August 16th will be the 70th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s death. For the last 13 years of his life – ever since he retired from baseball in 1935 – he waited for a phone call. He wanted to manage a big-league baseball team.
The biggest name in the game – the biggest name in sport and probably the biggest name in America period – never got that call even though as many as ten different teams had expressed interest in hiring him.
I once spent an afternoon with his daughter Julia Ruth Stevens, now 102, and her son Tom Stevens who would later write the Foreword to my book BABE RUTH – A Superstar’s Legacy. They both told me about the ‘theory’ that the call never came because of racial segregation in baseball.
Here are the facts. As early as 1918 when he was still with the Boston Red Sox, Babe Ruth barnstormed (played exhibition games) against black players from the old Negro Leagues, and also against Latino players, much to the chagrin of Major League Baseball. He continued doing this throughout his career.
The list of teams who, at one time or another, showed interest in having him as their manager include the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers from the American League, and the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves from the National League.
In 1944 baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who controlled the game with an iron hand during Ruth’s entire career with the Yankees, died. Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey then started looking for the ‘right’ player from the old Negro Leagues. He would choose Jackie Robinson.
In 1945 Robinson was signed to a pro contract and joined the minor-league AAA Montreal Royals for the 1946 season. The next season, 1947, Robinson was brought up to the major-league Brooklyn Dodgers where he had immediate impact, and not only as the first black player.
He was Rookie of the Year and three years later MVP. Robinson got the call and he made good on it.
Babe Ruth died in 1948. His call – for manager – never came.
If you want to know more, listen to my interview with baseball historian Bill Jenkinson who has devoted 30 years of research to Babe Ruth. Go to the Babe Ruth Legacy Interviews on www.BaberuthLegacy.com.