Everything worked for the Yankees in 1932. The infield clicked, the outfield was strong, the catching outstanding (except when Dickey was under a thirty-day suspension for breaking a Washington outfielder's jaw with one punch in a dispute at home plate). The pitching was superb, and the hitting strong and consistent all year long. The team won 107 games and took the pennant by a wide margin.
Ruth pretty much decided when he wanted to play, which was most of the time, but more and more he left the game in the late innings and let young Sammy Byrd or Myril Hoag finish up for him. Ruth's caddies, they were called, or his legs. Babe, now thirty-eight, had a solid enough year, although it was distinctly below his traditional high level of accomplishment. For one thing, he lost the home run championship he had held (except for 1922 and 1925) since 1918. Jimmie Foxx of Philadelphia even threatened Ruth's record of 60, ending with 58. Babe was second, but far behind, with 41. He batted .341, not bad, scored 120 runs and batted in 137, not bad at all. But people like Foxx and Gehrig and Simmons were obviously better hitters than he was now. The only thing the Babe led the league in was bases on balls.
Twice he was out of the lineup for extended periods, the first time in the middle of July after he ruptured the sheath of a muscle in the rear of his leg as he chased a fly ball. He fell in a writhing heap and once again was carried off the field. He was in a hospital for a few days and out of action for the better part of two weeks. Later in the year, in September, he felt shooting pains in his right side during a game in Philadelphia. The Yankees left on a western road trip, pausing first for an exhibition game in Binghamton, New York, and there Ruth felt the pain again. By the time the club reached Detroit he was convinced he had appendicitis. He phoned Barrow in New York, spoke to McCarthy and, with Claire, hurried back to New York for a thorough examination. It may or may not have been his appendix -- there was no operation -- but he ran a low fever for several days and was kept in bed. Ten days after his return to New York and only ten days before the World Series with the Cubs was due to begin, he got into a uniform and worked out at Yankee Stadium. The team was still on the road and Babe batted against an amateur pitcher, but he was unable to put one ball into the stands. "I'm so weak I don't think I could break a pane of glass," he said "but I'll be okay in a few days. They had me packed so deep in ice I haven't thawed out yet."
There was considerable doubt that he would be able to play in the Series, but he was in the Yankee lineup for the last five games of the year (he had only three hits in sixteen at bats), and when the Cubs faced the Yankees on Wednesday, September 28, there was Ruth in right field, batting third. This was the World Series that is remembered for Ruth's called home run, the single most famous facet of his legend, yet it was really Gehrig's series. Chicago had a good solid team, representative Of the glowing period from 1928 through 1938 when the Cubs won four pennants and never finished lower than third. These Cubs could hit, and indeed they scored almost five runs a game against the excellent Yankee pitching staff, but their own pitchers, a redoubtable collection of first-rate performers (Lon Warneke, Charlie Root, Guy Bush, Burleigh Grimes, Pat Malone), were destroyed by the Yankees, who scored an average of more than nine runs a game. Gehrig had nine hits in the four games, including three home runs and a double, and he scored nine runs and batted in eight as the Yankees won, 12-6,5-2,7-5 and 13-6.
Yet Gehrig's exploits were obscured, as they so often were during his career, by a brighter sun, meaning Ruth. Along with being the highest scoring Series ever played, it probably had the most bench jockeying, and the Babe was in the forefront of it. Mark Koenig, who had dropped down to the minors after the Yankees traded him away, had been brought back up by the Cubs late in 1932 to fill a hole at shortstop; he fielded splendidly, batted -353 in 33 games and was a key figure in Chicago's drive to the pennant. But when the Cubs met just before the Series to decide how they would divide their share of the World Series pot, Koenig was voted only a half share. (Rogers Hornsby, who had been fired as manager almost two thirds of the way through the season, received nothing. A young outfielder named Frank Demaree, who was in only 23 games during the season but played center field and batted fifth in two Series games and hit a home run, was given a quarter share.)
The Yankees, led by Ruth, made great capital of Koenig's half share. "Hey, Mark," Babe boomed, "who are those cheapskates you're with?" Variations, richly embellished, followed and never let up. The Cubs struck back, mostly at Ruth, calling him fat and old and washed up, and they dragged out the old "nigger" cry. Guy Bush, a dark-haired, swarthy Mississippian, was Chicago's starting pitcher in the first game, and the Yankees yelled back, "Who are you calling a nigger? Look at your pitcher."
The jockeying continued at this high level as the Yankees won the first two games in New York. Then the Series shifted to Chicago, where thousands of people crammed into La Salle Street Station to see the ball clubs arrive. Ruth, accompanied by Claire, fought his way through the not unfriendly crowd to a freight elevator and then out to a cab. Motorcycle cops had to clear the way for the Yankees, and as Ruth and his wife entered their hotel a woman spat on them.
Such anti-Yankee feeling was isolated on the streets, but it was overwhelmingly evident at Wrigley Field before and during the third game of the Series. Ruth complained a week or so later that the Chicago press had brought the fans down on him with stories about the bench jockeying. "They wrote about me riding the Cubs for being tight and about me calling them cheapskates," he said indignantly.
"Well, didn't you?" he was asked.
"Well, weren't they?" he answered with irrefutable logic. Then he grinned and said, "Jesus, I wish I had known they only voted that kid Demaree a quarter share. Would I have burned them on that one."
From Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert W. Creamer.
Copyright © 1974 by Robert W. Creamer. Reprinted with permission.