Official National League (Frick) ball signed by Babe Ruth across the sweet spot. Ruth's signature has been scripted in black fountain pen and grades "6." In addition to signing the ball, Ruth has also added in his hand the date, "June 3 1935," on a side panel, and it is that date that gives this ball such an enormous significance as one of the most important balls in existence ever signed by Ruth. Ruth retired from baseball on June 2, 1935. He signed this ball as a parting gift for a teammate (Robert Eldrige Smith) on the day following the announcement of his retirement from baseball. The ball has the ideal provenance of originating from the grandson of pitcher Robert Eldridge Smith, who was a teammate of Ruth's on the 1935 Braves, and it is accompanied by a letter from the grandson to our consignor (dated September 19, 1989) in which he discusses the ball. Interestingly, this is not the only Ruth ball we have seen that he signed and dated for a Boston Braves teammate on June 3, 1935, as a special keepsake and farewell gift. We have seen one other: Many years ago, when REA handled the personal memorabilia collection of 1935 Boston Braves teammate Wally Berger, included was a ball given by Ruth to Wally Berger that was also signed and dated June 3, 1935.
Ruth was terribly distraught at the time he signed this ball, but to fully understand his emotional state on June 3rd, it is necessary to 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, following a home victory over the New York Giants.
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. According to more than one published report, the first thing Ruth did on June 3rd was take a cab from his hotel to the ballpark to say goodbye to the secretary and give her a $100 bill. While it is not specifically stated anywhere, it stands to reason that he said goodbye to a few of the players as well, and one can only assume that it was this time that Robert Smith obtained this ball from Ruth. Afterwards, Ruth drove back home to New York with his wife Claire. According to Marshall Smelse, author of The Life That Ruth Built
(Bison Books, 1993), "On the way back to New York Babe wept, feeling hopeless, desperate, desolate." On that ride home Ruth, for the first time, became painfully aware of the reality of the situation: he was no longer a baseball player. For the past twenty-one years he had reigned as the game's biggest star and its greatest gate attraction. He was the idol of millions world wide and a hero to every little boy. In one day that all came to a close and for Ruth, as it would for anyone, the finality of it all was difficult to cope with. This ball was signed on that day.
This ball is not simply a Ruth signed ball; it is the tangible representation of the end of one of the greatest era's in sports history. While we are sure that this was not the only ball Ruth signed on that day, it is, to the best of our knowledge, one of only two surviving examples that can be conclusively placed in his hands on that fateful date. As such, it is certainly one of the most significant Ruth single-signed balls we have ever offered and one that has a special significance to the final chapter of Ruth's illustrious career. The ball is lightly soiled, with a few small areas of light age toning. All of the manufacturer's stampings remain bold and legible. Interestingly, the stampings on this ball date it to the two-year period 1935-1937. In Excellent condition overall. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $2,500. Estimate $5,000+. SOLD FOR $5,333
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