Babe Ruth Remembers: The Called Shot

The Real Babe Ruth, by Dan Daniel

The Real Babe Ruth, by Dan Daniel

Did he or didn’t he? That is, point to center field in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series after taking two strikes, then wallop a home run to the deepest part of Wrigley Field. The called shot has been one of baseball’s great enduring mysteries, in part because the Babe loved a tall tale and wasn’t about to throw water on this one. Here is what he told Chicago Daily News reporter John Carmichael.

Nobody but a blankety-blank fool would-a done what I did that day. When I think of what a idiot I’d a been if I’d struck out and I could-a, too, just as well as not, because I was mad and I’d made up my mind to swing at the next pitch if I could reach it with a bat. Boy, when I think of the good breaks in my life … that was one of ‘em!

Aw, everybody knows that game—the day I hit the homer off ol’ Charlie Root there in Wrigley Field—October 1, the third game of the 1932 World Series. But right now I want to settle all arguments: I didn’t exactly point to any one 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.

I used to pop off a lot about hittin’ homers, but mostly among us Yankees. Earle Combs and Art Fletcher and Frank Crosetti and all of ’em used to holler at me when I’d pick up a bat in a close game: “Come on, Babe, hit one.” ‘Member Herb Pennock? He was a great pitcher, believe me. He told me once, “Babe, I get the biggest thrill of my life whenever I see you hit a home run. It’s just like watchin’ a circus act.” So I’d often kid ’em back and say, “Okay, you bums…I’ll hit one.” Sometimes I did; sometimes I didn’t…but what the heck, it was fun.

Ruth in Chicago,1932

Ruth in Chicago,1932

One day we were playin’ in Chicago against the White Sox, and Mark Roth, our secretary, was worryin’ about holdin’ the train because we were in extra innings. He was fidgetin’ around behind the dugout, lookin’ at his watch, and I saw him when I went up to hit in the fifteenth. “All right, quit worrying,” I told him. “I’ll get this over with right now.” Mike Cvengros was pitchin’ and I hit one outta the park. We made the train easy. It was fun.

I’d had a lot of trouble in ’32, and we weren’t any cinches to win that pennant, either, ’cause old Lefty Grove was tryin’ to keep the Athletics up there for their fourth straight flag, and sometime in June I pulled a muscle in my right leg chasin’ a fly ball. I was on the bench about three weeks, and when I started to play again, I had to wear a rubber bandage from my hip to my knee. You know, the ol’ Babe wasn’t getting any younger and Jimmie Foxx was ahead of me in homers. I was eleven behind him early in September and never did catch up. I wouldn’t get one good ball a series to swing at. I remember one whole week when I’ll bet I was walked four times in every game.

I always had three ambitions: I wanted to play twenty years in the big leagues. I wanted to play in ten World Series, and I wanted to hit 700 home runs. Well, 1932 was one away from my twentieth year and that series with the Cubs was number ten and I finally wound up with 729 home runs, countin’ 15 World Series games, so I can’t kick. But then along in September I had to quit the club and go home because my stomach was kickin’ up and the docs found out my appendix was inflamed and maybe I’d have to have it out. No, sir, I wouldn’t let ‘em…not till after the season anyway.

Wrigley's center field, 1929 World Series

Wrigley’s center field, 1929 World Series

The World Series didn’t last long, but it was a honey. That Pat Malone and that Burleigh Grimes didn’t talk like any Sunday school guys, and their trainer … yeah, Andy Lotshaw … he got smart in the first game at New York, too. That’s what started me off. I popped up once in that one, and he was on their bench wavin’ a towel at me and hollerin’ “If I had you, I’d hitch you to a wagon, you pot-belly.” I didn’t mind no ballplayers yellin’ at me, but the trainer cuttin’ in … that made me sore. As long as they started in on me, we let ’em have it. We went after ‘em, and maybe we gave ’em more than they could take, they looked beat before they went off the field.

We didn’t have to do much the first game at home. Guy Bush walked everybody around the bases. I’ll betcha ten bases on balls scored for us. Anyway, we got into Chicago for the third game—that’s where those Cubs decided to really get on us. They were in front of their home folks, and I guess they’d thought they better act tough.

