Babe Ruth was coming off his 59-homer season in 1921 when he faced a skinny 21-year-old lefthander with the St. Louis Browns named Hubert (Shucks) Pruett for the first time. "Hub wasn't very fast," said his Browns roommate, Frank Ellerbe, to baseball historian John Holway. "But he had the best lefthanded screwball I ever saw." Pitching in relief in May 1922, Pruett struck Ruth out and then walked him. A month later, again in relief, he fanned Ruth. Two days after that, as the starting pitcher, Pruett struck Ruth out three times and walked him once. "Babe would run up on him out of the box," said Ellerbe, "then Hub would throw that fastball in on him."
In July, Pruett again embarrassed Ruth. He got the Babe to tap feebly back to the box his first time up, and then struck him out on his next two at bats. By the sixth inning Pruett's arm was bothering him, and he loaded the bases for Ruth. Pruett asked catcher Hank Severeid to come out to the mound and suggested the Browns bring in a new pitcher, but Severeid urged him to stay in to face the Babe. Pruett did and struck Ruth out.
Pruett was still nursing the sore arm in August, but when Ruth came up late in a game with the bases loaded, Pruett was rushed in from the bullpen—and whiffed him again. In September, with the Browns and Yankees fighting for the pennant, Pruett got another start against the Bambino. He walked him in the first and then—to the delight of the crowd in St. Louis—struck him out in the third. In the fifth, Ruth finally connected for a home run. Ruth had another hit off Pruett in the game, but the rookie won nevertheless.
The spell began to fade in '23. Pruett struck Ruth out three of the first five times they faced each other, but he also gave up another home run. Still, the first 21 times they met, Ruth fanned 13 times. Although the two never spoke on the field, the Bambino would wink at Pruett as they passed each other. Pruett hung on another five seasons in the majors, largely on the strength of his mastery of Ruth.
With his earnings from baseball, Pruett put himself through medical school. Twenty-five years after their first confrontation, Dr. Pruett saw Ruth, who was near death. "I want to thank you for putting me through med school," he told the Babe. "If it wasn't for you, no one would ever have heard of me." Ruth smiled and said, "If I helped you get through medical school, I'm glad of it."
FIVE MORE FACTS
1. There was once a thoroughbred named Nemesis, but the filly never lived up to her name. As a 3-year-old in 1952, Nemesis raced five times, and the best she could do was one second-place finish for $500.
2. Though there has never been a notable human athlete named Nemesis, the Minnesota Twins did have a little lefthander named Eddie Bane (7-13, 1973-76).
3. When Bear Bryant was coaching Kentucky, he was 0-5-2 against Bob Neyland's Tennessee Vols, even though the Wildcats were favored in three of the games. At Alabama, Bryant's nemesis was Notre Dame, against which he was 0-4. And two of the defeats—in the '73 Sugar Bowl and the '75 Orange Bowl—were heart-stoppers.
4. In the last 15 years the Kentucky basketball team has won 10 SEC titles, but over that span the Wildcats are 2-14 against Tennessee in Knoxville.