f

For Fans Who Should Know Better

Mudville Crew            Contact Us

Mudville: June 18, 2024 12:45 am PDT

Babe’s Last Hurrah

BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI

It’s only fitting that the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates squared off at PNC Park on May 25. That date marked the 89th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s last hurrah, the final gasp of a hero that carried baseball out of a gambling scandal 16 years earlier before captivating a nation in the early throes of The Great Depression.

Ruth was, at the time 40, well beyond his prime and far out of shape, even for him. But he but put on a show at Forbes Field, the former home of the Pirates, that afternoon in a way that only he could. The Babe, playing for the woeful Braves, smashed the final three home runs of his career and had four hits overall during Pittsburgh’s otherwise meaningless 11-7 victory.

His six RBIs were a reminder for the 10,000 or so people in attendance just how magical he truly was even if his glory days were well behind him. Ruth would hang on for another week before calling it a career, collecting one more RBI on May 29th in Philadelphia but it was what he did the previous Saturday in Pittsburgh that put yet another exclamation point on a legendary career full of exclamation points.

The Associated Press, which at the time was one of the most respected news services in the world, recounted Ruth’s exploits this way:

“Rising to the glorious heights of the day, The Sultan of Swat crashed out three home runs but they were not enough…. The stands rocked with cheers for the mighty Babe as he enjoyed a field day at the expense of pitchers Red Lucas and Guy Bush. Ruth left the game amid an ovation at the end of the Braves’ half of the seventh inning and after his third homerun – a prodigious clout that carried over the right field grandstand, bounded into the street and rolled into Schenley Park. Baseball men said it was the longest drive ever made at Forbes Field.”

It was a fitting end for Ruth, who never really got the kind of sendoff for which he was hoping in New York. He had been kicked to the curb by the Yankees, who unceremoniously released the legend on Feb. 26. Ruth’s production had declined over the previous two seasons as age and the abuse to which he subjected his body finally caught up with him.

Still, as a 39-year-old in 1934, Ruth managed to hit .288 with 22 homers and 84 RBI in 365 at-bats. It wasn’t a bad season, but the Yankees were in the midst of three consecutive second place finishes and Lou Gehrig had supplanted Ruth as the team’s best and most productive player.

Ruth had hopes of staying with the Yankees and someday managing them but Joe McCarthy was successful, popular and liked by ownership so his place in the dugout was secure. The Babe, in 21st-century terms, had become a distraction. That left Ruth little choice when he decided to “go home” to Boston and sign with the Braves.

Lou Gehrig shakes hands with former teammate George Herman (Babe) Ruth, ca 1935. (Photo by Waite Hoyt Collection/Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images)

Boston owner Judge Emil Fuchs sold Ruth a pretty hefty bill of goods when he signed Ruth the same day New York released him. He gave him the bogus titles of second vice president and assistant manager. There was even talk about him someday managing but it was all a ruse with the true intent to use Ruth as a box-office draw for the floundering franchise.

And, for a minute, it seemed like all parties would get what they wanted. Ruth hit an Opening-Day homer off New York’s Hall-of-Fame lefty Carl Hubbell who won 253 games over 16 seasons with the Giants. He hit safely in four of his first five games with a pair of homers and four RBIs as Boston got off to a 2-3 start.

The fun didn’t last, though. Ruth went hitless in his next 10 games and was in a 3-for-44 [.068] skid heading into the May 25 game at Pittsburgh. The slugger wanted out and was looking to retire but Fuchs convinced him to hang around for at least one more road trip so the fans in St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Philadelphia could pay their respects and honor him.

Ruth reluctantly agreed and by the time the team got to Pittsburgh he had gone 2-for-16 on the trip with one of those hits being a solo homer on May 21 at Wrigley Field off Tex Carelton. The homer prompted this in the May 30th edition of The Sporting News:

“The Braves keep slumping and interest in this team has waned entirely. Even the fact that Babe Ruth connected for a home run at Chicago recently failed to arouse any enthusiasm or furnish the slightest ground for renewed confidence.”

Ruth, however, picked up another hit on May 24 in the second game of the series against the Pirates, setting the stage for his monstrous swan song the following day.

Pittsburgh starter Red Lucas was in trouble from the outset, walking Billy Urbanski to start the game. Les Mallon bunted him over before Ruth deposited one in the right-field stands for his first homer of the game. Wally Berger and Randy Moore followed with singles to chase Lucas, who was replaced by Guy Bush.

(Original Caption) Boston, Mass.: Just A Friendly Greeting. (Head-Locked In Fond Embrace. Babe Ruth, Bambino of Swat, got a real friendly welcome from Ed strangler Lewis, of wrestling fame, as the Babe made his bow to Boston fans today April 16th, as a member of the Boston Braves. Ruth delighted the hearts of 25,000 fans when he poled one of Carl Hubbel's shoots into the stands, for a home run, in the fifth inning and in putting over two runs with the blow he accounted for the Braves' margin of victory. The final score was Boston 4, Giants 2.

Ruth came up in third, this time with Mallon on first. Once again, Ruth found the right-field bleachers to give the Braves a 4-0 lead. The Pirates later rallied to tie the score but Ruth’s run-scoring single in the fifth temporarily put the Braves back on top, setting up his dramatic seventh inning at-bat.

The outburst was part of a 6-for-16 groove that raised Ruth’s average to .206. It was a last gasp, though. He went hitless in his final nine at-bats and decided that enough was enough, retiring less than a week later. He grounded out to first in the first inning of a May 30 game at The Baker Bowl, bringing his career to an unceremonious end.

The Boston experiment was a failure. The pitchers didn’t want Ruth in right field – he could no longer move or field. Consider this write up in the June 6 edition of The Sporting News under the subhead Players Relieved at Ruth’s Departure

“Though the passing of Babe Ruth is generally regretted here because of the rather inglorious end to a wonderful career, the players in the Tribal outfit are really relieved. And this is true especially with regard to the pitchers, two of whom were on the point of mutiny when told to work while Babe was in left field. They feel that more than one game has been lost so far this year through his failure to cover ground.

“As a matter of fact, the players, some of them stars who lost their individuality completely through the publicity given Ruth and the realization that Boston had become a one-man show, feel that with Babe out of the way, they will no longer be compelled to suffer from any inferiority complex.”

It was an unceremonious end to what was one of the greatest careers in American sports history. Except for the one day that the Babe was the Babe for one more shining moment.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

Post a Comment

You don't have permission to register