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Would Charlie Root Really have Beaned Babe Ruth?

I’m speaking about one instance in general, the famous or infamous alleged “called shot” by Babe Ruth at Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.

Stimulated by ESPN Chicago NOT calling that the No. 1 moment in Wrigley Field’s 100-year history (more on that later), I got curious.

The “called shot” game from the 1932 World Series has the mythos of whether or not Ruth did point at center field while at bat in the fifth inning, after making some sort of gesture before that, it seems, at Cubs pitcher Charlie Root (sic, per Baseball-Reference, Wikipedia and elsewhere; FanGraphs’ “Charley” is much less attested) after he got 2 strikes on him.

To me, this is the No. 1 event not just because of gray-area questions about what Ruth did and did not do, but also from Root’s vociferous denial that Ruth was calling anything, claiming he would have beaned him if he was.

Really? Let’s first look at quotes from the Wikipedia link above on the “called shot.”

  • “Don’t let anybody tell you differently. Babe definitely pointed.” — Cubs public address announcer Pat Pieper (As public address announcer Pieper sat next to the wall separating the field from the stands, between home plate and third base. In 1966 he spoke with the Chicago Tribune “In the Wake of the News” sports columnist David Condon: “Pat remembers sitting on the third base side and hearing [Cubs’ pitcher] Guy Bush chide Ruth, who had taken two strikes. According to Pat, Ruth told Bush: ‘That’s strike two, all right. But watch this.’ ‘Then Ruth pointed to center field, and hit his homer,’ Pat continues. ‘You bet your life Babe Ruth called it.'”)
  • “My dad took me to see the World Series, and we were sitting behind third base, not too far back…. Ruth did point to the center-field scoreboard. And he did hit the ball out of the park after he pointed with his bat. So it really happened.” Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, United States Supreme Court
  • “What do you think of the nerve of that big monkey. Imagine the guy calling his shot and getting away with it.” – Lou Gehrig
  • The Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, attended the game with his young nephew, and both had a clear view of the action at home plate. Landis himself never commented on whether he believed Ruth called the shot, but his nephew believes that Ruth did not call it
  • Washington Post legendary columnist Shirley Povich, detailed in an interview with Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey. “Ruth was just mad about that quick pitch, Dickey explained. He was pointing at Root, not at the centerfield stands. He called him a couple of names and said, “Don’t do that to me anymore, you blankety-blank.”

So, hard to say, but it adds to the mystique, right? And, of the collected quotes, three say he called the shot, and the others are kind of ambivalent.

So, can we explore further?

Relatively recently discovered footage leans more toward the idea of Ruth pointing his bat at the Cubs dugout, Wikipedia claims. That said, even that and him reportedly holding two fingers up to Root, or pointing at him, would have been something halfway like saying “here it comes.” In other words, short of Ruth pointing to the centerfield scoreboard, Root arguably had reason to bean him anyway. Beyond the above, Ruth had already homered off him earlier in the game.

And speaking of …

Let’s look at Baseball-Reference’s play index for that game, to further question Root’s claim.

First, the game was tied 4-4 entering the top of the fifth. Root wouldn’t want to jeopardize that lead. And, beaning Ruth with 1 out would have brought up Lou Gehrig who, like Ruth, had already hit one homer in the game and by this point was a more dangerous batter than Ruth.

So, especially with two strikes on Ruth, from quick-pitching or whatever, no Root wouldn’t have beaned him. He would have tried to strike him out. Beaning him with a two-strike count to know he would face Gehrig next in a tie game would have been stupid. Root needed the out. The Cubs needed the win. A strikeout of Ruth would have given the bench-jockeying Cubs dugout more ammunition, too.

In actuality, Root didn’t and couldn’t strike out Ruth. Gehrig then hit another homer too, at which point Root got yanked.

So, Root may be right, but I kind of doubted it. He had reasons for his statement, of course. Root’s not a HOFer, but he is arguably a member of the Hall of Very Good, winning more than 200 games and posting nearly 40 career WAR. And he’d like to be remembered for that rather than for getting shown up, getting “faced,” by Babe Ruth. Who wouldn’t?

Beyond that, as I talk about in more detail at my blog, about the history of Wrigley, besides the “called shot” dethroning the Bartman game from the top spot, I’m not even sure I’d rank that game at No. 2 on Wrigley’s Top 100. That’s in large part because I’m not a Cubs fan, I know.

The Fielding Edge: Why Pujols is No Cabrera

When Miguel Cabrera signed his big new contract with Detroit earlier this year, the response of this blogger and many other fans was — No! Specifically, the seeming albatross of Albert Pujols’ contract, and somewhat lesser ones of Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard, were cited as warning signs.

However, Pujols’ injury-hastened offseason, with extra rest, seems to have put a bit of a new spring in his step through taking the fasciitis out. His quick start en route to passing the 500-homer mark would seem to be good evidence of that. Even if a start this hot doesn’t hold, if he finishes the year at somewhere between his 2011 and 2012 levels, it’s a major turnaround and one the Angels will gladly take.

Fielding has been known to set Pujols at least somewhat apart from the other three. But, how much? More than one might expect. Indeed, Pujols overall might come off better than one might expect.

Here’s a check of all four, on total zone runs and ultimate zone rating per 150 defensive games.

Pujols: 96/6.2

Cabrera: -7/-2.0

Fielder: -38/-5.5

Howard: 14/-3.4 (really)

All numbers are for first base only for each player. Howard’s numbers make me raise my eyebrows a bit. They also make me think that we still haven’t “nailed down” defensive sabermetric calculations as tightly as offensive ones. Not just this, but differences between FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference make me say that.

But, before I go down that road, I’ll present one other first baseman’s figures. He’s a bit older, so we don’t have UZR or UZR/150 numbers for him, just total zone runs. You’ve “probably” heard his name among defensive first basemen a few times. I present Keith Hernandez.

Hernandez: 121

And so, Albert Pujols’ fielding neighborhood looks a lot better than one might think.

So, let’s go to Baseball-Reference next. Here, I’ll have all games, not just at 1B, included, for two stats over there: fielding runs and dWAR.

Again, the differences are notable.

Pujols: 134/1.9

Cabrera: -77/-12.0

Fielder: -93/-17.8

Howard: -46/-12.4.

A couple of notes. With B-R, Howard falls a lot closer to Cabrera and Fielder. On both, the idea mentioned by some bloggers and sportswriters, that teams and managers would have to some day worry about Fielder losing his range, is shown to be wrong. He never had it to lose, claims about his prowess at first aside.

Let’s also see what B-R tells us about the Merry Mex.

Hernandez: 117/0.6

Whoa; Pujols actually ranks better than him. Really?

Yes. Another statistic has further proof.

Hernandez was famed for his ability to start 3-6-3 double plays. B-R says he initiated 127 ground ball DPs of all types.

Guess what? Pujols is close behind with 121. After he recently turned his first one this season, I decided, just out of curiosity, to check these numbers.

The others? Not even close. Howard has about 80 fewer and Fielder about 75 fewer. Cabrera, with much less time at 1B, is more than 80 such double plays behind Hernandez.

This is about more than illustrating Pujols’ individual value as a fielder. It’s about team issues.

Cabrera could well be moved to DHing more than 1B already next year, if the Tigers don’t resign Victor Martinez. Fielder, instead of Mitch Moreland, should already be the Rangers’ primary DH. Howard is in the National League, and with a GM who still believes he has a serious shot at the postseason, which is preventing him from being traded into the  AL.

But, Pujols, still playing league average or a touch above at 1B, and likely to do so for a few more years, gives the Angels and Mike Scioscia more flexibility on making out lineup cards. For more details about all this, visit my blog post, please.