Tuesday, September 25, 2007
(AN EXCERPT FROM: FIVE O'CLOCK LIGHTNING: BABE RUTH, LOU GEHRIG AND THE 1927 NEW YORK YANKEES, THE GREATEST BASEBALL TEAM EVER, by Harvey Frommer coming this fall)
On September 29th, at Yankee Stadium the Big Bammer homered twice to his favorite spot in Yankee Stadium "Ruthville" - the right field bleachers. The shots came off two different Washington pitchers, Hod Lisenbee and Paul Hopkins in a l5-4 Yankee rout. The Babe now had 59 home runs, tying his record set in 1921. He also set a record of hitting grand slams in consecutive games. "I was out in the bullpen at that time," Paul Hopkins recalled. "The bullpen in Yankee Stadium was perched deep in left field and you couldn't even see how the game was going. Well, the call came down that they wanted me to relive and I could see that the Yankees had three men on base. I guess I would have been nervous if I knew who the next batter was. It was Babe Ruth. It was Babe Ruth with the bases loaded. The rest is history. I threw him a series of curveballs and he finally hit one into right field at least five rows in. "John Drebinger wired The Times: "The ball landed halfway up the right field bleacher, and though there were only 7,500 eye witnesses, the roar they sent up could hardly been drowned out had the spacious stands been packed to capacity. The crowd fairly rent the air with shrieks and whistles as the bulky monarch jogged majestically around the bases, doffed his hat, and shook hands with Lou Gehrig."The shot off Hopkins was Number 59. The one off Hod Lisenbee was Number 58. After the game ended Lisenbee had somehow gotten possession of the home run ball and came around to the Yankee clubhouse dressed in street clothes wanting Ruth to sign it. The Babe, always ready with an autograph, obliged not even knowing who Lisenbee was.On September 30th, in the second to last game of the season, only 8,000 were in attendance at Yankee Stadium. The Sultan of Swat needed one more home run to break his former record. So capacious was Yankee Stadium back then that the top deck was never opened in the middle of the week so with the small crowd in the park. New York and Washington were tied, 2-2. Tom Zachary, a Quaker, was on the mound. "I had made up my mind," the Senator pitcher bragged, that I would not "give Ruth a good pitch to hit." Bottom of the eighth. One out. On third after tripling, Mark Koenig stared as his buddy the Babe stepped in. Ruth had two singles in the game. Home run number 59 had been hit with the bat the Bammer called "Black Betsy." His other bats were the ash blond "Big Bertha" and the reddish "Beautiful Bertha." Stepping into the batter's box ,he was lusting for home run #60. The count was one and one. "I don't say it was the best curve I ever threw, but it was as good as any I ever threw," Zachary who also gave up home runs number 22 and number 36 to Ruth, said later.The Babe reached out for the ball with the reddish "Beautiful Bertha." The shot was a gigantic and dramatic exclamation point to an incredible, miracle season and all that the 1927 New York Yankees had accomplished. It was George Herman Ruth's personal flight across the Atlantic (and as well as the Pacific). No steroids, no performance enhancing substances, no corked bats, just the Babe. The ball landed in the first row of the bleachers near the right field foul pole, fair by about l0 feet. In the Yankee dugout players leaped to their feet watching the historic shot go into the bleachers. Fans scaled the bleacher screen, charging out after their hero. Slow trotting out the historic home run in "a triumphant almost regal tour of the paths," according to The New York Times, Ruth doffed his cap a few times to the small crowd in the stands who cheered him as he carefully touched each base. As he crossed home plate, a very happy Ruth was greeted by a double line of Yankees. In the dugout later his teammates banged their bats on the floor and stamped their feet, celebrating the moment. It was like New Year's Eve. Better. The image of the big man with those measured, mincing steps going around the bases, the cast of characters waiting as he stepped on home plate: Washington catcher Muddy Ruel, Home Plate Umpire Bill Dinneen, Eddie Bennett and Lou Gehrig - - a dramatic end to a magic season for the prince of pounders and Murderer's Row. When Ruth took his defensive position in right field, his ecstatic fans in "Ruthville" tossed confetti, hats, programs out onto the field, applauded and screamed at him, waved handkerchiefs. Playful in return, the Babe acknowledged them, snapping back a series of fancy and exaggerated military salutes. In the ninth inning in one of those special moments that baseball always seems to have, the legendary pitcher Walter Johnson made his final appearance as a player, pinch-hitting for Zachary, flying out to Babe Ruth. The Yankees won the game, 4-2.The news of what the Bam had done went out on the wire across America. In small towns in New Hampshire, rural Texas, down in Mississippi, there were many who ran out of cigar stores or gas stations shouting: "He hit sixty! Babe hit sixty!"In the clubhouse after the game was over Babe Ruth bellowed: "Sixty! Let's see some son of a bitch try to top that one!" The clubhouse was strangely reserved. What he had done, what they had done, was expected."See the funny thing about it is," Benny Bengough explained, "we never figured 60 was going to stand. We felt Babe Ruth might hit 65 the next year because, see, he was the only real home run hitter. And Babe never really thought about it. He never figured I'll hit 90 home runs this year or 60 or whatever. He just hit the home runs. He hit 60 and I imagine the next year Babe figured, well, I'll probably hit 65 or 70 - who knows? He never hit that many again, but we thought he might. So it wasn't that important."The first player to reach 30 homers, to reach 40, 50 and 60, a record that stood for 34 years, Babe Ruth would wind up in his fabled career homering once every 11.76 times at bat.Later Zachary explained: "I gave Ruth a curve, low and outside. It was my best pitch. The ball just hooked into the right field seats and I instinctively cried 'foul.' But I guess I was the only guy who saw it that way. If I'd a known it was gonna be a famous record, I'd a stuck it in his ear." Paul Galico was the highest-paid sports editor in the country, earning $25,000 a year from the New York Daily News from 1923 to 1936. A native New Yorker, born in the Big Apple in 1897, he graduated from Columbia University in 1921. His first job with the News was as movie critic but too much attitude in his writing led to his removal. Moving on to the sports department, by 1923, he was the Sports Editor with a daily column. Of the Ruth record setting home run, Galico wrote: "They could no more have stopped Ruth from hitting that home run than you could have stopped a locomotive by sticking your foot in front of it. Once he had that 59, that Number 60 was as sure as the rising sun. A more determined athlete than George Herman Ruth never lived. . . . "A child of destiny is George Herman. .. . I even recall writing pieces and saying that Gehrig would soon break Babe Ruth's cherished record and feeling kind of sorry for the old man, having this youngster come along and steal his thunder, and now look at the old has-been."Succumb to the power and romance of this man," Paul Galico wrote, all journalistic objectivity gone. "Feel the athletic marvel that this big, uncouth fellow has accomplished." Babe Ruth hammered 28 of his 60 home runs in Yankee Stadium while Lou Gehrig hit 24 of his 47 there. "I don't think I would have established my home run record of 60," Ruth reflected later in life, "if it hadn't been for Lou. He was really getting his beef behind the ball that season . . . Pitchers began pitching to me because if they passed me, they still had Lou to contend with." The Babe played in 151 of the 155 Yankee games (one game was a tie replayed). His home run dossier had all kinds of interesting stats. One third of his 60 home runs were hammered in his final 32 games. After 123 games, Ruth had just 40 home runs. September's 17 slams, a record for the time, put the Babe over the top. He homered most against the Red Sox, 11 times, least against the White Sox, 6 times. The 60 home runs came off 33 pitchers, and 16 hurlers gave up one or more homers. The Babe hit one inside-the-parker, 16 home runs in the first inning, one in the second, four in the third, five in the fourth, seven in the fifth and sixth, five in the seventh, nine in the eighth, none in the tenth and two in the eleventh. There were 29 bases empty homers, 22 with one runner on, 7 with two on, and 2 with the bases loaded. Nineteen dingers came off lefthanders. Two were grand slams. The 60 homers accounted for 100 RBIs.