The Obit For Charlie Devens

Charles Devens, 93, Yankee in N.Y., financier in Boston

Charles Devens, the last living New York Yankee from Babe Ruth's final championship season of 1932, died Wednesday at his Milton home at the age of 93.

Mr. Devens later became a leading businessman in Boston, eventually serving as president of Putnam Investors Fund Inc. Before his high finance success, however, were the three glory years he spent as a Yankee, a career he left only for love. A star pitcher for Harvard, Mr. Devens attracted a scout's attention after he pitched two no-hit games against Yale.

The Boston Red Sox, perhaps because they were cash-poor at the time, evinced little interest in Mr. Devens, his son Charles Jr., said yesterday. But the Yankees pulled out all the stops, topping an offer from the Boston Braves.

"Devens is going to be a great pitcher," Yankees' legendary manager Joe McCarthy said back then. "He's got everything it takes -- speed, brains, fielding ability, and hitting power [he had batted cleanup for Harvard]."

Jacob Ruppert, then the Yankees' owner, motored up to Boston on his 90-foot team yacht and invited Mr. Devens and his parents for a visit.

"There, with my grandparents in attendance, he signed a rookie contract with a bonus of $5,000," Charles Jr. said. "The Yankees wanted him in the game right away."

Mr. Devens reported immediately for the majors, carrying his uniform and equipment in a bag that bore stickers from various places he had visited on a cruise. Lou Gehrig took one look at his travelogue and said, "Charlie, I see you've been to Rome. You've been to London. You've even been to Paris, but have you ever been to Newark?"

Newark was the home of the Bears, the Yankee's Triple-A team.

"The inference was that he wasn't good enough and he should be sent to Newark," said Charles Jr., who lives in Essex.

Mr. Devens stayed with the Yankees that season, winning his only start, a complete game effort. The Yanks went on to win the World Series over the Chicago Cubs, during which Mr. Devens was witness to one of baseball's most famous moments: Ruth's controversial "called shot."

"Ruth was having a feud against the Cubs," Mr. Devens told the Globe last year in an interview. He said Ruth had thought Chicago was cheap for giving only half a World Series bonus to a former Yankee teammate. "He'd made fun of them and they were giving him a ride. What did they say? It wasn't pretty, I can tell you that, and his reply wasn't pretty either.

"The pitcher, Charlie Root, got strike two called on Ruth, and Babe put up a finger and pointed. To me, it looked like he was pointing to the center-field stands. On the next pitch, he hit it into them."

Mr. Devens -- tagged "Hasty" by his teammates for his association with the Hasty Pudding Club at Harvard -- had many memories of the Yankees, especially the Babe. He recalled one train ride from Boston to New York where he watched Ruth down a bottle of bourbon and walk off the train unimpaired. But there were more endearing recollections.

"He was a generous man," he said. "I idolized him, yes and no. I idolized him because of his ability, and I didn't idolize him because he drank a lot and liked the ladies."

Mr. Devens also recalled pitching batting practice, where the hitters regularly did their own version of "Murderers Row."

"You wanted to be damn sure you weren't killed," he said. "Ruth never swung at those pitches on the outside of the plate because he didn't want to hit it back at you and hurt you. . . . Oh, and Gehrig, he could hit."

In 1933, Mr. Devens was sent down to the Bears, where he won his first seven starts. He was promoted to the Yanks and went 3-3.

Mr. Devens pitched only one game in the majors in 1934, winning it in a complete-game, 11-inning effort. It was the last time he stepped to the mound.

He had planned to marry Edith Wolcott, the granddaughter of former governor Roger Wolcott. Her father made it clear that he did not want a ballplayer for a son-in-law, Charles Jr. said. "My mother's father said, `Now Charlie, baseball is no career for the man who's going to marry young Edith. I'd like you to get out of baseball,' " Charles Jr. said.

The Yankees unsuccessfully tried to re-sign him. "Ed Barrow [former Yankees' owner] said I gave up a brilliant career," Mr. Devens said last year.

Instead, Mr. Devens father-in-law arranged for a teller's job at the State Street Trust Co., where Mr. Devens started at a salary of $15 a week.

Mr. Devens, whose great-uncle Charles Devens was a Civil War hero and the person for whom Ft. Devens in Ayer was named, served in the Navy during World War II. He was a flight deck officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, which was the target of an intense Japanese attack on Nov. 25, 1944. According to his Bronze Star citation: "Endangered by fire, suffocation, and exploding ammunition, he led . . . and was to a large extent responsible for those fires being brought under control."

Within five years after returning from the Navy, Mr. Devens had worked his way up to being a vice president at State Street. In 1954, he left the bank to become president of Incorporated Investors, then one of the country's oldest and largest mutual funds. It later merged with Putnam.

Mr. Devens, a Milton native, was a leading figure in philanthropic circles in the post-war years in Boston. He served as chairman of the United Fund, now the United Way of Massachusetts Bay; as president of the Metropolitan Boston Unit of the American Cancer Society; as state chairman of the United Defense Fund; and as president and a director of the Boston Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

His marriage lasted more than 60 years until Edith Devens' death. Mr. Devens remarried in 1999 to Elizabeth Emmet.

In addition to his son and wife, he leaves a son, Robert S. of New York City; a daughter, Edith Devens Iler of Beverly; eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Another son, William, twin brother of Robert, died at the age of 26 in 1969. Funeral services will be private.

In 1995, the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth's birthday, Mr. Devens went to New York for the Old-Timers' game. At a dinner for the honorees, he sat next to another Yankee pitcher of a different generation, Dave "Rags" Righetti.

"They spent the evening with a baseball, showing each other how they held the ball to throw different pitches and one learned from the other," Charles Jr. said.

Did Mr. Devens ever wish he had not given up the game?

"Oh God, why do you care?" he told a Globe reporter, then fell silent.

"I think about it all the time," he said finally. "It would've been fun to see what happened, but I have no regrets."