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Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:01 am

Sherman scores a hit

New book about legendary baseball moment


Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run, by Ed Sherman. Lyons Press, $25.95.

The 2014 baseball season marks the 100th year of baseball at storied Wrigley Field. It has been a noteworthy century, marked by great baseball history and one excruciating failure, the failure of the Cubs to win a World Series in the park originally known as Weegham Field, the original home stadium of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League.

The Cubs began their tenancy in 1916. As a baseball venue, Wrigley Field’s history far surpasses this one failure. Wrigley has seen the careers of a roster of Hall of Fame players including Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and one of this year’s inductees Greg Maddux. The stadium has seen baseball history from Bank’s 500th home run to Stan Musial’s 3000th hit. But no event at Wrigley Field has yielded more debate or discussion than the one that occurred Oct. 1, 1932 in the third game of the World Series between the Cubs and the New York Yankees.

Ed Sherman’s Babe Ruth’s Called Shot is a uniquely entertaining and completely thorough account of the events surrounding the home run that will live in baseball history forever.

Sherman is not an advocate, he is an investigator. He has gathered every piece of evidence available and presents the facts to his jury of baseball fans. They, as all juries will consider the evidence, apply their common sense and life experience and in that fashion arrive at a verdict. But there are no legal requirements for the verdict. Each reader is a jury of one, free to decide the case as they see fit.

The crowd for the game included New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt who in November would defeat Herbert Hoover in the presidential election. He sat with Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was also in attendance. Cub fan Al Capone, who was often photographed with players until Landis barred the practice, would have been at the game had he not been in prison. Behind the Cubs dugout sat a young fan who would eventually become one of the longest serving justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. John Paul Stevens provides Ed Sherman with his opening interview recalling the game that baseball fans continue to debate 82 years after the fact.

Sherman begins the Ruth story by interviewing Justice Stevens. Initially Sherman is told by one of the Justice’s assistants that Stevens is very busy and rarely grants interviews. Sherman responds that he wishes to speak with the Justice about Babe Ruth’s called shot homer. The interview request was granted the next day.

At the interview, Stevens proudly showed Sherman a Cubs bow tie that had been a gift from his law clerks. Stevens recalls the basic facts with complete acumen. There was some bad blood between the teams. When Ruth came to bat after hitting a home run in his first at bat he was heckled unmercifully from the Cubs dugout. Charlie Root was the Cub pitcher. The count reached two balls and two strikes and after the second strike Ruth held up his hand, raised two fingers and either pointed or did not point toward center field. The next pitch traveled nearly 500 feet to the right of what is now the iconic scoreboard in center field. Stevens sat facing Ruth and believes he clearly saw Ruth point toward center field. Justice Stevens has wavered somewhat in his recollection of the event. He once told CBS reporter Scott Pelley that there was no doubt that Ruth called his home run, to Sherman he was less certain.

Sherman sets the scene well for the game, recounting both teams’ seasons and the general tenor of major league baseball as the nation attempted to recover from the Great Depression. In the decades of the 20s and 30s, the Yankees were a powerhouse. Ruth had hit 60 home runs in 1927 and the 1932 team lineup included Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri and Lefty Gomez. Joe McCarthy, who had been fired by the Cubs, was the Yankee manager, perhaps a source of the animosity between the teams. The Cubs were no slouches; they were managed by Charlie Grimm and were led by Hartnett, Root, Kiki Cuyler and Billy Herman.

Babe Ruth’s Called Shot is a remarkably written affectionate book about one of baseball’s true legendary moments. Sherman gathered a great deal of evidence including two grainy movie clips that capture parts of Ruth’s at bat. Modern technology allows these clips to be viewed on YouTube. Sherman places the called shot in the context of what the home run meant for Ruth, baseball and America. This is a book for every baseball fan. Even White Sox fans will love reading this book that once again reminds us of the mythic powers of baseball.

Stuart Shiffman saw his first baseball game in 1955 at Wrigley Field.

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