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Babe Ruth's called shot was the home run hit by Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, held on October 1, 1932 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. During the at-bat, Ruth made a pointing gesture, which existing film confirms, but the exact nature of his gesture is ambiguous. Although neither fully confirmed nor refuted, the story goes that Ruth pointed to the center field bleachers during the at-bat. It was supposedly a declaration that he would hit a home run to this part of the park. On the next pitch, Ruth hit a home run to center field.

Contents

The facts and the dispute

Ruth just after hitting the ball, and gesturing toward the Cubs bench as he rounds the bases.

There is no dispute over the general events of the moment. All the reports say that the Cubs' "bench jockeys" were riding Ruth mercilessly, and that Ruth, rather than ignoring them, was "playing" with them through words and gestures.

The longtime debate is over the nature of one of Ruth's gestures. It is unclear if he pointed to center field, to the pitcher, or to the Chicago Cubs bench. Even the films of the at-bat (by amateur filmmaker Matt Miller Kandle, Sr.) that emerged during the 1990s have not allowed any definitive conclusions.

Charlie Root's first pitch to Ruth was a called strike. Ruth then looked over at the Cubs dugout and raised his right hand, and extended one of his fingers. Root missed with the next two pitches, but the next pitch was a called strike, and the crowd again cheered loudly. Ruth then waved back at the Cubs dugout and held up two fingers. He began to shout at Root, and it is at this point Ruth definitely made a pointing gesture in the direction of Root, center field, or to the Cubs bench.

Root's next pitch was a curveball that Ruth blasted at least 440 feet to the deepest part of center field near the flag pole (some estimates are as high as 490 feet). The ground distance to the center field corner, actually somewhat right of straightaway center and in the zone of some of Ruth's deepest hits throughout his career, however, was 440 feet. The ball landed a little bit to the right of the 440 corner and farther back, apparently in the temporary seating in Sheffield Avenue behind the permanent interior bleacher seats. Calling the game over the radio, broadcaster Tom Manning shouted, "The ball is going, going, going, high into the center field stands...and it is a home run!" Ruth himself later described the hit as "past the flagpole" which stood behind the scoreboard and the 440 corner. Ruth's powerful hit was aided by a strong carrying wind that day. (Leigh Montville, The Big Bam, Random House, 2006, p. 502)

Newsreel footage (available in MLB's 100 Years of the World Series) shows that Ruth was crowding the plate and nearly stepped forward out of the batter's box, inches away from risk of being called "out" (Rule 6.06a). The film also shows that as he rounded first base, Ruth looked toward the Cubs dugout and made a waving-off gesture with his left hand; then as he approached third, he made another mocking gesture, a two-armed "push" motion, toward the suddenly quiet Cubs bench. Many reports have claimed that Ruth "thumbed his nose" at the Cubs dugout, but the existing newsreel footage does not show that (if it occurred, it might have been considered vulgar and would have been edited out). Sitting in a box behind home plate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, soon to be elected 32nd President of the United States, even had a laugh as he watched Ruth round the bases. When he crossed home plate, Ruth could no longer hide his smile, and he was patted by his exuberant teammates when he reached the Yankees dugout.

Despite these distracting theatrics, Root was left in the game; but for only one pitch, which Lou Gehrig drilled into the right field seats for his second homer of the day; Root was then relieved. The Yankees won the game 7-5, and the next day they finished off the demoralized Cubs 13-6, completing the four game sweep. The "called shot" homer was Ruth's last World Series hit.

Origins of the called shot story

Ruth's second home run in game 3, probably, would have been merely an exclamation point for the 1932 World Series and for Ruth's career, had it not been for reporter Joe Williams. Williams was a respected but opinionated sports editor for the Scripps-Howard newspapers. In a late edition the same day of the game, Williams wrote this headline that appeared in the New York World-Telegram, evoking billiards terminology: "RUTH CALLS SHOT AS HE PUTS HOME RUN NO. 2 IN SIDE POCKET." Williams' summary of the story included, "In the fifth, with the Cubs riding him unmercifully from the bench, Ruth pointed to center and punched a screaming liner to a spot where no ball had been hit before." Apparently Williams' article was the only one written the day of the game that made a reference to Ruth pointing to center field. It was probably due to the wide circulation of the Scripps-Howard newspapers that gave the story life, as many read Williams' article and assumed it was accurate. A couple of days later, other stories started to appear stating that Ruth had called his shot, a few even written by reporters who were not at the game.

The story would have had some initial credibility, given Ruth's many larger-than-life achievements, including past reported incidents of promising sick child Johnny Sylvester that he would "hit a home run for him" and then fulfilling that promise soon after. In the public mind, Ruth "calling his shot" had precedent.

At the time, Ruth did not clarify the matter, initially stating that he was merely pointing towards the Cubs dugout to tell them he still had one more strike. In another interview, this one with respected Chicago sports reporter John Carmichael, Ruth said he did not point to any particular spot, but that he just wanted to give the ball a good ride. Soon, however, the media-savvy Ruth was going along with the story that he had called his shot, and his subsequent versions over the years became more dramatic. On one newsreel footage, Ruth voiced over the called shot scene with the remarks, "Well, I looked out at center field and I pointed. I said, 'I'm gonna hit the next pitched ball right past the flagpole!' Well, the good Lord must have been with me." In his 1947 autobiography, Ruth gave another enhanced version by stating he dreamed about hitting the home run the night before the game. Ruth explained he was upset about the Cubs' insults during the series, and was especially upset when someone spat on his wife Claire, and he was determined to fix things. Ruth not only said he deliberately pointed to center with two strikes, he said he pointed to center even before Root's first pitch.

There is also a short film with the Bambino himself explaining what happened during that at bat. The film is not a documentary. The film is on YouTube [1] and the Babe himself was describing that he was getting heckled from the opponents dugout, and then giving an exchange. And after some pitches, he told the Cubs dugout that he was going to hit the next pitch out then. This can be taken as that he did not raise his arm and point to centerfield in a obvious way, but did maybe let it be known that he was going to hit the next pitch out for a home run.

Others helped perpetuate the story over the years. Tom Meany, who worked for Joe Williams at the time of the called shot, later wrote a popular but often embellished 1947 biography of Ruth. In the book, Meany wrote, "He pointed to center field. Some say it was merely as a gesture towards Root, others that he was just letting the Cubs bench know that he still had one big one left. Ruth himself has changed his version a couple of times... Whatever the intent of the gesture, the result was, as they say in Hollywood, slightly colossal."

Despite the fact that the article he wrote on the day of the game appears to have been the source of the entire legend, over the ensuing years, Joe Williams himself came to doubt the veracity of Ruth calling his shot.

Another part of folklore has Ruth being mad at the Cubs in general for the perceived slight of cutting Babe's ex-Yankee teammate, Mark Koenig, now with the Cubs, out of his full World Series share.

Nonetheless, the called shot further became etched as truth into the minds of thousands of people after the 1948 film The Babe Ruth Story, which starred William Bendix as Ruth. The film took its material from Ruth's autobiography, and hence did not question the veracity of the called shot. Two separate biographical films made in the 1990s also repeated this gesture in an unambiguous way, coupled with Ruth hitting the ball over the famous ivy-covered wall, which did not actually exist at Wrigley Field until five years later.

Eyewitness accounts

Eyewitness accounts were equally inconclusive and widely vary, with some of the opinions probably skewed by partisanship.

  • "If he'd pointed to the bleachers, I'd be the first to say so." — Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett
  • "Don't let anybody tell you differently. Babe definitely pointed." — Cubs public address announcer Pat Pieper (As public address announcer Pieper sat next to the wall separating the field from the stands, between home plate and third base. In 1966 he spoke with the Chicago Tribune "In the Wake of the News" sports columnist David Condon: "Pat remembers sitting on the third base side and hearing [Cubs' pitcher] Guy Bush chide Ruth, who had taken two strikes. According to Pat, Ruth told Bush: 'That's strike two, all right. But watch this.' 'Then Ruth pointed to center field, and hit his homer,' Pat continues. 'You bet your life Babe Ruth called it.'")[1]
  • "Ruth's finger just happened to be pointing to center field when he indicated he had one more strike remaining." — Frankie Crosetti, Yankees infielder
  • "(Guy) Bush, leading the tirade from our bench, turned a blast on the Babe. Babe pointed straight away and turned toward our dugout; no doubt for Bush's benefit. I hesitate to spoil a good story, but the Babe actually was pointing to the mound. As he pointed, I heard Ruth growl (to Bush), 'You'll be out there tomorrow, so we'll see what you can do with me.'" — Cubs first baseman and manager Charlie Grimm (In fact, Bush hit Ruth with a pitch in his first at bat the next game.)
  • "Ruth pointed with his bat in his right hand to right field, not to center field. But he definitely called his shot." — Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez
  • "Ruth did point, for sure. He definitely raised his right arm. He indicated (where he'd already) hit a home run. But as far as pointing to center... no, he didn't. You know darn well a guy with two strikes isn't going to say he's going to hit a home run on the next pitch." — Cubs shortstop Mark Koenig
  • "Don't let anyone tell you Babe didn't point. In our hotel room last night, Babe told me what a sucker he had been to point. 'Look how many ways they could have gotten me out,' he said." — Yankees coach Cy Perkins
  • "What do you think of the nerve of that big monkey. Imagine the guy calling his shot and getting away with it." - Lou Gehrig[2]
  • "I'm not saying he pointed, I'm not saying he didn't. He might've pointed, but I never saw it. Maybe I was looking the other way." — Joe McCarthy, Yankees manager.
  • Washington Post legendary columnist Shirley Povich, detailed in an interview with Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey. "Ruth was just mad about that quick pitch, Dickey explained. He was pointing at Root, not at the centerfield stands. He called him a couple of names and said, "Don't do that to me anymore, you blankety-blank."[3]
  • "Of course I didn't see him point. Nobody else saw him point, because he didn't. Charlie would have thrown it right at his head." — Dorothy Root, Charlie Root's wife.

The called shot particularly irked Root. He had a fine career, winning over 200 games, but he would be forever remembered as the pitcher who gave up the "called shot", much to his annoyance.[4] When he was asked to play himself in the 1948 film about Ruth, Root turned it down when he learned that Ruth's pointing to center field would be in the film. Said Root, "Ruth did not point at the fence before he swung. If he had made a gesture like that, well, anybody who knows me knows that Ruth would have ended up on his ass. The legend didn't get started until later."

In 1942, during the making of The Pride of the Yankees, Babe Herman (who was at that time a teammate of Root with the minor league Hollywood Stars) was on the movie set as a double for both Ruth (who played himself in most scenes) and Gary Cooper (who played Lou Gehrig). Herman re-introduced Root and Ruth on set and the following exchange (later recounted by Herman to baseball historian Donald Honig), took place:

  • Root: "You never pointed out to center field before you hit that ball off me, did you?"
  • Ruth: "I know I didn't, but it made a hell of a story, didn't it?"

Root went to his grave vehemently denying that Ruth ever pointed to center field.

"Why don't you read the papers? It's all right there in the papers." — Babe Ruth

Rediscovered 16 mm films

A still of Ruth pointing during the at-bat. Hartnett's back is turned to Ruth at that moment.

In the 1970s, a 16 mm home movie of the called shot surfaced and some believed it might put an end to the decades-old controversy. The film was shot by an amateur filmmaker named Matt Miller Kandle, Sr. Only family and friends had seen the film until the late 1980s. Two frames from the film were published in the 1988 book, Babe Ruth: A Life in Pictures, by Lawrence S. Ritter and Mark Rucker, on p. 206. The film was broadcast on a February 1994 FOX television program called Front Page.[5] Later in 1994, still images from the film appeared in filmmaker Ken Burns documentary film Baseball.

The film was taken from the grandstands behind home plate, off to the third base side. One can clearly see Ruth's gesture, although it is hard to determine the angle of his pointing. Many who have watched the film became believers in the called shot after having previously doubted it; however, others remained unconvinced. Some contend Ruth's extended arm is pointing more to the left field direction, toward the Cubs bench, which would be consistent with his (continued) gesturing toward the bench while rounding the bases after the hit. Others who have studied the film closely assert that in addition to the broader gestures, Ruth did make a quick finger point in the direction of Cubs pitcher Charlie Root, or center field just as Root was winding up.

As can be seen in the still and is more evident in the film, Cubs catcher Hartnett actually had his back to Ruth at the time of the gesture.

In 1999, another 16 mm film of the called shot appeared. This one had been shot by Harold Warp, and coincidentally it was the only major league baseball game Warp ever attended. The rights to his footage were sold to ESPN which aired it as part of the network's SportsCentury program in 2000. Warp's film has not been as widely seen by the public as has Kandle's, but those who have seen it and offered a public opinion seem to feel that it shows Ruth did not call his shot.

