The following is an excerpt adapted from a new book by Evan Pritchard, The Greatest Home Runs of the 20th Century soon available from Resonance Communications for a few bucks.
Home Runs, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Many of us grew up hearing the legends of the great home runs. They are part of our American mythos. Their stories are part of our folklore. A number of them have nicknames, not unlike Civil War battles and locomotives. For example, there's "The Bucky Dent Home Run," (not to be confused with his other home run, if he ever hit one) "The Shot Heard Round the World" authored by Bobby Thompson, and "The Called Shot" of Babe Ruth.
But some other great home runs never got "heard round the world."
I hit a grand slam in Boys Club Little League. It was a line drive that rolled down into the creek and sailed downstream. I slipped in a mud puddle past third base, and fell on my back, but still made it home before the soggy throw, but no one ever thought up a name for it, like "Evan's Creekball March To Victory Home Run.".. In my mind, that doesn't take anything away from its beauty.
Even Babe Ruth himself has hit some great forgotten home runs, the greatest of which was perhaps his first National League home run in 1935. (fade to black, up volume control on newsreel music)
The year was 1935. The weak-hitting Boston Braves had acquired Babe Ruth as soon as the Yankees released him. They wanted more power, Babe wanted to return to the city that gave him his start in baseball, Boston. In his debut appearance in the National League, he faced the incredible Carl Hubbell, the Giant pitcher who dominated the National League that year and every year in that era.
Hubbell had led the league in ERA in 1933 with 1.66 (ouch!), in 1934 with 2.30, and was having a great season in 1935, in top form.
Later in 1936, he would lead the NL again with a 2.31 ERA, while winning 26 and losing 6 including 16 straight wins. Hubbell would become one of the few pitchers ever to win the MVP, besting the great Red Ruffing of the Yankees in game one of the first Subway Series in years, 6-1. But all that was yet to come.
In the other corner, the Babe had already hit well over 700 homers, (twice the number of his nearest rival) hundreds of RBIs, possessed most of the batting records known to man, and had a few World Series pitching records himself, which Hubbell was to challenge the following season. It was an historic fantasy match-up which would probably tie up most baseball computer-odds software for weeks. Who would come out ahead? The fading Ruth or the rising Hubbell?
Their very meeting was a fluke of history, or perhaps it was fated--the most legendary Hall of Fame AL batter versus one of the greatest NL Hall of Fame pitchers. Babe Ruth was to play only one month and a few days in the NL, batting a mere.181 in 1935 with a handful of homers in May, including his 710th through 714th, a last farewell barrage. But that month gave him a chance to face Carl Hubbell in a regular season game.
They had met in one of the first All Star games the previous season, and Hubbell had struck Ruth out easily as the nation watched on via the magic of newsreels. George Herman was determined to get another swing at Carl before he retired.
Unfortunately, the Babe was sadly out of shape, overweight, with two gamey legs that could hardly get him around the bases. He was prone to bad habits and unhealthy living, and at 40, started to lose his prowess at the plate.The bad-news Braves turned out to be one of the worst teams in the annals of sports history, but Ruth and the Braves rose to the challenge and beat Carl Hubbell and the Giants by a score of 4 to 2 that day.
Most importantly, Babe Ruth hit his first National League single and home run that day off Hubbell, getting his team off to a promising start (a false promise, we'd have to admit). It was a rare loss for Hubbell, a rare National League hit for the Babe, and a rare win for the Braves, one of only 38 for the last place Bostonians that year.
The crowd went wild that day as Ruth slugged it into the stands off of one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived. Especially vocal were the famous "Knothole Gang." I know, because my father told me. He was watching that game at Braves Field at the tender age of 11, a bonafide member of the illustrious "Knothole Gang." He remembers the day with remarkable clarity, even after 65 years.
Recently, he told me the complete story for posterity.
"As a member of the Knothole Gang I got in for 10 cents, and we sat together in the left field bleachers on Saturdays. You had to cut the coupons out of the Boston American, a half-sized newspaper published by Hearst, to get in as a member of the "Gang." My parents already subscribed, so I had only to cut the coupon, borrow a dime, and get there from Somerville, with my next door neighbor Eddie Downing, who was one of the smarter kids at school.
"We went to the Xaverian Brother's school in Somerville, and one old guy, Brother Jerome, was from St. Mary's in Baltimore where Ruth started playing ball. Brother Jerome always bragged that he taught Ruth to play baseball, but we never believed him. It was another Xaverian, I forgot his name, who was Ruth's spirtual advisor. No one ever talked much about it, but we all knew, and we respected him.