We were givin’ them [the Cubs] hell about how cheap they were to [former Yankee] Mark Koenig, only votin’ him a half-share in the Series and they were callin’ me big belly and balloon-head, but I think we had ’em madder by givin’ them that ol’ lump-in-the-throat sign … you know, the thumb and finger at the windpipe. That’s like callin’ a guy yellow. Then in the very first inning I got a hold of one with two on and parked it in the stands for a three-run lead and that shut ’em up pretty well. But they came back with some runs and we were tied 4-4 going into the fifth frame. You know another thing I think of in that game was the play [Billy] Jurges made on Joe Sewell in the fifth … just ahead of me. I was out there waitin’ to hit, so I could see it good, and he made a helluva pickup, way back on the grass, and “shot” Joe out by a halfstep. I didn’t know whether they were gonna get on me anymore or not when I got to the box, but I saw a lemon rolling out to the plate, and I looked over and there was Malone and Grimes with their thumbs in their ears wiggling their fingers at me.

I told Hartnett, “If that bum [Root] throws me in here, I’ll hit it over the fence again,” and I’ll say it for Gabby, he didn’t answer, but those other guys were standing up in the dugout, cocky because they’d got four runs back and everybody hollerin’. So I just changed my mind. I took two strikes and after each one I held up my finger and said, “That’s one” and “that’s two.” Ask Gabby … he could hear me. Then’s when I waved to the fence!

Charlie Root

Charlie Root

No, I didn’t point to any spot, but as long as I’d called the first two strikes on myself, I hadda go through with it. It was damned foolishness, sure, but I just felt like doing it, and I felt pretty sure Root would put one close enough for me to cut at, because I was showin’ him up. What the hell, he hadda take a chance as well as I did, or walk me.

Gosh, that was a great feelin’ … gettin’ a hold of that ball and I knew it was going someplace … yessir, you can feel it in your hands when you’ve laid wood on one. How that mob howled. Me? I just laughed … laughed to myself going around the bases and thinking, “You lucky bum … lucky, lucky,” and I looked at poor Charlie [Root] watchin’ me, and then I saw Art Fletcher [the Yankee coach] at third wavin’ his cap, and behind him I could see the Cubs, and I just stopped on third and laughed out loud and slapped my knees and yelled, “Squeeze-the-Eagle Club” so they’d know I was referrin’ to Koenig and for special to Malone I called him “meathead” and asked when he was gonna pitch.

Yeah, it was silly. I was a blankety-blank fool. But I got away with it and after Gehrig homered, behind me, their backs were broken. That was a day to talk about.

6 Comments

I’ve seen film of that famous at bat and read conflicting accounts, but this comes straight from the man who could have blown his own horn even more than he had. This has the ring of truth.Great story John.

John: I am sure that you do not need my opinion on whether or not the called shot actually happened, but if memory serves, US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has said that he attended the game as a ten-year old boy and that Ruth did, indeed, make a home run-like gesture before hitting the ball out. And whether you agree with his jurisprudence or not, Justice Stevens has always been an honorable man. Best wishes for the new year.
Bill Lamb

My belief has always been that these facts are too great to check. Happy holidays, dear readers!

I remember calling my shot like it was yesterday

Interesting to read Ruth’s words. When the grainy home movie of Ruth’s called shot materialized a few years back, many used it as evidence that the Babe didn’t call the HR. I had just the opposite reaction. Before I saw that “new” footage, I used to be one of the first to question if Ruth called his shot. Yet after seeing the film, I’m now on the side believing that he did. It just didn’t happen the way we had all been told over the years, or had been shown in the Hollywoodized version of the event with Ruth slowly and majestically pointing his bat toward CF where the ball would eventually land. That part is nonsense. Yet Ruth told us what happened through Carmichael, and his words match the video. Looking at it, Ruth’s intent was quite clear from his actions prior to the HR to his actions rounding the bases. He accomplished what he set out to do: Hit a HR!

Only an Ebenezer Scrooge would cry “Humbug!”

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