Babe Ruth taking batting practice at Wrigley Field before Game 3 of the 1932 World Series
The "biggest fairy tale in baseball history" (to quote the late Jerome Holtzman, who was named baseball's Official Historian in 1999) allegedly took place at Wrigley Field in the third game of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, October 1, 1932.
- The Series featured one of the worst cases of bad blood between the two combatants of any Fall Classic. It started at the end of the regular season when the Cubs voted Mark Koenig, a former Yankee, only a half share of World Series money. Koenig had been called up from the minors on August 17 to replace regular SS Billy Jurges, who had been shot by his fiancee. In 33 games, Koenig hit .353, exactly 100 points higher thanJurges, and sparked the Chicago stretch run.
- The Yankees considered the vote unfair to their old teammate and, led by Babe Ruth, derided the Cubs as "cheapskates." As a consequence, there was more bench jockeying and shouting of insults at the other club than usual during the first two games.
- After New York took the first two games at Yankee Stadium, they faced a hostile, overflow crowd of 49,986 in Chicago for Game 3. As Ruthwarmed up in RF, fans threw lemons at him and castigated him continuously.
- Babe retaliated by swatting a three-run HR deep into the RCF bleachers in the first inning off starter Charlie Root. The next time up, he flew out to RF KiKi Cuyler up against the bleachers.
By the time the Bambino stepped into the box with one out and none on in the fifth, the Cubs had tied the game at 4. What happened next is the most famous at-bat in history.
- As Babe approached the plate, "a concerted shout of derision broke out in the stands, a bellowing of boos, hisses and jeers. ... From the Cubdugout came a series of abuses leveled at the Babe." (Richard Vidmerin the New York Herald Tribune the next day)
- Vidmer again: "Root whistled a strike over the plate. Joyous outcries filled the air and the Babe held up one finger as though to say, 'That's only one. Just wait.'"
- After two balls, Root quick-pitched Babe for strike two. "The Chicagoplayers 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 fence the ball soared on a line, clearing the farthest corner of the barrier, 436 feet from home plate. Before Ruth left the plate and started his swing around the bases, he paused to laugh at the Chicago players ..."
- Vivid imagery by Vidmer but nary a word about Ruth pointing to the bleachers to indicate where he would hit the next pitch. In fact, of the 100 or so writers who covered the game, only one, Joe Williams of theNew York World Telegram, said that Ruth had pointed to CF. And Williamslater recanted.
The myth of Ruth predicting his HR seems to have originated in articles by Bill Corum and Tom Meany three days after the game.
- Corum for the New York World Journal: "Words fail me. When he stood up there at the bat before 50,000 persons, calling the balls and strikes with gestures for the benefit of the Cubs in their dugout, and then with two strikes on him, pointed out where he was going to hit the next one and hit it there, I gave up. That fellow is not human."
- Meany on the same day in the New York World Telegram: "Babe's interviewer interrupted to point the hole in which Babe put himself Saturday when he pointed out the spot he intended hitting his HR and asked the Great Man if he realized how ridiculous he would have appeared if he had struck out? 'I never thought of it,' said the Great Man. He simply had made up his mind to hit a HR and he did."
What about Babe himself? What did he say?
- He is not quoted after the game as claiming he called his shot. In fact, when asked the following spring if he had pointed to the bleachers before he connected, he said: "Hell, no! ... Only a damned fool would have done a thing like that. If I'd have done that, Root would have stuck the ball right in my ear."
- Unfortunately, "Ruth fell in love with the story" because "it was another jewel in his crown." He started fueling the fable. In hundreds of subsequent interviews, including tapes made for the Hall of Fame, he insisted he had pointed.
What about the other players?
- C Gabby Hartnett, who had a front row seat for the drama: "If he had pointed at the bleachers, I would be the first to say so. He didn't say a word when he crossed the plate."
- Cub 3B Woody English: "He didn't point. He was looking directly into our dugout. He never pointed to center. If he had done that, Root would have knocked him down."
- Root, of course, was repeatedly asked about the incident. "If I thought he was trying to show me up, I would have knocked him on his tail. It's strange. I'm better known for that – for what never happened – than for the things that did happen."
- Koenig, Ruth's pal from the '27 Yankees: "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 HR on the next pitch."
Did Ruth's teammates confirm the story?
- LF Ben Chapman: "He was pointing at the pitcher. Someone asked him,'Babe, did you call that HR?' Babe answered, 'No, but I called Rooteverything I could think of.'"
- C Bill Dickey: "Ruth got mad at that quick pitch [for the second strike]. He was pointing at Root, not at the CF stands. He called him a couple of names and said, 'Don't do that to me anymore.'"
When asked, "How do you know?" Dickey replied, "Because Ruth told us when he came back to the bench."
"How come you never told anybody?"
"All of us players could see it was a helluva story. So we just made an agreement not to bother straightening out the facts."