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Bloops: Justice John Paul Stevens on Ruth’s Called Shot

Posted by Neil Paine on November 29, 2010

Via - On last night's 60 Minutes, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens offered his "final ruling" on what happened during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, a game he was present at when Babe Ruth supposedly called his shot before homering in the 5th inning:

Stevens says there's "no doubt" Ruth called the shot.

Then again, that's just one man's opinion, even if he was on the Supreme Court bench. As the TV Squad post notes,

"Ruth's called shot wasn't televised, but a pair of home movies recorded by other spectators at the game suggest Ruth may have really been pointing at the pitcher, or at the opposing team's bench. Much like the Supreme Court rulings, a unanimous verdict is hard to come by."

(Hat Tip: Our own Andy K.)

13 Responses to “Bloops: Justice John Paul Stevens on Ruth’s Called Shot”

  1. Rich Says:

    Charlie Root has said that if Ruth pointed to the stands and called his shot, that he would have drilled him with the next pitch. I tend to believe that.

  2. Dave Says:

    Somebody actually watches "60 minutes"???!!!!!

  3. Uncle Mike Says:

    The home movie shows Ruth pointing directly at pitcher Charlie Root. There's no sound on it, but it looks like he's suggesting, "Now ya done it, now yer gonna get it." Gehrig was in the on-deck circle, and he was quoted as saying Ruth yelled, "I'm gonna hit the next pitch down your (expletive) throat!" Sounds to me like Charlie Root had an alligator mouth and a hummingbird (expletive), because he didn't back up what he later said; the Babe backed up what he'd already said.

    On the other hand, Justice Stevens said Ruth pointed with his bat. That has never been backed up before. He may be confusing that with the "Whammer" scene in "The Natural."

    Still, the Babe sent some kind of message, and then he hit one out. That's a pretty good fit for the definition of "He called his shot."

  4. Mike S. Says:

    Considering some of Stevens' rulings while on the bench, I don't want to hear ANYTHING from him regarding baseball.

  5. Chuck Says:

    The centerfielder for the Cubs that day, Johnny Moore, was from my hometown. He owned a batting cage in town and on occasion he would be there himself. He was in his 70's then but would always walk around giving tips and would talk about his career if asked.

    Obviously, the topic of Ruth's called shot would come up in just about every conversation.

    I heard him talk about it maybe six, seven times over a period of five years or so, and his story never changed.

    He said Ruth's gesture was to second baseman Billy Herman, who had been on his case the whole series.

    As Moore told it, Herman had relayed in the clubhouse Ruth had yelled a threat to "get him", which was interpreted to mean he would try and take him out on a play at second and the gesture was meant as a warning.

    Moore said there was no mention, either after the game or before the next day's game, of a called shot.

    Only afterwards, when the media and some in attendance "interpreted" the gesture to mean something else did it become a story.

    Ruth himself echoed Moore's recounting and even went so far as to say the event made for a good story and he wasn't going to ruin it.

    The "called shot" is a myth of Sidd Finch-ian proportions.

  6. Austyn Says:

    Regardless of what he did on the bench, he looks great for being 90 years old!

  7. Phil Haberkorn Says:

    As for Mr. Stevens's opinion, I'm more than a little hesitant to place much faith in the word of somebody who spent his entire career sitting on the bench. Why is it we never hear about the Supreme Court's starters, it's always the ones on the bench who are issuing opinions? Now, the King and His Court, now there's a guy who knew the game, I'd take Eddie Feighner's word for it any day, even if he did pitch blindfolded a lot of the time, which come to think of it, his record is probably a darned sight better than that blindfolded lady with the scales, no matter what her opinion is, and by the way, Bobby Scales blindfolded probably knows more about it than a bench-warming judge, even if he was named after a Pope or two and look what good it did him, 60 minutes targets him for one of their ambush interviews and didn't even give him time to put his robe on......And come to think of it, why wasn't that World Series televised, did they already have blackout restrictions back then?????

  8. Mike Felber Says:

    Great post Phil.

