RUTH'S CALLED SHOT
Professor of Leisure History and Comparative Phrenology,Mountebank University
Perhaps no incident in baseball’s long history has aroused so much debate as Babe Ruth’s famous “called shot” home run against the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series. Accounts by witnesses vary widely -- Chicago participants vehemently denying Ruth had actually predicted his homer, Yankees players insisting that he had, and fans in attendance generally supporting their chosen team’s side. In addition to this factionalism, there has been the major problem that the entire controversy turns upon the interpretation of a gesture made by Ruth while at bat before the homer. Did he point toward centerfield? Or at Cubs’ pitcher Charlie Root? Or did his gesture signify something else? Even film of the event fails to settle the argument.
The incident, incidentally, was documented feelingly, if with some poetic license, in the critically underrated film, The Babe Ruth Story, a gritty biographical epic for which I personally believe actor William Bendix deserved at least an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the title character. Wearing a cunning putty nose and tight pin-striped uniform, Bendix was totally convincing during the 1932 World Series.
This author had long despaired of ever learning the truth of the incident until a day last spring when a dignified gentleman of advanced years walked into my office and introduced himself. His name was Umberto DiMaggio, and I naturally asked him if he was related to the famous centerfielder. He was not, but the occasion for his visit was indeed to talk about baseball.
Mr. DiMaggio explained he had immigrated to this country in September of 1932 and traveled immediately to Chicago where he was taken under the wing of his cousin Dominick Tierri. This was a fortuitous situation because at the time Mr. DiMaggio did not speak a word of English.
(Parenthetically, I remarked that he now had virtually no accent. “Grazie,” he said.)
Dominick Tierri it turned out was a fanatical baseball fan, and a few days after Mr. DiMaggio’s arrival, he took the young immigrant with him as a guest to a game played at Wrigley Field. It so happened that this was the third game of the 1932 World Series, although DiMaggio did not realize the significance at the time.
The only seats Mr. Tierri had been able to procure were deep in the bleachers, but fortunately he owned two pair of powerful binoculars with which, according to DiMaggio, “it was as though we were standing in the batter’s box.”
The most surprising link in this chain of events was then revealed to me by Mr. DiMaggio. In his youth, he had been temporarily deafened in an accident. By the time his hearing returned, he had become an expert lip reader. He now found that with the powerful binoculars he was able to ‘read’ the words of the baseball players even though he did not know their meaning in an unfamiliar language. He decided that it might aid him in learning English to write down a phonetic account of the players’ conversations in a notebook he always carried with him.
This he did, but as later events in his life moved furiously ahead, the precious notebook was laid aside untranslated. Then a few weeks before coming to my office he had found it in the back of a closet. ‘You have written about baseball,’ he said to me. ‘I have heard of your History of Balls of the Base Variety.’
“Would you like an autographed copy?” I asked.
“No. I have heard of your History of Balls of the Base Variety. Perhaps you would be interested in the conversation between the batter Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees and the catcher Gabby Hartnett of the Chicago Cubs during the fourth- inning at-bat when Senor Ruth hit his famous home run.”
Naturally, I was all ears as Mr. DiMaggio read from his notebook:
RUTH: Well, Gabby, here we go again. That darned score’s tied 4-4. It’s like we’re starting over.
HARTNETT: That’s right, Babe. Say, I hope you don’t think I had anything to do with that razzing coming from our bench.
RUTH: Of course not, Gabby. I know you always behave as a gentleman should.
HARTNETT: Thanks, Babe. And may I say the same about you.
UMPIRE: Strike one.
RUTH: Old Charlie (Root) seems to be throwing well today, doesn’t he, Gabby?
HARTNETT: He’s a fine pitcher, Babe.
RUTH: He certainly is. But, Gabby, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Has something got you down in the dumps?
UMPIRE: Strike two.
HARTNET: How observant of you to notice, Bambino. Yes, I’m a trifle miffed.
RUTH: What seems to be the trouble, old friend? Mayhap I can somehow alleviate your distress.
UMPIRE: Ball one.
HARTNETT: Alas, Bamster, my misery is no doubt beyond your purview. For my sad state cannot be improved by the hitting of a home run as you have so often done to inculcate joy in ailing, hospitalized children. My favorite pizza place has been closed for two weeks.
RUTH: No wonder your usually sunny disposition is hidden by an uncharcteristic cloud, Gabby. I well know how you dearly love your pizza. Why has the shop been lately shuttered?
UMPIRE: Ball two.
HARTNETT: Word has it that the owner incurred the wrath of one of Capone’s old lieutenants by forgetting to top with pepparoni, Sultan of Swat. The poor soul is likely to now reside with cement brogans somewhere under Lake Michigan. And I despair of tasting excellent pizza ever again.
RUTH: Fear not, Gabby one. I know a premier parlor located right here in your fair city of Chicago. Merely walk down two blocks and turn left at the traffic light. The name of the fine establishment is ‘Umberto and Dominick’s.’
Here, according to Mr. DiMaggio, Ruth pointed the direction that Hartnett should go, using his bat to punctuate his gesture. A moment later, Root pitched and Ruth hit the ball into the centerfield stands.
This grateful author thanked Mr. DiMaggio for finally bringing the shining light of truth to a subject long shrouded in myth and implored the old gentleman to send his priceless notebook to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He promised to consider it.