By The Numbers: Judging Babe Ruth’s Attempted Steal In The 1926 World Series
By Father Gabe Costa
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Our previous blog, which discussed where Derek Jeter ranks among the all time Yankees, received a number of hits and interesting comments. Of course, any discussion of Yankee greats must also include Babe Ruth.
For this installment of By The Numbers, our guest blogger is Mr. William Jenkinson. He brings to light an interesting event in the life of the Bambino. The author is an internationally known baseball historian, lecturer and writer. For more than three decades, he has done extensive research on long distance home runs.
And regarding Babe Ruth, no one on the planet knows more about the Sultan of Swat than Bill Jenkinson. The reader may learn more about the author here.
Bill Jenkinson: Having written a book about Babe Ruth in 2007 (The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs), I am accustomed to dealing with controversy relating to the Bambino. One issue, however, remains a sore spot for me. I don’t expect everyone to agree with all my conclusions, and I am willing to learn from the insights of others. Yet, when I encounter disagreement that is based on erroneous factual data, I feel bound to respond.
Such is the case with the long-debated topic of Babe Ruth’s failed attempt to steal second base at the conclusion of the 1926 World Series. After decades of intense research on every aspect of Ruth’s career, I came to an understanding and interpretation of that event that I knew to be at odds with conventional modern analysis. I argued that, even though Ruth’s gambit failed, the Babe earned high marks for his courage. Yet, eighty-four years of evolving hindsight have created the prevailing viewpoint that Ruth acted foolishly.
Let us revisit the facts. On October 10, 1926, the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals took the field at Yankee Stadium for the seventh and deciding game of the World Series. The Yanks had returned home after Game Five in St. Louis leading the Series three games to two. But, on October 9, venerable Grover Cleveland Alexander had reached into his storied past, summoning all his still-formidable skills, and defeated the Bronx Bombers 10 to 2 in a complete game masterpiece.
According to legend, the epileptic, hard-drinking Alexander had celebrated his second such Series triumph by getting drunk, but the claim that he was “hung over” for Game Seven has never been confirmed. Either way, pitching in relief, he quelled a seventh inning New York rally. As of the ninth inning, he was still on the mound, trying to conserve a 3 to 2 Cardinal lead. If he could, St. Louis would become World Champions.
Alexander had to face the top of the Yankee batting order, and was able to retire the first two batters (Earl Combs and Mark Koenig) rather easily. But Babe Ruth was next. Up to that moment, Ruth had performed magnificently. He had fielded expertly, and batted 6 for 20 with four home runs, including a third inning shot into the right centerfield bleachers for the game’s first run. He had also walked ten times. Since he represented the tying run, many observers assumed that Alexander would pass him deliberately.
That’s not what happened. Pitching carefully but determinedly, Alex ran a full count with Ruth fouling back the second strike on a mighty swing. At three and two, the Babe walked on a slow curve that missed the outside corner. Bob Meusel then stepped up to the plate with Lou Gehrig on deck. On the first pitch (some sources said second pitch), Ruth waited momentarily, hoping to find catcher Bob O’Farrell and second baseman Rogers Hornsby off guard, and then took off on a delayed steal. Meusel swung and missed, and O”Farrell threw to Hornsby who applied the tag. Babe Ruth was ruled out by umpire Bill Dineen, the game was over, and the Cardinals won the World Series.
That was a long time ago, but Ruth’s base-running gamble is still topical. And, yes, most modern baseball fans regard the play as ill-conceived. Perhaps it was. But there are four common components to the anti-Ruthian treatise that are just plain wrong:
1-Babe Ruth was slow and fat, rendering any base-stealing effort impractical.
2-Bob Meusel was a formidable hitter at that time he batted on October 10, 1926.
3-Babe Ruth was thrown out by a wide margin.
4-Most contemporary observers believed that Babe Ruth had acted unwisely.
EACH OF THESE FOUR ISSUES WILL BE DISCUSSED AND ANALYZED.
ONE: Babe Ruth was slow and fat, rendering any base-stealing effort impractical.
It is true that Babe Ruth battled weight problems for most of his athletic career. However, he didn’t always lose that battle. His weight went up and down, thereby necessitating careful research before making comments or judgments. In fact, as of October 10, 1926, Babe Ruth weighed approximately 215 pounds which was just what it should have been for a man of his height (six-feet-two-inches) and bone structure (very large).
