Did Babe call shot or not? Panel, film touch all bases

September 30, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

For the first time, a panel of Baltimore sportswriters and broadcasters tomorrow night will sit in judgment of Babe Ruth and his controversial "called shot" home run during a special ceremony at the only alma mater he ever knew, St. Mary's Industrial School, now Cardinal Gibbons High.

The public is invited for the event (adults $5, senior citizens $3, children $2) that begins (5:30 p.m.) at the DeSoto Road parking lot for a tour of the field where Ruth first played baseball. An hour later comes adjournment to the auditorium to view an actual film taken on the day in 1932 at Chicago, when Ruth delivered one of the game's most debated and historic home runs.

For more than 50 years the movie was unknowingly in possession of the family of the late Kirk Kandle, a spectator who, while seated in the stands, used a 8 mm camera to record Ruth's momentous blast, carrying between 436 and 500 feet. Up to that time it represented the longest ball hit at Wrigley Field.

It wasn't until decades later that a younger generation Kandle, Matt by name, opened a steel container and made the belated discovery of what the inherited home movie showed. It was Ruth batting in the 1932 World Series.

A special preview was provided yesterday at the Babe Ruth Museum, which is sponsoring the program, and there was an opportunity to evaluate the evidence.

At no time does Ruth point toward the center-field fence, but he gestures before every pitch in a verbal confrontation with players bTC in the Cubs' dugout. What is proven in the motion picture, without a trace of argument, is Ruth's awesome cut at the climactic pitch delivered by Charley Root.

There remains no doubt it was a stroke generated with a powerful display of force, an almost unbelievable home run swing. Obviously, Ruth, angered by the ongoing argument with the Cubs, was going full-bore as he reached back for something extra and delivered with lightning impact.

The film shows its age but, after all, tomorrow is the 62nd anniversary of when it captured one of the most pro-and-con developments baseball has ever known. Did Ruth call the home run or is it mere fantasy? By implication the movie gives reason to say yes. But, as with an ongoing mystery, it remains inconclusive because of the angle and catcher Gabby Hartnett's partially obscuring Ruth's pre-swing showdown.

The Baltimore Babe was attempting to silence the taunts of the Cubs, who were responding with insults at Ruth. Earlier, he called them a collection of "cheapskates" for not giving his friend and former Yankees teammate, Mark Koenig, who had joined the Cubs in midseason, a full share of the World Series receipts.

Guy Bush and Bob Smith, on the Cubs' bench, were the chief antagonists. Yet Ruth had the last word, silencing the Cubs as he rounded the bases and exploded a volley of insults at them. There's even a suggestion by some observers that Ruth, on an earlier home run in the game, also gestured he was going to drive the ball out of the park.

Westbrook Pegler, a syndicated newspaper columnist, offered this description:

"It was a privilege to be present because it is not likely the scene will ever be repeated in all its elments. Many a hitter may make two home runs or possibly three in World Series in years to come, but not the way Babe Ruth hit these two. Nor will you ever see an artist call his shot before hitting one of the longest drives ever made on the grounds, in a World Series game, laughing and mocking the enemy with two strikes gone."

Pertinent to the examination of the remarkable Ruth episode is a story in a late edition of the Historical Society of Wisconsin. It's produced by a brilliant author, John Evangelist Walsh, who has written books on such diverse subjects as the Wright Brothers, John Paul Jones, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. He has diligently researched reports of 38 sportswriters who covered the game in an effort further to enlighten the issue.

His findings show 17 of the reporters either implied or clearly stated the Babe called his shot, including such journalistic major-leaguers as Ed Burns and Irving Vaughan, Chicago Tribune; Warren Brown, San Francisco Examiner; Bill Corum, New York Journal; John Drebinger, New York Times; Paul Gallico, New York Daily News; Sam Levy, Milwaukee Journal; Joe Williams and Tom Meany, New York World Telegram; Ed Neil, Washington Star; Dan Parker, New York Daily Mirror; Herb Simons, Chicago Times; and Richards Vidmer, New York Herald Tribune.

Walsh, after much study, said the Cubs' Bush screamed Ruth should be in an old folks home. "Ruth roared back that old folks homes are full of washed-up pitchers he had personally put there and Bush was next," according to the insightful information Walsh provides.

There will never be a final verdict on the home run since it's all so subjective, even after reviewing the movie. But Babe Ruth and what he contributed is a baseball gem, a magic moment that will remain for perpetuity.

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