The uniform seemed strange.
Gone were the Yankee pinstripes and the interlocking “NY” on the left breast. The jersey that Babe Ruth buttoned over his considerable paunch was that of the Boston Braves, his new team. “Trimmed with red piping, (it) looked comical and cheap after the sober Yankee garb he had worn for so long,” Robert Creamer wrote decades later.1 It was April 16, 1935. The setting was Braves Field. Opening Day was always a festive occasion, but this one was extra-special. After 15 seasons with the Bronx Bombers, The Babe was once again calling Boston home, albeit this time as a National Leaguer.
A lot had happened since Ruth had been traded from the Red Sox to New York after the 1919 campaign. Back then, Wilson was in the White House, and the nation was on the cusp of the economic prosperity and good times of the Roaring Twenties. And a young Ruth was primed to lead a Yankee dynasty to four World Series championships, as the most dominant slugger the game had ever seen.
Things were different now. The party was over, as the nation was in the middle of the throes of the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was commander-in-chief. As for Ruth, he had recently turned 40, and tipped the scales at 245 pounds. He was coming off a season in the Bronx that had seen his numbers decline precipitously (22 home runs, 84 RBIs, and a .288 batting average). After that, it was clear the Yankees were no longer interested in his services.
The acquisition of Ruth by the Braves in February was a sentimental one by the locals. The Braves (and the Red Sox as well) had suffered on the field and at the gate for over a decade. If nothing else, the return of the Bambino to Beantown would give baseball fans a reason to come out to the ballpark. For how long was anybody’s guess. The Braves owner, Judge Emil Fuchs, along with Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, arranged for Ruth’s release from the Yankees. Fuchs then signed Ruth, with the carrot that he could one day become manager of the Braves, not to mention part-owner. Ruth, who had managerial aspirations, jumped at the opportunity. The Sultan of Swat was also named a Braves executive, largely in a goodwill-ambassador capacity.
Despite the near-freezing April weather, a crowd of almost 22,000 made their way to the Wigwam. “There was little doubt,” wrote Hy Hurwitz in the Boston Globe, “that every man, woman, and child in the gathering was on hand to see the Babe.”2 With game time approaching and snow falling, a band played “Jingle Bells.” “Presentations were made, speeches were delivered, (and) cannon fired their resounding salute,” noted the Boston Post.3 Manager Bill McKechnie, filling out his lineup card, wrote Ruth’s name in the third slot, playing left field, behind second baseman Les Mallon and ahead of center fielder Wally Berger. (Berger, the Braves’ own “Babe Ruth,” had deferred to the Bambino and gave him his uniform number 3, which Ruth had worn with New York. Berger chose number 4 as his replacement.) Opposing the Braves were Bill Terry’s New York Giants, who started left-hander Carl Hubbell, winner of 44 games the previous two seasons. Boston sent southpaw Ed Brandt, who had gone 68-55 for the Braves since becoming a full-time starter in 1931.
The big moment arrived in the bottom of the first. With Billy Urbanski on second base with one out, the Babe strode to the plate “amid a storm of applause.”4 On a one-ball count, Ruth sent Hubbell’s next offering on a line through the legs of Terry at first base, as Urbanski raced home with the first run of the season for the Braves. “The multitude lifted a hymn of praise for the Babe,” wrote Burt Whitman in the Boston Herald.5
In the top of the fifth, Ruth showed that he could still work magic with his glove as well. With two outs and Mark Koenig on first, Hubbell came up to bat. King Carl popped a ball to short left field, near the line, that seemed certain to land as a Texas Leaguer. Ruth, “chugging along like a coasting truck,” reached out and down with his glove hand to snare the ball, to the delirious cheers of the crowd.6
The Bambino, who had fanned in the second frame, faced Hubbell again in the fifth, “with the crowd begging for a home run.”7 Having run the count to 2-and-2, Ruth swung at a Hubbell screwball, launching a towering drive to right field. Mel Ott sprinted back to the wall, but to no avail. The ball landed a dozen feet up the concrete runway between the pavilion and the Jury Box, caught by a policeman on one bounce. It was the 709th home run of Ruth’s career, his first in the National League, and made the score 4-0. The Braves Field faithful erupted in pandemonium.
“As (Ruth) trotted happily around third base,” wrote Whitman, “McKechnie chased him and wrung his hand. (Ruth’s) wide boyish grin was on his face as he crossed the plate and doffed his cap to his new subjects. He may not be the man he once was, but he still totes around enough punch to help the Braves.”8
Enthusiastically watching from a box seat were Ruth’s wife, Claire, and his stepdaughter, Julia. The Bambino’s home run was an early gift to Claire for their sixth wedding anniversary, which was to be the next day. “This one’s for the old lady,” he shouted as he trotted back to the dugout.9
Ruth’s final at-bat of the game came in the seventh, against lefty Al Smith. He struck out on three pitches, and was taken out of the game in the top of the eighth, Tommy Thompson taking over in left. The final score was Braves 4, Giants 2.
“Naturally I was greatly thrilled at his first game in the National League,” Mrs. Ruth gushed after the contest. “And especially here in Boston, the city he has always loved. The applause was wonderful and he loved it.”10
Bill Carrigan, Ruth’s manager when he broke in with the Red Sox back in 1914, was at the game. “You’d think it was part of a story,” he commented, referring to Ruth’s home run. “Babe never hit the ball any harder during the height of his career than he did today.”11
Ruth held court with reporters at his locker after the game. “I didn’t even dream I’d get off to such a start. (It) sure overshadows my first game as an American Leaguer when I pitched the Red Sox to a 3 to 2 win over the Cleveland Indians.”12 Actually, the Red Sox beat Cleveland by the score of 4-3.
The day had belonged to Ruth, who went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. He had figured in all four of Boston’s runs. Brandt was the winning pitcher, surrendering only five hits in a complete game. It was one of the few bright spots of Brandt’s summer, as he finished at 5-19, with an ERA of 5.00. Hubbell took the loss, but he went on to his third straight 20-win season in 1935.
For Ruth, there simply was not much left in the tank. He hit only five more home runs for the Braves. In June, after realizing that Judge Fuchs only wanted him around to put fannies in the seats, and had no plans to make him manager, Boston’s prodigal son announced his retirement, having hit .181 in 28 games.
This article appeared in “Braves Field: Memorable Moments at Boston’s Lost Diamond” (SABR, 2015), edited by Bill Nowlin and Bob Brady. To read more articles from this book, click here.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, box scores for this game can be found on baseball-reference.com, and retrosheet.org at:
1 Robert Creamer, Babe: The Legend Comes to Life (New York: Fireside, 1992), 392.
2 Hy Hurwitz, “Ruth Gets Homer to Delight Fans,” Boston Globe, April 17, 1935, 28.
3 “Ruth Wins Game for Braves, 4-2,” Boston Post, April 17, 1935, 18.
4 “Babe Ruth Makes Great Debut as a Boston Brave,” Christian Science Monitor, April 17, 1935, 13.
5 Burt Whitman, “Ruth’s Homer Gives Braves 4-2 Victory,” Boston Herald, April 17, 1935, 1.
10 “Babe Provides His Wife With Plenty of Thrills,” Boston Post, April 17, 1935, 18.