Significant 1935 Babe Ruth Signed Check to the Boston Braves - Last Act of Retirement

Sold For: $8,813

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1281

Item Year: 1935

Category: Autographed Baseballs/Flats/Photos

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While many Babe Ruth checks are circulating in the hobby today, few are as fascinating and significant as this example. This check, in many ways, represents Ruth's farewell to baseball and was probably one of the most difficult checks he ever had to write. The check, drawn on the Chemical Bank & Trust Company of New York, is dated June 14, 1935, and made out to the "Boston National League Base Ball Co." in the amount of $183.93. The check is signed "GH Ruth" in black fountain pen (grading "10"). It is highly likely that this check represents the return of a portion of Ruth's salary to the Braves following his sudden retirement just twelve days earlier. In our research of this check and its significance, we contacted Bill Jenkinson, the world's foremost Babe Ruth historian, and even though he could not state with 100% certainty that this check was issued in return of a portion of Ruth's salary, he believed it was likely and, in fact, highly probable. Given the circumstances of Ruth's retirement, it is actually hard to believe that it could represent anything else. The one thing that we can be entirely certain of, however, is that Ruth was not smiling when he signed this check, for it marked the end to what was undoubtedly the most humiliating chapter of his career.

To put the check in its proper historical perspective, we must first go back to February 26, 1935. On that date Babe Ruth was given his unconditional release from the New York Yankees so that he could sign on with the Boston Braves in a triple capacity: player, assistant manager, and vice president. Ruth actually had no desire to continue playing at this point. What he wanted, more than anything, was to manage at the Major League level. He had already been rebuffed in that pursuit by the Yankees (the best they could offer him was manager of their top farm club, the Newark Bears), and by most every other Major League club. The only person who showed any interest in Ruth was Braves owner Judge Emil Fuchs, but he had ulterior motives. Fuchs was an extremely manipulative person and he preyed on Ruth's passionate desire to manage by dangling the job position in front of him like the proverbial "carrot in front of the horse." Fuchs had no intention whatsoever of making Ruth manager of the Braves. What motivated Fuchs was the additional revenue a gate attraction like Ruth would bring in (the team was in dire financial straights at the time; Fuchs couldn't even afford the rent on Braves Field). With that thought in mind, Fuchs made sure that Ruth's contract stipulated that he was a roster player first and foremost, but that he would also assume the positions of "assistant manager" and "vice president," titles that Ruth soon found out were strictly honorary. Fuchs had also promised Ruth that he would take over as manager of the club either during the season, or the following year, and that he would receive additional revenue-sharing income. Fuchs further hinted at the possibility of part ownership for Ruth somewhere down the line. In the back of his mind Ruth probably knew that all of this was too good to be true and that he was being taken advantage of, but his dream of managing most likely clouded his judgment.

A few weeks into the season Ruth realized the awful truth: he would never be manager of the Braves. Instead, Fuchs treated him like a carnival sideshow attraction and the indignity of the situation soon became intolerable. At odds with both Fuchs, who continued to lead him on, and manager Bill McKechnie, who refused to let him have any managerial input at all, Ruth's final days in baseball saw him mired in misery. He was old, overweight, and often injured. Just stepping onto the field became a chore. The game he had loved so dearly had turned on him seemingly overnight and all that was left was the adulation of the fans. Despite his diminishing skills, people still flocked to the park to see the legendary "Sultan in Swat" in action, or at the least, to hit balls out of the park during batting practice. However, the thought of Fuchs, whom he now despised, profiting by the sweat of his brow quickly became too much for Ruth to bear. Shortly after an amazing performance in Pittsburgh, which witnessed Ruth hitting three home runs (the last of which was the first ball ever hit completely out of Forbes Field) he decided to call it quits. His official retirement announcement came on June 2nd.

Ruth's departure from the Braves was acrimonious to say the least. Ruth, understandably, was furious at the way he had been treated by Fuchs, who in turn was upset that he had now lost his biggest drawing card. The loss of revenue that Ruth's departure meant must have been an especially hard pill for Fuchs to swallow, as the last-place Braves now had little to offer fans in exchange for their hard-earned money. Given the circumstances of the team's financial ledgers, and the acrimony between Fuchs and Ruth, Fuchs no doubt requested that Ruth repay whatever moneys he might legally owe the club following his sudden retirement. One can only imagine Ruth's state of mind as he sat down to write this check payable to the Boston Braves. As if the entire situation with the Braves weren't humiliating enough, he was now forced to give back money to the man who first lied to him and then used him like a sideshow attraction to line his own coffers. The only comfort Ruth probably had after writing this check was the knowledge that he would never have to speak to or hear from Fuchs again. Thus, with a few quick strokes of his pen upon this check, Ruth's Major League career was finally laid to rest: a sad and disheartening ending for the greatest player who ever lived. The check (8.25 x 3 inches) displays normal bank cancellation holes and stamps, as well as a light vertical crease that just touches upon the "G" in Ruth's signature. In Excellent condition overall. The check has been beautifully mounted and framed together with a haunting photograph (13 x 10.5-inches) of Ruth in his final playing days as a member of the Braves that accurately captures his melancholy disposition that summer. Total dimensions: 19.25 x 21 inches. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $2,500. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $8,813

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