Pathos and Progress, 1938–1939
BABE RUTH had never given up hope of getting a managing job—or his insistence that it had to be in the majors. But the two years following his retirement in 1935 saw only one big-league managerial change: Steve O'Neill for Walter Johnson at Cleveland. A rash of firings and hirings began in July 1937, when Donald Barnes, the St. Louis Browns' new owner, ran out of patience with Rogers Hornsby's horse-playing and last-place ball club and paid him off. Jim Bottomley, ending his playing career before the meager turnouts at Sportsman's Park, took over for the rest of the season. That fall, Bottomley's and three other managing jobs became open.
But nothing for the Babe, who remained a celebrity without much to do. “If it wasn't for golf,” he told one interviewer, “I think I'd die.” “I'm nuts about baseball,” he told another visitor to his Riverside Drive apartment. “I like the game and all that goes with it. I love kids and crowds.” But as Robert Creamer has observed, “It was not so much out of sight, out of mind as it was out of touch, out of mind. The times were passing Ruth by.” 1
After the Browns straggled to a 21–56 record under Bottomley, Barnes hired Gabby Street. Street had known both good and bad times with the Cardinals; with the Browns he would know one season of little but bad. Charley Dressen, whose Cincinnati Reds had finished an encouraging fifth in 1936 and then fallen back to the bottom the past season, was fired with twenty-five games to go. That fall, Powel Crosley and Warren Giles hired Bill McKechnie away from Boston, where by common agreement McKechnie had achieved surprisingly good results the past two years with a