A version of this story was originally published in January 2021.
ATLANTA -- Sixteen years after being sold to the Yankees because the Red Sox owner was hurting financially, Babe Ruth returned to Boston on this day in 1935 to aid a cash-strapped Braves owner.
Most baseball fans likely know about the ill-fated decision Harry Frazee made to sell Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season. Some might even remember Ruth ending his career with the 1935 Boston Braves. But what prompted The Bambino’s return to Beantown likely isn’t as widely known.
As the 1934 season ended, Braves owner Emil Fuchs’ financial woes had him searching for creative woes to increase revenue. His bid to place a greyhound track at Braves Field was denied. But he was successful with his attempt to increase interest in his club by landing Ruth.
Ruth hit .288 with 22 homers and a .985 OPS over 125 games in 1934. While he was understandably showing signs of decline at 39 years old, he still was one of the game’s best offensive performers, as his 160 OPS+ would attest. But the decline led the Yankees to look for ways to cut ties with the aging and less-conditioned star, who had drawn a $35,000 salary in 1934.
With Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy already in place, the Yankees attempted to appease Ruth’s managerial desires by offering him a chance to lead their top Minor League club. Ruth balked at having to leave the big league scene. But he accepted what he thought was a chance to become the Braves' manager, possibly as early as the 1936 season.
When Ruth signed with the Braves, he received a $25,000 base salary and the promise to receive a percentage of the club’s profits. He was also named a vice president and assistant manager. But it didn’t take long to realize those titles were essentially just a public relations spin. Fuchs had no intention to part ways with manager Bill McKechnie.
Fuchs simply wanted Ruth to spike interest in his club and possibly regain some of those Braves fans who had started to take greater favor in the crosstown Red Sox.
Ruth got things started auspiciously, by hitting a home run off Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell in front of the estimated 35,000 fans who filled Braves Field on Opening Day. But over the next 21 games, he hit .127 with two homers and a .560 OPS. By May 12, he had told Fuchs it might be best for him to retire immediately.
Fuchs’ ability to persuade Ruth to continue playing allowed the legendary figure to have at least one more great experience at the ballpark.
Ruth’s last great career highlight was the three-homer game he produced against the Pirates on May 25, 1935. He homered in the first inning off Red Lucas and then damaged Guy Bush with homers in the third and seventh innings.
The significance of the seventh-inning homer extended beyond the fact it was the last of the 714 home runs Ruth totaled during his Hall of Fame career. The titanic shot was the first of the 18 balls that cleared the right-field roof at Forbes Field, which served as Pittsburgh’s home park from 1909-70. Willie Stargell accounted for seven of those homers that left the stadium.
Ruth’s final home run could also be considered retribution. Three years earlier in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, he had hit a three-run homer in the first inning. To this day, fans and historians still debate whether he called his shot with that homer at Wrigley Field. Regardless, Bush might have been sending a message when he plunked Ruth in the first inning of Game 4.
Unfortunately for Ruth, what became the remainder of his career was forgettable. He went hitless over the 13 plate appearances tallied over the next five games, which were tarnished by a knee ailment he began to battle a few days after his three-homer game.
Knowing he would be unable to play, Ruth asked permission to travel to New York to attend a gala celebration for the arrival of the French ocean liner Normandie, which was being described as the world’s fastest and most luxurious ship.
When Fuchs declined this request, Ruth announced his intention to be placed on the voluntary retired list. The Braves gave the slugger his unconditional release, ending what still stands as one of the greatest careers the sports world has ever seen.
The Sporting News responded by recapping this unfitting conclusion with these words: “If the Babe saw the hand writing on the wall, as he indicated that he did, it is too bad that he did not announce his retirement the day after he made three home runs in one game in Pittsburgh, so he could have gone out in a blaze of glory, instead of waiting to make his departure along a trail of unpleasantness.”