Legendary Yankee slugger made rare trip to Vancouver in 1934
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
Babe Ruth came to Vancouver. No, not the candy bar Baby Ruth—the baseball superstar, and monster home run hitter for the prestigious pin-striped New York Yankees.
Yes, in October 1934, Ruth made a trip to the Canadian West Coast as part of a contingent of athletes touring together. The players were passengers aboard the Empress of Japan and were scheduled to play a set of 17 exhibition games in Japan. Before setting on their voyage to Japan, they made a temporary stop in Vancouver.
Ruth had visited Vancouver before in November 1926, when he was in the city during a promotional tour. Ruth had participated in numerous publicity photos at the now demolished Pantages Theatre—one photo had him holding a bat in a hitting pose with Vancouver Mayor, Louis Taylor, being the catcher. Also in the photo was Chief of Police Long as the umpire.
Nonetheless, for his latest trip to Vancouver, Ruth stayed at the Hotel Vancouver and local photographers snapped photos of him wearing striped pajamas with a bright nightgown. He was lounging in his hotel suite and seemed to be enjoying himself. As well, he was seen smoking a pipe, savouring a roast duck dinner, and going for a routine shave—tipping a grand 25 cents.
Ruth would later speak with reporters during his stay in Vancouver, hinting that he was considering retiring from baseball. “I’ve played 21 seasons of major-league ball. I guess that’s enough, but it sure will be tough,” Ruth said. “My batting is as good as ever, but my legs won’t carry me. Now about managing a big-league ball club, I sure would like that if I could get a chance [….] I definitely won’t be playing next year. I don’t want to make a fool of myself.” Ruth then added, “Not for the money. No sir, not for twice the money.”
On October 20, 1934, Athletic Park would be the host for a rainy exhibition game played by the All Americans, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Their opponents would be a young roster comprised of local semi-professional ball players. Athletic Park was a wood-built ballpark located in False Creek, near the corner of Hemlock Street and Fifth Avenue. Commenting on Vancouver’s rainy weather, Ruth reportedly told his teammates “if these people can take the weather, so can we. We’re gonna give ’em a ball game.” Along with Ruth and Gehrig, other players on the team were Lefty Gomez, Charlie Gehringer, and Lefty O’Doul. The latter would later become the manager for the Vancouver Mounties team when the Pacific Coast League would make its local debut in 1956.
Billy Adshead, an infielder, remembers what it was like playing against the All Americans. “We were overwhelmed when we saw Ruth and these fellers,” Adshead said in an interview with The Tyee marking the 60th anniversary of the game. “All of us wanted to be big league ball players and here they were in the flesh right in our own park.”
Unfortunately, the exhibition game in Vancouver would be overshadowed by the heavy rainfall. The game was not cancelled, as it went the full nine innings—ending in a 2-2 tie. Despite the uncooperative Vancouver weather, Ruth tried to entertain the fans. During the game, Ruth attempted to hit one of his trademark home runs. However, he hit two long foul balls instead. But it appeared the local team of semi-professionals played hard, while Ruth and his All Americans gave a lackluster effort—not taking the exhibition game seriously.
Subsequently, Athletic Park continued to be used as a ballpark, but it was later demolished in the early 1950s to build an on-ramp for the Granville Street Bridge. Babe Ruth finished his illustrious career with the Boston Braves in May 1935. Yet he will be mostly recognized as a New York Yankee from 1920 to 1934. Ruth finished his baseball career with 714 home runs, 2,873 hits, 2,214 runs batted in (RBIs), and a .342 batting average.
Finally, Ruth and the All Americans left Vancouver the next day, boarding their ship bound for Japan. It made a brief stop in Victoria. Babe Ruth had a lot of confidence. And that swagger and self-assurance was evident during his brief appearance on the west coast. Reporters in Victoria asked Ruth how he was going to do against Japanese pitching. Ruth replied, “I’ve been knocking baseballs around for 21 years and I guess I’ll knock a few more in Japan.”