From the Editor's Vault...: October 19, 2007
Eyewitness News: Once and For All, the Lowdown on Babe Ruth and the Called Shot
It is one of baseball's most enduring legends. During the third game of the 1932 World Series between the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs, Yankees rightfielder Babe Ruth stepped back from home plate with two strikes on him and "called his shot" - actually predicted with a point of his finger that he would hit the next pitch from Cubs righthander Charlie Root over Wrigley Field's centerfield fence. Ruth did homer, but since that day, a controversy has lingered over whether he really called the shot and a recent debate over the subject among SABR members endured for over a week without resolution.
Most of the reporters covering that World Series apparently didn't think they had witnessed a historic feat, at least not at first. As author Robert Creamer noted in his splendid biography of Ruth, "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life," only one journalist at the scene, Joe Williams of the Scripps-Howard syndicate, mentioned a called shot in his story. A study of the spontaneous coverage of the game confirms this. It was only after the Williams piece appeared that several writers - most notably Bill Corum of the Hearst syndicate and Paul Gallico of the New York Daily News - took the story further. Corum's account was particularly curious since, as Mr. Creamer noted, he never referred to any gesture by Ruth when he wrote his game story in the Wrigley Field press box.
Over the past 25 years, two films of Ruth's most famous at-bat have surfaced, but their revelations are inconclusive. If you view them one after the other, the images contradict rather than illuminate. One shows Ruth gesturing towards what may be centerfield just before homering. The other indicates that Ruth merely was wagging his finger at some taunting Cubs in the home team dugout. However, in 2001, our editor-in-chief Richard Lally interviewed the late Frank Crosetti, a New York Yankees legend who played and coached with the team for nearly 50 years, an eyewitness to the game. Mr. Crosetti had no doubt what happened that afternoon:
Richard Lally: I'd like to talk about Ruth's called shot...
Frank Crosetti: Oh, you would bring that up, wouldn't you? All right, that's a story I can tell you about. As you know, Mark Koenig, the shortstop who used to play with the Yankees, was a great friend of the Babe's. After he left the Yankees, Mark went from the Tigers to, I think, the Pacific Coast League. Koenig had a good season there - and you know that was tough minor league, almost as tough as the majors - so the Cubs picked him up when their own shortstop, Billy Jurges, got injured. Mark played terrific ball with Chicago (he batted .353 and slugged .510 in 33 games) during the Cubs' stretch drive. Chicago wins the pennant and everyone knows they would have had a tough time doing it without Koenig. And, boy, were they right.
Now, usually, a player comes up and performs like that and your team gets into the Series, you don't stand around with an adding machine to figure out his World Series share. You give him a full share, plain and simple. But when the Cubs voted to divide their World Series share - back then you did that before you played in the Series - they only voted Mark half a share.
Richard Lally Woody English (the third baseman for the 1932 Chicago Cubs) said he thought that was fair because Koenig had played barely 20% of the season, so the Cubs figured they were doubling what he would normally receive...
Frank CrosettiOh yeah, I know all that, the rationalization. Did that burn the Babe! Not just because Mark was his friend, but because it went against his nature. Babe was no penny pincher. Let me show you what I mean. During that season, we were playing a series in the Old White Sox stadium (Comiskey Park). Now in those days, they didn't have security guards at the clubhouse door. Believe it or not, anyone could walk right in.
I was dressing across from the Babe and Myril Hoag, the outfielder...through the door, comes this old man. He had a beard, hat flopping over his ears, coat reached down to his ankles. He must have been maybe 70 or more and he looked down and out...this old guy walks up to Babe and whispers something in his ear. Babe reaches into his locker, removes his pants, takes out a wad of bills from his pocket and peels off a hundred-dollar bill and he gives it to this fellow...this wasn't unusual. I can't tell you how many times Babe did that sort of thing. He was the most generous guy in the world and he couldn't stand tightwads. So when the Cubs stiffed his friend - Mark and Babe were very close - he got on them...called them cheapskates, penny pinchers, tightwads, you know what I mean...
In that game you're talking about...Root got another strike past Babe, I think that made it 2 and 2, and now (the Cubs) really ripped into him. Babe stepped out of the box. He put up his hand but he did not point to center field! No, sir! What Babe did do was turn slightly toward the Cubs dugout and hold up one finger in front of his face, meaning he had one strike left.
Richard Lally You're sure that you could tell that? Couldn'tt your view have fooled you to, may be the angle...
Frank Crosetti I could see everything and I'm telling you he never raised his finger in that direction. Not even close. I know. I was watching and he didn't point to center field like everyone now says. It just so happens that he hit a home run on the next pitch..."
So naturally, the next day, after a couple of writers wrote that he called the shot, everyone wanted to know whether or not he pointed. Now maybe people can say it looks different from different angles. But I was with Babe, sitting right next to him in the dugout, and, no matter how many questions the reporters asked, he never said that (he called the shot) directly. He also didn't exactly deny it. He just went along with whatever they said, let them fill in the details so to speak. That's why the story spread. After (the reporters) left, and I remember this like it happened yesterday, I asked him what that was all about and (Ruth) told me, "Look, you and I both know I didn't point, but if those writers want to think that I pointed to that spot, let them. I don't care." And that's how it all started. The writers wanted to say he pointed to center field even though he never did, and Babe let them think and write whatever they wanted. He was just having fun with them...you know, the funny thing is Ruth actually called lots of home runs, but no ever wrote about them. Babe would come into the clubhouse singing - he had this nice bass voice - and he'd say, "I'm going to hit one today," and then he would. We were used to him doing things like that, things no one else could do.