Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders is hot off the presses. In an excerpt at ESPN.com, he details Babe Ruth’s rather embarrasing 1935 season with the Boston Braves.
Ruth had turned thirty-nine in 1934, and though he could still hit — in ’34, Ruth was maybe the third-best hitter in the American League, behind only Gehrig and Foxx — he couldn’t do much else. As Fred Lieb later wrote, “The pipestems that served as legs would no longer carry, with any alacrity, the barrel that served as a torso.” Yankees manager Joe McCarthy had seen enough of Ruth, because the Babe could neither field nor run and also because the Babe made no little secret of his ambition to manage the Yankees. Soon.
When Ruth signed his contract with the Braves, he believed that he really would be a sort of assistant manager, with the chance to either take over as manager — perhaps as early as 1936 — or wind up with enough stock in the Braves to be an active co-owner. He believed those things because Fuchs, in a long letter delivered a few days before the press conference in New York, told him so.
However, Ruth’s actual contract wasn’t nearly so expansive. In fact, Ruth soon discovered that, rather than being given stock in the Braves, he was seen by Fuchs as a potential investor; the hope was that Ruth would sink $50,000 of his money into the club. Ruth also was expected to participate in various promotional events, and play in exhibition games (which were, in those days, frequent for most major-league clubs). But on May 12, with Ruth struggling at the plate, he told McKechnie and Fuchs that he wanted to retire. Fuchs convinced him to hang on for a few more weeks, as the Braves hadn’t yet visited every National League ballpark where various Babe Ruth Days were scheduled.
There would be one last hurrah. On May 25 in Pittsburgh, Ruth hit a two-run homer in the first inning. In the third, he hit another. And in the seventh, he hit one more home run (this time with nobody on base). The latter two homers came against Guy Bush, who years later would say, “I never saw a ball hit so hard before or since. He was fat and old, but he still had that great swing. Even when he missed, you could hear the bat go swish. I can’t remember anything about the first home run he hit off me that day. I guess it was just another homer. But I can’t forget that last one. It’s probably still going.”
Ruth had hit the ball over the Forbes Field roof, something nobody had ever done before. It was Ruth’s last home run, and his last hit. And emblematic of the Braves’ fortunes in 1935, despite Ruth’s three home runs and six runs batted in — he’d also singled home a run — the Braves lost the game, 11-7.
Ruth could still swing the bat. But he couldn’t run, and so he couldn’t field or do more than trot around the bases, and McKechnie was facing a trio of mutinous pitchers who said they might refuse to take the mound if Ruth were in right field.
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