Ruth had begun his professional baseball career in 1914 after twelve years (on and off) inside St. Mary’s Industrial School where food was in short supply. Accordingly, nineteen-year-old George Ruth weighed only 180 pounds when he first took the field as a pro player. Quickly becoming a star, Babe was finally able to eat whatever he wanted.
When Ruth reported to the Red Sox’ spring training site at Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1915, his weight had predictably shot up to 199 pounds. But he was still hard and lean. Babe stayed that way for the next three years, adding only a few pounds per season, but, in 1919, he came to spring training in Tampa visibly heavier than the preceding year. That is when the roller coaster started. From then on, Babe Ruth’s weight went up and down from year to year.
In 1920, his first season with the Yankees, Ruth was relatively lean, sporting a remarkably flat belly. Keep in mind that such a physique was difficult for the Babe to attain. He had one of those body types where he tended to carry a few surplus pounds around his middle even when he was in peak condition. By 1921, he had put some weight back on, and appeared heavy upon reporting to camp in Shreveport, Louisiana. Since Ruth was immensely successful that year, he was convinced that he didn’t need to change and arrived in 1922 at an equivalent weight of 225 pounds.
Of course, that was not a good year for Ruth, and, at the conclusion, he vowed to train all through the winter. He kept his word, and took the field on the day that Yankee Stadium officially opened (April 18, 1923) at the nearly wraith like figure of 201 pounds. During that entire season, Ruth’s play was marked by speed and overall athletic virtuosity.
Yet, still not committed to any permanent training philosophy, Babe showed up for spring training in New Orleans at around 230 pounds in 1924. Enjoying yet another wondrous individual campaign, Ruth assumed that his unique abilities excused him from the mundane needs for moderation and exercise. Reporting to St. Petersburg for the first time in 1925, Babe stepped off the train to a raucous welcome, featuring a lively band rendition of “Hail to the Chief.” That train had just been relieved of a 250 pound burden.
Remarkably, Babe Ruth played sensational baseball in that bloated condition until collapsing from a so-called stomach abscess on April 7, 1925 in Ashville, North Carolina. His mysterious ailment was famously labeled: “The Stomach Ache Heard ‘Round the World.” The entire sorry episode led to a disastrous season for both Ruth and the Yankees. There was, however, a saving grace. Babe Ruth finally got the message.
Starting in 1926, Babe would never again ignore his responsibilities to train in his role as America’s preeminent athlete. That off-season, he hired New York’s most respected trainer, former boxer Artie Mc Govern, on a permanent basis to supervise his physical conditioning. Although Ruth’s official weight was reported at varying levels, there was a contemporary photograph that told the story by way of powerful visual images.
It appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on March 3, 1926, and showed Babe Ruth standing between Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert and manager Miller Huggins. Ruppert was actually beaming with pleasure over Ruth’s hardened physique. That photo told the tale. Ruppert knew how to enjoy life, but he was usually restrained during public appearances, rarely smiling for the camera.
Babe Ruth played exceptional all-around baseball throughout the entire 1926 season. On May 25, Mel Webb of the Boston Daily Globe had this to say: “In the field, Ruth was in real action, not simply a big man striving to move fast. He did move fast.” That’s the way things were all year. In fact, the same publication (Boston Daily Globe) actually printed a photo in their September 21 issue showing Ruth working out with McGovern to insure optimum fitness for the forthcoming World Series.
After 1926, Babe Ruth’s weight crept back up little by little. For example, Ruth began the 1930 campaign at 225 pounds, and finished in 1935 at 235 pounds. Yet, he never ignored dietary or exercise issues after 1925. He gained the weight simply because that was his natural physical inclination, and it was extremely difficult for him to remain lean. His year-round banquet and social duties, which surpassed those of all other athletes, didn’t help his cause. Many ball players, including the notoriously skinny Ted Williams, gained much weight over the course of their careers, and such was the case with the Bambino.
More importantly to this discussion, in 1926, Babe Ruth may have been in the best condition of his entire baseball life. That was the first time that he exercised under the tutelage of a professional trainer. His physical vibrancy was manifested in every way from March through October. Make no mistake about this: Babe Ruth was not fat and slow when he tried to steal second base on October 10, 1926.
TWO: Bob Meusel was a formidable hitter at that time he batted on Oct. 10, 1926.
Bob Meusel was an excellent Major League hitter; that point really can’t be disputed. During his eleven year Big League tenure, Meusel batted .309, and slugged at the rate of .497. In fact, when Babe Ruth suffered through his worst season in 1925 and the Yankees needed him most, Long Bob recorded thirty-three home runs and drove in 138 runs. But that’s not the issue here. In this discussion, we need to determine how good a hitter Bob Meusel was when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning on October 10, 1926. And the answer is that he was just plain awful.
Meusel started the 1926 season doing just fine. But in Boston on June 25, he broke a bone in his left foot while sliding into second base. When he finally returned on August 11 in Washington, the injury still plagued him. But, to his credit, Bob played through the pain, and eventually returned to full vigor. As of September 1, Meusel was batting .339 for the season, and, essentially, maintained that pace until September 16 when he took the field in Cleveland batting .338. But that’s when the bottom dropped out.
Just ten days later, when the regular season ended on September 26, Bob Meusel completed his year’s work with a .315 mark. That’s right; he had lost twenty-three points off his batting average in a mere ten days. Accordingly, Meusel began the World Series in a poor state of mind. Always a laconic and temperamental individual, Bob easily lost his confidence despite his vast athletic talent. The events over the course of the seven game Series only worsened his emotional state.
By the time Bob Meusel came to bat with Babe Ruth on first base in the ninth inning of Game Seven, he was hitting .238 (5 for 21) for the Series, and had not knocked in a solitary run. It is fair to say that he had not delivered a single key hit. Perhaps even worse, Bob had misplayed two balls during the Cardinals’ three-run fourth inning rally, including the dropping of a routine fly. Basically, Meusel’s gaffs were the central factor in the score standing at: St. Louis 3 and New York 2. Yankee shortstop Mark Koenig had also made a costly error in the same inning, but Bob’s shoddy defense was much more damaging. That conclusion was echoed by the legendary John McGraw in his syndicated newspaper analysis at the conclusion of the Series.
Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel were friends. They had barnstormed together in 1920, 1921, 1922, and 1924. Accordingly, Ruth knew his teammate extremely well, and was intimately aware of Meusel’s mental funk at the critical moment. After the fact, Babe never said a word about Bob’s psychological status since he didn’t want to publicly embarrass him. Ruth may have had his faults, but he was loyal to his friends. He just didn’t think that his old companion had any realistic chance of driving him in from first base against Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Okay. What about the fact that Meusel had recorded a double and a triple the preceding day against the same Alexander the Great? That’s a fair counterpoint. Yet, if you choose to represent yourself as a baseball historian, you need to check more than just box scores before attempting to speak definitively about events. The truth is that Meusel’s second inning double on October 9 was a weak pop fly to shallow left field that was botched by left fielder Chick Hafey. His triple two innings later was merely a sharply hit ground ball that happened to skip over the third base bag before bounding into foul territory.
Again, Hafey’s largess benefited Long Bob Meusel. Chick was an average fielder, but he had a great throwing arm. He rushed toward the ball with the intention of gunning out Meusel if Bob tried to stretch his ground base hit into a double. But, the ball caromed off the low box seats that extended near the foul line, and rolled past the charging left fielder. When Meusel rolled into third base with his fluky triple, Cardinal Manager Rogers Hornsby, playing second base, directed a scowl toward Hafey that turned his blood cold.
In Game Two on October 3, when Alexander pitched his first complete game victory over the Yanks, Bob had lined a single to center field in his first at bat, but pitch-by-pitch accounts (often available for the World Series) confirm that he was woeful against “Old Pete” on his other swings. Again, these were the realities that Babe Ruth knew well.
One other issue needs to be considered here. It has been suggested that Bob Meusel had accepted payoffs from gamblers before the start of the Series, thereby overtly trying to lose. It is true that noted gambler Sport Sullivan was observed in the stands at the outset of the game before being banished by American League President, Ban Johnson. Yet, I do not subscribe to the theory of Meusel’s complicity in a betting scandal.
