Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Review: Babe Ruth's Called Shot (2014)
The story of Babe Ruth's last World Series home run is one that just won't go away. What's more, it won't, either.
It came in the 1932 World Series. Ruth, in the midst of a running argument between his New York Yankees and the opposing Chicago Cubs, spent part of an at-bat in Game Three yelling and gesturing with the bench jockeys in the opposing dugouts. Then he launched a big homer into the bleachers, skipping and taunting his way around the bases afterwards. It put the Yankees ahead for good, as they won that game and then the fourth to sweep the Cubs.
But did Ruth predict the home run ahead of time? Call his shot, if you will? That's out of the realm of fact and into the area of conjecture. It's also why we're still talking, and, in the case of Ed Sherman's book, "Babe Ruth's Called Shot," writing about it.
Early chapters of the book review the circumstances of Ruth's career leading up that World Series, as well as offering a recap of the '32 regular season in both leagues. The Yankees were back on top after a few years away from the Series, and Ruth was about to start on the downslope of his career. But he was still mighty good, and teammate Lou Gehrig was better than that.
From there Sherman reviews the evidence of what happened. He starts with quotes from those involved, who naturally disagree with each other. Even Ruth appears to have told all sorts of stories about it, depending on the audience. He seems to have discovered quickly that a called home run only added to his reputation, and became anxious to embellish his own legend.
From there it's on to newspaper accounts. Few mentioned the "called home run" aspect of the play right away, but several more jumped on the bandwagon shortly after that. Sherman had the chance to see the two surviving home movie prints of the incidents, and then had baseball authorities from Bob Costas to Tim McCarver weigh in.
Before reviewing the conclusion, the book itself deserves some comment. Sherman certainly gets the idea across that this whole matter is something of a mystery wrapped in a puzzle. How can so many people come to different conclusions about the same set of actions? He goes down a variety of venues in his search for the truth, and it's a professional job. Still, the book feels a little padded, as if it could have been a nice, long magazine article instead of a short book. You can zip through this in no time. Don't look for any bombshells either, although it is nice to have all the information in one place.
Personally, I think we've gotten caught up in semantics here. There's no sign that Ruth pointed to the bleachers and said, "I'm going to deposit the next pitch in Section 108, Row J, Seat 4" or anything like it. That's what comes to mind for many when "calling your shot" is mentioned. It's more likely he flapped his arms while trading insults with the Cubs, saying that he only needed one pitch to do something, and then did it. The gesture grew in significance in the context of the story after the fact. That's still quite impressive, and more to the point, memorable.
Sherman concludes in "Babe Ruth's Called Shot" that such an act would have been in character, and indeed was such a good fit for his reputation that it stuck - even if the story may not be quite true in its entirety. The author is right on target there.
We wanted to believe it happened in 1932, and we still want to believe today.
Learn more about this book.
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