On Oct. 1, 1932, in Chicago, Illinois, Wrigley Field was packed to the gills with mesmerized spectators, journalists, and players. It is game three of the 1932 World Series. The New York Yankees, the titans of the sport already, hold a 2-0 series lead. After dropping the first two games on the road, player-manager Rogers Hornsby’s Cubs are in desperate need of a win. In the third inning, the score is tied at four. The count is 0-2 when George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. hits a run that becomes immortalized in baseball history. He and fellow Yankee superstar Lou Gehrig have been ruthlessly heckled all day by Cubs players who are looking to rattle the Bronx Bombers. So far, it hasn’t worked. Each of them have already hit a home run.
As Ruth trotted to the plate, he was faced with jeers from the Cubs bench, which was full of energy after they had tied the game just moments before. Ruth took strike one from Root and was faced with more taunts. Ruth’s only response was to raise his left arm slowly and steadily toward the center field flagpole with his index finger extended. Root delivered a second pitch, and Ruth again took it for a called strike. More jeers and heckling came from the dugout. Calmly, Ruth extended his left hand once more, gesturing at the flagpole in centerfield. Just as he lowered his arm, Root wound up. It was a curveball. Ruth swung, the ball soared and the rest is history.
Ruth hit Charlie Root’s curveball 490 feet away from home plate at Wrigley Field. What immortalized this home run in the annals of baseball history is not only the distance, nor simply the gravity of the situation in which it was hit. This moment is remarkable because Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, just called his shot.
While there is controversy as to whether Ruth was pointing at center field, the pitcher, or the Cubs dugout, the story lives on today. Journalists at the time focused their accounts on the Bambino’s called shot, rather than the Yankees’ 7-5 win. When approached about the called shot, Ruth responded ambiguously at first, but later embraced the story. Both he and Gehrig went on to retell the story with an embellished dramatic flair.
The fact that this piece of baseball legend is still told to young fans of the game today is fascinating. Ruth does not resemble the modern power hitter. Let’s compare Ruth to current Yankee slugger, Aaron Judge, who has just tied Ruth’s best mark for single-season home runs at 60. Ruth was stout and burly; he had a blue-collar visage, and hardly looked graceful in the baggy uniform of the time. Judge is trim and muscular, wears gold chains and has one of the most polished looks in the game. Each of these players are generational talents. One could only imagine an interaction between these Yankee greats.
Just as the Bambino went down in history for his supposed clairvoyance, maybe 100 years from now people will talk about Judge with a similar awe. However, I find that hard to believe. If game three of the 1932 World Series was nationally televised, maybe the mystery of the called shot would have dissipated, like broadcast waves drifting out into space.