The Called Shot
An Historical Analysis
Of all the events in the long history of Major League Baseball, this is the one that has been the most debated. This singular standing is not unseemly. First, it involves the game’s greatest and most iconic figure in the personage of Babe Ruth. Second, it offers what is the most unlikely and implausible scenario ever represented as historical baseball fact.
So, how can we finally understand exactly what happened, and, most importantly, place this unique event into a permanently and accurately defined context? The key word here is “defined.” Before we can hope to solve the riddle, we must construct some type of clear definition. To be specific: what the heck is a “called shot” anyway?
If it means that a batter points to a particular place on the field and then hits the next pitch exactly where he just indicated, then, perhaps, Babe Ruth did not “call his shot.” Although Babe was spontaneous as well as being a risk-taker, he was not frivolous or foolish. Forget the stereotypes about the man. Anyone who has ever seriously studied the Babe and his career will tell you he would have been very reluctant to do such a reckless thing.
Babe Ruth took his role as America’s preeminent athlete much too seriously to readily attempt a stunt like that. Oh sure, he had the guts of a burglar, and routinely tried to do things that no other ball player would even contemplate. But he would have been hesitant to risk his hard-earned reputation on an outcome with such a minutely small chance of success. Ruth was amazing, but even he could not blast a 500 foot home run to a prearranged landing place whenever he wanted to. It is doubtful that any individual in the history of the human species could do that.
But, what if the definition of a “called shot” is altered to, at least, make it feasible? What if it means, in the baseball context, that the batter tells the pitcher that he (the batter) is going to pound the next pitch regardless of whatever the pitcher tries to do? That changes things. Now, the prediction (or shot-calling) moves away from the absurd, and enters the realm of the merely exceptional. Over the years, baseball has probably produced a small number of performers capable of such rare bravado.
Now, what if we move the equation back in the direction of where we started? What if we make it even more problematic…not absurd and impossible like the first definition…just harder than the first counter-point ? What if we demand that the batter, in order to conclude that he called his shot, needs to do it in the World Series? What if we say that he has to display his defiance against an outstanding, veteran pitcher? How about including a scenario where the hitter is being insulted and ridiculed by his adversaries?
Why not make things even more melodramatic by insisting that the enemy fans are hurling fruit at him as he walks up to the plate? Since we have gone this far, how about requiring that the batsman has to have recently been sick enough to have been hospitalized? What the heck, let’s add the final stipulation, and mandate that the batter has to have two strikes at the time of his mind-numbing boldness! Where do we stand now?
Let’s be honest: when you parse the definition with such specificity, the prospect for fulfilling such a “called shot” is ridiculous. So, did Babe Ruth really do all that? We shall see.
Let’s return to Chicago’s Wrigley Field on October 1, 1932. First, it should be understood that, as far as anyone knows, the term “called shot” had never been used in baseball parlance up to that time. Certainly, it was a common expression in pocket billiards (aka pool). Based upon the rules of that sport, the term was essential. There were also associations with target shooting and curling. However, it just wasn’t part of baseball vernacular. So, when was it first used? Who was the first person to label Babe Ruth’s second home run that day as a “called shot?”
To help frame the debate, we will use the conflicting viewpoints of two Chicago writers of that era. Herbert Simons of the Chicago Times was inside Wrigley Field at the climactic moment, and he went to his grave swearing that Ruth did not call his shot. Then, there was Westbrook Pegler. He was the acerbic, syndicated writer for the Chicago Daily Tribune, and, contrary to his nature, concluded emphatically that Babe did call his shot. Somebody had to be wrong. Which man and which version was correct?
Simons was so intense about his feelings that he wrote what he intended to be the definitive analysis of the “Called Shot” on its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1957. Writing an article for Baseball Digest, Simons was unequivocal in his rejection of the emerging historical interpretation that Babe Ruth really predicted what eventually happened. That article was included in an excellent book titled The Best of Baseball Digest (Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2006), and edited by John Kuenster.
To begin his article, Simons wrote: “This is the 25th anniversary of a historic baseball event that never happened. I know. I was there. I saw it never happen.” He continued to describe what he actually saw, and it became clear that he actually agreed with most of what had been traditionally reported: the Cubs and their fans giving Ruth a brutal razzing, Babe twice pointing defiantly in the direction of Charley Root (the second time with two strikes on him), and, ultimately, Ruth “golfing a terrific line drive over the center field fence.”
So where does the impassioned disagreement enter the picture? Again, it reverts back to the matter of definition. Mr. Simons was focused on the question of whether or not Babe actually pointed to the exact spot where he eventually hit the ball. That part of his dissertation is fine. As discussed, that issue has been the main stumbling block of the historical analysis for decades. Reasonable people can disagree on how to define a “called shot.”
The problem for Herbert Simons is that he continued articulating his viewpoint by including some factual references that were inaccurate. In fairness to Simons, he did cite several sources whose contemporaneous accounts did not include any mention of a “called shot.” Accordingly, he was successful in demonstrating that not all contemporary observers necessarily concluded that they had witnessed a “called shot.” However, that does not prove that, of all the thousands of written articles, nobody made such an interpretation. This is where Westbrook Pegler comes in.
Pegler wrote for the Chicago Daily Tribune, a cross-town rival of Simons’ paper. Since he was nationally syndicated, Westbrook Pegler was well known for his cynical disposition, and caustic writing style. During the 1932 World Series, he made several biting remarks about Babe Ruth’s girth, including a suggestion that he (Ruth) should wear a girdle in order to stop “jiggling.” Pegler rarely offered high praise to anyone, and he was never starry-eyed.
Yet, in his coverage of Game Four the next day (October 2, 1932) in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Westbrook Pegler said:
"He licked the Chicago ball club, but he left the people laughing when he said goodbye, and it was a privilege to be present because it is not likely that the scene will ever be repeated in all its elements. 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."
So much for Herbert Simons’ assertion that there were no “called shot” references until days after the event. Simons provided many fine insights in his 1957 article, but he should have known what Pegler had to say before penning such an aggressive treatise. Besides, by that time (1957), Simons should have understood the nature of the conundrum better than he did. If he had simply reviewed Pegler, he would have noticed that, nowhere in his article, did Westbrook assert that Ruth predicted exactly where he would hit his home run.
The two writers essentially agreed with each other; they just used different definitions on how to define a “called shot.” As stated, that has been the problem for the past eighty years. Sometime, after the actual event, folks started mixing “apples and oranges,” infusing Pegler’s original concept with absurd distortions. Specifically, people began to claim that Babe Ruth pointed to a precise location in deepest center field, and then whacked the ball to that exact spot. No wonder Herbert Simons took such grievous exception. But, it would have been more helpful if he had framed his objections in the proper context.
Another irrefutable example of immediate recognition of the “called shot” phenomenon appeared in the late edition of the New York World-Telegram on October 1, 1932 under the by-line of Joe Williams. That’s the same day on which the event occurred. Appearing near the top of the first sports page, the Williams article led with the headline: “RUTH CALLS SHOT AS HE PUTS HOMER NO. 2 IN SIDE POCKET.”
Obviously using the billiards analogy, Williams went on to say:
"The great man delivered drama, comedy and pathos in a series of amazing performances before 54,000 stunned customers here today…The Bambino hit two homers during the day, each of them a record breaker, and on the occasion of his second round-tripper even went so far as to call his shot. He also cross-fired gags with hecklers on the Cub bench to draw rounds of laughs…in the fifth with the Cubs riding him unmercifully from the bench, Ruth pointed to center field and punched a screaming liner to a spot where no ball had been hit before."
Williams, who worked for the Scripps-Howard syndicate, was quite graphic throughout his article, but note that he never actually connected the direction in which Ruth pointed and the place where the ball finally landed. He appears to infer that there was no causal relationship between the two locations. In other words, Joe Williams essentially agreed with Westbrook Pegler. They both wrote on the day that the event happened that Ruth predicted his home run, but that he did not necessarily forecast where the ball would land.
There were some who later claimed that they instantly interpreted Babe’s actions to mean that he predicted where the ball would return to earth. However, none of them went on record on October 1, 1932. Accordingly, the stage was set for a melodrama that endures to this day.
Of course, Babe Ruth didn’t help. He is the only person on the planet who knew the truth with absolute certainty. Being the showman that he was, as soon as the exaggerations began to circulate, he started playing along with them. Before long, the Babe was putting his personal imprimatur on the notion that he had called his shot by pointing out toward the center field flagpole and then hitting it there.