    Chuck, I heard that Ruth basically went along with the story, not that the gesture was towards Herman. But it makes perfect sense. no question the called shot is a myth. But what is more amazing is that Ruth seems to have legitimately hit the ball further than anyone else: before modern training, weight or otherwise, using absurdly heavy bats & grueling travel.

    Check out "Baseball's Ultimate Power" by baseball historian Bob Jenkinson. He uses physics, old microfilm, eyewitness accounts, etc... to determine seemingly with great accuracy who hit the best shots ever. Back to the 19th Century.

  9. Cabriael Says:

    Of course it's just 'a man's' opinion, as long as it's not your sacred umpire.

  10. Douglas Heeren Says:

    I have had a hard time believing anything that someone who spent his career in Washington D.C. says. Judges and politics smell of lies as far as I'm concerned.

  11. Phil Haberkorn in Indiana Says:

    REPLY TO MIKE FELBER: I'm not sure if the historian you refer to is the author, but I recenty read a book about Babe Ruth's home run power, specifically how he consistenty hit the ball farther, not just more often, than his contemporaries. Different rules back then robbed him of a significant number of HR's, because the ball was called "foul" if it landed foul/out-of-play beyond the fence ("...when last seen by the umpire" was how balls were called if they left the ball park and the ump couldn't see where it landed). A pocketful of Babe's shots would have flown over the buildings across the street at Wrigley Field, and landed in the next block toward Lake Michigan. Whether he called his shot can be debated, but there's no doubt Babe could have done it. . .

  12. Phil Haberkorn in Indiana Says:

    POST #7 was simply the result of channeling my inner Casey Stengel, not a political comment. . . .:)

  13. MikeD Says:

    @8, Mike Felber -- I agree that the "Called Shot," as told to us baseball fans as kids, was a myth. There was no majestic, pointing to the CF bleachers, with Ruth telling everyone in earshot that he was going to hit the next pitch out to the exact spot he was pointing. Even as a kid, I questioned the story. While I can believe someone like Ruth might say he's going to hit a HR, I was more surprised he'd be foolish enough to say exactly where it was going to land.

    Then when the two separate amateur videos of the HR were discovered in the 80s and 90s, both confirmed that, yes, Ruth did gesture, but also seemed to indicate that he wasn't pointing to the CF bleachers, so therefore the myth was busted, or seemed likely busted since neither video can give us a clear decision on exactly where he was pointing, let alone what he actually said. The latter part will never be known, but it the most important part of the story.

    So for a good decade, I was in the camp that Ruth didn't make the Called Shot, but then I thought it through again and realized I was basing my opinion on what I had been told, and since the videos didn't quite match what I was told, I accepted the story wasn't true. I've now read many accounts of what people saw and heard, and I'm now inching back into the camp that he basically did call the shot in one manner, but he just didn't point to where it was going.

    More so than the videos, which to me are inconclusive, the most important item is what exactly did Ruth say right before the pitch. This is the confusing part, since the pitcher, the catcher, the umpire, and Lou Gehrig on deck, gave varying accounts over the years on what Ruth said. If there are different accounts, that says to me people might not telling the truth, or their memories are faulty, or they’ve allowed themselves to be influenced by the myth, or they just didn't clearly hear what Ruth said. The last might be the most likely. Ruth was jabbering away the entire AB, so the different recollections might have more to do with what they heard at some point in Ruth's AB, maybe not right before he hit the HR.

    I would put more faith in the man physically closest to Ruth, catcher Gabby Hartnett, who denied that Ruth called the shot, yet what Hartnett heard may very well support what Ruth intended to do. Hartnett, along with some others, believe that Ruth pointed either toward pitcher Root, or the Cubs dugout, and said something like "all it takes is one pitch," or "one to hit" or some variation of that which has been reported. Ruth then he hit the next pitch out and ran around the bases taunting the Cubs. If that sequence is correct, then I have a hard time believing he didn't accomplish exactly what he meant to accomplish, which was to hit a HR on the next pitch.

    So it may just be that he didn't point to where the ball was going, but his intent was to hit a HR on the next pitch, which is what he did.

    The beauty of it all is, even with the videos, no one really knows for sure to this very day. And no one ever will!