Monday, September 18, 2017

Babe Ruth Most Certainly Predicted That He'd Homer off Charlie Root at Wrigley Field


No doubt you’ve heard about Ruth’s “Called Shot” home run in the 1932 World Series. As a refresher, the Yankees faced the Cubs in that season’s Fall Classic and New York took the first two games at Yankee Stadium. At Chicago’s Wrigley Field for Game Three, New York and Chicago the Yankees came to bat in the top of the fifth inning with the score knotted at four runs apiece. With one out, Ruth stepped to the plate to face Cubs starter Charlie Root. After taking strike one, Ruth made some sort of gesture that even today remains the subject of much controversy. He then followed the motion with a homer to deep center field, giving the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish.



Just what was the gesture? Was Ruth pointing to the Cubs dugout, engaging with the Cubs players who had been riding him all game long? Was he motioning to Root, signifying that it would only take one mighty swing to break up the tie? Or did he point to Wrigley Field’s center field bleachers, claiming he’d deposit the next pitch in that very spot, and then make good on that promise?



Historians and fans have forwarded dozens of arguments for and against Ruth having called his shot. But what they (and you) might not know is that there is now definitive proof that the Bambino most certainly did predict he’d homer off Root ... some five years earlier. Here’s the story:

Following New York’s defeat of the Pirates in the 1927 World Series, Ruth and teammate Lou Gehrig spent the rest of October barnstorming across the country. During their tour, Ruth played for a team dubbed the “Bustin’ Babes,” while Gehrig starred for the “Larrupin’ Lous.” At each stop, local talent would fill out the rest of the two teams, a brilliant marketing and money-making concept devised by the headliners’ agent, Christy Walsh. The tour ran for 19 days, stopped in 20 cities, and staged 21 games. It remains one of the greatest barnstorming spectacles in baseball history and is the subject of an upcoming book by awarding-winning writer Jane Leavy and is due out in 2018.



Throughout the tour, Ruth and Gehrig generally played first base on their respective teams, but it was common for each of these sluggers to move to the pitcher’s mound when his counterpart came to bat. This way both stars were assured of getting good pitches to hit, which is what everyone at the park really wanted to see. It also helped avoid the risk of an overzealous local pitcher trying to upstage (or accidentally bean) a big league legend.

However, the second-to-last game of the tour, a much-anticipated October 30th contest at Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field, proved to be a bit different than most of the other tour games. For this contest, Gehrig would remain at first base, and Cubs pitcher Charlie Root (yes, that Charlie Root) would do the pitching for the “Larrupin’ Lous.” Root, a former pitcher with the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Angels, had just completed his second major league season, winning a National League-leading 26 games for the Cubs. Now he was scheduled to face the Bambino in front of a Los Angeles crowd.

 

When Ruth learned that he would be facing Root, the Babe wired to local organizers of the game that he was “glad you signed Root to pitch against me. Tell the fans for me that I’ll hit two home runs off Root or be disappointed.” This boast wasn’t a gesture that remains unclear today. And it isn’t mere speculation by modern-day historians. It’s a cold, hard fact and was printed in the Los Angeles Times a full three days before the game took place:


Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1927

So did Ruth back up his prediction? Alas, he did not. Facing Root for the first six innings of the game and former major league southpaw Red Oldham for the final three innings, Ruth went 1-for-5 with a first-inning double. Ruth had boldly predicted he’d clout two home runs against Root ... and failed.

But while Ruth fell short, Gehrig (sans braggadocio) rose to the occasion. In front of a crowd of over 25,000 fans that day (some reports estimate 30,000), it was Lou who hit a pair of home runs, as well as a double, all off Pacific Coast League pitcher Dick Moudy.

Case closed: Babe Ruth did boast that he'd hit a home run (actually two) off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root at Wrigley Field ... only it happened in 1927, in Los Angeles, and the Bambino failed to homer even once.

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