As he aged, depending on his frame of mind, Ruth toned down his rhetoric. Long before his death in 1948, Babe acknowledged that he simply told Charley Root and the Cubs that he was about to blast the next pitch, regardless of the two-strike count. Perhaps, the Ruthian quote that best expresses his true feelings was provided to acclaimed sportswriter John Carmichael who wrote for both the Chicago Daily News and The Sporting News. It was the latter publication which featured Ruth’s historically definitive interview with Carmichael on March 23, 1944. In part, Babe said:
"Aw, everybody knows that game, the day I hit the homer off ole Charley Root in Wrigley Field, the day October first, the third game of that thirty-two World Series. But right now I want to settle all arguments, I didn’t exactly point to any spot, like the flagpole. Anyway, I didn’t mean to, I just sorta waved at the whole fence, but that was foolish enough. All I wanted to do was give that thing a ride…outta the park…anywhere…"
Returning one last time to the Simons’ article, it should be noted that he left us with an excellent insight from the other most important player in the drama, pitcher Charley Root. For years, Root had been complaining about the inaccurate manner in which the events of October 1, 1932 were being passed on to posterity. Then, in 1957, while preparing for his article in Baseball Digest, Simons tracked down Charley for an interview. At the time, Root was serving as the pitching coach for the Milwaukee Braves, and came to New York’s Polo Grounds for a game against the Giants. That’s where Simons cornered him.
Simons asked Root directly if the two antagonists had ever discussed the “incident.” In response, Charley provided some valuable and entertaining information:
"No, because I never heard the story until years later. The only time I talked to the Babe after the game was before batting practice the next day. He was up at the plate and I walked over and was looking at the bat he was using and asked him if that was the bat he had hit it with, and he said ‘yes’ and handed it to me to feel. It was heavy-about 50 ounces I would say, and it was dark, a sort of hickory color; in fact, I think the wood was hickory. You know I had two strikes on him on fastballs right down the middle, belt high, in that fifth inning. Then I threw him a change-up curve, intending to waste it to get him off stride. It wasn’t a foot off the ground and it was three or four inches off the outside of the plate, certainly not a good pitch to hit, but that was the one he smacked. So I asked him how he happened to hit such a pitch. ‘I just guessed with you,’ he told me. And that’s all that was said."
All that is highly interesting, even illuminating, and we have both Mr. Root and Mr. Simons to thank. However, that’s when Charley Root became somewhat disingenuous. He added: “You know me well enough, Herb, to know that if I had thought that he had tried to show me up, I’d have knocked him right on his tail.”
Charley Root was an accomplished and proud man. Nicknamed “Chinski,” he won 201 Major League games, including twenty-six in 1927. Yet, by 1957, he was tired of hearing his life’s work reduced to that one moment when Babe Ruth “called his shot” against him, and then acted on it. So, he fought back. That “I’d have knocked him on his tail” line had become his mantra. He repeated it, whenever anyone asked him about what happened.
With sincere respect to Root, it just doesn’t make any sense. What had he been waiting for? Babe Ruth had been overtly trying “to show up” the Cubs (with the exception of Mark Koenig) since before the World Series had even started. That was the nature of the relationship between the two teams in the fall of 1932. What else could Ruth have done to “show him up?” Did “Chinski” expect Babe to construct a billboard at home plate with flashing letters saying: “I’m trying to show up Charley Root”?
At the pivotal moment when Babe Ruth recorded his historic home run, he had been proclaiming his invincibility for the world to see. With two strikes against him, Babe had been gesturing and shouting that Charley Root was about to fall. And, then, down he went! It’s natural that a proud man, subjected to that level of public embarrassment, would construct some kind of defense. Plus, poor Charley really had no viable option at the crucial moment. The Cubs had fought back to tie the game, and had taken the momentum back from the Yankees. The count had reached two balls and two strikes against Ruth, and there was the red hot Lou Gehrig waiting to hit next.
What could Root do? The tactical situation clearly indicated the absolute need to pitch to the Babe. Charley would have been a dimwit to put Ruth on base (by walk or hit-by-pitch) simply to satisfy some sense of personal pique. And Root was a smart fellow. When he pitched to the Babe, he did the only thing that a responsible competitor could have done. But, after the fact, he concocted a story to cover his feelings of failure. Surely, he can be forgiven for that.
