The Called Shot
It’s Saturday, October 1, 1932 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It’s a bright and sunny day. It’s Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs. And the grandstands are jam-packed with nearly 50,000 fans.
The Yankees are back on top of their game after a three-season drought of titles and accolades. In this Series, the Yanks are managed by Joe McCarthy, the manager who had been fired by the Cubs after the 1930 season. On this day, the Yankees are up 2 games to none over the Cubs in the Series. And, it was in this game, that one of Babe’s biggest legends is born — The Called Shot.
Before the start of the game, the tension between the teams is high. “Trash-talking” of the day is at its peak between the two teams. Both the Cubs players and their fans are particularly focused on hurling taunts toward the Babe. Some of the comments are pretty tough.
During batting practice, a few particularly crazed fans are throwing lemons at the Babe, being cranked up by all the events and press preceding this game. Both the Babe and Lou Gehrig are giving it their all in batting practice, hitting an impressive nine and seven balls respectively into the outfield seats. During this time, Babe says “I’d play for half of my salary, if I could play in a dump like this”, suggesting that the park was easy for hitting homeruns.
And then, the game begins. In the 1st inning, Babe smacks a three-run homerun, while Lou Gehrig blasts a single homer in the third. The score is 4-1 in favor of New York. But by the fourth inning, the Cubs have fought back and the score is tied 4-4.
It’s now the 5th inning with the Yankees batting, one out already against them. The Babe steps up to the plate. The animosity coming from the Cubs dugout is clear. The “smack” toward the Babe is loud. And, Babe takes a strike from Chicago pitcher Charlie Root. Then two balls, followed by another strike. The count is 2-2.
The Babe steps up to the plate for the next pitch, but then steps back out of the batter’s box for a moment and apparently gestures toward center field. And the “smack” is silenced as the crack of Babe’s bat is heard and he smashes a big, booming homerun over the wall near the flagpole in center field. Some say it was the longest homer ever hit out of Wrigley Field.
And in those moments, with emotions and agitation among teams, players and fans running high, this particular turn at the plate and the ensuing homer created the legend of Babe’s Called Shot. Was it truth, rather than legend? Was Babe pointing at the spot he planned to land his homer or was he pointing at Root? Or was he simply gesturing in general? No one really knows for sure.
But the legend was born. And likely was written in stone that same day, when the sports editor for Scripps-Howard newspapers wrote the following headline that appeared in the New York World-Telegram: “Ruth Calls Shot as he Puts Home Run No. 2 in the Side Pocket.” From there, the story got picked up elsewhere and other reporters reiterated on the theme of the Called Shot.
On the day after this legendary homerun, some say that Gehrig said “What do you think of the nerve of that big monkey, calling his shot and getting away with it?”. While Chicago’s Root said, “If he had made that gesture, I would have knocked him down with the next pitch.” Babe, being the press-savvy player that he was, was relatively quiet about it. He didn’t deny the Called Shot and, yet, he didn’t really talk about it much either.
Other players and eyewitnesses to the events of that day were split, with some confirming the Called Shot and others saying the Babe simply pointed to the Cubs dugout. In the 80’s and 90’s a few 16mm films from fans were discovered, with one seeming to confirm the truth of the legend and the other refuting it.
At the end of the day, we’ll probably never know for sure. But, as Betty Hoyt, widow of Babe’s former teammate and long-time friend, Waite Hoyt, had said, “You know, so many people said that he did it (pointed) and others said that he didn’t, but Waite never doubted that it was true. Waite wasn’t there in 1932 when Babe called that shot, but he said that he did see Babe call a shot several years before in a game where he pointed to a place where he was going to hit a homerun and he did. But Waite said ‘I always believed that he did do it.'” You can listen to more of Betty Hoyt’s perspectives in Section 09 Voices.
By the way, the Yankees went on to wrap up a win of Game 3, as well as Game 4 earning them their third World Series sweep in five years.
Listen to an interview Babe did later in life as he reflected on the “Called Shot” event: