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By The Numbers: Babe Ruth’s Called Shot, Eight Decades Later – Part 3

Babe Ruth (credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Babe Ruth (credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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By Father Gabe Costa
» More Columns

This installment of By The Numbers is a continuation of our last blog, which presented Bill William Jenkinson’s massive research dealing with Babe Ruth’s “called” home run.

Below is a detailed account of the 1932 Fall Classic.

As was pointed out last time, toward the end of this month (Part 4), we will get a thorough look at the game in which Ruth’s most famous home run was struck and precisely what happened.

September 26-Monday: Practice and Travel

The Yankees, having a relatively short trip back to New York from Boston, arrived home in time to practice on Monday morning at Yankee Stadium. The Cubs, however, had finished play in their home city, and needed to travel 800 miles from the Windy City to the Big Apple. They boarded a noon train at Chicago’s Union Station, and sped east to meet their athletic destinies.

By that time, it was one o’clock in the Bronx (Eastern Time), and the Yankees were completing their drills. Ruth had appeared totally fit, fretting only about breaking his favorite bat trying to hit a Danny MacFayden batting-practice curve ball. Those were the days when premier pitchers still pitched BP. In what now seems like an implausible scenario, Red Ruffing, the Yanks’ projected Game One starter, also pitched batting practice that day against his teammates.

Much of the talk that Monday focused on the announcement of the four World Series umpires. National League President John A. Heydler had selected an interesting two man combination. First, and not surprisingly, he had selected future Hall of Famer William J. Klem, a veteran arbiter who had officiated his first Series back in 1908. This would be Bill’s sixteenth post-season assignment. Before retiring, Klem would add two more World Series appearances, thereby establishing the all-time record of eighteen. In addition, young George M. Magerkurth, a former professional football player, was assigned for the first time based upon his emerging reputation for solid competence. He had worked his way up through the Pacific Coast League, and was as physically imposing as any of the ballplayers.

American League President William Harridge had already selected veteran William Dineen along with Roy Van Graflan. The thirty-eight year old Van Graflan, another PCL graduate, was well known for his booming voice and stylish mannerisms. Van Graflan had performed well in the 1929 Series, and was being rewarded with a second assignment. “Big Bill” Dineen held the distinction of being a highly successful Major League pitcher before switching to the role of umpire in 1910. In fact, back in the 1903 World Series, Dineen had won three games for the victorious Boston Red Sox. Commissioner Landis added his approval to the four appointees, and they would all prove to be excellent choices. There would be virtually no controversy over umpires’ decisions in the forthcoming ballgames.

At that moment, the wagering heavily favored the Yankees’ prospects for victory. The odds ranged between 5 to 3 and 3 to 2. Essentially, it was a matter of New York fire-power over Chicago pitching. Putting it in the simplest terms, the Cubs had many fine players (including starting pitchers: Lon Warneke, Charley Root and Guy Bush), but they had no siege-gun sluggers who could compete with Ruth and Gehrig. It was true that Babe was past his prime. Yet, even though Chicago’s players and fans would verbally abuse the Bambino for his age and girth throughout the Series, they still feared him.

By The Numbers: Babe Ruth’s Called Shot, Eight Decades Later — Part 1

In fact, observers all around the country, conditioned by nearly twenty years of Ruthian heroics, generally assumed that the aging monarch still had some magic left in him. It had been a long time since Babe Ruth had failed under pressure, and hardly anyone expected that to happen during the 1932 World Series.

 September 27-Tuesday: Practice

Due to persistent rain, practice was cancelled for the two teams preparing to do battle the following day. This was particularly disappointing for the Chicago players, since most of them had never seen Yankee Stadium. The Cubs went directly to the Commodore Hotel, where the team lodged for the next few days, and many of them relaxed by attending the theatre. For the most part, the Yankees did the same.

Over the years, much has been written and said about the enmity that had developed between the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs before the 1932 World Series had even started. In reviewing the facts, it is apparent that this traditional representation is accurate. The Cubs and the Yanks simply disliked each other.

Of particular relevance was the fact that future Hall of Fame Yankee manager, Joe McCarthy, had skippered the Chicago Cubs from 1926 through 1930, even leading them to the National League pennant in 1929. However, despite directing the Cubs to a respectable second place finish in 1930 (90 wins & 64 losses), “Marse Joe” was fired, and replaced by the legendary Rogers Hornsby.

Long-time Yankee manager Miller Huggins had died late in the 1929 season, whereupon popular former Yankee pitcher Bob Shawkey had taken over for the 1930 campaign. The Yanks finished in third place, sixteen games behind Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, thereby quickly ending the Shawkey managerial era.

The dour but highly competent Ed Barrow, General Manager of the Yankees, saw a kindred spirit in McCarthy and leapt at the opportunity to hire him for the 1931 campaign. Ultimately, Joe McCarthy would establish the highest-ever wining percentage for Major League managers (.614), winning six World Series in the process. But that historic success was still in the future as of September 1932, and Joe still carried a huge chip on his shoulder for his former team. Apparently, he conveyed his contempt to his current players.

In addition, when the two teams had voted in advance of the Series on how to divide the forthcoming revenues, the Yankees had been far more magnanimous. Specifically, the Cub players had voted for twenty-seven shares (twenty-two full & five partial) of their portion of the World Series profits. The Yankee roster, led by the exceptionally generous Ruth, had decided on thirty-nine shares (twenty-five full along with a lengthy division of partials).

In fairness to Chicago, most of their players had not earned as much income over the years as had the majority of Yankees. And, of course, it was easier for the Babe to be bountiful; he made more money than any other player. This is not to say that his generosity wasn’t heartfelt. As far back as his days at St Mary’s Industrial School, there are documented accounts of how Ruth shared his limited resources with the other boys.