Amid all the serious facets of the “Called Shot” controversy, there was one sidebar that was rather comical. In the October 8, 1932 issue of the Pittsburgh Courier, a so-called black newspaper, they featured an article about an African-American fan from Chicago. His name was Amos “Loudmouth” Latimer, and the Courier described him as “an irrepressible colored bleacherite.” Apparently, “Loudmouth” was notorious for heckling visiting players, and that’s what he did to Babe Ruth after the Bambino’s first inning home run.
As Ruth returned to his position in left field after his-round-tripper, Latimer shouted: “Aw, the big bum, he ain’t no good. That was just an accident. Get him a pair of crutches.” With that, Amos hurled a lemon at Ruth who responded by merely smiling and pointing back at his tormentor. Then, in the fifth inning, with Loudmouth sitting in the extreme corner of the center field bleachers, Babe got even. According to the Courier, Ruth’s screaming “called shot” home run blazed past the shocked heckler by only three feet. Of course, the proximity of the blow to Latimer was mere coincidence, but it was still exceptionally ironic.
Considering their long-standing prestige, it seems logical to move on to the role of the New York Times in this discussion. John Drebinger was an esteemed sports-writer for the Times, and, reporting from Chicago after Game Three, he wrote:
"They playfully tossed bright yellow lemons at Babe Ruth and booed him thoroughly as the great man carried on a pantomime act while standing at the plate. Then they sat back, awed and spellbound, as the Babe, casting aside his buffoonery, smashed one of the longest home runs ever seen at Wrigley Field. It was an amazing demonstration by baseball’s outstanding figure, who a few weeks ago was ill and confined to his bed. It confounded the crowd…"
Later in the article, Drebinger expanded on his earlier remarks by continuing:
"But it seems decidedly unhealthy for anyone to taunt the great man Ruth too much and very soon the crowd was to learn its lesson. A single lemon rolled out to the plate as Ruth came up in the fifth and in no mistaken motions the Babe notified the crowd that the nature of his retaliation would be a wallop right out of the confines of the park. Root pitched two balls and two strikes while Ruth signaled with his fingers after each pitch to let the spectators know exactly how the situation stood. Then the mightiest blow of all fell. It was a tremendous smash that bore straight down the centre of the field in an enormous arc came down alongside the flagpole and disappeared behind the corner formed by the scoreboard and the end of the right-field bleachers."
Just how far did this drive travel on the fly? By using aerial photographs from that era, historian Bruce Orser, who specializes in such matters, has calculated the blow at exactly 490 feet. Yes, the Babe did receive some boost from the strong breeze that was blowing in the direction of right field. However, everyone agreed that the trajectory of the ball was significantly lower than that needed to achieve maximum flight distance.
Writing a syndicated column which appeared in newspapers around the country (including the Hartford Courant), the legendary Grantland Rice described Babe’s blast by saying in part: “The drive seemed entirely too low to clear the fence…on a line never more than fifteen or eighteen feet above the ground.” If Ruth had launched the ball at a slightly higher angle, it certainly would have flown well over 500 feet.
Earlier in his column, Rice had displayed his usual measure of wisdom by musing about the significance of what had he had witnessed in Game Three. Rice had predicted: “…this was a ball game, my countrymen, that you will hear about for a long time to come.”
How about the other key players in this dramatic episode? What about home plate umpire Roy Van Graflan? According to the book, Cubs Journal by John Snyder (Emmis Books, Chicago, 2005), at the crucial moment, Van Grafan heard Ruth snarl: “Let him put this one over and I’ll knock it over the wall out there.” Also, according to Mr. Snyder, Cub public address announcer, Pat Pieper, agreed with the home plate umpire’s account. Pieper, who was seated close-by in a front row box seat, confirmed that: “My sight and hearing were perfect.” Again, we see the Ruthian prediction of an imminent home run, but no reference to exactly where it was going.
Then there was Cub catcher Gabby Hartnett. Although he turned his back on the Babe during part of the at-bat, he still had a relatively intimate encounter with the sequence. Over time, Hartnett was quoted often about his observations, and his wording tended to change from quote to quote. Yet, he was steadfast in his conclusions. Hartnett insisted that Babe Ruth did not point to any specific place where he intended to hit the ball. Gabby acknowledged that Babe challenged pitcher Root along with the rest of his Cub teammates, but manifested his (Ruth’s) two-strike defiance by saying: “It only takes one to hit it.”
