A message for Babe

Part of the POP UPS series
Written by: Matt Rothenberg

When it was noted that his salary was higher than that of Herbert Hoover, the President of the United States, Babe Ruth replied that he had a better year than the President. Between 1929 and 1933, perhaps that was so.

Throughout much of the 1925 season, though, Ruth’s contributions to the New York Yankees were about as quiet as Hoover’s predecessor, President Calvin Coolidge.

That is not to say Ruth’s statistics were poor, compared to some ballplayers. They just were not what fans had come to expect from the Bambino.

The season-long funk came to a head on August 29, when Yankees skipper Miller Huggins unilaterally decided to indefinitely suspend his slugger and fine him $5,000. It was a lost season for New York, mired in seventh place and finishing a 15-game road trip in St. Louis. Huggins’ reason for the suspension was Ruth’s “misconduct off the field.”

Telegram sent by Miller Huggins to Ban Johnson regarding Babe Ruth's $5,000 fine. BL-439-2008 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Pressed by reporters, Huggins elaborated.

“Of course it means drinking,” he said. “And it means a lot of other things besides. There are various kinds of misconduct. Patience has ceased to be a virtue. I have tried to overlook Ruth’s behavior for a while, but I have decided to take summary action to bring the big fellow to his senses.”

Huggins noted that Ruth’s illness, to which he succumbed during the trip north from spring training, had affected his performance, causing him to miss the first 41 games of the season.

Known as the “bellyache heard ’round the world,” Ruth’s illness was likely much more severe than bad indigestion. Though not fatal, as some had surmised it was, Ruth underwent surgery in New York upon his return from Asheville, N.C., and remained hospitalized into late May.

When Ruth returned to the lineup in June “he was on probation more or less, bound to take care of himself physically and live up to the rules of club discipline,” Huggins said. “He has forgotten all about these restrictions on this trip, hence the fine and suspension.”

Ruth, who hit just .234 in August, was sent home to New York from St. Louis. On the way, he stopped in Chicago to see Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to plead his case. Ruth told the press that Huggins was “making [him] the goat” for the team’s performance and that the Yankees’ pilot was “laying for a chance to get me and I gave it to him by staying out until 2:30 Saturday morning (Aug. 29) in St. Louis.”

Huggins sent a telegram to American League President Ban Johnson, who “heartily” agreed with Huggins’ assessment of Ruth.

“Ruth has the mind of a 15 year old boy and must be made to understand where he belongs,” Johnson told reporters. “For a player receiving $52,500 a year, Ruth ought to have made himself a hero instead of reflecting discredit on himself, his team and the game. He has been on probation to observe training rules, and this he hasn’t done. Misconduct, drinking, and staying out all night are things that will not be tolerated.”

Ruth returned to the lineup on September 7 in Boston. Despite a less-than-successful return – he went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts – it seems he learned his lesson. In 29 games between September and October, he hit .346 with 10 home runs and 31 RBI. With a renewed vigor and sense of purpose, Ruth got himself back in shape and returned to form in 1926, helping lead the Yankees back to the World Series after a two-year hiatus.

Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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Part of the POP UPS series