"I tried to capture the spirit of the thing." - Dickie Dunn, Charlestown Gazette
It’s that time again for the spring training of professional baseball players in these United States. And I’d like to honor such a rare occasion with a baseball history lesson.
A Charlie Root Whodunit
by Matt Brousseau
George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. called many shots in his life - most prolifically after games, at some speakeasy where he nightly force fed himself a lifetime’s worth of animal anus (“hot dogs”), and threw down enough alcohol to blind a small midwestern high school before romping off with as many women as could fit on or around his penis. There are no descriptions of Ruth’s penis, so I’ll take a thesaurus and presume it was vaingloriously garrulous and unstoppably poisonous.1
Ruth was baseball’s first famous home run hitter not named “Home Run.” That’d be “Home Run” Baker, of course. Baker’s season record of 12 home runs, set with Connie “Raggedy” Mack’s 1913 Philly Athletics, was easily eclipsed in a week by Ruth during the 1920 season and in the midst of one of his infamous “Polish Binges.”2 As Historian M.L. Dornsworth notes, “Such was the style of baseball before G.H. Ruth, when hurlers with three fingers had the advantage and team owners viewed hand-gloves as superfluous coddling.” 3
Naturally, Ruth hit many famous home runs. He was a “ding donger” bar none and often the first person to hit the ball out, literally out, of a park. Usually quite the feat, it once created controversy down the line at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Scholars note:
“The Mem” was 180 feet down the lines and surrounded by graves of WWI soldiers. Ruth’s third inning homer there off Redd “Red” McGee in June 1926 hit a funeral procession which immediately doubled in relevance. President Coolidge was on hand to deliver a pardon when the fans discovered the newly dead veteran was part German, or “Krauty” as was the nomenclature at the time.4 The horror stuck, however: in 1927, the middle of the Yankees’ lineup was nicknamed “Murderers Row.” In retrospect, this may have been too on the nose, as Lou Gehrig would later murder himself in such unique style that they named the act after him. But that’s a story for another time.5
Out of all of Ruth’s dingers 6, his “called shot” in the 1932 World Series is, perhaps, his most famous professional home run that didn’t kill someone.7 In ‘32 the Yankees faced the Chicago Cubs largely because, as was the style at the time, in order to ensure American exceptionalism all other nations were banned from the World Series. The period was fraught with danger. President Roosevelt would declare, only a few months later, the country should even cower from simple, basic fear itself. Imagine!
The Cubs had a strong team. Chicago Mayor Anton “Bulletproof” Cernak had insisted that Chicago teams win championships, the city then known simply as a good place to start large fires and/or be murdered at a World’s Fair. The Cubs hadn’t won since 1917, some say as retribution for not letting animals shit in the aisles at Wrigley Field. And the White Sox, well, the White Sox were Major League pariahs because it was discovered they purposely lost the 1919 World Series for that sweet gamblers’ money. Shoeless Joe Jackson in cleats was all the evidence the League needed. A Cubs win would bring major karma to the city.
Yet whether home or away, all World Series games are a mental strain. Cases in point: Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra have taken part in more World Series’ than anyone not named Frank Crosetti. It’s no accident they struggled with syntax.8 Hell, some say Frank Crosetti never spoke in his entire life.
Everything came together for a memorable series in 1932. Some quick hits up the middle:
The Series featured a record 13 Hall of Famers. For comparison: this year’s World Series featured zero Hall of Famers.
In the four-game series a total of 14 errors were committed. Here’s the typical glove in 1932: (lookit the goddam picture). That’s the only reason baseball has the phrase, “Use two hands! You're costing us the game... I have no son.” - Ken Griffey Sr.
By all standards it was a very dirty series. Both teams engaged in a considerable amount of bench jockeying, which involved hiring a small portable man to yell slurs from atop their respective dugout. Plus, the Chicago infield was full of dirt which would “mud up” whenever it rained.
The Yankees harbored bad blood over the fact that their manager Joe McCarthy was fired by the Cubs after the 1930 season. When reporters pointed out that McCarthy would not have been managing the Yankees if he hadn’t been fired by the Cubs the Yankees only became angrier.
Ruth was 37 years old. This would be his last World Series. In just 422 days, while riding a tilt-a-whirl, his body would disintegrate at all weight-bearing joints.
