There is no dispute over the general events of the moment. All the reports say that the Cubs' "bench jockeys" were riding Ruth mercilessly, and that Ruth, rather than ignoring them, was "playing" with them through words and gestures.
The longtime debate is over the nature of one of Ruth's gestures. It is unclear if he pointed to center field, to the pitcher, or to the Chicago Cubs bench. Even the films of the at-bat (by amateur filmmaker Matt Miller Kandle, Sr.) that emerged during the 1990s have not allowed any definitive conclusions.
Charlie Root's first pitch to Ruth was a called strike. Ruth then looked over at the Cubs dugout and raised his right hand, and extended one of his fingers. Root missed with the next two pitches, but the next pitch was a called strike, and the crowd again cheered loudly. Ruth then waved back at the Cubs 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.
Root's next pitch was a curveball that Ruth blasted at least 440 feet to the deepest part of center field near the flag pole (some estimates are as high as 490 feet). The ground distance to the center field corner, actually somewhat right of straightaway center and in the zone of some of Ruth's deepest hits throughout his career, however, was 440 feet. The ball landed a little bit to the right of the 440 corner and farther back, apparently in the temporary seating in Sheffield Avenue behind the permanent interior bleacher seats. Calling the game over the radio, broadcaster Tom Manning shouted, "The ball is going, going, going, high into the center field stands...and it is a home run!" Ruth himself later described the hit as "past the flagpole" which stood behind the scoreboard and the 440 corner. Ruth's powerful hit was aided by a strong backing wind that day. (Leigh Montville, The Big Bam, Random House, 2006, p.502)
Newsreel footage (available in MLB's 100 Years of the World Series) shows that Ruth was crowding the plate and nearly stepped forward out of the batter's box, inches away from risk of being called "out" (Rule 6.06a). The film also shows that as he rounded first base, Ruth looked toward the Cubs dugout and made a waving-off gesture with his left hand; then as he approached third, he made another mocking gesture, a two-armed "push" motion, toward the suddenly quiet Cubs bench. Many reports have claimed that Ruth "thumbed his nose" at the Cubs dugout, but the existing newsreel footage does not show that (if it occurred, it might have been considered vulgar and would have been edited out). Sitting in a box behind home plate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, soon to be elected 32nd President of the United States, even had a laugh as he watched Ruth round the bases. When he crossed home plate, Ruth could no longer hide his smile, and he was patted by his exuberant teammates when he reached the Yankees dugout.
Despite these distracting theatrics, Root was left in the game; but for only one pitch, which Lou Gehrig drilled into the right field seats for his second homer of the day; Root was then relieved. The Yankees won the game 7-5, and the next day they finished off the demoralized Cubs 13-6, completing the four game sweep. The "called shot" homer was Ruth's last World Series hit.
The story would have had some initial credibility, given Ruth's many larger-than-life achievements, including past reported incidents of promising a youngster that he would "hit a home run for him" and then fulfilling that promise soon after. In the public mind, Ruth "calling his shot" had precedent.
At the time, Ruth did not clarify the matter, initially stating that he was merely pointing towards the Cubs dugout to tell them he still had one more strike. In another interview, this one with respected Chicago sports reporter John Carmichael, Ruth said he did not point to any particular spot, but that he just wanted to give the ball a good ride. Soon, however, 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!' Well, the good Lord must have been with me." 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.
Others helped perpetuate the story over the years. Tom Meany, who worked for Joe Williams at the time of the called shot, later wrote a popular but often embellished 1947 biography of Ruth. In the book, Meany wrote, "He pointed to center field. Some say it was merely as a gesture towards Root, others that he was just letting the Cubs bench know that he still had one big one left. Ruth himself has changed his version a couple of times... Whatever the intent of the gesture, the result was, as they say in Hollywood, slightly colossal."
Despite the fact that the article he wrote on the day of the game appears to have been the source of the entire legend, over the ensuing years, Joe Williams himself came to doubt the veracity of Ruth calling his shot.
Nonetheless, the called shot further became etched as truth into the minds of thousands of people after the 1948 film The Babe Ruth Story, which starred William Bendix as Ruth. The film took its material from Ruth's autobiography, and hence did not question the veracity of the called shot. Two separate biographical films made in the 1990s also repeated this gesture in an unambiguous way, coupled with Ruth hitting the ball over the famous ivy-covered wall, which did not actually exist at Wrigley Field until five years later.
The called shot particularly irked Root. He had a fine career, winning over 200 games, but he would be forever remembered as the pitcher who gave up the "called shot", much to his annoyance. When he was asked to play himself in the 1948 film about Ruth, Root turned it down when he learned that Ruth's pointing to center field would be in the film. Said Root, "Ruth did not point at the fence before he swung. If he had made a gesture like that, well, anybody who knows me knows that Ruth would have ended up on his ass. The legend didn't get started until later."
In 1942, during the making of The Pride of the Yankees, Babe Herman (who was at that time a teammate of Root with the minor league Hollywood Stars) was on the movie set as a double for both Ruth (who played himself in most scenes) and Gary Cooper (who played Lou Gehrig). Herman re-introduced Root and Ruth on set and the following exchange (later recounted by Herman to baseball historian Donald Honig), took place:
Root went to his grave vehemently denying that Ruth ever pointed to center field.
