It's been said that one of the most difficult things to do in sports is to use a round bat to hit a round ball that is twisting and turning toward you at up to 100 MPH. The members of the 500 Home Run Club® excelled at doing so on a regular basis. But even the games greatest hitters couldn't say precisely when or where they would "hit one over the fence". Or could they?
During the firth inning of the third game of the 1932 World Series, the last of his illustrious career, Babe Ruth responded to the taunting of Chicago Cubs players (who stood at the top of their dugout steps and mercilessly taunted him) as well as thousand of Wrigley Field faithful, who screamed that he was a "has been" and "too old", by pointing to the center field bleachers and declaring that he would hit a home run in that direction. The Babe then proceeded to hit the very next pitch out of the park in precisely the spot where he had predicted.
One of the most celebrated incidents in baseball history, the longtime dispute is over Ruth's gesture: did he point to center field? to the pitcher? or to the Cubs bench? Even a couple of films of the called shot that emerged in the 1990's have not drawn any definitive conclusions. Immediately following the game, the media began reporting that Ruth had "called his shot".
Anatomy of Ruth "Called Shot"
Cubs starting pitcher Charlie Root's first pitch to Ruth was a called strike that had the fans erupting into a loud cheer. Ruth looked over at the Cubs dugout and raised one finger with his right hand. Root missed with the next two pitches, momentarily tempering the crowd, but the next pitch was a called strike, and the crowd again cheered loudly. Ruth now waved back the Cubs to their dugout and held up two fingers. He began to shout at Root, and it is at this point Ruth made a pointing gesture in the direction of Root, center field, or to the Cubs bench. Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett said he heard Ruth say, "It only takes one to hit it", and standing on the on-deck circle, Gehrig said he heard Ruth shout at Root, "I'm going to knock the next pitch down your goddamned throat."
Root's next pitch was a changeup curve that Ruth blasted about 440 feet to center field near the flag pole, a ball hit so far it was said to be the longest ball hit at Wrigley Field at the time.
Origins of the called shot story
Ruth's second home run in game 3 probably would have passed into the dustbin of baseball history had it not been for Scripps-Howard newspapers' respected but opinionated Sports Editor Joe Williams. In a late edition the same day of the game, Williams wrote this headline that appeared in the New York World-Telegram, "RUTH CALLS SHOT AS HE PUTS HOME NO. 2 IN THE SIDE POCKET." A couple of days later, other stories started to appear stating that Ruth had called his shot, a few articles even written by reporters who were not even at the game. Soon, the media savvy Ruth was going along with the story that he had called his shot, and his subsequent versions over the years became more dramatic. On one newsreel footage, Ruth voiced over the called shot scene with the remarks, "Well, I looked out at center field and I pointed. I said, 'I'm gonna hit the next pitched ball right past the flagpole!'
In his 1947 autobiography, Ruth gave another enhanced version by stating he dreamed about hitting the home run the night before the game. Ruth explained he was upset about the Cubs insults during the series, and was especially upset when someone spat on his wife Claire, and he was determined to fix things. Ruth not only said he deliberately pointed to center with two strikes, he said he pointed to center even before Root's first pitch.