You’d be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan who didn’t know what team Babe Ruth played for.
Ruth broke into the majors for the Red Sox (with his first game against the Indians, no less), had his greatest success with the Yankees, and ended his playing career with a brief stint back in Boston, this time with the Braves.
But could he have been part of the Indians? As a player, no. As a manager? It could have happened.
As the Babe’s career started to wind down, he desperately wanted a job as a manager, but the Yankees appeared to be set, committing to Joe McCarthy in 1934 and 1935. “We have a manager for the Yankees – Joe McCarthy – for this year and next,” said Yankees owner Col. Jacob Ruppert. “I have no understanding of any kind with Ruth about the future.”
Ruth signed a one-year, $35,000 deal. “He hopes to play at least 100 games,” Ruppert said. “I hope he does and I hope he hits a lot of home runs.”
Ruth hit 22 in 125 games as the Yankees won 94 games, but finished seven behind the pennant-winning Detroit Tigers. It turned out to be his last season in pinstripes, as the Yankees released him in Febraury 1935. He quickly signed on as a player-coach with the Boston Braves, leaving the American League for the National.
“It was unfortunate that some American League club was not in need of a manager,” Indians general manager Billy Evans said. “Babe would have been a good gamble for at least one year.”
The Indians, at that point, remained committed to Walter Johnson as manager. The Big Train was retained for 1935 – in a move that surprised some. Owner Alva Bradley had been asked about Ruth’s managerial acumen the year before, and said he wasn’t a good candidate.
Either Ruth inferred or Braves owner Emil Fuchs implied that Ruth would be the manager-in-waiting, and reports as late as May indicated that Ruth could be managing the Braves by August. But by the end of May, Ruth was released as a player and fired as a coach.
It wouldn’t be long before Cleveland was looking for a manager too. Johnson jumped before he was pushed at the beginning of August. But Evans, who might have advocated for Ruth (the Indians could use a shot at the box office at that point as well), was in a tenuous position at that point, and Steve O’Neill was named manager. (Evans left the Indians after the season.)
As it turns out, Ruth was in Cleveland in August – for a golf outing at Acacia Country Club in Lyndhurst.
James E. Doyle of the Plain Dealer, who described Ruth as someone who’d “rather be right than vice president of the Boston Braves,” provided what could serve as the summation of Ruth’s career. After 20 years as a player, he spent a brief time as a coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers (like his Braves job, it was more a testament to him as a gate attraction than an actual mentor), then never held a job in baseball again.
“Mr. Ruth can do without baseball, it seems, but why baseball should do without him is something else again,” Doyle wrote.