Did Babe Ruth really call his shot in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series? The question has hounded us, confounded us, surrounded us. It is the greatest legend involving baseball’s most legendary player. A story bigger than the Bambino himself. A story too cinematic to be believed and yet
Did Babe Ruth really call his shot in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series? The question has hounded us, confounded us, surrounded us. It is the greatest legend involving baseball’s most legendary player. A story bigger than the Bambino himself. A story too cinematic to be believed and yet too enticing to ignore.
If only we had an eyewitness. Someone with close proximity to the Babe in the batter’s box that afternoon of Oct. 1, 1932, at Wrigley Field. Someone who could attest to the truthfulness of the tale. Someone not known to be prone to exaggeration. Someone we can trust.
Someone like Lou Gehrig.
Well, thanks to an author who has uncovered an audio clip believed to have gone unheard by the general public for 88 years, we have that now. We have Gehrig, in an unmistakable and downright adorable New York accent, telling an audience of millions on a national radio show about the Called Shot mere days after its supposed occurrence.
"I’ve played a lot of baseball,” Gehrig says of the Called Shot, “but I have never seen so much nerve on display before."
Dan Joseph, author of the Gehrig biography “Last Ride of the Iron Horse: How Lou Gehrig Fought ALS to Play One Final Championship Season” (Sunbury Press, Inc.), first heard the audio in the late stages of researching his book last year. While looking for any existing film or radio clips of Gehrig, he found reference online to an old-time radio researcher who had the clip. So he tracked it down. And upon first listen, Joseph’s reaction was a very relatable, “Whoa!”
“My book was pretty much written and ready to be published by then, and [the clip] didn’t really fit the focus,” Joseph said. “So I’ve just been hanging onto it, waiting for the right moment to put it out there.”
On Thursday, with many baseball fans on social media discussing the 88th anniversary of the Called Shot, Joseph decided the moment was right.
The audio clip is from an Oct. 6, 1932 episode of “The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour,” a popular variety show that was hosted by singer and bandleader Rudy Vallée and broadcast nationally by NBC. Joseph’s tweet contains the full audio, and the ability to hear Gehrig’s actual voice -- not the Gary Cooper interpretation from "The Pride of the Yankees" -- is a thrill in itself.
Clearly reading from a script, as was the norm for such a program, Gehrig tells the audience that he has just returned from a fishing excursion with the Babe and others along the Long Island Sound, where the Yankees’ 1932 World Series victory over the Cubs -- a four-game sweep that wrapped on Oct. 2 -- was celebrated and dissected.
“Everybody agreed,” Gehrig says, “that the high point of the whole works was Babe’s homer in the fifth inning of the third game out in Chicago.”
Gehrig then tells the story we’ve all heard so many times. That the 50,000 fans in attendance and the Cubs’ players on the field were heckling Ruth as he stepped to the plate with the score tied, 4-4. That pitcher Charlie Root had Ruth in a 2-2 count.
“So what does he do?” Gehrig says of Ruth. “He stands up there and tells the world that he’s going to sock that next one. And not only that, but he tells the world right where he’s going to sock it, into the center-field stands. A few seconds later, the ball was just where he pointed, in the center-field stands. He called his shot and then made it. I ask you: What can you do with a guy like that?”
What can you do with a story like that?
• True or false? The Babe called his shot
The Called Shot -- the seminal moment of the Yanks’ 7-5 win that day -- has endured as a fundamental piece of baseball folklore, despite Root’s denials and a lack of concrete evidence. Existing photo and video “evidence” of the incident is inconclusive. It shows Ruth making gestures, but it is not clear whether he is actually pointing to center field or to Root or to the Cubs players. His intentions are unclear.
The story of the Called Shot quickly gained steam because of the headline that blared in the New York World-Telegram the next day: “RUTH CALLS SHOT AS HE PUTS HOME RUN NO. 2 IN SIDE POCKET.” The Joe Williams-penned article detailing the Babe’s point-and-poke is believed to be the only one written from the game that made reference to the Called Shot, and it was picked up in Scripps-Howard newspapers across the country.
It could very well be that Ruth -- and his teammate -- read the story and just went with it, with the rest of us following suit.
Or perhaps Gehrig’s testimony was indeed an honest account, one that ought to serve as definitive proof that the story of the Called Shot is, to paraphrase a line from another New Yorker, as real as it is spectacular.
“Until I heard the clip, I doubted it really happened,” Joseph said. “I thought it was a sportswriter’s myth. After hearing Gehrig, who was the on-deck hitter, now I’m inclined to believe that he did it. Gehrig had a reputation for being a very honest, very upright type of person. I don’t think he would have said it unless it reflected what he really saw and believed. This is maybe not slam-dunk proof that Ruth called his shot, but it shifts the scale toward the ‘yes he did’ side.”
Eighty-eight years after the Babe’s homer cleared the Wrigley wall, new discoveries about the Called Shot are still being made. And this time, Gehrig is the one doing the pointing.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.