"The myth is dead," said ESPN producer, Mark Shapiro, "He was clearly pointing at the Cub dugout. He wasn't pointing at center field."
"To me it looks as if he was pointing toward the Cubs dugout. If he were pointing toward the seats, his arm would be elevated a bit more," said the man who brought the film to light, Warp's great nephew, James Jacobs.

The authors of the book Yankees Century also believe the Warp film proves conclusively that home run was not at all a "called shot". However, Montville's 2006 book, The Big Bam, asserts that neither film answers the question definitively.

Ruth's biographer, Robert Creamer, said in Baseball, "Did Ruth call his shot? Sure he did, but did he point to center field? No, he didn't"

In the YouTube film Ruth did not imply he pointed to Center Field. He did though imply that he let the dugout know that he may hit a pitch for a home run. If that is the case and then Ruth may have called his shot. But may not have raised his arm and pointed to Center Field.

Despite all the abuse from the Cubs players and fans, Ruth would later say he never had so much fun in all his life the day of his famous home run. His longtime friend Ford Frick once tried to get the truth from Ruth. Frick asked him, "Did you really point to the bleachers?" The coy Ruth would answer back, "It's in the papers, isn't it?" Ruth may have not called his home run, but the called shot is probably the most famous moment of his career.

Legacy and cultural references

The Baby Ruth sign outside Wrigley Field, as seen during the 1935 World Series, three years after the "Called Shot". Note the 440 marker in the center field corner. Ruth's hit went to the right of it and farther back.

Shortly after the called shot, the Chicago based Curtiss Candy Company, makers of the Baby Ruth candy bar, installed a large advertising sign on the rooftop on one of the apartment buildings on Sheffield Avenue. The sign, which read "Baby Ruth", was just across the street from where Ruth's home run had landed. Until the 1970s, when the aging sign was taken down, Cubs fans at Wrigley Field had to endure this not-so-subtle reminder of the "called shot".

In a further, unwitting follow-up to the above, page 34 of the spring 2007 edition of the Chicago Cubs game program featured a full-page ad showing a partially unwrapped Baby Ruth candy bar sitting in front of the Wrigley Field ivy with the caption, "The official candy bar of major league baseball, and proud sponsor of the Chicago Cubs."

In an early scene in the 1984 film, The Natural, a Ruth-like player called "the Whammer" points his bat menacingly toward and past Roy Hobbs, declaring his own "called shot." However, Hobbs strikes the Whammer out on three pitches. Major league slugger Jim Thome uses a similar bat-pointing gesture as part of his normal preparation for an at-bat.

In the 1989 film Major League, the climax of the movie depicts Indians catcher Jake Taylor pointing towards the outfield, clearly making a reference to Ruth's called shot. Fittingly, Jake was playing against the New York Yankees. The pitcher then throws a pitch high and inside, referencing Root's suggestion that he would have thrown at Ruth if he had really called his shot. Jake repeats the called shot, but instead of going for a home run, bunts the next pitch for a modified squeeze play, allowing the winning run to come in from second base.

In George Carlin's 2001 book Napalm and Silly Putty, he "reveals" that, "Contrary to popular belief, Babe Ruth did not call his famous home run shot. He was actually giving the finger to a hot dog vendor who had cheated him out of twelve cents."

In the first person shooter Team Fortress 2, the protagonist known as the Scout uses a baseball bat as a melee weapon, and can unlock another, similar weapon known as the Sandman. If the Scout taunts with the Sandman equipped as his weapon of choice, the character will point straight ahead before swinging his bat, clearly referencing Ruth's famous shot.

References

  1. ^ Condon, David (February 17, 1966). "In the Wake of the News". Chicago Tribune. p. 11.  
  2. ^ "Lou Gehrig Quotes". Baseball-Almanac.com. http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/quogehr.shtml. Retrieved 2007-04-25.  
  3. ^ Povich, Shirley (1969). All These Mornings.  
  4. ^ Snell, Roger. Root for the Cubs. http://windpub.com/books/root.htm.  
  5. ^ Front Page TV Show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E99eUE9b4GY

Bibliography

  • Creamer, Robert W. (1974). Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. Simon and Schuster.  
  • Stout, Glenn (2003). Yankees Century. Houghton Mifflin.  
  • Honig, Donald. Baseball America. ISBN 0-88365-817-8.  
  • Snell, Roger. Root for the Cubs. ISBN 978-1-893239-95-1.  

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