Since Lou Gehrig was waiting on-deck, standing only a short distance away, he also had an ideal vantage point from which to witness history. What did the Iron Horse have to offer? According to writer Frederick G. Lieb, who had dinner with Lou after the game, Gehrig greeted him by gushing: “What do you think of the nerve of that big monkey? Taking two strikes, calling his shot and getting away with it?” Lou further contributed to the overall mystique by appearing in the iconic photograph that showed him greeting the beaming Ruth as he crossed home plate.
Thirty-two years after the fact, Fred Lieb was still an active participant in America’s sports scene. On October 10, 1964, his account of these events appeared in the Sporting News, and confirmed the Gehrig quote. Lieb also added his own observations which had been made years before from the press box in Chicago:
"Greeted by a chorus of boos from the stands and barbs from the Cub bench, Babe took a first strike and then pointed to the center field bleachers. He took a second strike, actually called it on himself, and again pointed to the distant bleachers, though Babe was a confirmed right field hitter. Root sent another pitch toward the plate. Babe connected solidly and sent the ball to the deepest point of the center field bleachers."
Later in his article, Lieb added: “Other 1932 Yankees-Earle Combs, Bill Dickey and Herb Pennock-told me Ruth deliberately took two strikes and accurately called his shot.”
There is also a record of the commentary by Tom “Red” Manning of NBC Radio. Manning described it as follows:
"Now Ruth is pointing out towards center field, and is yelling at the Cubs’ bench. Someone has just tossed an orange out on the field, and Ruth is kicking it over towards the Cubs’ dugout. Now, he’s looking toward the stands, again turning and pointing to center field. Here’s the 2-2 pitch. Ruth connects and there it goes. The ball is going, going, going, high into the center field stands near the scoreboard! It’s a home run! Listen to that crowd!"
Manning, whose prolific radio career spanned forty-four years (1923-1967), has also been quoted by author Ted Patterson in The Golden Voices of Baseball (Sports Publishing L.L.C., 20002). According to Patterson, Manning later augmented his original account by adding: “Then he stepped out of the box, tipped his hat to the Cubs and told them if Root put the next pitch over the plate he’d hit it into the center field bleachers. At the same time he made a gesture to center field.” Obviously, Manning was a true believer.
Before moving away from the most important newspaper accounts, Richard Vidmer’s report from the New York Herald-Tribune should be considered. Vidmer upped the ante by inferring that Babe Ruth actually called both his home run shots that day. He wrote in part:
"With a capacity crowd of 51,000 looking on, Ruth cast a spell of awe over the throng with one of his greatest World Series performances. On two other occasions in his glamorous career he has hit three home runs in the course of a single World Series game, but never with the arrogance and super-showmanship he displayed today. Surrounded by a hostile crowd which booed him vigorously at the start, facing the combined taunts of the Cubs, the Babe turned the jeers to cheers, leaving an awed audience staring wide-eyed through the sunshine as he lifted two balls against the blue of the sky."
As he continued, Vidmer made his singular observation about Babe’s oft-forgotten first homer:
"The very first time he came to bat, in the opening inning, there was confidence in his manner as he stepped up to the plate. He paused to jest with the raging Cubs, pointed to the right field bleachers and grinned…With a step forward, a lurch of his massive shoulders and a sweep of his celebrated bat, Ruth drove the ball high into the temporary bleachers that had been erected beyond the right field fence. Upward and onward the ball flew, a white streak was outlined against the blue sky, and the first three Yankee runs romped home."
On the matter of home number two, the traditional called shot, Vidmer continued:
"But this was only the beginning…The crowd was in an uproar when the fifth inning started…As the Babe moved toward the plate, swinging three bats over his shoulder, a concerted shout of derision broke in the stands. There was a bellowing of boos, hisses and jeers. There were cries of encouragement for the pitcher and from the Cubs’ dugout came a storm of abuse leveled at the Babe. But Ruth grinned in the face of the hostile greeting. He laughed back at the Cubs and took his place supremely confident. A strike whistled over the plate and joyous outcries filled the air, but the Babe held up one finger as though to say: ‘That’s only one, though. Just wait.’ Two balls went by, then another strike. The stands rocked with delight. The Chicago players hurled their laughter at the great man, but Ruth held up two fingers and still grinned, the super-showman. On the next pitch the Babe swung. There was a resounding report like the explosion of a gun. Straight for the center field fence the ball soared on a line…Before Ruth left the plate and started his swing around the bases he paused to laugh at the Chicago players, suddenly silent in their dugout."