In the 1970s, a 16 mm home movie of the called shot surfaced and some believed it might put an end to the decades-old controversy. The film was shot by an amateur filmmaker named Matt Miller Kandle, Sr. Only family and friends had seen the film until the late 1980s. Two frames from the film were published in the 1988 book, Babe Ruth: A Life in Pictures, by Lawrence S. Ritter and Mark Rucker, on p.206. The film was broadcast on a February 1994 FOX television program called Front Page. Later in 1994, still images from the film appeared in filmmaker Ken Burns documentary film Baseball.
The film was taken from the grandstands behind home plate, off to the third base side. One can clearly see Ruth's gesture, although it is hard to determine the angle of his pointing. Many who have watched the film became believers in the called shot after having previously doubted it; however, others remained unconvinced. Some contend Ruth's extended arm is pointing more to the left field direction, toward the Cubs bench, which would be consistent with his (continued) gesturing toward the bench while rounding the bases after the hit. Others who have studied the film closely assert that in addition to the broader gestures, Ruth did make a quick finger point in the direction of the pitcher or center field just as Root was winding up.
As can be seen in the still and is more evident in the film, Cubs catcher Hartnett actually had his back to Ruth at the time of the gesture.
For a list of publications and media outlets that have featured this rare footage, go to http://www.thecalledshot.com.
In 1999, another 16 mm film of the called shot appeared. This one had been shot by Harold Warp, and coincidentally it was the only major league baseball game Warp ever attended. The rights to his footage were sold to ESPN which aired it as part of the network's Athletes of the Century program in 2000. Warp's film has not been as widely seen by the public as has Kandle's, but those who have seen it and offered a public opinion seem to feel that it shows Ruth did not call his shot.
The authors of the book Yankees Century also believe the Warp film proves conclusively that home run was not at all a "called shot". However, Montville's 2006 book, The Big Bam, asserts that neither film answers the question definitively.
Despite all the abuse from the Cubs players and fans, Ruth would later say he never had so much fun in all his life the day of his famous home run. His longtime friend Ford Frick once tried to get the truth from Ruth. Frick asked him, "Did you really point to the bleachers?" The coy Ruth would answer back, "It's in the papers, isn't it?" Ruth may have not called his home run, but the called shot is probably the most famous moment of his career.
Shortly after the called shot, the Chicago based Curtiss Candy Company, makers of the Baby Ruth candy bar, installed a large advertising sign on the rooftop on one of the apartment buildings on Sheffield Avenue. The sign, which read "Baby Ruth", was just across the street from where Ruth's home run had landed. Until the 1970s, when the aging sign was taken down, Cubs fans at Wrigley Field had to endure this not-so-subtle reminder of the "called shot".
In a further, unwitting follow-up to the above, page 34 of the spring 2007 edition of the Chicago Cubs game program featured a full-page ad showing a partially unwrapped Baby Ruth candy bar sitting in front of the Wrigley Field ivy with the caption, "The official candy bar of major league baseball, and proud sponsor of the Chicago Cubs."
In an early scene in the film, The Natural, a Ruth-like player called "the Whammer" points his bat menacingly toward and past Roy Hobbs, declaring his own "called shot." However, Hobbs strikes the Whammer out on three pitches. Major league slugger Jim Thome uses a similar bat-pointing gesture as part of his normal preparation for an at-bat.
In the 1989 film Major League, the climax of the movie depicts Indians catcher Jake Taylor pointing towards the outfield, clearly making a reference to Ruth's called shot. Fittingly, Jake was playing against the New York Yankees. The pitcher then throws a pitch high and inside, referencing Root's suggestion that he would have thrown at Ruth if he had really called his shot. Jake repeats the called shot, but instead of going for a home run, bunts the next pitch for a modified squeeze play, allowing the winning run to come in from second base.
In a 1991 Married… with Children episode, Al Bundy points to Center Field, holds his hand like the mythic Casey at the Bat, and then makes a speech reminiscent of Lou Gehrig's "luckiest man" speech, saying that he is done with baseball. The last scene of the episode is taken from the movie Eight Men Out.
The opening sequence of the 1993 film The Sandlot explains the famed Called Shot. In a scene during the movie, one of the kids, Ham, calls his shot, and swings and misses. He repeats the shot call, and hits a home run.
In the third season (1992) episode of The Simpsons, "Homer at the Bat", Homer points to right field. He then hits a home run straight into left field. After pondering this for a second, he points to left field.
In 2005, a Bud Light commercial showed the called shot. Instead of appearing to point to center field, he's pointing to a vendor selling Bud Light.
The 2006 movie The Benchwarmers showed Rob Schneider pointing to Left Field and then screaming the ball in that direction, clearing the fences. Right after Rob hit the home run, David Spade pointed towards Center Field, then bringing his finger down towards the ground, about 4 feet in front of him. The opposing catcher laughed at him, but he managed to actually get a ball 4 feet in front of him and he beat out the throw due to Carlos being drunk.