Legendary Long Ball

Ruth’s called shot 80 years ago still captivates fans

October 01, 2012
George Herman Babe Ruth was an American original, baseball's first great slugger and the most celebrated athlete of his time. (NBHOF Library)

You don’t earn nicknames like “The Sultan of Swat,” “The Colossus of Clout” or “The Great Bambino” from doing the ordinary.

Babe Ruth was not only a baseball legend, he was a giant of the game and American culture. Some of the wild and outrageous stories about him are true. Some are not. And many fall somewhere in between.

Eighty years ago today – on Oct. 1, 1932 – the New York Yankees were visiting the National League Champion Chicago Cubs for Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. After two games at the American League Champion home of Yankee Stadium, New York had a 2-0 lead and was looking to keep the momentum going.

There was bad blood between the teams as Yankees players – particularly Ruth – had called the Cubs out for being cheap with their World Series bonuses and not giving a full share to former Yankees and current Cubs infielder Mark Koenig.

Prior to the game, Ruth went to the Cubs dugout and proclaimed a win for his team. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, he shouted to fans in the stands, “I told them they ain’t going back to New York. We lick ‘em here, today and tomorrow.”

Ruth had already homered in the first inning, blasting a shot into the bleachers. He came to the plate in the fifth with the score tied 4-4 and Cubs fans and players alike were heckling loudly and razzing the slugger.

Cubs pitcher Charlie Root threw the first pitch for a called strike. Cubs players came out of the dugout to holler at Ruth and Ruth yelled right back. At that point, Ruth is said to have put up one finger showing it was only one strike. After two balls, Root got another called strike.

Fans and reporters alike disagree on what happened next. In fact, two reporters in the same newspaper – the Chicago Daily Tribune – reported seeing different things.

Reporter Edward Burns wrote, “Ruth held up two fingers, indicating the two strikes in umpire fashion. Then he made a remark about spotting the Cubs those two strikes. Well, it seems that Root threw another good one. Mr. Ruth smacked the ball right on the nose and it traveled ever so fast.”

Burns made no comment about a called shot.

However, Westbrook Pegler wrote, “The Babe laughed derisively and gestured at him (Cubs pitcher Guy Bush in the dugout), ‘Wait, mugg; I’m going to hit one out of the yard.’…Babe put up two fingers on his other hand. Then, with a warning gesture of his hand to Bush, he sent him the signal for the customers to see…Many a hitter may make two home runs, or possibly three in World Series play in years to come, but not the way Babe Ruth hit these two. Nor will you ever see an artist call his shot before hitting one of the longest drives ever made on the grounds, in a World Series game, laughing and mocking the enemy with two strikes gone.”

Pegler also called the feat “the most gorgeous display of humor, athletic art and championship class any performer in any of the games has ever presented.”

It was clear that Pegler was convinced. Fans disagree over what they saw and Ruth went from not saying he didn’t do it to building on the legend and improving upon the story. Pitcher Charlie Root swore Ruth hadn’t called his shot.

The argument continued through the 1990s when 16-millimeter films were discovered that showed the incident. The video showed that Ruth clearly pointed, but it is still not clear where. From the angle, he could have been pointing at the Cubs dugout, the pitcher or maybe the outfield fence. Root’s back was to Ruth in the film, so he many not have seen Ruth’s gesture.

Either way, the home run counted and Lou Gehrig followed with a solo shot of his own. The Yankees swept the Cubs in the 1932 World Series, marking Ruth’s last postseason appearance. The bat from the legendary home run is on exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Baseball fans will probably never conclusively know if Ruth indeed called his blast in the 1932 World Series. But the tale of Ruth’s greatness will continue to be passed on to each generation by lovers of the game.

“It’s a hell of a good story,” said baseball historian George Will.

Samantha Carr is a freelance writer from Rochester, N.Y.