April 25, 2014

#Wrigley100: Babe Ruth and the 'called shot' vs #Bartman

Babe Ruth clearly indicating something in Wrigley Field, Oct. 1, 1932.
Photo via Wikipedia.
As dyed-in-the-wool (or dead on Waveland, heh, heh) baseball fans know, this is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field in Chicago.

ESPN recently listed its Top 100 moments at Wrigley. (Sidebar: I didn't realize the Bears played football there until 1970. I thought Soldier Field was older.)

No. 2? The infamous "called shot" game from the 1932 World Series, in which Babe Ruth may, or may not, have pointed to somewhere in Wrigley with his bat, and thus may, or may not, have been calling for hitting a home run after Charlie Root got 2 strikes on him.

To me, this is No. 1. It's No. 1 in part because of the mythos, reinforced the relative paucity of evidence -- we do have some film, but not much -- and by Root's vociferous denial that Ruth was calling anything, claiming he would have beaned him if he was.

Really? Let's first look at quotes from the Wikipedia link above on the "called shot."
  • "Don't let anybody tell you differently. Babe definitely pointed." — Cubs public address announcer Pat Pieper (As public address announcer Pieper sat next to the wall separating the field from the stands, between home plate and third base. In 1966 he spoke with the Chicago Tribune "In the Wake of the News" sports columnist David Condon: "Pat remembers sitting on the third base side and hearing [Cubs' pitcher] Guy Bush chide Ruth, who had taken two strikes. According to Pat, Ruth told Bush: 'That's strike two, all right. But watch this.' 'Then Ruth pointed to center field, and hit his homer,' Pat continues. 'You bet your life Babe Ruth called it.'")
  • "My dad took me to see the World Series, and we were sitting behind third base, not too far back…. Ruth did point to the center-field scoreboard. And he did hit the ball out of the park after he pointed with his bat. So it really happened." Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, United States Supreme Court
  • "What do you think of the nerve of that big monkey. Imagine the guy calling his shot and getting away with it." - Lou Gehrig
  • The Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, attended the game with his young nephew, and both had a clear view of the action at home plate. Landis himself never commented on whether he believed Ruth called the shot, but his nephew believes that Ruth did not call it
  • Washington Post legendary columnist Shirley Povich, detailed in an interview with Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey. "Ruth was just mad about that quick pitch, Dickey explained. He was pointing at Root, not at the centerfield stands. He called him a couple of names and said, "Don't do that to me anymore, you blankety-blank."
So, hard to say, but it adds to the mystique, right? And, of the collected quotes, three say he called the shot, and the others are kind of ambivalent.

Relatively recently discovered footage leans more toward the idea of Ruth pointing his bat at the Cubs dugout, Wikipedia claims. That said, even that and him reportedly holding two fingers up to Root, or pointing at him, would have been something halfway like saying "here it comes." In other words, short of Ruth pointing to the centerfield scoreboard, Root arguably had reason to bean him anyway. Beyond the above, Ruth had already homered off him earlier in the game.

And speaking of ...

Let's look at B-R's play index for that game, to further question Root's claim.

First, the game was tied 4-4 entering the top of the fifth. Root wouldn't want to jeopardize that lead. And, beaning Ruth with 1 out would have brought up Lou Gehrig who, like Ruth, had already hit one homer in the game and by this point was a more dangerous batter than Ruth, even with the likes of "just" a Tony Lazzeri, not a Ruth or Gehrig, protecting him in the lineup.

So, especially with two strikes on Ruth, from quick-pitching or whatever, no Root wouldn't have beaned him. He would have tried to strike him out. Beaning him with a two-strike count to know he would face Gehrig next in a tie game would have been stupid.

In actuality, he didn't and couldn't strike out Ruth. Gehrig then hit another homer too, at which point Root got yanked for Pat Malone.

So, Root may be right, but I kind of doubted it. He had reasons for his statement, of course. Root's not a HOFer, but he is arguably a member of the Hall of Very Good, winning more than 200 games and posting nearly 40 career WAR. And he'd like to be remembered for that

As for the Bartman game? That's No. 1 only for Cubs fans who want to scapegoat one of several fans reaching for a foul ball, while refusing to admit their team gave up 8 runs that inning because, again, Dusty Baker proved he didn't know how to manage a pitching staff, plus that being followed in Game 7 (remember, the Cubs had a 3-2 series lead) where the Cubbies had the biggest postseason implosion since the 1985 Cardinals in the A.D. (After Denkinger) game in the World Series.

Baker waited until three more batters after Luis Castillo eventually drew a walk before yanking Mark Prior, who had thrown 100 pitches or so already at the time of Bartman's hand of god or somebody, and was just in his second year in the league. Then Kerry Wood yakked up a lead in Game 7. Kyle Farnsworth dropped the ball in Game 6 out of the pen, with "help" from Mike Remlinger, but might not have done so if Baker had had him ready to go sooner.

I wouldn't even rank the Bartman game in the top 5 events at Wrigley. Among other things, I'd put Gale Sayers' 6-TD day ahead of it, as one of the best athletic performances in history.

And for anti-Cubs fans wanting to point a finger back, with a bit of schadenfreude, over their lovable losers schtick? I'd put Ron Santo's 1969 heel clicking higher on the list.

As far as saluting Wrigley's history, I'd put Aug. 7, 1988, the first night game at the Friendly Confines, above Bartman.

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