[Picture courtesy of You Tube]
Today, May 30th, exactly 80 years ago in 1935, Babe Ruth hung up his spikes. Here is a picture of him in his final uniform, and ironically he standing with his old Yankee teammate (I’ll let you guess who that is). Ruth was indeed a figure larger than life, and sometime if you can manage it, you should see ‘The Babe Ruth Story’ and older film about his life, which I saw at the YMCA in High Point N.C. as a young teenager. It really was quite the story, both tragic and triumphant in various ways. What you may not realize is that Babe played for the Boston Red Sox before going to the Yankees (even helping them to win a world series as a pitcher! Yes that’s right, as a pitcher), and he played for a different team that now resides in Atlanta, namely the Boston Braves. The picture is from the end of his career as a Brave. One story from the end of career is worth retelling briefly.
Babe was 40 years of age when he joined the Braves, who were stuck in the National League cellar a woeful 8-19 and 11 games out of first place. The Yankees had discarded Babe on Feb. 26th reassigned his number and even used his locker for firewood!, and the Braves had picked him up hoping for a little late lightning to strike. Only five days before he would play his last game, on May 25th, the Babe of old returned to the park and a moment of remarkable glory. On opening day at Braves Field April 16th things looked promising as Babe homered against no less than Carl Hubbell a Hall of Famer pitching for the Giants. But by May 24th Babe was mired in a slump, had hit just 3 homers in 22 games, and was batting a mere .153. There were no signs of what was about to happen on May 25th. In the first inning with one man on base, Ruth hit a majestic homer (number 712) into the right field bleachers. By the time he came up again in the 3rd inning he was facing a different pitcher, one he knew well who had hit him with a pitch in the 1932 World Series. This was like waving a red flag in a bull’s face. Ruth retaliated with another homer to right field, no. 713, and the Braves were ahead 4-0. But the lead didn’t last, the Pirates tied things up in the 4th. The fifth inning rolled around and Babe singled in the go ahead run. By the time he came up in the 7th, the Braves were behind 7-5, but the crowd, sensing something momentous began cheering for Ruth to hit another homer, even though the game was in Pittsburgh. And boy did he oblige them— hitting a huge homer that cleared the roof on Forbes Field, the first such homer to do that in the 26 year history of the ballpark. Ruth, clearly sensing the moment, rounded the basis with his usual home run trot doffing his cap as the crowds applauded vigorously. It was truly the actual last hurrah, though it was five more days before Ruth officially laid down his lumber having clouted 714 homers in a era when: 1) no steroids were used; 2) the fences in the ballparks were much further out in almost every town; 3) the ball was dead; and 4) the bats were heavier. That current Yankee slugger who is having a bit of a resurgence does not even deserve to carry Babe Ruth’s shoes. He played in a very different era in which there were few if any cheap home runs.
No baseball player of any sort has had more impact on the game than Babe, shoot, even a candy bar was named after him which is still satisfying the sweet tooth of many. Boston and New York miss you Babe. We wish we had lived when you played.