I have no proof one way or the other, but the theory lacks credibility to my way of thinking. I must acknowledge, however, that, if the accusation were true, Babe Ruth likely would have known. It would have been yet another reason why the Babe would not have wanted to put the game in the hands of his old buddy. Either way, Bob Meusel was in no position to drive an extra-base hit in the crucible of that pressure-packed scenario.
THREE: Babe Ruth was thrown out by a wide margin.
In December 2010, I read excerpts from a book recently published about the history of the New York Yankees. They were sent to me by a friend and fellow researcher who knew exactly how I would react. According to the author of the book, Babe Ruth was thrown out by “ten feet” when he tried to steal second base at the conclusion of the 1926 World Series. I suppose that I shouldn’t be too angry over that misrepresentation since I have heard comparable distortions in the past.
Yet, I found that statement to be particularly unpalatable since it was written by a man (or men) who should know better. I choose not to identify the writer or his book since I don’t know him, and he has no chance to defend his position in this article. There are other highly objectionable untruths on this same subject, but I will not elaborate further at this time. But I make this offer. If the author ever reads my comments, and wants to engage in a public debate, I will gladly accommodate him.
The fact is that Babe Ruth was retired on a close call. Of course, that is not the essence of the matter, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. We should judge Ruth on the wisdom of making the attempt. This aspect of the event needs to be addressed only because some individuals have necessitated a rebuttal by denigrating the Babe with erroneous assertions.
As Ruth ran toward second base, Cardinal catcher Bob O’Farrell (National League MVP in 1926) made a perfect throw to Rogers Hornsby. That toss arrived at knee level directly over the first base side of the second base bag. “Rajah” caught the ball, and dropped his glove into the path of Ruth’s sliding feet. At the exact moment that Hornsby’s glove covered the bag, Ruth’s right foot was about six inches from second base.
Now, let’s talk about what contemporary observers had to say. Hall of Fame umpire Billy Evans wrote in his nationally syndicated column (Toledo News Bee, October 20) that “Babe was out on a hair line decision.” The Boston Daily Globe, in the person of James C. O’Leary, reported that Ruth was retired on “a close play.” Writing for the Chicago Daily Tribune, controversial scribe Westbrook Pegler took the single most adverse view that I have encountered. Pegler wrote that Babe “was thrown out by a yard.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle concluded that: “the play was close. Like Icarus, Ruth failed, but he failed in a great attempt.” Those words were written by Thomas S. Rice. The overwhelming consensus was that it had been a very close play.
Also, unknown by many modernists, the play was recorded on film from the right field stands. The view is somewhat grainy and dim, but a viewer can easily watch what happened. O’Farrell’s throw arrived ahead of Ruth who tried to hook-slide to the left. There is no doubt that Babe was out. Yet, just as clearly, it was a close play. I have seen the film about thirty times, and even recreated the outcome by stop action with a slight variation. I have done so in the presence of multiple viewers with varying backgrounds and perspectives. Their common analysis of that variation is the same as mine. If O’Farrell’s throw had been just two feet off target, Babe Ruth would have been safe.
That is not an unrealistic variation. It is seldom that Major League catchers make perfect throws to second base. It is 127.375 linear feet, and, even the best professionals rarely make that hurried throw with complete accuracy. If you doubt this, just keep track when you next watch Big League Baseball games. Better yet, don’t take my word on any of this. Watch the film yourself, and make your own conclusions.
FOUR: Most contemporary observers believed that Babe Ruth had acted unwisely.
I have read over one-hundred articles about Game Seven, but I have never encountered any contemporary pundits who faulted Babe Ruth. Since the game was a national event and thousands of different stories were published about it, there probably were some negative comments. I have just not personally encountered them.
That same umpiring luminary, Billy Evans, described Ruth’s mental approach to the attempted steal as:
“perfectly proper baseball. The fact that he failed of his objective means nothing as to the correctness of the play…the odds were all against Meusel getting an extra-base hit.” Evans had nothing but the highest praise for Babe’s efforts throughout the entire series, further referring to Ruth’s effort to steal as “heroic.” He concluded his article by saying: “Babe, by the way, added much luster to the name and fame of Ruth during the 1926 series.”
