Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The "Called Shot"

     In Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field, Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees strode to the plate in the fifth inning under a barrage of lemons and other objects thrown from the stands and a hail of verbal abuse from the Cubs’ dugout. Bad blood had been stirred up between the two clubs over the Cubs’ decision to award shortstop Mark Koenig, a former Yankee, only a partial share of their World Series money because he had not played the entire season for the Cubs. Koenig had made key contributions to Chicago’s pennant drive, and Ruth, among others, was outspoken in his belief that the decision was petty and unjust—although those weren’t the exact words he used.
     The mighty Yankees had a 2-0 lead in the Series. The game was tied 4-4. Homers by Ruth and Lou Gehrig off Cubs ace Charlie Root had given New York an early 4-0 lead, but the Cubs had come back to knot it up in the fourth. When Ruth came up again in the fifth, the crowd and the Cubs’ bench were in an uproar.
     Root threw the first pitch for a called strike, then threw two balls. His next pitch was another called strike, and the jeering from the crowd grew louder. At this point Ruth made an ambiguous gesture with his index finger (or was it his middle finger?). Was he pointing toward the Cubs’ dugout, toward Root, or toward the center-field bleachers? Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett thought he heard Ruth say, “It only takes one to hit it.” Gehrig, who was in the on-deck circle, remembered it this way: “Babe was jawing with Root and what he said was, ‘I’m going to knock the next pitch down your goddamned throat.’”
     The next pitch was low and away. Ruth swung and hit a tremendous home run into the center-field stands—reportedly the longest ever hit at Wrigley Field to that time. Some in the crowd sat in stunned silence, while others (including presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt) cheered. Gehrig followed with another home run of his own, and the Yankees went on to sweep the Cubs, four games to none. “We should have gone home after winning the pennant,” Cubs second baseman Billy Herman said. “The World Series was a disaster.”
     Had Ruth really called his shot? Most newspaper accounts of the game made no mention of it, and Ruth himself neither confirmed nor denied it until much later, by which time the event had become so ingrained in baseball mythology that there was no turning back. Then he said, “Well, I guess the good Lord was with me.”
     For his part, Charlie Root swore until his dying day that Ruth had never pointed to the seats. If he had, said Root, “I’d have put one in his ear and knocked him on his ass.”

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert.

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