Babe Ruth's "Called Shot" is one of the great legends in the history of baseball and Wrigley Field - but I'm sorry to report that it never happened. It's a case in which sportswriters refused to let the facts get in the way of a great story and as the years have passed, fiction has evolved into fact.
Ruth never denied the embellishment that during the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field that he pointed to the center-field bleachers and then homered to the exact spot where he pointed. The first few years after his 15th and final World Series home run, Ruth never took credit for it. But by the final years of his life in the 1940s, Ruth likely had heard the story so many times that he eventually came to believe that it really happened. The myth gained further credence after it was portrayed n the awful 1948 movie, "The Babe Ruth Story," starring William Bendix.
Have you ever been at a ballpark early and been bothered by the high volume of player fraternization that goes on? Players from opposing teams chat, shake hands, even hug. I suppose it's because players change teams so frequently, that everyone has ex-teammates sprinkled throughout the rosters of the other 29 major league teams.
It's probably not a very Christian thing to say, but what baseball needs is more hate. Hatred gets the competitive juices flowing and improves the quality of play.
I would not have enjoyed the outcome of the 1932 World Series - the Yankees steamrolled their way to a four-game sweep of the Cubs - but I certainly would have been amused by the contempt that the two teams had for each other.
The seeds for the animosity were planted in 1930 when the Cubs fired manager Joe McCarthy as their manager with just four games left in the season. McCarthy was relieved of his duties despite a 442-321 record in five seasons with the Cubs and was none too happy about losing his job. He took over as the Yankees skipper in 1931 and it's fair to say that he had an axe to grind as the '32 World Series commenced.
Further acrimony developed during the '32 season.
On July 6, 1932, 24-year-old Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot and seriously wounded by an attractive young brunette named Violet Valli, with whom he'd been romantically linked, in a room at Chicago's Carlos Hotel. In an apparent murder-suicide attempt (Valli had written a suicide note), three shots were fired. One bullet struck the little finger on Jurges' left hand while another struck a rib and ricocheted upward and out of his right shoulder. Valli was wounded in an arm.
Jurges survived the attack and was back in uniform just 16 days later. He refused to discuss the shooting, and did not press charges.
But the Cubs, in the middle of a tight pennant race with the Pittsburgh Pirates, were suddenly in need of a shortstop. They purchased veteran shortstop Mark Koenig from Mission of the Pacific Coast League. Koenig played 5 1/2 years with the Yankees, was popular with his teammates, and was the starting shortstop on their famous 1927 Murderer's Row world championship team.
The 27-year-old Koenig played brilliantly for the Cubs, hitting .353 after joining the team on Aug. 14. The Cubs won 23 of the 33 games he appeared in. The Cubs clinched the NL pennant with a 5-2 victory over the Pirates at Wrigley Field on Sept. 20.
The Cubs showed their appreciation for Koenig's efforts by voting him just a half-share of their World Series earnings. They also voted to give former manager Rogers Hornsby, who was fired on Aug. 2, nothing.
Hornsby filed a grevience with Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, claiming he was entitled to a share, but Landis ruled that how the players chose to divide the money was their business. Never the less, the Cubs were branded by the sportswriters of the time as cheapskates. It was a charge that was parroted by the Yankees in the days leading up to the World Series as several players stuck up for their former teammate Koenig.
"When the series started, we were surprised when they came out in the paper the day before and called us the 'cheap' Chicago Cubs, 'penny-pinching' Cubs, and that's why we got on them from our dugout so badly," Cubs third baseman Woody English remembered in Wrigleyville (Peter Golenbock, St. Martin's Press, 1996). "Babe Ruth was especially upset that we didn't give Mark Koenig a full share.
"So we were retaliating from what they said in the papers. When Ruth came up there, we really got on him, boy. Judge Landis was really upset by the profanity around the Cubs dugout.
"I didn't say anything. The others called him everything. It was too much for the fans sitting along the dugout."
The series resumed with Game 3 at Wrigley Field and the insults continued to fly.
"We were a young team and a fresh team," second baseman Billy Herman recalled. "We had some guys on the bench that got on Ruth as soon as the series started. And I mean they were rough. Once all that yelling starts back and forth it's hard to stop it, and of course, the longer it goes on, the nastier it gets. What were jokes in the first game became personal insults by the third game. By the middle of the third game, things were really hot."
While the Yankees took batting practice before Game 3, they were pelted with lemons from Wrigley fans and as each New York batter was introduced, he was booed lustily.
The Cubs, meanwhile, scored once in the first and twice more in the third. With the Cubs trailing 4-3, Jurges led off the bottom of the fourth with a sinking liner to left that Ruth first misjudged and then failed in his attempt to make a shoestring catch. The Wrigley faithful fully enjoyed Ruth's misplay and the Babe responded to the hoots and howls from the fans in the left-field bleachers with an exaggerated tip of his cap. Jurges scored the tying run on a two-out error by Yankees second baseman Tony Lazzeri, setting the stage for one of the most talked about moments in baseball history.
Joe Sewell opened the fifth and was retired after Jurges made a fabulous stop on his grounder and fired to first to retire the New York third baseman by a half step.
Up stepped Ruth and as he walked to the plate from the on-deck circle, he dodged a single lemon that had been lobbed from the Cubs dugout. The Cubs bench was alive, and pitcher Guy Bush led Cubs reserves in showering the great Yankees slugger with a barrage of four-letter words.
Ruth took strike one from Root and the Wrigley crowd roared with approval. The crescendo from the Cubs dugout intensified. Ruth raised a finger in the air and then pointed at the Cubs dugout. Root missed the strike zone with a pair of curveballs and then got a fastball over for a called strike two. The crowd and the Cubs bench again roared with approval.
Ruth next made a gesture. Some say Ruth pointed to the center-field bleachers, but eyewitnesses that included McCarthy, English, Jurges, Herman, first baseman Charlie Grimm, catcher Gabby Hartnett, and Root all insisted that Ruth raised his finger and looked into the Cubs dugout as if to say, "I have one more strike."
He got all of Root's next pitch, a curve on the outside part of the plate, and silenced the Wrigley crowd and the Cubs bench with a titanic home run to the deepest part of the ballpark. Ruth, thoroughly enjoying the moment, gestured to the Cubs bench as he rounded third base.
Root, who was known to have a temper, was most vehement in his denials of Ruth "calling his shot."
"He didn't point," Root insisted. "If he had, I'd have knocked him on his fanny. I'd have loosened him up. I took my pitching too seriously to have anybody facing me do that."