The 1934 campaign was a strange one for the New York Yankees. They had a Triple Crown winner in both hitting (Lou Gehrig) and pitching (Lefty Gomez), and yet they could not surpass the Detroit Tigers for the American League pennant. Gehrig and Gomez were complemented by teammates like second baseman Tony Lazzeri, catcher Bill Dickey, starter Red Ruffing, and relief ace Johnny Murphy. There was also a stocky 39-year-old veteran right fielder who had a fine season despite being in the twilight of his career. Babe Ruth was limited to 125 games due to injuries, but in this limited action, he hit .288/.448/.537 with 22 homers, a .443 wOBA, and a 157 wRC+. Many players would probably have considered this season the finest of his career, but for Ruth it was a disappointment after years of some of the greatest years in the history of the game.
Although it was Ruth's 15th season with the Yankees and he was an iconic figure on the team, there was a growing sense that the official link between the two parties was about to end. Ruth badly wanted to manage the Yankees, but general manager Ed Barrow and owner Jacob Ruppert did not want to part with manager Joe McCarthy, who had just won a World Series with them in '32. Additionally, they were skeptical of Ruth's ability to run a ballclub when he was a wild character himself. Thus, as September came around, both the media and the fans realized that Ruth was playing his last games as a Yankee. When the Tigers clinched the pennant thanks to a 5-0 Yankee loss to the Boston Red Sox on September 24th, it confirmed that Ruth would not make the World Series. His final moments as a Yankee would take place during the regular season. That loss to the Red Sox was Ruth's last game at Yankee Stadium, but he had a few more on the road before the season concluded on the 30th.
A few days later, Ruth batted third in the first game of a doubleheader at Washington DC's Griffith Stadium. The Yankees fell behind the Washington Senators 8-2 entering the seventh inning, a five-run fourth inning against Johnny Broaca and Jimmie DeShong causing the most damage. The Yankees would need a rally if they wanted to get back into the game--backup catcher Arndt Jorgens obliged with a hit to start the frame against Senators starter Syd Cohen. McCarthy sent pitcher Red Ruffing, a fine hitter, up to pinch-hit for DeShong, but he struck out. Though leadoff hitter Frankie Crosetti made an out as well, third baseman Red Rolfe singled to keep the inning alive. The next hitter certainly chance to change the momentum of the game.
Ruth stepped to the plate for the 9,193rd time as a Yankee, and he would do something that he had done 658 times before in his Yankee career--crush the ball into the distant bleachers. It was his 22nd homer of the season and the final clout as a Yankee, the 708th of his major league career. The three-run bomb made the score 8-5, but his teammates could not continue the rally. The Yankees lost, and the homer ended up being Ruth's final hit in a Yankee uniform as well, number 2,518. He did not play in the second game, then went 0-for-3 with a walk in the season finale the next day.
Frustrated, Ruth was granted his release from the team after the season and he signed a contract with the Boston Braves, where he would play part-time while under the impression that he would be given assistant manager responsibilities under Bill McKechnie. It was not to be--the Braves merely wanted Ruth as a gate attraction and disgusted, he left the game for good after May of '35 having hit just six homers to reach 714 for his career. An era was over.
Ruth's last home run as a Yankee came 78 years ago today.