In reviewing the Series, Norman W. Baxter of the Washington Post showered Grover Cleveland Alexander with appropriate accolades, but added:
“One other man alone, Babe, the Mighty, shares, even if not quite equally, the glory that is Alexander’s. Alexander beat the Yankees, but Babe the Mighty went down fighting. Alone he fought the overwhelming tide of defeat and single handed he came within inches of pushing it back, bearing on his back not only the sturdy opposition of the Cardinals, but the dead weight of Bob Meusel.”
He went on to describe Ruth’s wondrous batting, fielding and heroism, while adding:
“(Ruth) walked, but he was not yet out of the picture. A moment later, he tried to steal and failed, out gloriously, but nevertheless out for a series that has marked his brilliance as it never had been marked before.”
Chronicling the dramatic Series the day after it ended, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle featured a headline that proclaimed: “Ruth’s Brain for Baseball As Worthy of Discussion As His Home Run Hitting.” Writer Thomas S. Rice went on to heap lavish praise on Babe Ruth’s athletic intelligence with one section prefixed with the axiom: “Babe Natural Genius In Baseball Matters.” Rice continued by describing in great detail how he had asked everyone in the press box if any of them had ever seen Babe Ruth make “an inexcusable bonehead play of any kind.” Without a single exception, the answer had been “No.”
Recapping all the Ruthian glories he had just witnessed, Richard Vidmer of the New York Times wrote on October 12, 1926 about the Babe’s Series performance: “For all-around individual brilliancy, he stood alone and unchallenged.”
Also recounting the World Series after the fact, W.B. Hanna of the New York Herald-Tribune said this about Ruth’s ploy: “He was thrown out at second, stealing, in which projected feat and not inadvisable attempt he received no substantial help from Bob Meusel.” Commenting on Babe’s overall play, while referencing Ruth’s intention to engage in a vaudeville tour after his barnstorming obligations, Hanna wrote:
“Babe Ruth emerged from the series with reputation enhanced and greater as a vaudeville magnet. He is the most sensational, if not the best, ball player of this or any other time. The Babe made it four home runs for the series by exploding another one yesterday. He made the most brilliant play of the afternoon, a running catch in deep right center, and he made brilliant plays earlier in the series. He did the most sensational fielding of the series, which, outside of the Babe and Tommy Thevenow (St. Louis shortstop), had little of sensationalism.”
It was also the Herald-Tribune, under the by-line of W.O. McGeehan, which reported that Babe Ruth had dashed for second base “on a hit and run signal.” The New York World agreed. Yet, since neither Ruth nor Yankee manager Miller Huggins (an honest and honorable man) ever confirmed this observation, I tend to discount it.
In their article printed without attribution on October 13, 1926, the Hartford Courant stated that Ruth: “proved in the late lamented (from a New York viewpoint only) World Series, that he is without a peer as an all around player.” They continued their kudos by enumerating the eleven World Series records that Babe had tied or broken.
There are uncounted quotations of similar sentiment supporting all of Babe Ruth’s World Series actions, but they can not all be included in any single article. Yet, two other factors should be addressed. First, Ruth recorded the only stolen base for the Yankees during the entire course of the Series. That occurred during Game Six. And consider this: Grover Cleveland Alexander was pitching and Bob O’Farrell was catching at the time. In other words, Ruth succeeded in stealing second base, rather easily according to reports, under basically the same circumstances as when he so famously failed one day later. Don’t make the mistake in thinking that the Cardinals were anticipating Ruth’s move the second time around. Rogers Hornsby confirmed that Ruth caught them all by surprise. The gamble failed in Game Seven simply because O’Farrell made a perfect throw.
The second point is one that is rarely considered. In 1926, soiled baseballs were not replaced as fastidiously as they are now. It rained all morning on October 10, and most New Yorkers had actually assumed that the game would be postponed. The field was still wet and soggy in the bottom of the ninth inning. The ball that was in play when Ruth tried to steal had contacted the muddy soil at least twice. That was the ball that Mark Koenig had grounded to third base, and it was the same horsehide that the Babe had fouled off the screen (one report said it went off O’Farrell’s chest protector).
