The last pro uniform Babe Ruth ever wore was sold at auction at the Louisville Slugger Museum yesterday. It was bought by an outfit called SCP Auctions for $310,500. Ruth began his major league career as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, was sold to the New York Yankees in late 1919 and hit more home runs by himself the following season than every major league team save one, and was traded to the Boston Braves in 1935 at the tail-end of the greatest career in the history of his sport before or since. But the uniform sold yesterday in Mission Viejo, California didn’t belong to the Red Sox, or the Yankees, or the Braves. It belonged to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
It’s a brief and forgettable period of the Babe’s career that is never mentioned and that I was never aware of until today. Some baseball fan. Our yearning to mythologize our heroes leads us to omit everything in Ruth’s life between his three-homer game against the Pirates in May 1935 and the day, two months before his death, when Nat Fein took his famous photograph of a frail Ruth standing in his old Yankee uniform, leaning on a bat for support, at the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium. We don’t like to hear about the Babe’s many failed efforts to get a job managing a major league team, his long and painful struggle with throat cancer, or how he lost weight and could barely speak at the very end. We sanitize, generalize, or ignore all of that, and the Babe’s short stint as a Dodger along with it.
Babe was hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a first base coach on June 18, 1938. His uniform number was 35. Number 3, which he had famously worn in his last five years with the Yankees, was taken by rookie second baseman Pete Coscarart. The uniform sold yesterday was Babe’s road uniform, gray flannel with “Dodgers” lettered across the front in blue, and a patch on the left sleeve depicting the Trylon and Perisphere of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He wore it on October 2, 1938 for a double-header against the Phillies at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. The Dodgers won both games that day against the Phillies, the only team in the National League to finish with a worse record than they. With the season over, Ruth quit the team. Oddly enough, his final game as a player had also come in Philadelphia, on May 30, 1935, when he played one inning for the Braves before hurting his knee and leaving the game.
The Dodgers finished 1938 with a 69-80 record, 18½ games out of first place. Babe’s old team the Yankees finished that year 99-53 and won the World Series in four games.