The Yankees took the first two games with ease. Playing at home, they put up 12 runs in Game One. Gehrig homered and Red Ruffing tossed a complete game. Chicago pitcher Guy Bush struggled throughout the game to get over the fact that his parents named him Guy Bush.
In Game Two, the Yankees took the lead in the first inning and never looked back. As most players were not literate enough to know that ironic nicknames had been outlawed (MLBRC 132:15.1B “Shoeless Joe Rule “), Yankees hurler Lefty Gomez confounded Chicago hitters by throwing with his left arm.9 Guy Bush, now in the dugout, continued to struggle with his own birth name.
The series moved to Chicago for games three and four. The Yankees expected a harsh welcome. Ruth, riding the team train from New York, would memorably say “... mackerel, can you believe the tits on that one?... Eight beers please. Yep, pour’em [inaudible] goddam bucket. Under? Uh [pause] [nervous sweating] Gehrig. No, sorry, no autographs.” This disgusting act was very un-Ruth. He normally charged his beer to shortstop Joe “The Joe” Sewell.
Wrigley Field was rocking for game three. A combination of 50,000 fans, non-union scaffolding, and average wind introduced the concept of “the wave,” but the Yankees were uncowed. As the infield and loose outfield dirt blew into the fans’ drunken, oval, average, not bad looking - but really nothing to brag about if looks are important to you - faces, the Yankees took batting practice. Again and again Ruth and Gehrig dueted. Sixteen home runs in time. Perhaps bludgeoning the fans would calm them. The Chicago mad men only laughed and smiled and within a moment broke out in a beautifully bawdy, practiced version of Timberg’s “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away.”
Charlie Root took the hill for the Cubs, a man who, miraculously, would never be famous for losing four World Series. Root, as of writing, also holds the Cubs’ record for wins and naturally games and innings pitched. He’s a career Cub. None of that matters. He’s famous for serving up a big ol’ goose to a hungry Ruth.
By the top of the fifth, the Cubs had a precious lead. Ruth turned on some weak sauce in the the first, sure. Three runs driven in. Easy does it. But, summoning gumption, the Cubs fought back. One in the first. Two to tie it in the third. In the bottom of the fourth, the Yankee’s Lazerri with a boner10, the Cubs finally with a lead. Birds chirped. The Stockyards didn’t smell. Mudville resumed their orgy.
If Charlie Root could get through the most Murderous heart of the Yankees’ lineup, maybe the Cubs’ 3-4-5, their meager heart, could finally extend a lead. Charlie Root was the best athlete in his family. Charlie Root won 26 games in 1927. Charlie Root was the greatest ballplayer ever from Middleton, Ohio. Charlie Root was in the midst of winning more games than any pitcher in the 140 year history of the Cubs. Charlie Root didn’t stand a goddam chance.
The Yanks up: 2-3-4. The Joe Sewell-Babe Ruth-Lou Gherig. Sewell up first. Sewell only struck out three times that season. Had to play for contact. Root adjusted his balls and toed the rubber. He wound and threw as hard as he fucking could. Groundball to Jurges at short. One out.
The world paused for a moment. Birds stopped shitting. Puke hovered above Waveland Avenue.
- - - -
And then, with a shudder, Wrigley Field came to life; every spittle and bottle and nipple directed to the same small circle.
Babe Ruth lay his cigarette in the grass and burped. His normal warmup was off. Chicago refused to allow beer in the on-deck circle. Plus, his horse tranquilizer specialist was arrested two days before in a sting on a fake bread operation. Ruth turned and tossed the weighted bat against the backstop. He pulled his belt up and patted Gehrig on the ass.
“I’m gonna smoke this cheese with my dick.”
Gehrig laughed through the syringe in his teeth. Ruth walked to the batter’s box. Gehrig knelt in the on-deck circle and tightened the hose around his arm before closing the medicine bag.
Ruth faced Root, but the Chicago bench had his attention. Guy Bush had roused himself with a bottle of whiskey; his inner turmoil converted to victive towards Ruth. Bob Smith, mentor to Guy Bush, joined in.
Ruth stood in the box, right shoulder towards Root. He steadied his hips and dug with his feet. He wrung his hands and hoisted his bat. Root wound. Ruth watched. Taking. Strike One.
The Cubs bench erupted with a shriek of jeers. “Big ape!” was the nicest whoop and the least racist.