In his long career as a sportswriter, Richard Vidmer was always eloquent, but he was at his best on this occasion. As was the Babe. Starting with his emotional visit before the game to the recently blinded, sixteen-year-old, Leo Koeppen, Babe Ruth felt his remarkable life-force surging through his veins on October 1, 1932. Yet, unlike other mortal men, Ruth didn’t wait until after the fact to express his extraordinary capabilities. He announced his invincibility in front of the world, and than acted on it.
Any analysis of the “Called Shot” also must include a discussion of the two existing films of the Babe’s actions leading up to the moment of his home run. The first, which was discovered in the 1970s, was taken by Matt Kandle, Sr., an amateur filmmaker from Chicago. He had come to Wrigley Field with an old Kodak 16 mm camera, and was positioned in the seats near home plate along the third base line. The result was a rather grainy and poorly-focused visual image of Ruth pointing with his right hand toward the middle of the field. Although charmingly revealing, the film is not clear enough to facilitate any foolproof conclusions. That is also the case with a second film that surfaced in1999 that was shot by Harold Warp. It was purchased and showcased by ESPN, but it, similarly, fails to provide definitive images.
Then there are the celebrity accounts of what happened. Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was a lad of twelve when he witnessed the Babe’s theatrics from his seat inside Wrigley Field. Interviewed by CBS’s Scott Pelley of Sixty Minutes on the occasion of his retirement in 2010, Stevens was adamant in his ruling. Stevens actually revisited Wrigley Field along with Pelley, and that’s where he (Stevens) articulated his forceful assessment:
"He (Ruth) took the bat in his right hand and pointed it right at the center field stands and then, of course, the next pitch he hit a home run in center field and there’s no doubt about the fact that he did point before he hit the ball. ..Oh, there’s no doubt about it. That’s my ruling. ..That’s the one ruling I will not be reversed on. I am sure of that."
Stevens was ninety years of age at the time, and he was reaching deep into his memory from nearly seventy-eight years earlier. At the time he created those mental images, he was a youthful observer and not the wise and judicious legal scholar that he would ultimately become. Yet, his recollections are truly significant.
The most famous eye-witness of all was then presidential candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
We have little documentation regarding FDR’s verbal interpretation of what he saw. However, eyewitnesses say that the soon-to-be president hooted with unrestrained glee at the sight of Babe’s homer, and then rapturously watched him circle the bases until finally returning to the dugout. In a 1982 interview with the New York Times, James Roosevelt, who was seated next to his famous father at the time of the celebrated event, recalled the majesty of the moment:
"I remember a lot of hoots and howls by Cub fans when Ruth came to bat. And I remember, with great deliberation, he (Ruth) pointed to the longest part of the park. There was no question what the gesture meant. And when he hit the homer, I remember dad saying: ‘Unbelievable!’"
There are countless other quotations from different eyewitnesses, but it is instructive as to how much alike they are. Predictably, Babe Ruth’s teammates tended to infuse their comments with highly positive emotions, even to the point of awe-struck reverence. That includes pitchers George Pipgras, Charley Devens, and Herb Pennock, along with third baseman Joe Sewell, and trainer Doc Painter.
Just as predictable were the significantly less enthusiastic versions attributed to the losing Cubs. Guys like player/manager Charlie Grimm, second baseman Billy Herman, and pitchers Guy Bush, Pat Malone and Burleigh Grimes all stuck pretty much to the same facts as had the Yanks. Although clearly impressed with what Ruth accomplished, they were inclined to leave the hyperbole out of the equation. Who could blame them?
