Babe Ruth’s Final Days as a Yankee

Picture an ocean liner, pulling into a berth on 19th street on the West Side of Manhattan and on a cold, wintry day you hear the sounds of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

That was the scene on February 20, 1935, as the luxury line The Manhattan arrived with the ship’s orchestra playing as Babe Ruth returned from four months abroad after he had traveled around the world with his wife Claire, and 18-year old daughter, Julia.

The Babe answered questions about his weight which was estimated to be around 240 pounds (his playing weight was around 215). He answered questions about playing in Japan where he said that he had played every inning of 22 exhibition games and hit 13 homers. He answered questions about skiing in St. Moritz;

“Can I ski?” Ruth laughed, “Haw! I’m a champ at that game. Of course, I took some fancy flops and dented more than the ski run, but the pain and bruises soon disappeared.”

He answered questions about London and he expressed his disdain for cricket, “They just bunt the ball, I like to take my full cut at it.”

But, the primary questions were about whether he would return to the Yankees. The Babe had only hit .288 with 22 homers and 84 RBI and a .985 OPS, a significant drop from his seven straight seasons over a 1.000 OPS, when he had averaged a 1.179 OPS.

“I don’t want to leave the game,” said the fading monarch, as he was described by the New York Times, “I’d be lost without the game. I want to get back into a uniform. It’s hard to stay away from the game after being in it for so long. I think I’m entitled to a manager’s job, or a try at it anyhow. I don’t think I should be asked to sign as a player and sit on a bench waiting to pinch-hit once in seven days. That’s something I don’t intend to do.”

From the end of the 1934 season onward, the Babe was outspoken in his desire to manage, but when Joe Cronin agreed to five-year deal to manage the Red Sox, one Ruth’s fondest dreams had been shattered.

But the Babe admitted he wasn’t sure he could still be an everyday player and was looking forward to heading to St. Petersburg, the Yankees spring training home, to “thaw out.” But most significantly, he expressed disdain with the $1 (one dollar) contract that the Yanks had sent him.

Speculation was rampant over the next few days and by February 25, the Yankees and Ruth had seemingly made contact. Ruth declared that he was “good for several more years.” And in the morning New York Times of February 26, it was reported that,

Edward G. Barrow, business manager of the Yankees, assuming a mysterious air that no amount of questioning could penetrate, declared he had something ‘very important’ to announce today at 11 A.M.”

So it was on February 26, 1935 that it was announced that the Babe had signed a three-year deal with the Judge Emil Fuchs, the president of the Boston Braves, to serve as vice president, assistant manager, and active player. While the terms were not announced, Fuchs indicated that it was more than the $35,000 he received from the Yankees in 1934. Colonel Jacob Ruppert, owner of the Yankees, who ended the Babe’s 15-year relationship with the team by presenting him with his unconditional release, was instrumental in arranging for the other AL teams to waive Ruth so that he could move to the National League.

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The actual signing of the contract took place the next day in Boston, the city where Ruth began his MLB career with the Red Sox. Signing with the Braves was also to help the NL team regain popularity in Boston as was done “not only with the approval of the popular young Tom Yawkey and Eddie Collins, guiding lights of the American League club there, but with their best wishes as well.”

Ruth’s signing took place the next evening at a dinner at the Copley Plaza Hotel, after he arrived at Boston’s Back Bay Station and being overwhelmed by a greeting of thousands of fans. A flying wedge of policeman had to protect Ruth from his admirers.

While the loss of the number one drawing card in the AL was acknowledged by the owners and managers, it was seen as a gain for baseball in general. Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics said, “I though the Babe would remain in the American League, but I also knew that he would take a managing or executive position elsewhere if he could get it.”

In Marty Appel‘s terrific Yankee history book, The Pinstripe EmpireAppel wrote:

How big was this release? By most measurements, everyone could see that Babe Ruth’s career was winding down. His age, his stats, and his expanding waistline all screamed out with the reality. But when it finally happened, it just had an empty feel to it.

Appel recalled that when he worked in the front office, forty years later, and he had made a mistake such as an incorrect stat in the press notes or someone else had erred, and they were trying to assess the damage, wondering how serious this might be, invariably the response was: Hey, they released Babe Ruth!

The Yankees attendance in 1934 fell from 854,682  to 657, 508 in 1935.

The Babe only made it through May 30, 1935 with the Braves, playing 28 games, before calling it a career.

The Braves attendance, which in 1934 was 303,205, dropped to 232,754 in 1935.

Ruth never managed in the majors.