SI Vault
Robert W. Creamer
April 01, 1974
The Babe remarries, achieves imperishable—if not unassailable—baseball records, is denied a chance to manage, and fights valiantly against a killer
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April 01, 1974

Colossus Of The Game

The Babe remarries, achieves imperishable—if not unassailable—baseball records, is denied a chance to manage, and fights valiantly against a killer

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The score was 4-4 in the rowdy third game in Wrigley Field as the Yankees came to bat in the fifth. Boos and hoots rose to a crescendo as Ruth stepped into the batter's box. The Cubs were on top of the dugout steps, Bush cupping his hands around his mouth as he taunted Ruth. Babe grinned, then stepped in to face Root. The pitcher threw. It was a called strike. The crowd cheered, and the Cubs razzed Ruth louder than ever. Still grinning, holding his bat loosely in his left hand, he looked over at the Cubs and raised one finger of his right hand. Root pitched again, in close, for ball one. He pitched again, this time outside, and it was ball two. The crowd stirred in disappointment, and the razzing from the Cubs let up slightly. Again Root pitched, and it was called strike two. The crowd roared, and the Cubs yammered with renewed vigor. Bush was so excited he ran a step or two onto the grass in front of the dugout, yelling at Ruth. Grimes was shouting something. Ruth waved the exultant Cubs back toward their dugout and held up two fingers. Gabby Hartnett, the Chicago catcher, heard him say, "It only takes one to hit it." Root said something from the mound, and Ruth said something back. Gehrig, who was in the on-deck circle, said, "Babe was jawing with Root, and what he said was, 'I'm going to knock the next pitch right down your goddamned throat.' "

With the count 2 and 2, Root threw again, a changeup curve, low and away. Ruth swung and hit a tremendous line-drive home run deep into the bleachers in center field. Johnny Moore, the centerfielder, ran back and stood there looking up as it went far over his head into the stands. It was the longest home run that had ever been hit in Wrigley Field. Ruth ran down the first-base line, laughing. "You lucky bum," he said to himself. "You lucky, lucky bum." He said something to Charlie Grimm, the Cubs' player-manager first baseman. He said something to Second Baseman Billy Herman. He shook his clasped hands over his head like a victorious fighter, and as he rounded third base, still laughing, he taunted the now-silent Chicago dugout. In a box near home plate Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was running for President against Herbert Hoover, put his head back and laughed, and after the Babe crossed home plate Roosevelt's eyes followed him all the way into the dugout. There he was mauled and pounded by his Yankee teammates.

Now. What about the legend? What about the story, often affirmed, often denied, that Babe pointed to a spot in center field and then hit the ball precisely to that spot? It is an argument over nothing, and the fact that Ruth did not point to center field before his home run does not diminish in the least what he did. He did challenge the Cubs before 50,000 people, did indicate he was going to hit a home run and did hit a home run. What more could anyone ask?

The legend grew because people gild lilies and sometimes vividly remember things they did not see. Most accounts of the game tell about Ruth calling his shot. For instance, Westbrook Pegler wrote, "With a warning gesture...he sent the signal for the customers to see. Now, it said, this is the one, look." But apparently only Joe Williams of the Scripps-Howard newspapers wrote on the day of the game that Babe pointed to center field. A few days later Bill Corum wrote that he pointed, but in the story he did the day it happened Corum neglected to mention it. Paul Gallico picked up the pointing theme after the Series ended, and Tom Meany, who worked with Williams, always accepted it as fact, although in his biography of Ruth written 15 years later Meany said, "Ruth himself changed his version a couple of times.... Whatever the intent of the gesture, the result was, as they say in Hollywood, slightly colossal."

Ruth's autobiography, written in 1947 with Bob Considine when Babe was painfully ill with cancer, says he pointed, and adds that he began thinking about it the night before the game, after he and Claire were spat on when entering their hotel. It says that he was angry and hurt because of the taunts of the Chicago players and fans, that before the first pitch he pointed to center field, and that when Root threw the ball Babe held up a finger and yelled, "Strike one," before the umpire could call the pitch. And held up two fingers and yelled, "Strike two" after the second pitch. And before the third pitch, stepped out of the box and pointed to the bleachers again. And then hit the third pitch for the home run. This version was adopted and embroidered by Hollywood in the movie of Ruth's life that starred William Bendix, and as bad as the movie was it gave the legend the permanence of concrete.

Ford Frick, who was not at the game, tried to pin Ruth down on the subject when the two were talking about the Series some time later.

"Did you really point to the bleachers?" Frick asked. Ruth, always honest, shrugged.

"It's in the papers, isn't it?" he said.

"Yeah," Frick said. "It's in the papers. But did you really point to the stands?"

"Why don't you read the papers? It's all right there in the papers."

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