The eye of the hurricane, Ruth motioned with his right arm, index finger extended. An indelible image of a man completely in control of this moment burned itself into the mind of every witness. One archeologist would claim that, four years later, this scene caused a Nazi’s face to melt on an island in the Aegean Sea.
Most say Ruth gestured towards the Cubs bench, as if to announce “I have the biggest dick here.” Some say it was towards center field to where he planned to leave the evidence of Charlie Root’s career. Ballgirl Margaret O’Malley swore Ruth motioned to, “...the chesty broad selling hot dogs in Section Five.” She ran through the aisles immediately.
Root fired again. Ruth watched. Strike two. The Cubs started hooting. Guy Bush jumped up and down while Bob Smith, jockstrap on his head, grinded against the dugout wall.
Ruth motioned again. Arm out. Finger extended. The Cubs started making animal noises. Fans spit on the ground to keep from choking on froth. Margaret O’Mally doubled her order.
This was the moment that would settle the series; the pitch that would give the Cubs a chance or end it. Time paused. An obese man’s pants stayed up. Gehrig held a greenie in his teeth. Charlie Root did what came naturally: he adjusted his balls and threw as hard as he fucking could.
With a step, Ruth saw the ball and opened his hips. His stomach turned just behind. Thirty seven years of excess, the heft helped start his upper body. His elbows fell and his arms rolled through the strike zone. His wrists seized. Thunder cracked. Within seconds the ball was deposited into the face of formerly boring man from the Polish Gold Coast. A blast. 500ft from home plate landed the ball that broke the Cubs.
Ruth toured the bases with a skip in his step. A pebble had found its way into his shoe. He rounded third with a tip of his cap towards the home dugout. Bush and Smith stood wilted. They held each other tightly, words unspoken. Ruth winked and a tear ran from Bush’s eye.11 Wilhelm screamed. The stockyards hit double time. Out of sorrow, Mudville began a new orgy.
Gehrig met Ruth at home. They shook hands, Gehrig with his trademark sweaty palms and tickling middle finger. Ruth giggled before his teammates mobbed him at the on-deck circle; a black rose and kisses on each cheek their version of the high-five.
The silence of Wrigley was broken with the bending creak of the Yankees' bench. Ruth put down his bouquet and picked up his two hot dogs. By the time he began his post at-bat meal’s cigarette Gehrig ran the count to 1-1. Charlie Root let fly with a pitch. Ding dong. Gehrig hit the shit outta it. Yankees lead 4-3.
Charlie Root was replaced. The Yankees held on. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig spent the night ruining the reputation of saloon keepers and brothel owners all over town. The Yankees won the series the next day.
Ruth never won another World Series, but he made his final one into folklore.
And when the Cubs win a World Series, Babe Ruth calling his shot will be the most interesting Cubs factoid not involving Harry Carey’s career in Mudville or animals shitting in the stands.
(1) This is based off nothing more than my own understanding of Ruth as “the East Coast distributor of syphilis.”RETURN
(2) A Polish Binge would consist of devouring every Polish beer, brat, and babe he could find in a 15 block radius. Most reporters viewed this as performance enhancing, but it didn’t help Ruth’s numbers as much as never playing against black ballplayers.RETURN
(4) Other acceptable terms at the time: Cabbage Lips, Germanimal, and Kraut****er.RETURN
(5) This topic will be covered in an upcoming piece untitled “Lou Gehrig… Hitler?”RETURN
(6) "Dinger" is slang for home run. Its usage originated from the sound made by a fastball striking the wool-capped skull of any hitter who batted immediately following a home run. “A ding for a ding donger,” was the common phrase used by pitchers. This type of play created the “Dead Ball Era”.RETURN
(7) I write “professional” because, according to legend, while barnstorming in Japan, Ruth hit a home run which, decades later, would flatten Nagasaki.RETURN
(8) Both have many famous correctly incorrect sayings. The most well known is Berra’s, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” This actually makes perfect sense when you understand that, at the time, there was no fat lady to signal the end of things through song.RETURN
(9) This same misunderstanding would help future Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford win 246 games.RETURN
(10) “Boner” is slang for error and public boners are the most embarassing.RETURN
(11) Guy Bush never played again, instead moving to Maine and starting a sheep farm. Years later Bob Smith would join him. They earned a nice living selling some of New England’s most unique sweaters.RETURN