Among the thousands of baseball games I would give an eyetooth to have seen was the third game of the 1932 World Series. Little rode on the game itself: the New York Yankees, nearing the end of the RuthGehrig era, would take four straight games from the Cubs, outscoring the Northenders 37 to 19. The august New Yorkers, winners of seven pennants in twelve years, disliked the Cubs for their tightfisted treatment of an ex-teammate, Mark Koenig; they hoped to humiliate them.
This was the setting for Babe Ruth’s appearance at the plate in the fifth inning. The Wrigley Field faithful cheered encouragement to Cub pitcher Charlie Root. Ruth, belly advancing in front of his dainty feet, walked to the plate and dug into the lefthanders’ batter’s box. (I have a seat behind the third-base dugout with an unimpeded view of Ruth’s round face.) One strike; then another.
Suddenly, according to popular account, Ruth pointed to the stands, predicting with his gesture a home run on the next pitch. Root’s right-hand delivery met the thirty-seven-year-old Bambino’s bat head on; the ball arced into the stands for a home run; Ruth had “called his shot”!
Is this true? Eyewitness accounts differ. Maybe Ruth had nothing so specific in mind. But what if he did? It would be a stunning achievement. As others have written, even hitting a major leaguer’s pitched ball may be the single most difficult of all athletic feats. Home runs are another matter altogether. A fairly typical home-run champion of our own day might hit a home run every thirteen or fourteen official at bats—every fifteen plate appearances including bases on balls. In his entire career, Ruth averaged one home run every 14.6 plate appearances, in the 1932 season one every 14.3. So the odds against even the mighty Babe smacking one over the fence were too long for most betting men. What humiliation if he had struck out!
But did Babe Ruth worry about odds? If so, what bold defiance of the averages! My mind’s eye sees an unmistakable, if casual, gesture, as though to say, “seven ball in the side pocket. ” Only those who have held both a pool cue and a Louisville Slugger in their hands can realize the monumental gap between calling for the one and calling for the other.
One of the greatest moments of bravado in our history, and I would have wanted to judge for myself what happened.