Even the detailed accounts of the World Series had limits, so we can’t know every particular. But, that same ball may have sloshed through the muck three other times. Combs also had grounded out to third, and, before he was retired, Koenig had struck two foul balls. If those fouls remained on the playing field, the ball that O’Farrell threw would have contacted the wet surface five times within the span of a few minutes.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle opined that Ruth realized that the water-logged ball would have caused two separate but relevant potentialities. One, it would have been difficult to drive such a ball far enough to score a runner from first base. Two, it would have made it more difficult for a catcher to grip and make a hurried throw to second base. In part, the specific language employed by writer Thomas S. Rice read: “The ball was heavy and more or less dead from the wet ground.” Be assured that there was not a single negative word about Ruth’s attempted steal in any of the publications that I referenced. My hard copies of the original data are available for review.
CONCLUSIONS: It should be acknowledged that Babe Ruth sometimes ran the bases too aggressively. Babe’s career stolen base percentage (about 50%) is demonstrably poor. His innate assertiveness led to historical supremacy as a hitter and historical greatness as a pitcher. It also helped him, in his prime, to develop into one of baseball’s preeminent defensive outfielders. Admittedly, that was not always the case with his base-running.
It is true that Ruth ran into too many outs. Yet, in fairness, we need to recall that his contemporaries regarded Babe as a superior base runner. In just one of many quotations, Thomas S. Rice (Brooklyn Daily Eagle) also wrote: “He is still an excellent base-runner.” Why was that? It is simple, really. Babe’s aggressiveness was feared by his adversaries and respected by his allies. He forced innumerable defensive misplays which are not part of his statistical bequest. Dozens of such Ruthian base-running feats, along with his ten steals of home plate, are featured in my book. Although he sometimes tried to steal bases when he should not have, the issue here is to determine if he acted wisely on October 10, 1926. I agree with the experts of his time, who ardently said: “yes!”
I should also make it clear that I am not stating that there was no one in America in 1926 who did not find fault with Babe Ruth for the way the World Series ended. In fact, I have read different accounts where it was acknowledged that many unenlightened fans assumed that he had acted unwisely. Some average fans, hearing only that Babe Ruth was thrown out trying to steal second base, would predictably have thought that he had made a bad play. However, all opinions from those well versed in baseball strategy, as well as the context of the specific situation in which Ruth acted, were universally supportive. That includes players, managers, umpires, baseball executives, sports writers, et cetera.
Apparently, the notion that Ruth had performed ignobly began to surface years later. Chroniclers would decide to revisit the 1926 Series, and simply not do their homework. They would do just enough research to determine how the last out was made, and make a rash judgment. When they saw that such an accomplished slugger as Bob Meusel was at bat at the crucial moment, they would tilt even farther into the anti-Ruth corner.
Although well written and offering many fine insights, the book that I criticized earlier is an example. Bob Meusel was inexplicably described as “hot” as he batted in the ninth inning. Also, without any sense of propriety that I can recognize, Babe Ruth’s remarkable three home run outburst in Game Four was categorized as “histrionics.” Please take note of that gratuitously pejorative terminology. I have always striven to maintain amicable relations with my fellow baseball historians, avoiding confrontation, but such unfairness must be challenged.
Recognizing that not everyone is a baseball historian, I have no criticism for today’s fans. I make my living doing this, and it has been hard for me to clarify the intricacies of all that happened. I just don’t like it when a qualified observer misrepresents the facts.
I understand that some people are just inclined to be that way. They derive some sort of misplaced pleasure in trying to diminish greatness. I feel sorry for anyone who falls into that category. Babe Ruth is a cultural treasure, a gift to all of us who pursue life in positive fashion. Everyone that I know, who has made an honest effort to familiarize themselves with the real Babe Ruth, became happier for their effort. As I have said on many occasions, the Babe was a joy giver.
In a post-World Series article, the renowned Grantland Rice referred to Ruth as “irrepressible.” I can’t think of a better, single adjective to describe him. The day after the ‘26 Series ended, Babe began his annual barnstorming tour by also visiting young Johnny Sylvester in New Jersey. When Ruth clubbed those titanic home runs a few days earlier in St. Louis, Johnny’s family reported that Babe had infused their gravely ill child with such positive energy that he rallied from the brink of death. Naturally, Babe Ruth then had to visit him at his first opportunity. The following day, October 12, 1926, Ruth belted what may have been the longest drive in baseball history while playing in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The man never stopped living his life with unparalleled passion.
It has been approximately four years since I wrote in my book about Babe Ruth trying to steal second base in the 1926 World Series. In the interim, after researching the matter even further, I have become more convinced that the controversial incident displayed Babe Ruth at his absolute best. I wrote:
“Along with extraordinary natural ability, athletic courage was the essence of Ruth’s greatness…Babe relentlessly pursued victory and greatness, and never let fear of failure or ridicule deter him…If Ruth had not tried to steal that base, the Yankees chances of winning would have been reduced. If he hadn’t possessed the guts to take the chance, Babe Ruth would not have become the game’s greatest player.”
I am comfortable with having said that. Ruth’s literal transcendence as a baseball player was due to his irrestrainable interaction of body, mind and spirit. It was that quintessential blend of rare qualities that rendered him unique. Only Babe Ruth possessed the spontaneous athletic wisdom and total absence of fear to have dared to do what he did. I regard the ending of the 1926 World Series as a highlight of Babe Ruth’s career as well as one of the shining moments in the annals of America’s sports culture.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ABOUT RUTH’S PLAY IN 1926 WORLD SERIES:
New York Evening Post, October 11, 1926 by Walter Trumbell:
“But let us stop right here to say a word for Ruth. He not only is the longest hitter of all time but he is a great all-around baseball player and a player with all the heart in the world.”
New York Evening Post, October 11, 1926 by Frank Wallace:
“Babe Ruth was the best all-around player in the games. He won one contest single- handed, took more than his share in the Yankee rallies, made two sensational catches in the outfield, threw a runner out at home and made the only clean steal of a base by any player on either team.
He led Rogers Hornsby by a wide margin in their duel of hitting and he advanced his reputation as a great all-around player, while Hornsby proved himself only a good mechanical player.
Two hits yesterday raised Rogers’ batting average to .250. Ruth finished an even .300. There were no comparisons in the value of the two men to their respective teams as players.”
NOT A SINGLE CRITICAL WORD IN NYEP FOR RUTH’S ATTEMPTED STEAL.
The World (New York), October 11, 1926 by Oliver H. P. Garrett:
“The St. Louis Cardinals are the baseball champions of the world, but in the sun field the New York Yankees still have the greatest ball player (Ruth) in the game. If that be sentimental, make the most of it.”
The World (New York), October 11, 1926 by Monitor (George W. Daley):
“The Red Birds of Hornsby are champions today because they skillfully dodged the issue to the big hitter (Ruth).They are the ducking champs of 1926, and the tactics in pitching to him only make him look the bigger.”
The World (New York), October 12, 1926 by Monitor (George W. Daley):
“Ruth did the most spectacular fielding of the seven outfielders, two of his catches, one in the fifth and one in the seventh game, being the fielding gems of the outfield play of the series.”
NOT A SINGLE CRITICAL WORD IN NY WORLD FOR RUTH’S ATTEMPTED STEAL: PLAY HARDLY EVEN DISCUSSED. ALSO SEE ISSUE OF OCTOBER 7 WITH SEQUENCE OF 8 PHOTOS SHOWING SLENDER RUTH SWINGING BAT.
Philadelphia Inquirer, October 11, 1926 by James C. Isaminger:
“The series did end with Alexander and Ruth. On the first pitch, the Babe tried for a surprise steal of second. He was flagged by a beautiful and accurate throw by O”Farrell that Hornsby handled with skill.”
“Ruth was never retired at bat during the game. He walked four times, at least twice purposely, and for the second time in the series came out with an average of .1000. The Babe gave his pals numerous opportunities to bring him in but they were not equal to it.”
“Ruth made the most dramatic fielding play of the series when he ran desperately along the cinder track and stabbed O’Farrell’s tempestuous liner a few feet from Combs.”
“Meusel was a glaring disappointment in all departments.”
“Ruth had a good lead and it took a perfect throw and clean handling to retire him.”
“Ruth played his best all afternoon.”
NOT A SINGLE CRITICAL WORD IN INQUIRER FOR RUTH’S ATTEMPTED STEAL.
However, writer H. I. Phillips did make one cynical remark: “It was the case of a behemoth thinking itself a gazelle.”