Monday marks 75th anniversary of Babe Ruth's called shot against Cubs in World Series Print
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Thursday, 27 September 2007 05:50
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 First, they shattered Babe Ruth's season long-ball record, making 60 home runs sound like a distinctly ordinary number, one that was almost shrugged off in modern baseball's environment of souped-up sluggers.
Then, they turned the Babe's career record of 714 home runs into an afterthought, barely mentioned as first Henry Aaron and now Barry Bonds shot past it and kept right on going.
That left Ruth with one distinction, one moment no one has been able to match, a singular statement that nobody but the boisterous Babe would ever have the audacity to even attempt, especially in the pressure cooker that is the World Series.
It was the Called Shot home run.
For 75 years the debate has raged. Did Ruth really have the nerve to point at the center field bleachers at Wrigley Field, in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, boldly predicting that he would hit the next pitch to that spot?
That depends on whose recollection you believe.
Charlie Root, who threw the pitch, said there was no way Ruth called his shot. ``If he had made a gesture like that, I'd have put one in his ear and knocked him on his (backside),'' Root said.
Lou Gehrig, who was on deck as the next Yankees hitter, said oh yes, the Babe did so predict the homer. ``What do you think of the nerve of that big monkey, calling his shot and getting away with it?'' he said.
Most of the Yankees swore Ruth called the homer. Most of the Cubs swore he did not. All pretty much agreed, though, that he made a gesture on each of the first two strikes as the count reached two balls and two strikes, maybe pointing at the bleachers, maybe pointing at Root.
``I've talked to people who were there who interpreted what Ruth did in both directions,'' said Jim Gates, library director at the baseball Hall of Fame, who has done some research on the event. ``That's the great part of baseball mythology. It's a great story from a distance. It's one of the great baseball stories, something fans can talk about forever. And the debate, that's one of the neat things about the story.''
There are some parts of the story that are irrefutable, just about everything, in fact, right up to the home run.
Seventy-five years ago Monday, Ruth was at the top of his game, batting .341 with 41 home runs and 137 RBIs, off a bit from his best numbers but still formidable production. He had missed stretches of games with various ailments, the ravages of age. At 37, he appeared to be approaching the downside of an unbelievable career. There would, however, be one more exclamation point.
The Yankees were the best team in baseball that year, winners of 107 games and headed once again for the World Series. Their opponents would be the Chicago Cubs, who arrived at the Series hoping a diminished Ruth might help their chances.
But even as his career began winding down, Ruth was capable of remarkable things and when he got into a bench jockeying battle with the Cubs, it just fired up his determination. This was not a good development for the National League champions.
In the middle of it all was Mark Koenig, an otherwise anonymous shortstop.
Koenig came to the Yankees in 1925, a teammate of Ruth's during the Babe's glory years. He was traded in 1930, drifted to the minors and then surfaced with the Cubs in 1932, batting .353 in 33 games and playing a major role in Chicago winning the pennant.
Ruth was aware of Koenig's contribution and happy for an old buddy. But when he found out that the penurious Cubs had voted the infielder just a half-share of their World Series purse, the Babe was outraged and he let the Chicago bench know it.
``Cheapskates!'' he raged at the Cubbies, chortling at the ammunition they had provided him, relishing at the give and take. He punctuated the exchanges with belly laughs. He was having a ball and so were the Yankees, who won the first two games of the Series at Yankee Stadium and marched into Chicago determined to make short work of the Cubs.
At home in Wrigley Field, the Cubs became bolder with their jockeying. They rode Ruth without mercy, calling him ``a used-up has-been'' among a few other things. Babe soaked it all up, engaged in a lively give-and-take with the Chicago players.
He interrupted the dialogue to hit a three-run homer in the first inning of Game 3, which must have delighted him no end given the circumstances. It was the first time he had ever swung a bat in Wrigley Field. Just one more notch on his ample belt.
Gehrig homered in the third, but the Cubs rallied to tie the score 4-4 when Ruth came to bat in the fifth inning. The Cubs, perhaps emboldened by their comeback, ratcheted up the bench jockeying and Ruth gave it right back to them.
Root's first pitch was a called strike. Ruth looked over at the Cubs bench, raised his right hand and pointed with his index finger. The next two pitches missed the strike zone and then Ruth took strike two. Again, he raised his right hand, this time holding up two fingers.
What was the message?
Gabby Hartnett, the Cubs catcher, said he heard Ruth say, ``It only takes one to hit it.''
And then he proved the truth of that statement.
Ruth hit the 2-2 pitch into Wrigley's bleachers, more or less to where he had pointed. Unless, of course, he was pointing not at the bleachers but at Root, who had been jawing with him throughout the at-bat.
Nobody seemed quite sure what the Babe was gesturing about, and Ruth was not terribly interested in shedding any light on the matter. He was laughing as he circled the bases, probably amazed at what he had done. A day or so later, when he was asked about the landmark homer, Ruth was nonchalant.
Had he really called the homer, he was asked.
Ruth kind of hemmed and hawed at the question, never confirming the called shot but never denying it, either.
Why the hesitation to explain on one of baseball's most intriguing incidents? Gates, the Hall of Fame librarian, thought he might know.
``The Babe,'' he said, ``knew a good story when he saw one.''
 

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