A Colorful Exit: Babe Ruth’s last game film

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Babe Ruth at the Baker Bowl, Philadelphia, in one of the last at bats of his career, May 29, 1935

Wednesday, May 29, 1935, and the old Boston Braves pay a visit to the Phillies at the Baker Bowl for a 3-game set over 2 days. There was little of note in another less-than-successful Braves season, now almost 2 months old, except for the interest in their highest paid player, the former Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, released by the Yankees after the 1934 season but trying his hand in the National League as his career was winding down. While he had struggled much of the campaign, many NL fans continued to come out to watch him play as they had rarely (or never) had a chance to see him in action while dominating the game in the Junior Circuit for his entire career. Thankfully, among those fans was an enterprising Philadelphia rooter who happened to bring his color movie camera along with his ticket to a great seat behind the third base dugout for this particular contest, and the result is the last game film of the Babe as a player in action, and most interestingly, is in living color (or in 1935-era color, anyway). Happening at the very end of his career, it is believed to be the only known color film of Ruth in game action that survives. Here’s the film, with some details about the action below.

It happened that this day was declared “Babe Ruth Day” at the ballpark, as it was the first visit by Ruth and the Braves to the Baker Bowl for the 1935 season; this was typical of most NL cities upon the Braves’ first visits that year (ostensibly a welcome to the ballparks and fans in this league, but also conveniently served as a farewell tour as well, which was fairly likely considering Ruth’s clear decline on the field). A ceremony can be seen at the beginning of the film, in which Ruth apparently received a “floral offering” (New York Times).

Although there is no formal play by play available for this game, I was able to glean some highlights, as follows:

At :25 we see Ruth striding to the plate for his first at bat in the first inning, against the Phillies’ Orville Jorgens, with the first two batters of the game having already reached base (Billy Urbanski doubled and Tommy Thompson can be seen stepping on first after a walk). After taking a couple of pitches (and the Phils’ catcher Jimmy Wilson trying to pick off Thompson and throwing the ball into right field), Ruth would walk himself to load the bases with no one out.

The very next batter, Wally Berger, could then be seen lashing a hit to the outfield to drive in two, knocking out Jorgens before the first out was recorded. Note how slow afoot Ruth (the runner at first) is going from first to second as compared to the other runners. The next play seen is the third out of the inning being made at first, as Ruth jogs from third towards home.

:56 is his next at bat in the second inning, where he would walk again, this time with the bases loaded, very demonstratively flinging his bat in the process. It would be the final time he reached base in his career, also earning him his final RBI (#2214). Next it appears to be Ruth and others exiting the field after scoring on Berger’s grand slam that followed (the hitting star of the day, with 6 RBI), making it 7-0 Braves.

Next is Jimmy Wilson rounding the bases after the Phillies only HR of the contest, in the third inning off Ed Brandt, who didn’t fare too well himself. By the way, Ruth aside, this happens to be one of the best color films available of the old Baker Bowl, and this HR clip shows it off well. Then, more Phillies scoring highlights, including close-ups of Jimmie Wilson.

At 2:20 to 2:25, we return to the Babe for one final (and painful looking) swing during either his 3rd or 4th plate appearance (of 4 total). Both would result in strikeouts. Hal Lee would take over in left field to finish the game for Ruth. The film closes with a few more Phillies highlights. The Braves won the contest, 8-6.

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Ruth would start the next day, in Philadelphia, on Thursday, May 30th, in the first game of a doubleheader, but after being retired once, would again be replaced by Lee. On May 31st the Braves were in New York for a series against the Giants, but Ruth, experiencing “water on the knee” was not up to playing in either game of the doubleheader that day, nor any in the immediate future. He still hadn’t planned on anything such as “retiring”, although Braves’ manager Bill McKechnie was angling to have the prickly Ruth released for a while now; but, feeling unable to play for the next few days, asked Braves owner Emil Fuchs for time away from the club, partly to attend a social event in New York City (which happened to be a welcoming party for the SS Normandie, having sailed from France on her maiden voyage), and requested to be placed on the voluntary retired list until he was seen fit to play again; Fuchs, finding a way to quickly resolve what had become a difficult situation, including having to pay an exorbitant salary of $25,000, not to mention contending with Ruth’s wish of becoming Braves’ manager at season’s end, refused, and instead, on June 2nd, gave him his outright release.

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Ruth’s final career box score, May 30, 1935 (NYT)

Ruth and Fuchs were left to plead their cases to the newspapers regarding this unfortunate and surprising development (NYT):

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Despite Ruth’s protests, and affirmations that he would continue to play elsewhere, the erosion of his baseball skills, coupled with what today would be called “baggage”, was not enough of an appealing package for another team to take on, and his “colorful” playing career, despite finally being captured on color film, was at an end.

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