Most Major League players loved Babe Ruth as dearly as the average fan, but, in this instance, that was a difficult mentality for the Cub players to espouse. Babe had publicly rebuked them for their alleged miserliness, and, in retaliation, they had excoriated him with the vilest insults. When he added to their discomfiture by humbling them on their home field, it was hard to respond with warmth and enthusiasm. It may seem odd to someone from the 21st Century, but the Cubs and Ruth didn’t hate each other. They merely competed in a way that was appropriate to their times. In fact, it is apparent that, for the most part, the Cubs felt begrudging respect for the Babe, mixed with some latent affection that they just couldn’t suppress in spite of everything.
Being a friend and former teammate of the Babe, Mark Koenig was the one member of the Cubs with whom Babe didn’t have a beef. Accordingly, his perspective may be the most objective from the entire Chicago roster. Koenig reportedly recalled later in his long life:
"Ruth did point, sure. He definitely raised his right arm; I can remember that. But he did not point to center field. He indicated he’d hit a home run. But as far as pointing to center, no…My gosh, a guy would have to be crazy to do that…with two strikes and against a pitcher like Root."
When the entire episode is carefully reviewed, there is surprising unanimity of agreement over the central facts. There was some confusion about the exact count on Ruth at the time of his “called shot” home run. Everyone concurred that there were two strikes. Some sources, however, claimed that there was only one ball at the moment, while others said two or three. For the record, the overriding consensus is that the count was two balls and two strikes.
There was, and still is, some inconsistency about exactly what Babe said immediately before he blasted the ball over the center field wall. Again, however, the variations are trivial. Everybody, friend and foe alike, agree that Babe Ruth defiantly told the Cubs that, despite his two strike predicament, he was about to pound the ball into oblivion.
After all the years of discussion and debate, there is really little room for argumentation. Immediately after the original event, some observers labeled the homer as a “called shot.” They didn’t say or even imply that Ruth hit the ball to a prearranged spot. They simply stated that he predicted that he was going to punish the Cubs for their impudence by knocking the cover off the ball. When it actually happened, there was virtually no debate. That came later. On October 1, 1932, folks were simply amazed that Babe Ruth had accomplished something so totally inexplicable.
If there is a final analysis, what does it say? Do we finally understand what really happened in the fifth inning at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on that unforgettable afternoon? During the past eighty years, there have been thousands of accounts and interpretations outlining just as many viewpoints. As a result, it is impossible to create an all-inclusive chronicle that encompasses every perspective. Yet, there is a common thread that runs through the entire, epic saga.
Babe Ruth did something that day that was so extraordinary and literally unique so as to insure that we will never tire of contemplating it. Harkening back to Westbrook Pegler’s classic post-game narrative, we see a masterful description of the magnitude of Ruth’s accomplishment:
"There, in the third game of the World Series, at the Cubs’ ball yard on the North Side Saturday, the people who had the luck to be present saw the supreme performance of the greatest artist the profession of sport has ever produced. Babe Ruth hit two home runs…The people who saw Babe Ruth hit those home runs came away from the baseball plant with a spiritual memento of the most gorgeous display of humor, athletic art and championship class any performer in any of the games has ever presented."
Those words effectively capture the essence of the matter. There was only one Babe Ruth, and he now belongs to all those who dare to dream about living their lives without fear of failure. He seemingly embraced life with a total abandonment of inhibitions. Babe may have been the most natural man who has ever competed in the field of sports. Since he left the world stage over sixty years ago, we have not seen anyone even remotely like him. And, sixty years hence, we will still be wondering if we will ever see anyone like him in the future. That prospect seems very unlikely.
In one relatively brief lifetime, Babe Ruth provided us with adventure, pageantry, drama, laughter, joy and wonder. More than anything else, he imbued us with the hope that we can do anything if we are willing to swing for the fences.
So, what is the final verdict? Did Babe Ruth “call his shot” in the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs? Of course he did. The Bambino didn’t point to the center field flagpole, and then hit the ball there. But it doesn’t matter. That was always a fabrication of sorts. Yet, Babe stood in front of the entire sporting world, and, under a withering consortium of adversity, assured everyone that he would not fail. Ruth then validated his nearly unbelievable audacity by walloping his monumental homer. In every way that genuinely matters, Babe Ruth “called his shot.” In that one transcendent moment, he combined the highest qualities of physical virtuosity, dramatic showmanship, and athletic courage. Having done so, Babe Ruth left us with a sublime memento of baseball at its absolute best.