"The Braves Field was a nice-looking stadium in the Alston-Brighton neighborhood by the Charles River, down the street from Harvard Stadium, where they played football. Braves Field had a simple upper deck wrapping around the diamond, and no lights. All games were day games in those days, and people routinely took off from work to see a game, Braves or Red Sox. You see, Boston could support two teams back then.
"I don't remember exactly where the ball landed, (probably to their left) but I vividly remember watching Ruth hobble around the bases. He moved sort of slow. He wasn't too agile any more, but he could really hit the ball. As the homer sailed out of the park, I remember thinking, 'This is something I'll remember the rest of my life! A Babe Ruth home run!'
"And I was right!"
It was one of the last homers off of Ruth's bat.The Braves went on to lose a record 115 times, the Giants overcame their early-season defeat and finished a respectable third. Ruth hit his last homer on May 25th of that year, a mammoth shot at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh that reputedly went 600 feet.
Eddie and my father remained friends for most of their lives, although separated by distance. I met Eddie myself when I was about 10 or 11, and he probably told me the Ruth versus Hubbell story. I don't remember now, but that was about the time I became really interested in baseball. It was 1964 and Mantle was in the World Series against the Cardinals. The sixth game was the first one I ever saw on TV.
All I knew was that Mantle was connected with Babe Ruth, and the other kids said his name with a touch of glory on their tongues, like the way they said the word "Superman." (With a heavy stress on the vowel) I had to see for myself. He hit a home run, (as did Maris and Pepitone) the crowd went nuts, and I was hooked for life.
While on the subject of historical twists, I was walking in the woods with my son in southeastern Oklahoma one summer, and who should walk by but Mickey Mantle, carrying his fishing gear over one shoulder like a Louisville Slugger. We were all alone, just me and him and my son. I said "Hi," and he said, "Hi." I wanted to say more, but something told me he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. As it turns out he was dying of cancer. The news of his death reached us about a year or so later. My son was almost eleven when the news struck, and was starting to develop the fascination with baseball that runs on my father's side of the family. Must be a genetic thing.
Eddie passed away a while ago, too, but my dad is a healthy 75, looking a little like Babe Ruth did then, though a bit trimmer. It was my father who instilled in me a love of the game, and a reverence for the home run as well. Shortly after introducing me to Eddie, he started to take me to RFK Stadium to see the Senators and Frank "Hondo" Howard, newly acquired from the Dodgers, along with Gil Hodges the new manager.
We witnessed a number of giant Frank Howard home runs over the years, including an Opening Day game homer to start what was an otherwise miserable season. He hit them far into the upper deck, and the maintenance people would paint the seats blue as a memorial. "We want a blue seat!" was one of our battle cries.
Six foot seven Frank had arms like telephone poles, and his swing was almost six feet off the ground. Once at the stadium I saw him swat a line drive that hit the left center field fence a few seconds later, six feet off the ground, without an arc. I met him once at a fan day event, and he was extremely shy with a high squeaky voice like me. It changed my whole perception of him.
On Memorial Day, my dad and I watched Hondo hit a grand slam, (a rare event to have three Senators on base simultaneously) I remember thinking, "I'll remember this the rest of my life!" As the bulky Howard lunged around the bases like a bear, my father turned to me and said, "Did I ever tell you that I saw Babe Ruth hit a home run?"
"Yeah, many times.....but you can tell me again!"
It was my father who instilled in me a love of the game, and a reverence for the home run as well.
The year was 1935. The weak-hitting Boston Braves had acquired Babe Ruth as soon as the Yankees released him. They wanted more power, Babe wanted to return to the city that gave him his start in baseball, Boston.
It was one of the last homers off of Ruth's bat.The Braves went on to lose a record 115 times...Ruth hit his last homer on May 25th of that year, a mammoth shot at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh that reputedly went 600 feet.
Teach Your Sons Baseball My father turned to me and said, "Did I ever tell you that I saw Babe Ruth hit a home run?"
Copyright © 1999 by Evan Pritchard
EVAN PRITCHARD is a writer and baseball enthusiast. Of his 1997 book No Word for Time: The Way of the Algonquin People one reviewer wrote that it is a "truly soul-stirring" piece of work. |
Author's E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org