1932 The So-Called Shot

The mystery and controversy revolving around a "called" home run by Babe Ruth enlivens a World Series matchup with the Chicago Cubs, already made acrimonious by the appearance of current New York Yankee—and former Cub—manager Joe McCarthy.

Did Babe Ruth call his home run in the final game of a testy World Series against the Cubs? The mystery remains.

Babe Ruth had an uncanny ability to do as he pleased on a baseball field. Even when the competition stepped it up and tried everything under the sun to stop him, he found little difficulty in brushing it aside.

Few of his home runs were wasted. They were well placed and well timed for the occasion. Three homers in a World Series game, done twice. The first homer ever hit at Yankee Stadium. The first homer in All-Star Game history. Three homers in one of his very last games, as though departing baseball in a scripted blaze of glory.

But some believed—and still do—that Ruth’s justified arrogance reached its ne plus ultra in Game Three of the 1932 World Series when the Babe appeared to point toward the center-field bleachers at Chicago’s Wrigley Field to let everyone know where he was going to hit the next pitch—and proceeded to deposit a straight-away smash precisely to that spot, as advertised.

“The Called Shot” has become one of sport’s great legends, and a controversial one at that. There’s no argument that Ruth pointed his finger upward and toward Cub pitcher Charlie Root, standing on the mound ready to throw; the debate was over what Ruth meant with the gesture.

Whatever the motive, the Babe’s theatrics arose out of a plethora of acrimony that had developed between the Yankees and Cubs going into the World Series. The genesis of that tension was former Cubs—and current Yankees—manager Joe McCarthy.

The no-nonsense skipper methodically built the Cubs into a World Series participant by 1929, but when the Cubs appeared on the verge of elimination a year later, McCarthy quit right before season’s end when word leaked he was going to be fired by disappointed Cubs owner William Wrigley.

When Wrigley followed through with his plan, he told the press: “I have always wanted a world championship team, and I am not sure that Joe McCarthy is the man to give me that kind of team.”

It was a statement that would haunt the Cubs. Twice over the next five years, Chicago would reach the World Series looking for that championship sans McCarthy. Both times, the Yankees would get in the way.

The man leading the Yankees from the dugout on both occasions: Joe McCarthy.

Following Miller Huggins’ death at the end of 1929, the Yankees promoted pitcher Bob Shawkey as their new manager for 1930, but the team finished third—a shameful result as far as Yankee expectations go. Wasting no time, the Yankees immediately nabbed an available McCarthy from Chicago as their new man. McCarthy advanced New York back to second in 1931, but still fell short of the powerful Philadelphia A’s for the AL flag.

The Yankees’ problem in catching the A’s was simple: The pitching staff was almost a full run worse than the great Philadelphia rotation led by Lefty Grove. McCarthy worked on addressing this obstacle and discovered patience to be the rule. He looked at the promising young Yankees arms and crossed his fingers that they might blossom faster than expected.

In 1932, McCarthy got a double dose of luck. Not only did the pitching improve in New York, it declined in Philadelphia. Lefty Grove was his usual superhuman self, but the rest of the A’s staff floundered, its earned run average dropping to fifth in the American League. The hitting remained equally powerful on both sides, but with Yankee pitching a sudden and more superior commodity, it brought New York back to the top of the AL, a spot the A’s had shut the Yankees out of for three years.

Anchoring the Yankees rotation was 23-year-old Lefty Gomez, a man whose brand of humor seemed more suited for Vaudeville, but was all business on the mound—winning 24 games in his second full season. Red Ruffing, yet another castoff from the downtrodden Boston Red Sox, loved his newfound offensive support and it energized his game, finishing with the AL’s second best ERA at 3.09—trailing only Lefty Grove. And rookie Johnny Allen won 17—while losing just four—as part of the five-man rotation.

At the plate, the Yankees presented one of their most diversely talented lineups ever. Babe Ruth hit over 40 home runs for the seventh year in a row. Four different players knocked in 100 runs, while four scored 100. Third-year outfielder Ben Chapman led the AL with 38 steals. Veteran third baseman Joe Sewell struck out just three times in over 500 at-bats—the lowest strikeout frequency by a full-time player in major league history.

The Yankees’ 107 wins included a record 62 at home; they were never shut out. They didn’t miss a beat even with the month-long suspension of gifted young catcher Bill Dickey, who was batting .360 when he broke the jawAfter a collision between the two, Reynolds got up and re-approached home plate to tag it—but was tagged in the jaw instead by Dickey, who thought Reynolds was coming after him. of Washington’s Carl Reynolds during a mid-season altercation at home plate.

With McCarthy jettisoned from Chicago, the Cubs relied on Rogers Hornsby to deliver the world title the late William WrigleyWrigley died in January; Cubs ownership was passed on to his son Philip, who was said to be far less interested in baseball than his father. was searching for. Hornsby had previously won a World Series managing St. Louis in 1926, using the everyday benefit of his tremendous hitting talent to get them there. That was then, this was now: An ankle injury sidelined the Rajah to a full-time bench manager, the role his Cubs players appreciated him less for, and tensions rose. Hornsby, like McCarthy, was a colorless disciplinarian, but he was less adept at pushing the right buttons as McCarthy was better known for. Hornsby’s stern, distant rule kept the Cubs in the National League pennant race, but with a record barely above the .500 mark. If that wasn’t enough of a concern, the Cubs soon learned that Hornsby, a frequent patron at the track, had apparently lost his good luck—and was hitting up players for money to get it back. At the beginning of August, Hornsby was dismissed.

Exit the Rajah, enter Jolly Cholly. Now in his seventh year as Chicago’s first baseman, Charlie Grimm was given the managerial reins. To the players’ total relief, the good-natured Grimm was the polar opposite of Hornsby, playing his banjo in the clubhouse and keeping the team’s spirit high, in contrast to the tense, morgue-like atmosphere Hornsby had created. Like schoolkids released from boarding school, the Cubs responded by winning 37 of 57 under Grimm—including 18 in one 20-game stretch—and sneaked past the Pittsburgh Pirates to clinch the NL pennant.

Billy Jurges’ midseason injury (thanks to a suicidal girlfriend) only deepened the wounds of anger between the Cubs and Yankees when his replacement, ex-Yankee Mark Koenig, was rewarded a half-share of World Series money despite hitting .353 for Chicago down the stretch.

The Cubs’ return to the World Series wasn’t prompted solely from a managerial change, but also from the development of two young stars in their first full campaigns. Second baseman Billy Herman, 22, led the team with 206 hits, 102 runs and 14 steals while batting .314; and 23-year-old Lon Warneke had the best year of any NL pitcher, leading the league with 22 wins (against just six losses) and a 2.37 ERA.

Another young promising star in Chicago, shortstop Billy Jurges, had his season curtailed in July when his girlfriend attempted to kill herself in front of him; saving her, he was shot twice. He would recover to return at the end of the season, but in his place, the Cubs picked up Mark Koenig, a former starting member of the 1927 Yankees whose major league career had diminished to a near-end the year before at Detroit. In Jurges’ place, Koenig was short of spectacular; he batted .353 with three home runs in 33 games down the stretch, contributions that may have helped send the Cubs over the top.

With the pennant clinched, the Cubs sat down to vote on shares for the upcoming World Series. Needing a unanimous vote of ayes, two players—including Jurges—said nay to a full share for Koenig. Instead he was given a half-shareKoenig was luckier than Rogers Hornsby, who received no shares whatsoever from his disgruntled ex-players. Hornsby protested to commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to no avail. and six World Series tickets—“one behind every post,” it was said.

When the Yankees got word of this, they became furious. Koenig had been a popular player in New York, and coupled with the Cubs’ shafting of McCarthy before joining the Yankees, enough fodder had been created to inspire revenge for a team that had never faced the Cubs before. And when the Yankees equipped the press with references to the Cubs as “cheapskates,” “penny-pinchers” and “nickel squeezers,” the blackboard in the Chicago clubhouse had been filled with motivation of its own.

Vicious bench jockeying became the norm when the Series commenced. The Cubs saved their best for Babe Ruth, who had spoken most vociferously about the Koenig affair. Spectators in the stands were horrified by the torrent of profanity raining out of both dugouts.

Between the lines, the Yankees promptly showed whose bats talked loudest as they ripped apart the Cubs in the first two games in New York, sending Cubs starters Guy Bush and Lon Warneke quickly to cover under an endless assault of slugging firepower.

Though down two games, the heckling from the Cubs’ bench only intensified when Ruth came to bat in Game Three at Wrigley Field. All it did was present Ruth with a challenge—a mistake the Cubs were about to pay for.

He had already homered in the first inning when he came back to bat in the fifth. After going ahead in the count at 2-1, Ruth took a second strike from 15-game winner Charlie Root to even the count. He then stood up, looked to the Cubs bench, and then pointed toward the field.

Why he did it—and what he said to accompany it, if anything—depended on who you believed. Lou Gehrig, on deck, swore Ruth was promising a home run on the next pitch; several reporters in the stands agreed. Chicago catcher Gabby Hartnett, however, remembers Ruth telling the Cubs bench, “That’s only two strikes.” Root recalls Ruth saying to him, “You still need one more, kid.”

There was no debate over what happened next. Ruth swung at the next pitch and thundered it over the center-field wall, a blast many believed was the longest yet hit at Wrigley.

From 1927-32, the Yankees participated in three World Series and swept their opponents each time. The team’s 12-0 Fall Classic mark couldn’t possibly have been accomplished without the explosive efforts of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who annihilated the opposition—while the rest of the Yankee hitters meekly tagged along.

As he always seemed to do, Lou Gehrig followed up Ruth’s blast with one of his own, his second of the game.

The Yankees won Game Three, 7-5, and shut the Cubs up for good the next day with a 13-6 thumping in Chicago, aided by a pair of Tony Lazzeri home runs. The dominant four-game sweep of Chicago included a .313 team average and eight home runs. The Cubs pitching staff limped home with a 9.26 team ERA.

Alas, Ruth’s called shot is probably a sentimental case of myth over fact. Had he truly called his home run, Ruth would have bragged endlessly about it to the press afterward until his voice box gave out. Instead, he was unusually coy in giving his version of events as if caught off guard, and only as the years went by did he occasionally tell people behind the scenes that it never really happened.

But, as Ruth would add, it made for one hell of a story.

1933 baseball historyForward to 1933: Making Little Napoleon Proud An ailing John McGraw hands the managerial reins to first baseman Bill Terry—who promptly rides the New York Giants back to triumph.

1931 baseball historyBack to 1931: The Peppering of Philly Aggressive and colorful, Pepper Martin leads the St. Louis Cardinals in ending the Philadelphia A's two-year rule over baseball.

1930s baseball historyThe 1930s Page: Dog Days of the Depression The majors take a hit from the Great Depression as both attendance and bravado are on the wane—until newborn icons Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams emerge to rejuvenate the game's passion for the fans.

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1932 Standings

National League
Chicago Cubs
Pittsburgh Pirates
Brooklyn Dodgers
Philadelphia Phillies
Boston Braves
St. Louis Cardinals
New York Giants
Cincinnati Reds
American League
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
Washington Senators
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
St. Louis Browns
Chicago White Sox
Boston Red Sox

1932 Postseason Results
World Series New York (AL) defeated Chicago (NL), 4-0.

It Happened in 1932

Rommel’s Long Stand
In a thoroughly wild matchup at Cleveland on July 10, Philadelphia reliever Ed Rommel, the only reliever that A’s manager Connie Mack brings with him, takes over for starter Lew Krausse just four batters into the game. Rommel allows 14 runs on an American League-record 29 hits and nine walks—and wins, defeating the Indians in 18 innings, 18-17.

The 33 hits by Cleveland and the 58 combined by both teams also set modern-day records. Individually, Indians shortstop Johnny Burnett collects an all-time-record nine hits—seven singles and two doubles—while A’s slugger Jimmie Foxx hits three home runs among his six hits, knocking in eight. This is the final year for Rommel, a 13-year veteran and two-time 20-game winner for the A’s.

Put it in Big Black Headlines
Lou Gehrig pounds out four home runs in a wildly offensive, 20-13 New York Yankees victory at Philadelphia on June 3. He is the first player this century to hit four homers in one game; a chance for a fifth is denied in his last at-bat when a deep fly to center is caught at the wall. After years of Gehrig’s outstanding deeds being overshadowed by those of teammate Babe Ruth, his stellar feat prepares the press for some big headlines, until…

On Second Thought…
…Gehrig is upstaged the very same day by John McGraw, who makes even bigger news by announcing his retirement as manager of the New York Giants. McGraw is facing declining health and an unusually poor start by his team, which he has led to ten pennants and three World Series triumphs over 30 years. First baseman Bill Terry takes over and guides the Giants to a 72-82 finish—the team’s worst showing in 17 years.

The General’s in Control
Washington Senators pitcher General Crowder shows remarkable control during the year, hurling 327 innings of baseball without hitting a batter or throwing a wild pitch. No other pitcher has thrown as many innings during a season without allowing either.

Triple Figures
Based at spacious Griffith Stadium, the Senators will hit 100 triples during the year—the last time any major league team reaches the milestone. Joe Cronin leads the team, and the AL, with 18.

What’s in a Name?
With Wilbert Robinson no longer the manager at Brooklyn, the team officially changes its team name from Robins to Dodgers—which some people had been calling them all along anyway.

Burning Bridges
Detroit pitcher Tommy Bridges is one out away from a perfect game—and has it spoiled when Washington pinch-hitter Dave Harris hits a bloop single. Bridges gets the last out and beats the Senators, 13-0, on August 5.

Break Out the Geritol!
At the age of 49, Jack Quinn becomes the oldest player to pitch his way to a major league victory when he lifts the Dodgers over the Giants in a 10-inning, 2-1 victory at New York on August 14. Quinn, who began his career in 1909 with the New York Highlanders, will pitch one more year in Cincinnati—throwing pass the age of 50—before sitting down for good. In 2012, Jamie Moyer, will supplant Quinn (by just a few months) as the oldest pitcher to record a victory.

Swingtime Johnny
Johnny Frederick of the Dodgers collects nine pinch hits on the year—six of them home runs, setting a major league record that will be broken in 2000 by future Dodger Dale Hansen.

Pow-Wow Under the Bleachers
Chicago White Sox pitcher Milt Gaston is suspended ten days by the AL for administering a beating to home plate umpire George Moriarty after losing a 12-11 game on a disputed call to the Indians on May 30. Word has it that manager Lew Fonseca and catcher Charlie Berry were also in on the beating, which took place after the game under the stands.

New Ballparks

Cleveland Stadium, Cleveland The Indians moved from the majors’ smallest ballpark to the largest when they switched camp to Cleveland Stadium, which initially went by the name of Lakefront Stadium, then Municipal Stadium—but to most cynical fans of the Tribe was often referred to as the Mistake by the Lake, because of its proximity to cool, windy Lake Erie and its voluminous, sterile presence described by Total Baseball as “stripped classicism.”

The first purely publicly funded facility used by big league baseball, Cleveland Stadium was okayed by voters—but not necessarily okayed by the Indians at first, as they found the venue’s monstrous structure and 80,000-seat capacity somewhat intimidating and in sharp contrast to cozy League Park, their home since 1910. So the Indians displayed an extended, wishy-washy attitude toward the stadium; after playing there full-time through 1933, the Tribe moved back to League Park for 1934-35, and then from 1936 on split their games between the two facilities, gradually playing more and more at Cleveland Stadium before transplanting themselves there on a permanent basis in 1947. The facility’s monstrous mass was underscored in that it contained twice the steel of Yankee Stadium.

Abandoned by the Indians in 1993, torn down in 1996 after the controversial departure of the NFL’s Browns to Baltimore; one wonders if wreckers unearthed the Indians’ 1949 pennant hopes—buried in a memorable publicity stunt by then-owner Bill Veeck.

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