The Way It Was — Navin Field

Take a closer look at a photo of Navin Field — the original name of Tiger Stadium — in 1932.
Photograph courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor, Wayne State University (The Detroit News)

Of all the visitors who came to Detroit in the first half of the 20th century, perhaps none was more famous than the New York Yankees’ legendary slugger Babe Ruth, considered by many to be the greatest and most popular ballplayer in Major League Baseball history.

With 8,500 fans in attendance at Navin Field on June 9, 1932, the larger-than-life player nicknamed “The Sultan of Swat” is seen poised to unleash a mighty swing in front of Tigers catcher Ray Hayworth and home plate umpire Dick Nallin.

On this day, Ruth failed to hit one of his moon shots and instead drew two walks and slapped a single to center as the Tigers defeated the Yankees 5-4. Four years later, the ballpark at Michigan and Trumbull was renamed Briggs Stadium after an extensive renovation; it was later renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961.

With 123 home runs, Ruth holds the record for the most career dingers against the Tigers. Three of his milestone four-baggers were belted at Navin Field. On July 18, 1921, Ruth blasted a historic shot officially measured at 560 feet for his 36th home run of the season and the 139th of his career, surpassing Roger Connor and setting the major league record for career home runs. His 200th homer was hit on May 12, 1923, off Herman Pillette, and No. 700 was slammed off Tommy Bridges on July 13, 1934, during his last season with the Yankees. Ruth held the record for most career home runs with 714 until Henry Aaron surpassed him in 1974.

In 1933, Tigers owner Frank Navin contacted Ruth about managing the Tigers, but the slugger, instead of meeting immediately, played exhibition games in Hawaii, thinking he could talk to Navin later. After the owner acquired Mickey Cochrane to manage the Bengals, Ruth called it the “biggest boot of my career.”

Near the end of his life, the beloved figure known for his love of kids became a spokesperson for Ford Motor Co. and toured the country promoting American Legion junior baseball before dying from a rare form of cancer in 1948 at age 53.

This story is from the June 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition