Babe Ruth was a man of great accomplishments. Whether it was setting a World Series record for most consecutive scoreless innings as a pitcher, hitting 54 home runs in a season in which only one other entire team hit that many or eating 10 hot dogs in the dugout during a game, Ruth was a man who did things on a grand scale. It should come as no surprise then that with his famed “called shot” in 1932, Babe Ruth is at the center of one of the greatest controversies in World Series history.
By 1932, Babe Ruth and the Yankees had been on top of the baseball world for over a decade. Three years later, Ruth would be washed up and finishing his career with the Boston Braves and the Yankees would be in the final year of a transition period between the Ruth-led Dynasty of the ’20s and the Joe Dimaggio teams of the ’30s and ’40s. Ruth’s Yankees, however, had one last great run left in them and found themselves leading two games to none in the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs.
Ruth, as the best player in baseball, was naturally a target of abuse for Chicago fans and players alike. He and his wife had been spit upon as they entered and left their hotel during the Series. In answer to this treatment, Ruth hit a three-run home run in the first inning of Game 3 off pitcher Charlie Root. Rather than putting an end to the abuse, this only served to further infuriate the Cubs fans and players. When Ruth came to bat in the fifth inning, with the game tied 4-4, he took two called strikes from Root and the fans and the players in the opposing dugout started provoking The Babe. At this point it becomes hard to separate legend from fact.
According to the most commonly recounted version of the story, Ruth, having had enough of the ribbing, pointed his finger towards centerfield and promptly hit a home run that landed exactly where he had indicated it would.
While the called shot explanation for this event makes for the best story, it is not likely true. According to many eyewitnesses to the event, Ruth had been engaged in a running dialogue with the Cubs’ bench and was actually raising his finger towards them as if to say, “it only takes one pitch to hit the ball.”
Other explanations for Ruth’s raised finger include that he was pointing at Root or that he was letting the crowd know that he still had one strike left. Regardless of Ruth’s motivation, the massive home run, the final one of his record 15 World Series homers, was one of the most memorable in the history of baseball. Given the extraordinary flair with which Ruth played and lived his life, we couldn’t have expected anything else.