaving, insolvent like his team; the National League took control of the franchise at the end of the year.Montville, p. 344.
Retirement and death
Although Fuchs had given Ruth his unconditional release, no major league team expressed an interest in hiring him in any capacity. Ruth still hoped to be hired as a manager if he could not play anymore, but only one managerial position, Cleveland, became available between Ruth’s retirement and the end of the 1937 season. Asked if he had considered Ruth for the job, Indians owner Alva Bradley replied in the negative. Ruth played much golf and in a few exhibition baseball games, demonstrating a continuing ability to draw large crowds. This was a major factor in his hiring, as first base coach by the Dodgers in 1938. Brooklyn general manager Larry MacPhail made it clear when Ruth was hired that he would not be considered for the job if manager Burleigh Grimes retired at the end of the season as expected. Although much was said about what Ruth could teach the younger players, in practice, Ruth’s duties were to appear on the field in uniform and encourage base runners—he was not called upon to relay signs. He got along well with everyone except team captain Leo Durocher, who was hired as Grimes’ replacement at season’s end. Ruth returned to retirement, never again to work in baseball.Creamer, pp. 399–405.