(An excerpt from the forthcoming book FIVE O’CLOCK LIGHTNING (Wiley)
It was rare for more than two days to pass when a Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig home run was not being described in detail in one of the New York newspaper’s sports pages. Daily pools were organized in the press box by the reporters covering the Yankees. Nine slips of paper, each one with a number signifying an inning, were deposited in a hat. Nine dollars were collected, and then the slips were picked out of the hat.
Home run, Ruth!
Bam 'em, Babe!
Home run, Gehrig!
Bust 'em, Lou!
The entire pot would be collected by the happy scribe who had the correct home run inning. There would be cheering and grumbling. And the game would start out all over again.
"I’d rather see Babe Ruth than Lou Gehrig in a tight place," Manager Dan Howley of the Browns said.
"Sometimes you can figure out what the Babe is going to do. But you can never tell about Gehrig. He is likely too hit any kind of ball to any field." There were the casual and professional observations from such as Howley and there were the pseudo scientific comments made by such as Austen Lake in the Boston Evening Transcript: "The Bambino does not wave it (his bat) as others do when addressing the pitcher. He flicks it with a switching motion, in his hands it becomes as responsive as a baton. . .. "His combined leg, shoulders, arms and wrists motion is almost 100 per cent efficient as far as it concerns getting weight behind the swing. Ruth’s bat on a missed strike usually fills a full circle and three- quarters of another. … "Ruth also has that famous "brown eye" which oculists say is unrivaled for sharpness of vision. . . . And lastly comes his co-ordination of eye, mind, and muscle, and action that is so synchronized as to be instant and accurate. " The stride of Gehrig was short, out of a stance that was like a man standing at attention. Using a compact, tight swing, holding the bat down near the knob, swinging with much force, his homers were line drives straight to the seats or out of the park. Early in that magic season of 1927, he attempted to adjust his swing to make it similar to Ruth’s. But he gave up on that saying: "I’m going back to just try and meet the ball. " Gehrig’s was more a business- like swing, much less fluid than that of the "Colossus of Clout." Ruth’s swing was graceful, corkscrew-like. Pulling power came into it from the Babe twisting his skinny ankles. His home runs generally took a longer time to get out and had more air under them, making for high rising home runs.
"I use a golfing swing, loose and easy with a slight upward movement," the Babe compared his approach to that of his home run twin in Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball. "Lou hits stiff-armed. Lou stands with his feet farther apart, and takes a comparatively short stride with his swing. I stand with my feet fairly close together, the right foot a little further in than the left, and take a long stride with the swing. Lou hits with his shoulders. I hit with my entire body coming around on the swing.
Swinging stiff arm, too, Lou usually hits a ball on a line. The hardest balls he hits are those which travel twenty or twenty-five feet above the ground and on a line to the outfield. Any time he lifts a ball into the air (a fly ball) he loses some of the power. The balls I hit most squarely and with most power are apt to go high into the air. My home runs, for the most part, are usually high flies that simply carry out of the park. That's because I take a loose swing with a slight upward angle.
"I’m paid to hit home runs," the Babe continued. "In a way that’s a handicap. I’ve got to swing from the heels with all the power in my body. Which isn’t a good batting style." The batting style of Ruth and Gehrig and the other Bombers was on display Memorial Day in Philadelphia. Connie Mack’s Athletics made a batch of money from that display in a doubleheader at 18-year-old Shibe Park, the major league’s first concrete-and-steel stadium. There was a morning game and a later game. Mack, always looking for the extra buck, charged separate admission prices for each game. The total attendance was 80,000.
Philly took the opener, 9-8. In that game chunky Walter Beall saw his only action of the year for the Yankees, one inning, pitching to four batters, giving up one run. The Yanks won the second game, 6-5, and the mighty Ruth, despite his claims that he did not have such a good batting style, swung with such gusto at a pitch that he ripped the horsehide cover off half of the baseball’s circumference.