On famous chokeholds

O, BY THE WAY

Losing by a neck

Chacon gave up some Ruthian clouts, but his fight wasn't in Babe's class

June 27, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

If recently released Houston Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon's career is over, the Orioles will go down as the last entry on his pitching resume.

It was the Orioles who, in a game about a week ago at Camden Yards, routed Chacon for six runs, eight hits and four walks over five innings as the Orioles went on to win, 7-5.

In getting lit up by Baltimore, Chacon's already so-so year took a decided nose dive, with his ERA inflating to just over 5.00.

Not surprisingly, the Astros planned to reposition Chacon where he might be less exposed and get him out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen.

With Houston general manager Ed Wade the bearer of these bad tidings, the conversation with Chacon in the team's dining room Wednesday over his new status went very bad very quickly. It ended with the 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-hander grabbing the 50ish general manager by the neck, tossing him to the floor and jumping on him before outfielder Reggie Abercrombie helped peel Chacon off Wade.

With the team quickly moving to release Chacon, the pitcher wonders whether this spells the end of the line. Who wants a career 45-61 pitcher with a 4.99 ERA who you're afraid might punch out whoever goes to the mound to get him on a bad day?

The Chacon-Wade episode reminded me of a familiar story from baseball's misty past that Babe Ruth once dangled diminutive Yankees manager Miller Huggins from a speeding train. The story has been repeated any number of times in print and even recounted in at least one film version of Ruth's life.

If Babe did assault Huggins, it obviously didn't have nearly the adverse impact on Ruth's career that Chacon fears his outburst will have on his own.

The thing is, Ruth experts say the incident is baseball baloney.

"Purely apocryphal," said Bill Jenkinson, who wrote a recent book on Ruth, The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs: Recrowning Baseball's Greatest Slugger. The title suggests that in 1921, Ruth hit 104 balls that in today's major league parks would have been homers.

"No way Babe Ruth would have considered doing that to any human being, and there's no way that anyone, even Babe Ruth, would have gotten away with it," Jenkinson said of the train story.

The author said he consulted another Ruth biographer, Robert Creamer, who talked with many Ruth contemporaries, all of whom had similar reactions - it was "the craziest damn thing [they] ever heard of."

Jenkinson said he wasn't sure how the Ruth-Huggins train story originated or how it endured. Perhaps it was tied to a Ruth-led celebration on a train after the 1928 World Series, when Ruth supposedly pulled his sleeping manager from his train berth. But certainly the nastier version of a train incident was given credence because there was bad blood between the two.

In 1925, Huggins suspended Ruth for bad behavior, and Ruth supposedly said that if Huggins were 100 pounds heavier, he'd punch the manager in the nose. Huggins responded that if he were 100 pounds heavier, he'd take on Ruth.

Chacon's physical threat wasn't idle, however, and the dining room assault wasn't apocryphal, and it was all set in motion at Camden Yards.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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