So, when the Chicago team voted only a half share to former Yankee shortstop Mark Koenig, the New Yorkers cried “foul.” Koenig had helped the Bronx Bombers win American League pennants in 1926, 1927 and 1928, and was still well-liked by his former teammates.

Admittedly, Mark’s service for the Cubs had been relatively short. Obtained from San Francisco in the Pacific Coast League, he didn’t join their roster until August 11, 1932. However, most Windy City observers felt that Koenig’s play (.353 batting average combined with superb fielding) and leadership in his thirty-three games had been instrumental in their eventual triumph in the Senior Circuit.

Plus, Rogers Hornsby (the guy who had replaced Joe McCarthy in Chicago) had remained at the Cubs’ helm until late in the 1932 season. As of August 2, Chicago had been playing winning, but unspectacular, baseball with a record of 53 and 46. That’s when Hornsby was fired, and replaced by first baseman Charley Grimm. Under their new player-manager, the Cubs caught fire, and went 37 and 18 for the remainder of their schedule.

Clearly, Grimm had done an outstanding job, but hadn’t Hornsby contributed? Most baseball insiders, including the Yankees, thought so. New Yorkers still recalled the Rajah’s pivotal role in leading the St. Louis Cardinals over the Yankees in the memorable 1926 Fall Classic. Not many folks liked the irascible Hornsby, but almost everyone respected him. After all, he had done much to build that 1932 Cub franchise into a winning team. So, when the frugal Cub players opted for no share whatsoever for Rogers, there were further recriminations.

Frankly, the Yankees regarded the Cubs’ collective behavior as unmanly, and they let them know it. In response, Chicago looked upon New York as a bunch of arrogant busy-bodies, and communicated their displeasure at the Yanks’ unwelcome intrusion into their personal business. This mutual belligerence would be carried onto the Yankee Stadium turf when the two antagonists finally met on September 28.

There was yet another negative dynamic at work on the eve of the 1932 World Series. The Great Depression was then in its third year, and, for most Americans, there was little money to be spent on non-essentials. As a result, approximately 35,000 tickets for Game One were still unsold as of that Tuesday. The prices ranged from $3.50 to $16.50, which seems quite low by today’s standards. But, in 1932, those costs were simply out of reach for the average fan.

September 28-Wednesday: Game One

The weather on the morning of September 28, 1932 did not offer much optimism for the playing of baseball later that day in New York City. It had rained all through the night, and the field was wet and soggy. However, by game time at 3:30 PM, the skies were merely overcast, and Commissioner Landis said: “Play Ball.” The combination of unpleasant conditions and the hard economic times held the crowd to a disappointing 42,000, but the game went forward.

Chicago manager, Charley Grimm, had selected veteran right-hander Guy Bush as his starting pitcher. The swarthy Mississippian was a logical choice. Not only had Bush won nineteen games (against eleven loses) in ’32, he had also been the only Cub pitcher to win a game in the 1929 World Series.

For the Yankees, Joe McCarthy had picked twenty-eight-year-old righty Charles “Red” Ruffing as his Game One starter. Ruffing had always been talented, but, pitching for the then-dreadful Red Sox during his first six Big League seasons, his won-loss record had been equally woeful. However, an early season trade to the Yankees in 1930 had quickly resuscitated his career.

Ruffing was a very determined individual. Despite losing four toes on his left foot to a mining accident in his younger years, he went on to win 273 games as a Big Leaguer. McCarthy also had the vastly talented Lefty Gomez as an option, but Joe decided in favor of Red’s experience and tenacity. The sporting world then settled in for what was anticipated as a classic confrontation, matching finesse against power.

Chicago took the early initiative by scoring two first inning runs on three singles and an error by the Babe. Initially, Guy Bush looked tough. However, in the fourth inning, the momentum swung toward the Yanks when Ben Chapman made a fine running catch in left field to retire the Cubs after they had loaded the bases. Earl Combs led off for New York in the bottom half, and became the first base-runner against Bush when he received a base on balls.

Ruth soon followed with a base-hit. In his first at bat, Babe had grounded out to first baseman Charley Grimm on a wicked smash. But, Grimm got an even more lethal dose of Ruthian power in that fourth stanza when Babe grounded one so viciously that the player/manager couldn’t even get his glove down. That brought up Lou Gehrig. Throughout the 1932 season, Guy Bush had achieved fine results with his screwball, and thought that he could fool Buster with one. It didn’t work. The ball sped on a line into the right field bleachers, and the Yankees led 3 to 2.

The score remained unchanged until the bottom of the sixth, when Bush, inexplicably, lost his control. Walking the first three hitters, Guy received a slight reprieve when Lazzeri popped out to shortstop Mark Koenig. However, catcher Bill Dickey lined a two run single to center. When that was followed by an unsuccessful effort at a fielder’s choice and yet another base on balls, Bush was yanked in favor of veteran Burleigh Grimes. The final damage was done one out later when Combs lined another two run single into center field. Before the carnage ended, the Yanks had scored five runs, and led 8 to 2.

Essentially, the game was over at that point although both teams added a few more runs. The final score was New York 12 and Chicago 6. Ruffing pitched a complete game while striking out ten Cubs. For the day, Ruth went one for three with two bases-on-balls.

It must have been a particularly galling defeat for Guy Bush since there was a rather unsavory subtext at work. Back then, many Major League players were coarse and profane. They regularly insulted one another, and used any ammunition they could find to rattle an opponent. Of course, by that stage of his career, it was like water off the duck’s back for Babe Ruth.

Due to his relatively dark visage and facial features, Ruth was routinely chided about being of African-American decent. It wasn’t true; Babe could easily trace his lineage back to Germany. But that didn’t stop opponents, jealous of his astounding success, from continuously making the assertions. Early in his career, it bothered Ruth. Not because of any racial antipathy, but simply because it wasn’t true. But, by 1932, the Bambino just laughed at such nonsense.

However, his teammates still resented any attacks on their leader, and they fought back mercilessly. Since Guy Bush was a southerner of unusually dark complexion, he became the target of some of the same verbal abuse that had traditionally been directed at Ruth. The “Mississippi Mudcat,” as Bush was nicknamed, resented the attacks, and became even more determined to vanquish the Bronx Bombers. To his credit, after the bitter disappointment, Bush handled the post game interviews without excuse or rancor.

When asked about the loss, largely occasioned by his sudden wildness, Bush stated: “I just went wild and got beat.” Yet, Guy was a tough dude, and he added: “All we gotta do is stop two men-Ruth and Gehrig-and we’ll do that all right. All I hope is that I get another shot at the Yankees, here or in Chicago, or anywhere. I’ll take ‘em next time.”

Continuing his assessment of the situation, Bush set an optimistic tone for Game Two by adding: “If Warneke pitches tomorrow, we’ll give them a trimming.”

Naturally, Bush was referring to twenty-three-year-old teammate, Lon Warneke, who had enjoyed a break-out season by going 22 and 6 along with an impressive 2.37 Earned-Run-Average. The Yankees intended to match their own young pitching sensation, Lefty Gomez, against Warneke. Gomez, also age twenty-three, had won over twenty games for the second straight year (21 and 24 respectively), and the southpaw hurler looked primed for a top performance. Game Two was staged and ready to go.

Meanwhile, the New Yorkers were enjoying the fruits of their labors. And, typically, Babe Ruth was savoring life as only he could. Always free of any type of bias, the Bambino was rollicking with his good friend, Bill “Bo Jangles” Robinson. As far as anyone knows, Robinson was the first-ever African-American guest of honor inside the Yankees’ dressing room. That had happened at the behest of Babe Ruth, who nobody in the Yankee organization was likely to oppose, regardless of their racial sentiments. Bo Jangles ultimately gained lasting renown in the movie industry by dancing with Shirley Temple, but, on this occasion, he was seen leading the New York victory celebration by dancing on an equipment trunk.

September 29-Thursday: Game Two

When Lefty Gomez took the mound against Lon Warneke at 1:30 PM for the start of the second game, the weather was clear and dry. Attendance improved as approximately 52,000 fans found their way into Yankee Stadium. Gomez, heralding his Spanish origins, was labeled “The Gay Castilion,” whereas Warneke, a native Arkansan, was nicknamed “The Arkansas Humming Bird.” If the World Series is played for another hundred years, it is doubtful that there will ever be another match-up of such colorful nomenclature.

As in Game One, the Cubs scored in the first inning. Second baseman Billy Herman led off with a double past third base, and worked his way around the bases to score on a sacrifice fly. But, the fire-balling Warneke had some control issues at the start, and walked both Earl Combs and Joe Sewell. He regained his command, striking out Babe Ruth, but two runs eventually scored on singles by Gehrig and Dickey.

The third inning almost mirrored the first. Cub center fielder Riggs Stephenson led off with a double to right field, and ultimately scored. However, the Yanks roared right back, scoring twice on two walks and a pair of singles. Both pitchers then found their rhythm, and the scoring was limited to a lone New York tally for the remainder of the afternoon. That occurred in the fifth frame on singles by Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey.

By The Numbers: Babe Ruth’s Called Shot, Eight Decades Later — Part 2

At the end of the contest, New York had won again: this time by a count of 5 to 2. Both Gomez and Warneke had acquitted themselves well, each youngster pitching a complete game. Ruth was impressed with both. In a post game interview, Babe said in part: “It was a fine sight to see those two kids, Warneke and Gomez, out there pitching better than most old-timers. Each went the route. Neither was fidgety or scared, and both had plenty of stuff through the ninth.”

Ruth also made it clear that Joe McCarthy’s familiarity with the Cubs’ lineup was a significant advantage for the Yankees’ pitchers. Referring to Marse Joe’s pre-game reviews of the individual batting weaknesses of each Chicago player, the Bambino stated: “Our guy is always pitching out of the book.” The Series was possibly half over, and, so far, McCarthy and Ruth were satisfied with the results.

And, of course, the Bambino was deriving immense pleasure in riding the Cubs about the Koenig matter. Mark had injured his wrist in Game One, and was forced to sit on the bench throughout the contest. Often detouring on his way to and from right field to pass within shouting distance of Chicago’s dugout, Ruth kept up his verbal barrage.

According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, Babe once yelled to Koenig: “So they’re going to give you a half share, are they, Mark? Well, you had better collect that five bucks right now.” Ruth rarely started confrontations. Yet, this was a fellow from the tough waterfront streets of Baltimore, and he never lost the hard edge that he had acquired while growing up in that environment. He didn’t start fights, but he didn’t run from them either.

Up to this point, Babe had looked solid, but not spectacular at bat. In the seventh inning, he had smashed a torrid line drive off the right field fence, but had been held to a single. There was no surprise in that. Almost everyone agreed that Babe looked old and slow on both the bases and in the outfield. But, all eyes still focused on his every move. It was still assumed that the Sultan of Swat would find a way to put his unique imprint on the 1932 World Series.

September 30-Friday: Travel

Both teams had departed from New York’s High Bridge Station the preceding night after the conclusion of Game Two. Using private trains that had been specifically arranged for them, the Yankees and Cubs sped away to Chicago on the New York Central Railroad line.

Traveling through the night, the Cubs reached Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station at 12:45 PM with the Yankees arriving about sixty-five minutes later. The Windy City was in a frenzy that day. Not only was the World Series coming to town, but Democratic Presidential nominee, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was touring the city during his successful run for the presidency.

About 5,000 Chicago baseball fans came to the station to welcome their beloved Cubs, and most of them stayed to inspect the invading Bronx Bombers. Much has been said about the harsh treatment that Babe Ruth and his wife received upon their arrival, but, in truth, it wasn’t as bad as legend suggests.

Certainly, there were some ugly remarks directed at the Ruths, but Chicagoans, like everyone else in America, tended to love the Babe. Accordingly, along with the limited abuse, there was a lot of friendly applause mixed with the standard whispers of incredulous worship. The refrain generally sounded something like this: “There he is. That’s Babe Ruth. I can’t believe that I actually got this close to him.”

Joe McCarthy had handled his humiliating dismissal two years earlier by the Cubs with quiet dignity, thereby earning the respect of the local populace. He was similarly accorded a generally friendly reception.

Upon exiting the station, the Yankees then headed for the Edgewater Beach Hotel to rest for the morrow’s combat. The weatherman was promising sunny skies and balmy temperatures, and the Cub management was hoping for a sellout. The ticket prices in Chicago were much more benign than in New York, ranging from $1.10 to $6.60. Despite the loss of the first two games, the Chicago fans were still cautiously optimistic.

Veteran right-hander, Charley Root, had been announced as their starting pitcher, and he was highly regarded as a “Big Game” performer. Although Root had lost the first game of the 1929 World Series, he had pitched effectively. George Pipgras, another veteran righty, would oppose him for the Yanks, and the Cubs liked that match-up.

The central stage, of course, had shifted from Yankee Stadium to Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Built in 1914 for the new Federal League Chicago Whales, the ballpark needed a new tenant two years later when that league folded. Originally named Weeghman Park for the owner of the Whales, it became the home of the Chicago Cubs in 1916. Within a few years, William Wrigley Jr. (the chewing gum magnate) became the principal owner of the franchise, and, in, 1926, attached his name to his ballpark.

As of the autumn of 1932, the stadium had a seating capacity of about 40,000. Needing significantly more seats to accommodate the demand for World Series tickets, the Cubs management decided to assume the expense of building temporary wooden bleachers. Paralleling the left and right field outfield walls respectively in both Waveland and Sheffield Avenues, these five story structures increased prospective attendance by approximately 10,000.

Designed by architect Zachary Taylor Davis, Wrigley Field had no center field bleachers in 1932. Instead, the ballpark’s primary scoreboard was situated directly behind the center field fence with the flagpole located just to the right side. All in all, it was a beautiful place to play baseball, and an appealing setting for the Fall Classic.

The last time that Babe Ruth had played at Wrigley Field had also been during the World Series. That was back in 1918 when the twenty-three year old Bambino was a pitching sensation and rising slugger with the Boston Red Sox. In Game One of that Series on October 5, Babe hurled the Bosox to a thrilling 1 to 0 victory over the Cubs on his way to a then-record 29.2 consecutive scoreless World Series innings.

He had started the streak in 1916 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, and finished on October 9, 1918 when he held the Cubbies scoreless until the 9th inning. Boston eventually won that ’18 Series in six games, so Ruth had a very pleasant association with Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Babe enjoyed playing anywhere, but Wrigley had special memories for him. He couldn’t wait for Game Three.

October 1-Saturday: Game Three

Despite his eagerness to get to the ballpark, Babe Ruth engaged in one of his typical humanitarian gestures before arriving at Wrigley Field for Game Three. The contest was scheduled for 1:30 PM (Central Time), and Babe was particularly interested in taking batting practice that day. The Yankees had heard about the installation of the temporary seats, and they regarded it as essential to test the hitting background at Wrigley Field.

However, sixteen-year-old Leo Wilbur Koeppen, an innocent by-stander, had been tragically blinded on September 20 during a senseless bombing at the home of a local judge. Ruth knew about the boy’s horrible experience, and had vowed to help raise his spirits. This component of the Ruthian legend is real. More times than anyone will ever know, the Babe extended himself to help those in need.

He understood the almost mystical power that he wielded over others, and willingly embraced that responsibility. It would have been unthinkable for him not to visit young Leo as long as the troubled teenager wanted him to do so. And there were very few Americans of any age or background who did not want Babe Ruth at their side under any circumstances.

So, on his way to playing a crucial World series game, George Herman Ruth stopped at Chicago Hospital, and did what he did best. Yes, even more than hitting stupendous home runs, the Babe was extraordinarily proficient at doing something else. Ruth was at his best when he was infusing his fellow man with hope. Please don’t be misled on this account. These were not publicity gambits. For as long as he was capable of doing so, Babe Ruth waged a personal war against human suffering.

Finally arriving at the stadium, Ruth and his teammates got dressed, and ventured out onto the field. When it was his turn to take BP, he didn’t disappoint the early arrivals. Drive after drive (a total of nine) flew high and far into the recently constructed wooden right field bleachers in Sheffield Avenue. At least two of them almost cleared the huge, temporary edifice as gasps of incredulity circulated through the stands. Lou Gehrig virtually replicated the Babe’s pre-game performance (seven all together), and Chicago fans began to despair before the first official pitch was thrown.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was even somewhat complicit in the pre-game psychological intimidation of the Cubs. Positioning himself in the first row behind home plate, the then Governor of the state of New York requested a photo-op with the two managers. When Joe McCarthy and Charley Grimm agreed, Roosevelt was seen conversing with McCarthy as he pointed to the right field bleachers. It was as if he were asking the Yankee skipper how many shots Babe and Lou would send that way. To make matters even worse for Chicago, the wind was blowing out toward the right field wall that day.

The pageantry and excitement inside Wrigley Field were wondrous. Unlike Yankee Stadium, where over 10,000 seats each game had been unoccupied, the ballpark was fully packed with intensely passionate witnesses to history. The official paid attendance was 49,986, but, all together, about 51,000 managed to fill every corner of the ball yard. They were treated to a rousing flag raising ceremony before FDR threw out the first ball under a warm and sunny sky.

Naturally, as the visitors, the Yanks batted first. Center fielder Earl Combs reached base on a throwing error by shortstop Bill Jurges, and third baseman Joe Sewell followed with a walk. Up came the mighty Bambino as the crowd roared with the anticipation of his demise. Working very carefully, Charley Root missed with his first two pitches, both low and outside. Apparently, Root planned to pitch the Babe pretty much the same way everyone else did. Keep most of his pitches outside the strike zone, while occasionally pounding the inside corner with fastballs.

On pitch number three, Charley changed the pattern slightly by throwing a fast ball over the outside corner at the knees. To Root, it appeared to be a perfect pitch. Babe viewed things differently. He swung from his heels (when didn’t he?), and the ball took off on a majestic parabola toward right centerfield. Ultimately, the horsehide sphere landed near the top of the temporary seats for a drive of about 450 feet. Just like that, before many of the late arrivals had even taken their seats, it was 3 to 0 in favor of the Yankees. The crowd, which had been in a state of near hysteria a moment before, suddenly went silent.

However, the 1932 Chicago Cubs were a resilient group, and they battled back, scoring a first inning run against George Pipgras. Then, when Lou Gehrig led off the third inning with a solo homer, the score stood at Yankees 4 and Cubs 1. Again, Chicago roared back, this time scoring two runs in the bottom of the third, including Kiki Cuyler’s home run into those same right field bleachers.

That blow seemed heaven-sent. The veteran right fielder (inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968) was a fan favorite, and, by driving out the Cubs’ first four-bagger of the Series, there was renewed hope in the Windy City. Then, when Ruth misplayed Jurges’ low liner for two bases to start the bottom of the fourth, they became downright rowdy. Before the inning ended, Jurges had crossed home plate, and the score was knotted at 4 to 4. The Cubs were back.

Leading off the fifth inning, Jurges kept up the momentum by robbing Joe Sewell of a base-hit with a brilliant play at deep short. So, when Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate for the third time (he had lined out to Cuyler at the right field fence in the second inning) in that fateful fifth inning, the crowd was howling like a pack of wild banshees.

Although, for the most part, they dearly loved the Bambino, they desperately wanted him to fail at that moment. Who could blame them? This was the critical juncture of the 1932 World Series. The Yankees led two games to none, and Game Three was pivotal. The Yanks had stormed out to a 3 to 0 lead at the outset (thanks to Ruth’s homer), but the gutsy Cubs had fought back to tie the score. Now, with the pendulum swinging the other way, they sensed an opportunity to take control.

Everybody rooting for the Cubs seemed to be doing their part. Each time Babe had taken his position in left field, fans had throw lemons at him. But, just like in St. Louis back in the 1928 World Series, they had not been able to rattle him. In ’28, when someone had tossed a soda bottle at him, Ruth simply picked it up, pretended to take a drink, and then bowed to the crowd. They had been completely unsettled by that level of extraordinary fortitude and showmanship. So much so that, when Ruth belted yet another homer off the Cardinals, the St. Louis faithful cheered themselves hoarse for their beloved adversary. Would history be repeated?

Charley Root was wary. Babe had already driven two hard shots against him, and he was determined to the point of obsession that there would not be a third. As 51,000 rabid fans called for his blood and a national radio audience listened intently, Babe Ruth took a called first strike on an inside fastball. Then, something odd happened. Ruth stepped back, and gestured. He seemed to point toward Root with one finger before stepping back into the batter’s box. What was going on?

Root then missed with his next two pitches before coming back with another fastball on the inside corner to even the count at two strikes and two balls. Now, Wrigley Field was in a state of absolute bedlam. The fans were going crazy, and the Chicago bench was nearly berserk. Pitchers Guy Bush (the Game One loser and projected Game Four starter) was actually a few steps out on the field shouting insults and obscenities at the top of his lungs.

Fellow Cub mound’s men Pat Malone and Burleigh Grimes, along with a few others, were right behind him, yelling the vilest things that they could conceive. The gist of their verbal assault was that Ruth was old, fat, ugly and about to endure the embarrassment of striking out in a crucial situation in front of the entire athletic world. For his part, Babe seemed to be actually enjoying the bizarre moment. He was gesturing to Bush and his cronies to crawl back into the dugout where they belonged. He and pitcher Root even seemed to exchange a few barbs. And that’s when it happened again.

Once more, Babe Ruth stepped back from the plate, and made a clearly defiant gesture. He raised his right arm, and pointed with two fingers in the general direction of center field. Was he pointing that way or merely reminding Root that he had only two strikes on him? Either way, Babe’s meaning was clear. Essentially, he was telling the Cubs and the world: “I’m Babe Ruth, and there’s nothing that the Chicago Cubs can do about it. Two strikes? So what! I’m going to blast the next pitch to kingdom come!!” And contrary to any rational sense of reality, that’s exactly what he did.

Charley Root, as he personally confirmed afterward, threw him his best pitch…a low and away change-up curve that no mortal man should have been able to hit for distance. According to Root, the ball was about a foot off the ground and three or four inches outside. Nevertheless, Babe unfurled all his still-prodigious strength, and slammed the barrel of his heavy, hickory bat squarely on the center of the ball.

It rode like a bullet toward center field, passed over the farthest corner of the park, 436 feet away, and passed out of sight. The historic drive flew past the flagpole just right of dead center field between the scoreboard and the corner of the bleachers. Ultimately, it landed adjacent to a ticket booth 490 feet from home plate. Ruth was as ecstatic as the Cubs were devastated.

Root stood there not believing his eyes as Bush, Grimes and company slinked back into the dugout. As Babe slowly circled the bases, he clasped his hands over his head while making comments to each Cub infielder as he passed them. What could they say? They had just crossed swords with the most transcendent athlete that America had ever seen (or likely ever will see), and paid a heavy price. The crowd was simply numb.

Lou Gehrig was next, and wasted no time in capitalizing on Root’s shattered state of mind. He smacked the first pitch high into the bleachers near the right field foul line, thereby restoring the Yankee lead to two runs. That was all for Charley Root as Manager Grimm called on Pat Malone to replace him. The score remained at 6 to 4 until the ninth inning when both squads added single runs, setting the final count at Yankees 7 and Cubs 5. Even though Chicago fought to the very last out, most observers felt that the game had ended when the Sultan of Swat and the Iron Horse had recorded their demoralizing back-to-back homers in that historic fifth inning.

On his way out to left field after Babe hit his second homer, there was a sublime reprise of the aforementioned St. Louis episode of the 1928 World Series. Despite directing tidal waves of antipathy toward Ruth shortly beforehand, the crowds in both instances made dramatic and spontaneous reversals of behavior after his implausible triumphs. On this day, the Chicago faithful rose to their feet as Ruth left the dugout, and, before he even passed third base, had reached a deafening crescendo of tribute. In any other life, such an occurrence would have seemed fictional. In Babe Ruth’s world, it was a recurrence of many similar, seemingly impossible adventures.

When the game officially ended, the jubilant Yanks stormed into their clubhouse predicting that, by the same time tomorrow, they would be on a train back to New York. They foresaw no likelihood for a fifth game. Ruth was the last man to enter the dressing room, and he bellowed: “Did Mr. Ruth chase those guys back in the dugout? I’ll say Mr. Ruth did!” He was clearly a happy man.

A surprisingly subdued Joe McCarthy quietly announced that Johnny Allen would start Game Four against Guy Bush. For his part, from the Chicago locker room, Bush honestly acknowledged his total failure to get under Ruth’s skin. He stated flatly: “That boy sure can take it.” While casually warming up for his start the next day, Bush found himself in close proximity to Ruth’s left field position in the ninth inning. So, the Mississippian tried one last time to get Babe’s goat.

He kept telling Ruth that he (the Babe) was out of position. The Bambino simply thanked him for his help, and, when the final out was recorded, waved to Bush and yelled: “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, Joe.” Guy was so annoyed at his inability to cope with Ruth’s equanimity that he began to lose his own self-control. That loss of composure would be manifested in Game Four.

Frankly, the Yanks were not very concerned with anything felt or expressed by the Cubs at that point. As they savored their victory, dancer Bill Robinson entered the clubhouse, and jumped onto an equipment trunk. The great show-biz legend then led the New Yorkers in a joyous celebration as he tap-danced as only he could. Meanwhile, the Yankees clapped to the rhythm, and Babe Ruth smiled from his perch as the king of all he surveyed.

At the same time, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, unbeknownst to the Bambino, his nearly mystical healing powers were being demonstrated yet again. As reported by the Associated Press two days later, sixteen-year-old Buddy McGinnis was the recipient of this latest example of Ruthian wizardry:

Buddy, sixteen, lay for ten days in a respirator, unable to breathe naturally. He listened to the World Series on the radio, following the fortune of his idol, Babe Ruth. When the Bambino slammed out a homer in the first inning, Saturday, Buddy, excited, suddenly began to breathe naturally, and physicians credited “Dr.” Ruth with an “assist” as well as a hit and run.

It is easily understandable why anyone, who was not alive during those momentous days of Babe Ruth’s primacy, would find it difficult to comprehend the extent of his hold on the American psyche. Yet, for anyone truly interested in the truth, this wondrous, but seemingly mystifying, phenomenon can best be approached with an open mind. Eventually, the factual data convinces even the most cynical observer: Babe Ruth was woven into the fabric of our national identity like no other athlete (before or since).

October 2-Sunday: Game Four

Again, Chicago fans filled Wrigley Field to capacity, but they were slightly less demonstrative this time around. They probably sensed the inevitable. On the game’s first pitch, Earl Combs rapped a sharp single to center field, and Joe Sewell followed with a base-hit to right. That brought Ruth to the plate, and starter Guy Bush, apparently more concerned with retribution than victory, blazed a fastball straight at him.

This was no brush-back pitch. It bore directly toward the Bambino, and gave him no chance to escape. It thumped against his right wrist, and was intensely painful. The Babe, always aware of gamesmanship, jogged to first base while casually brushing away at the spot where the ball had struck. The traditional message was clear: Bush’s best shot seemed merely like the presence of a pesky mosquito rather than anything substantive.

Yet, the exact opposite was the case. Ruth was significantly injured, and had trouble functioning for the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately, Babe had very strong bones, as evidenced by the fact that, despite playing the game with overt aggressiveness for twenty-two seasons, he never suffered a fracture to his skeletal system. On this occasion, he probably came as close as ever. Ruth’s lower right arm was throbbing, but he didn’t want to miss the action. He did his best to hide his discomfort from Joe McCarthy.

Then, with the bases loaded and no one out, Lou Gehrig stepped up to bat. He very nearly ended Bush’s sorry performance right there by launching a towering drive to deep centerfield. Rookie Frank Demaree raced back to the fence and prevented disaster by grabbing the ball about one foot from the top of the fence. Combs trotted home with the game’s first run.

Tony Lazzeri then walked, reloading the bases, at which point Charlie Grimm had seen enough of Bush. He called for Lon Warneke, his Game Two starter, and the hard-throwing Arkansan retired the Yanks with no further damage. Surprisingly, the Chicago Cubs proved they hadn’t surrendered by immediately roaring back. They pounded poor Johnny Allen for four first inning runs, paced by Demaree’s three run shot into the left field bleachers.

Just like Bush, Allen never made it out of the first inning. He was relieved by Wilcy Moore. It was a good move on the part of McCarthy since Moore quickly shut down the Cubs’ bats. The Yankees closed the gap to one run in the third inning when Lazzeri victimized Warneke for a two run homer just over the right field screen.

Although the Yanks did not score in the fourth inning, Warneke was removed in favor of Jakie May. Grimm explained later that the move had been necessitated by a third inning injury to Lon’s right elbow. In fact, in fairness to Guy Bush, Charlie also acknowledged that the luckless Mississippi Mudcat had labored through the Series with an injured  finger on his pitching hand. The problem occurred during the pennant clinching victory against Pittsburgh two weeks earlier, but, displaying true sportsmanship, Bush had marched on without complaint or excuse.

The Yanks forged ahead in the sixth on Gehrig’s two-run single, but Chicago flashed its final sign of life by tying the score at 5 to 5 in the bottom of the inning. Then, in the top of the seventh, the proverbial roof caved in on the Cubs. Cashing in on five hits, including an RBI single by the partially disabled Ruth, as well as a walk and hit-batsman, New York scored four times. That did it; Chicago was finished. Herb Pennock pitched effectively for the Yankees over the last three innings, sealing the outcome. New York added four more in the ninth off Burleigh Grimes on home runs by Combs and Lazzeri (his second of the contest). When the Cubs added a meaningless run in their half, the score was fixed for posterity as New York Yankees 13 and Chicago Cubs 6.

That meant that the fabled Bronx Bombers had swept their last three World Series (1927, 1928 & 1932) in the minimum twelve games…an astounding fete. As they swarmed into their victorious clubhouse, they were predictably jubilant. As Babe Ruth entered, he shouted: “Boy, what a victory!” He then walked directly to manager Joe McCarthy, shook his hand, and added: “My hat is off to you, Mac.” Babe then wrapped his throbbing right arm in hot towels.

For his part, McCarthy was his usual subdued self. Yet, his pride and happiness showed through. Letting his guard down just a bit, Marse Joe exclaimed: “I’m the happiest man in all the world. I figured we could do it. We simply had too much power for them. I am proud of the Yankees: proud of them as players and as men. We beat a good ball club.”

As usual, legendary sportswriter, Grantland Rice, may have summed up the Series better than anyone else. In his syndicated coverage in the Daily Boston Globe the next day, Rice began his story with the following insights:

The bitter anguish of Cub pitchers is over at last, but the nightmare will linger on. Their dreams for many a week to come will still be haunted by heavy thunder and the rush of spiked feet around the bases. They will wake up at night to see the leering specters of Ruth and Gehrig looking out from the shadows, with mocking smiles. For the hammering, flailing, murdering Yankee bats fell upon the Cubs of 1932 just as they fell upon the Pirates of 1927 and the Cardinals of 1928.

Back in the locker room immediately after their historic triumph, the Yankees burst into song. At the urging of coach Art Fletcher, they boomed out a baritone rendition of Sidewalks of New York. Amid the back-slapping and hand-shaking, they accepted congratulations from Commissioner Landis, American League President Harridge and a host of other VIP well-wishers. Yet, they still needed to function soberly, at least for a while. They had to hurry back to the Edgewater Beach Hotel to pack, and then make it to LaSalle Street Station in time for their private 6 PM train to New York.

October 3-Monday: Return to New York

After the standard all night train ride, the New Yorkers arrived back in Gotham at Grand Central Station at 4 PM. It had been quite a ride. Despite his painful and swollen right forearm, Babe and the entire Yankee entourage had whooped it up along the way. Although lacking the riotous delirium of the 1928 trip from St. Louis, there was still plenty of merry-making. Predictably, “Bo Jangles” Robinson took center stage along with the Bambino. At almost every stop, Bill and Babe came out onto the rear platform, and greeted the cheering crowds that had waited to see their conquering heroes. It was a grand conjunction of sports and entertainment that left everyone happy that they had made the effort to greet them.

Somewhat anti-climactically, the party had actually fizzled out by the time the train reached downtown Manhattan. Babe Ruth, fearing the mauling that his injured arm was sure to endure, exited at High Bridge Station. Lou Gehrig, traveling with his beloved mother, had his own concerns about exposing mom to the predictable, celebratory madness. Accordingly, he got off at 125th Street Station. Joe McCarthy actually never even boarded. Choosing to enjoy the moment with some of his old Windy City buddies, Joe stayed in town for a few days before heading for home in Buffalo.

For Babe, these were particularly happy times. He knew that he was getting old, and after three straight years of submission to the Philadelphia Athletics, he had wondered if he would ever get that cherished tenth World Series appearance. Now that he had achieved his goal while actually distinguishing himself by way of his Game Three heroics, Ruth permitted himself a little personal reflection.

Up to that time, Babe seemingly never looked backward. Things were different now. Ruth was worn out from all his recent exertions, including his rehabilitation from serious illness. As recently as the preceding fall, he had engaged in one of his classic post-season coast-to-coast barnstorming tours. Not this time. Babe just wanted to go home, play golf and rest.

He looked at the World Series statistics, and readily understood that Lou Gehrig had outperformed him. Ruth had batted .333 with two home runs and six RBI. Very good numbers to be sure. But, Lou had smoked the Cubs at a .529 clip along with three homers and eight RBI. And Babe Ruth was fine with that. He could finally look into his rear view mirror, and smile at what he saw: a career in decline, but one that would never be replicated. Babe was at peace with himself and the world.

October 4 and Beyond

The day after returning from Chicago (October 4, 1932), Babe Ruth, sore arm notwithstanding, played golf with friends. Later that month, he entered the Bozeman Bulger Memorial Golf Tournament at the Salisbury Country Club on Long Island. In November, spending some of his World Series winnings of $5,000 (each Cub earned $4,000), Babe went hunting in Ridgebury, Connecticut. As usual, he excelled in that venture as well. Ruth bagged rabbits with the first two shots of his twelve gauge shotgun. He quickly reached his limit of three rabbits and two pheasants, shooting one of the feathered flyers from seventy yards. Being the natural man that he was, Babe arranged for his hunting party to dine that night in Norwalk on what they had shot.

Then, in December, Ruth embarked on an even longer hunt: this time for ten days to Camp Bryan in Newbern, North Carolina. While there, Babe impressed everyone with his huge appetite and nearly simian tree-climbing ability. In between those hunting forays, he made personal appearances, attended college football games (one of his favorite activities), and played more golf. By year’s end, Ruth was officiating hockey games, and performing as Santa Claus. He was also looking forward to his twentieth season in the Big Leagues.

To that end, he began his workouts on December 24 at an announced weight of 229 pounds. Now that his seasonal hunting adventures had concluded, Ruth vowed to sleep nine hours a night, and limit himself to an intake of 6,000 calories per day. And he would eat no hot dogs!

Although pleased with his accomplishments, Babe Ruth still had goals. He had no way of knowing at that moment that official baseball would never be as much for him again as it had been in 1932. During the next three years leading to his retirement (1933-1935), he would not play on another pennant winning team. His personal performance would slip steadily downhill, and his salary would be dramatically reduced each season. It was a good thing that he had savored his 1932 experience, since he would never again achieve any sustained periods of athletic success.

Yet, this was Babe Ruth, so there would still be many intensely satisfying moments. Twice in 1933, he would record three home runs in one day: May 28 and July 9. On the first anniversary of his “Called Shot” on October 1, 1933, Babe shocked everyone by requesting to pitch the final game of the season. Even though he was thirty-eight years old and had not pitched in a Major League game for three years (and only once since 1921), he tossed a complete game victory. Ruth then sailed off to Hawaii on a working vacation where he smashed three prodigious home runs, played more golf, visited a leper colony, and seemingly met everyone in the territory.

In 1934, Babe recorded his 700th career home run by blasting a monstrous 500-footer in Detroit on July 13. That was Ruth’s final season with the New York Yankees, after which he led an aggregation of American League All-Stars on an epic baseball tour of the Orient. The telling of this nearly fictional escapade requires a book in itself. The Bambino impacted the nation of Japan like a mythical typhoon, combining irresistible forces of cultural and athletic grandeur.

He somehow reinvigorated himself for that one-month period, and completely outshone such youthful superstars as Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Earl Averill and others. For example, a local craftsman had been commissioned to cast bronze vases as awards for three offensive performance categories in the forthcoming series between the American and Nippon teams. At the conclusion of that eighteen-game set, they were to be awarded to the man with the highest batting-average, the player with the most home runs as well as the winner of the longest-drive competition at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine Stadium. Babe Ruth won all three. He was magnificent to the point of disbelief!

Finally, in 1935, Babe returned to Boston (this time as a member of the Braves), where on Opening Day, he was welcomed by the governors of five New England states. Of course, he won that game by clouting a long homer off Carl Hubbell, and making a diving catch in a snow squall. But the end was near.

Although Babe Ruth never completed the 1935 season, running out of gas in Philadelphia on Memorial Day, he had one last meeting with athletic immortality. Playing at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field on May 25, just a few days before his retirement, the Bambino reached somewhere into his wellspring of implausible deeds, and showed the world that the seemingly impossible could still happen. After hitting a homer into the right field grandstand in the first inning off Red Lucas, Babe batted again in inning number three.

And who do you think he was facing? None other than his old 1932 World Series adversary, Guy Bush. That’s right: the same Mississippi Mudcat who had deliberately drilled him with a pitched ball the last time that they had met. Babe could probably still feel the imprint on his right arm. As he almost always did, he seized the moment, bombing a stupendous line drive into the farthest section of the right field upper deck. Circling the bases, Ruth nodded at Bush, and seemed to say: “I don’t forget.”

That drive was estimated at 500 feet, and was hailed as the longest ever struck in the Steel City. Bush was still on the mound in the seventh when Babe batted for the fourth time. A moment later, Babe Ruth’s 714th and final career home run was sailing forty feet over the eighty-six foot high right field grandstand roof. To all those in attendance, including Guy Bush, the ball appeared to be ascending into heaven. They blinked in disbelief, but the vision was real. After sailing far beyond the stands, the ball thudded onto the roof of a nearby house, thereby giving proof of its landing point 532 feet from home plate. With that last salvo, the Babe trotted into our collective consciousness where he will likely reside in perpetuity.

So, even after 1932, Babe Ruth had fun along the way to his date with inevitable physical disintegration. But, looking back when it was all over, there was always a special place in his heart for the 1932 season. That was his last visit to the mountaintop of athletic supremacy, and he would value it for the rest of his days.

Babe personally framed the appropriate perspective in a radio interview on October 23, 1932, just three weeks after his “called shot” performance. The Bambino stated unequivocally: “I wanted to hit those two, and they are the only two home runs I care to remember.”