There are many versions of Babe Ruth’s meeting with Dixie Dean, some of them pretty obvious exaggerations. The most important, I’d say, is Dean’s own account, given in an interview with the journalist John Roberts in 1977 or 1978, just a couple of years before Dean’s death. (You can listen to it here. Also see transcripts of other parts of the interview, here, here, here, and here.) He recalled meeting Ruth in 1934 after a game at White Hart Lane, the home grounds of Tottenham Hotspur. Ruth came down to the dressing room. “You’re that Dixie Dean guy,” he said. “Jeez, you’ll get some cash today.” (The crowd was huge.) When Dean said he’d get just £8, Ruth exclaimed, “Jesus Christ—I’d demand two thirds of this gate.”
In fact, Ruth visited England in 1935. It was part of his 1934/35 off-season world tour, which started with the visit of a major league all-star team led by Connie Mack and featuring Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons, Lefty Gomez, Earl Averill, and many others to Japan and the Philippines in the fall. The Japanese portion of the tour was the most significant. Seven hundred thousand fans turned out for the 18 games to watch Ruth hit .408, smash 13 home runs, and play first base holding an umbrella, while Gehrig took to the field wearing rubber galoshes and Simmons reclined in the outfield grass between hitters. Moe Berg, the catcher/spy, lurked about Tokyo with a camera under his kimono. For some reason this crew managed to inspire the founding of Japanese professional baseball.
After the All-Stars played in Manila in December, the team split up, all the players going their separate ways. Ruth went on to Java, then to Europe via the Suez Canal, visiting Switzerland and Paris in January before arriving in England on February 7, 1935. He stayed less than a week. It was a hectic few days, though, packed full of events.
Most intriguingly, on February 8 he strapped on leg pads, picked up a cricket bat, and faced off against two fast bowlers. Needless to say he smashed their offerings all over the field. “Sure, I could smack that ball all right,” he said later. “How could I help it when you have a great wide board to swing?” His coach, the former Australian star Alan Fairfax, gushed about his star pupil. “I wish I could have him a fortnight. I could make one of the world’s greatest batsmen out of him.” Ruth tried bowling, less successfully. The afternoon ended with an argument about whether baseball pitchers were faster than cricket bowlers. There was a plan to bring Harold Larwood, one of the top bowlers of the day, down to London to undertake a test against Ruth, but it didn’t come off.
The matchup that never happened.
Of cricket, Ruth said, “I guess it’s a better game than I thought but I think I will stick to baseball. They tell me $40 a week [£8 a week, same as football’s maximum wage] is top pay for cricket. I believe I had rather be a club owner than a player.” There was subsequent speculation in the press that Ruth’s remarks would bolster the case for a rise in players’ pay in England, though that didn’t happen until after World War II.
The next day, February 9, Ruth was to go out to see “his first British soccer match.” Dixie Dean said he met Ruth at Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane. Unfortunately Everton did not play Tottenham that day. Everton’s league match at Tottenham that season had already been played on August 25, 1934, when Ruth was still in the United States. On February 9 Everton were playing a game 200 miles northwest of London at their own home grounds, Goodison Park in Liverpool, thrashing Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-2. The match at White Hart Lane that day was between Tottenham and Derby County.
My access to British newspapers of the period is pretty limited, and I haven’t been able to find any contemporary mentions of exactly which match Ruth attended on February 9, 1935. This website, though, claims it was the Tottenham/Derby County game at White Hart Lane: “Jimmy McCormick scored both Tottenham goals in this match at White Hart Lane, but Derby took a point in front of baseball star Babe Ruth courtesy of goals from Scots Hughie Gallagher and Dally Duncan.”
February 9 was the only day during Ruth’s stay in England on which Football League games were played. There weren’t any F.A. Cup ties during this period either. He departed for the U.S. on February 13, six days after he arrived; within two weeks he had signed with the Boston Braves for what was to be his major league swan song.
Now, it’s also true that I have no way of knowing whether or not Dixie Dean was actually in the lineup for Everton up in Liverpool that day. (He didn’t score, at any rate.) So it’s theoretically possible that he was not playing and made his way to London to meet Ruth at White Hart Lane—though that certainly doesn’t match his story that the two met in the locker room after a game in which Dean played.
So Babe Ruth did, apparently, attend a game at White Hart Lane, and he did make public comments about the paltry pay of English athletes (though cricketers instead of footballers). But I can’t establish that he saw a game in which Dixie Dean played, and can’t even place them in the same city at the same time.
This was Ruth’s only trip to England as far as I know, certainly the only one made during his active playing career. So it would seem to be the only chance for the fabled meeting to have happened in just the way Dean described it.
UPDATE 12:22 pm I should add that of course it’s possible that Babe Ruth visited England another time, though I haven’t seen any reference to such a trip. And the press in 1935 certainly made it sound as though Ruth had never been there before.