Just because: Babe Ruth and how to deal with getting plunked
How did the great Babe Ruth handle a purpose pitch back in the day? With style.
So here's the luminous Babe Ruth taking a high-and-tight heater off of, it seems, his upper right arm ...
(Original video: T3 Media)
Yes, allow me to brush aside this dainty insect nipping at this bit of muzzle-loading weaponry I call an arm. Your wee slings and arrows trouble not the philosopher-king of all baseball ...
Personally, I'd love to see this sort of HBP retort make its way back to the game -- it's much more interesting than the pro-forma charge of the mound that's the usual response these days.
As for this incident in particular, I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out where it comes from. I think I now know.
First, the Yankees (or any other team) didn't start wearing uniform numbers until 1929, and they didn't resume having "NEW YORK" emblazoned across their road jerseys until 1931 (their road jerseys read "YANKEES" from 1927 through 1930). So we know the game occurred on the road between 1931 and 1934, Ruth's last season with the Yanks.
Thanks to Ruth's gamelogs available at Baseball-Reference, we know that Ruth was struck by a pitch in an away game on five occasions between 1931 and 1934. What else do we know? Well, the home team in question was wearing pinstripes, which, thanks to the Dressed to the Nines online exhibit, helps us level it down further to three possible games:
- Aug. 4, 1932 vs. the White Sox
- Game 4 of the 1932 World Series vs. the Cubs
- July 30, 1933 vs. the Senators
Of course, there's also this very grainy, blown-up clue:
That looks to me like three stripes set against a darker background on the catcher's stirrups. And only one of the three teams listed above qualifies under that particular criterion ...
Second from left, you'll see the home pinstripes with the three-striped stirrups worn by the 1932 Cubs, who, as mentioned, opposed Ruth's Yankees in the World Series.
Now, here, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, is a photo of Cubs hurler Lon Warneke posed with comedian Joe E. Brown prior to Game 4 of the '32 World Series -- the game in question, for our purposes ...
That is indeed the uniform pointed out above. So the Cubs on that day were in fact wearing pinstripes and, one assumes, three-striped stirrups.
Now to marshal some supporting evidence ... You'll notice the Babe's pronounced bravado in the GIF above, which perhaps suggests preexisting hostilities. The 1932 World Series was a very contentious one, as Ruth and the Cubs exchanged heckles and barbs throughout the four-game sweep. As Ruth biographer Leigh Montville has written, Ruth and Cubs pitcher Guy Bush, who started Game 4 and threw the pitch of interest, had been on one another for the entire series, and it was Ruth who taunted Bush in the Cubs dugout moments before he smote his alleged "called shot" in Game 3.
That set up the Bush-v-Ruth encounter for Game 4. Montville, on the prevailing topic of whether the called shot really happened, writes:
The best piece of empirical evidence that something out of the ordinary happened was delivered by Guy Bush the next day. He was the Cubs starter for what turned out to be the fourth and final game. With runners on first and second, nobody out, first inning, he drilled the Bambino with a fastball on his very first pitch.
Little wonder, then, that the Babe would make a show of demonstrating that he wasn't hurt by Bush's purpose pitch. At the time, the Associated Press reported that Ruth was struck on the back by Bush's pitch. Given the location of the pitch, that's an easy takeaway -- there was, of course, no such thing as replay in those unfortunate days. Or perhaps the pitch did strike Ruth in the back, and he merely used his arm as an implement of mockery.
Whatever the case, I'm reasonably certain that what you see at the top of this page happened in Game 4 of the 1932 World Series. I'm very certain that the Babe has the right idea when it comes to reacting to getting plunked.
(Wink of CBS eye: BBTF, for bringing this footage to the author's attention)