The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

The Day Babe Ruth Called His Shot

Writing about Babe Ruth is like writing about God.  No matter what you say about either of them, you are bound to offend someone.

Still, there is one major difference between the two of them. God never hit 714 home runs.

Oh, sure, God COULD have hit that many if he had wanted to, you say, but we’ve heard that before about countless prospects over the decades. Yet only a heroic Henry Aaron and an inflatable Barry Bonds have surpassed Ruth. Gods, of course, have the power to know what truths the future holds, a power that mere mortals are not privy to.

So how, then, was Babe Ruth able to predict that he would hit a home run off of Cubs pitcher Charlie Root in that legendary at-bat in the 1932 World Series? Actually, the essential question here is, DID Babe Ruth truly call his shot on that early October afternoon in Chicago?

It all began with sportswriter Joe Williams.  In the late edition of the same day as the game, he wrote, “Ruth Calls Shot As He Puts Home Run No. 2 In Side Pocket.” (Ruth had already hit another home run earlier in the game.) At first, even Ruth dismissed the story, saying that he was just pointing towards the Cubs bench telling them he still had one more strike to go.

As time went on, however, Ruth began to warm up to the story, embellishing it as time went by.

Yet no other player on the field that day was able to positively confirm that Ruth actually did call his shot, a monster 440-foot home run towards the flagpole beyond the outfield wall. Still, the famous photo exists that shows Ruth gesturing, arm outstretched, pointing at someone or something during this very at-bat.

Isn’t it at least plausible that this enormously talented hitter and consummate showman really could have called his shot that day? Ruth later claimed that he announced, “I’m gonna hit the next pitched ball past the flagpole. Well, the Good Lord must have been with me that day.” God, apparently, is a Yankees fan (which would explain a lot of things.)

Yet Yankees pitcher Charlie Deven, in an interview given seven decades later, said that while at first he thought Ruth’s foreshadowing gesture was indeed a portent of the subsequent home run, he was corrected by Yankees shortstop Frank Crosetti who told Deven that Ruth simply put up one finger to indicate he still had another strike coming.

Cub’s pitcher Charlie Root denied to his dying day that Ruth called his shot.  In one interview, he said that if Ruth had tried a stunt like that, his next pitch would have knocked Ruth on his ass.

The player who was physically closest to Ruth in that moment was Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett.  Hartnett later stated that Ruth did not in fact call his home run.  Instead, he said that Ruth bellowed, “That’s only two strikes,” while pointing at the Cubs dugout.

One might argue that Crosetti simply wasn’t physically close enough to Ruth to hear what he actually said.  And it can also be argued that Gabby Hartnett, being the catcher for the opposing team during a bitterly contested World Series (which the Yankees swept in four games), would have every reason to try to deny additional glory to the Yankee legend.

We must keep in mind that Ruth was not a brash, 25-year old kid just trying to make a name for himself.  In that case, it is conceivable that players on both teams would have tried to cut Ruth down to size for his lack of humility. But Ruth was an aging, 37-year old legend playing in his last World Series.  He was not just another star; he was THE star that all of baseball was indebted to for leading the way out of the woods of the scandalous 1919 season which could have ruined baseball indefinitely.

It was his exploits that changed the game forever, filling stadiums all over America, putting a little more money in every player’s pocket. In other words, his reputation already cast in stone, it’s hard to see why, if Ruth really had called his shot that day, not a single player on the field that day would grant him this one last diamond in his crown.

Unless, of course, it never happened. But why, then, would Ruth feel compelled to embrace this apocryphal tale?

To answer this question, we have to take a closer look at Ruth the Man, as opposed to Ruth the demigod. Despite enjoying a very productive season in 1932, Ruth was clearly no longer the dominant slugger in the American League.  For the first time since 1925, Ruth failed to lead the league in any of the following three categories:  Home Runs, RBI’s, or Slugging Percentage.

His teammate, Lou Gehrig, with whom a tense rivalry existed, had driven in 151 runs to Ruth’s still fine 137.  Worse, Jimmie Foxx of the Athletics had out-homered Ruth 58 to 41, falling just two homers short of Ruth’s own single-season home run record.

While Foxx and Gehrig had finished 1-2 in MVP voting in ’32, Ruth finished tied with Joe Cronin for a distant 6th in the balloting. Ruth, age rapidly creeping up on him, must have sensed his days as baseball’s most awesome slugger were numbered.  He also must have known that despite how much he was loved by his countless admirers, in the end, his on-field production would dictate the intensity and degree of their future admiration.

