Detroit Tigers History

Detroit Tigers: Happy Birthday, Babe Ruth

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Sep 1, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; A bobble head doll of Babe Ruth on the field prior to a game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 1, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; A bobble head doll of Babe Ruth on the field prior to a game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /
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The infamously iconic Babe Ruth, who played for two of the top teams in the early years of baseball, almost became the manager of the Detroit Tigers.

In 1895, on February 6, the legendary George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born. Little information remains about his years as a young boy in Baltimore, Maryland, but there is plenty of recorded history surrounding his years with the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. There are even stories that the Sultan of Swat could have possibly managed and played for the Detroit Tigers before his career as a player ended in 1934.

In 1933, Babe Ruth was still playing with the Yankees, but he was showing his age. By the time the season ended, he had turned 38 years old – a milestone even for today’s players – and he wanted to be a manager. He finished the season with 34 home runs and a .301 batting average; both were a far cry from his seasons with 45 or more home runs and his lifetime average of .342.

The Babe stuck around in New York for one more year, but he wanted to manage. The Yankee’s owner, Jacob Ruppert, did not want Ruth to take over the duties. He was happy with the job that Joe McCarthy was doing with the Pinstripes and he did not want to make any changes. Ruppert had heard that Ruth was interested in working with a group that was interested in buying the St. Louis Browns. There was another rumor that Ruth was going to manage the Red Sox. Of course, history shows us that none of those things happened. 

Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers /

Detroit Tigers

Interestingly, no one but the Detroit Tigers was actually interested in hiring Babe Ruth to work as a manager. During Ruth’s tenure in the league, the Tigers had fallen from a powerful team led by the dangerous and durable Ty Cobb. The team had fallen into a funk that made them seem like a bunch of softies rather than blue-collar bruisers. The team’s last World Series victory was in 1909.

The Tigers owner, Frank Navin, wanted a new manager and he was in luck. At the end of the 1933 season, Bucky Harris resigned. This left the door open for Navin to hire the manager of his dreams – Babe Ruth. Navin was a smart owner who understood that ticket sales were important and no one drew more fans that the Bambino. With Harris holding the reigns, ticket sales had fallen by more than 30 percent.

Navin arranged a meeting with Rupert to discuss Babe’s contract. At the time, the Yankees were ready to move Ruth, because his age was showing. Navin was given permission to talk to Ruth, so he called him. The phone call did not go as well as Navin hoped it would.

Ruth was in Hawaii on a prior commitment involving baseball and golf. Ruth wanted to talk to Navin about it, but Navin wanted the deal to get done as soon as possible. Ruth had other plans. During Ruth’s expedition in the tropics, he did have a few conversations with Navin, but the deal never happened. The two men were too far away on numbers.

Jul 3, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) during the national anthem before the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 3, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) during the national anthem before the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Navin cancelled the whole thing, and instead hired Mickey Cochrane as the starting catcher and the team manager. Cochrane was the player-manager for four years from 1934 to 1937. In 1935, the Tigers won the World Series with him at the helm. Ruth played one more season with the Yankees, then went on to play 28 games with the Boston Braves in 1935. He never fulfilled his dream of managing an MLB team. Cochrane won the MVP in his first year with the Tigers. Both Cochrane and Ruth were enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

The Tigers have had their fair share of iconic players in the early days of baseball. From Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg to Hal Newhouser and Harry Heilmann. These men were some of the hardest working baseball players to ever play the game and most of them were well respected off of the field. Had Babe Ruth become a player-manager with the Tigers, his flashy style would have clashed with the tough and gritty team Navin was looking to build. Cochrane was the perfect choice at the perfect time. His leadership style was exactly what the Tigers needed to continue to be the team that defined “Detroit” in the late 1930s.

Next: Detroit Tigers and their Questionable Transactions

While Ruth would have filled the seats at Navin Field, he would have financially hurt Navin – who was already having financial troubles. Ruth wanted a huge salary that Navin was not willing to pay. Time was everything for Navin, Cochrane, Ruth, the City of Detroit, and the Tigers.

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