Ruth would also have realized that the world itself had changed drastically since the Yankees glory days of the late 1920’s. Charles Lindbergh had flown across the Atlantic back in ‘27.  Now, Europe was faced with the specter of Fascism in Spain, Italy, and Germany. A world-wide Depression had taken hold, and America itself was threatened by malignant forces both from within and without.

In short, the world was clearly not headed into a new Age of Reason.  Dark forces could only be effectively met by new heroes.  Franklin Roosevelt and his inspirational Fireside Chats were still months away.  Ruth, then, already a hero back in the heady days of the ‘20’s, tapped into the American Zeitgeist once again, and delivered the miracle this emotionally impoverished nation needed, i.e., that a man could still control his destiny.

Babe Ruth’s Called Shot resonated with the American public because it proved that even in the face of extreme darkness, heroic moments were still possible.

Yet, for our purposes here today, during a time of renewed social and economic turmoil, our rationalist selves have to accept that there just doesn’t seem to be any objective evidence that Babe Ruth really did call his shot.

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20 thoughts on “The Day Babe Ruth Called His Shot

  1. Arne on said:

    It occurs to me that this is baseball’s equivalent of the assassination at Dealey Plaza: out of a scrap of visual artifact, and truly thousands of witnesses, came huge numbers of widely varying testimonies as to what happened. I think that for Ruth to have truly called his shot, his arm and hand would need to have been raised higher than we see in that photo. In it, he’s pointing more straight out toward Root than up beyond Root, to the outfield stands and flagpole.

    • Hi Arne, It’s amazing that photo even exists at all, if you think about it. The first time I saw it was on Ken Burns Baseball around 20 years ago. Nice analogy to the Kennedy assassination, in terms of a baseball controversy. I don’t think he called the shot either, but it does make a great story.
      Thanks for stopping by,
      Bill

      • I found this in a file I have. I don’t know the source this comes from, but it is Gehrig, who was the on-deck hitter, saying: “Babe was jawing with Root and what he said was, ‘I’m going to knock the next pitch right down your goddamn throat.”‘ Gehrig was one of the most reliable and closest witnesses.

      • It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if that was true. In the context of what was happening in the game, how the Cubs bench was riding Ruth hard that day, it definitely sounds plausible, even likely. Thanks for bringing that to our attention.
        -Bill

  2. I would just like to say for the record that, in my final American Legion game, I called the sixteen-hopper I hit to short to end the bottom of the 8th inning.

  3. Jason M. on said:

    I think the fact that we are still talking about this 80 years later is proof that he DID call his shot. The surviving footage shows him gesticulating wildly at Root both before hitting the home run, and while rounding the bases after. If he didn’t “call his shot”, he DID beat the Cubs with pure gamesmanship. It wouldn’t be more than 40 years later, until Game 7 of the 1973 Series — when Reggie celebrated his big HR off Jon Matlack by jumping onto home plate (in a manner now oft imitated today) — that someone would bring such pure style to a World Series homer. Ruth’s enormous shadow still hangs over the game and that’s legacy. Even if he didn’t call his shot, he definitely Called his Shot.

  4. I wonder if reason does more harm than good sometimes. Great post Bill with a great variety of evidence saying no way Babe

  5. Excellent post Bill. As a Yankee fan, I will just say you gotta have faith.

    -Vince

  6. I sometimes wonder if Ruth would hit 100 home runs a year with today’s “hot” baseballs. But then I wonder if the pitchers are better, too, and if that would balance out. Any thoughts on that?

    • Interesting question. So many things have changed since Ruth played. Integration, night baseball (the first night game didn’t get played at Yankee Stadium until 1946), the role of the bullpen, the way teams travel, the way players actually take getting in shape more seriously, etc. Plus, today’s pitchers almost certainly throw harder than they did in his day. I think if Ruth in his prime came back to life and played in the Majors today, he would bat under .300 and hit probably 30+ homers a year. He might rank somewhere between Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo.
      Having said that, I still believe he was the greatest player of all time because you can really only compare a player to his contemporaries, and no player ever impacted his era the way Ruth did.

  7. I always kinda thought he was holding up his middle finger to the Cubs. That woulda been a true Ruthian gesture.
    Good job, well reasoned, Bill.
    v

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