The Called Shot

With Wrigley Field turning 100 next April, I’m spending this season collecting memories and stories from players, managers, writers, broadcasters, etc. about the history of the park. I won’t get a better story or have a better day than I had yesterday when I traveled to Virginia to meet with 91-year-old Lincoln Landis.

If the name sounds familiar, it should. Linc’s uncle was the first commissioner of baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and thanks to his “Uncle Squire”, ten-year-old Lincoln was able to attend Game 3 of the 1932 World Series and witness probably the most memorable moment in Wrigley’s history. It’s his story, so I’ll let him tell it:

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We were in the Commissioner’s box and that was a heckuva a thrill because we were right alongside the Cubs dugout. We had a great view of home plate and of course Babe Ruth was going to be a great threat to the Cub fans at that time. He had apparently done well in New York the first two games. I learned later on he had hit a homer prior to the middle of the game. The middle of the game is what I remember very clearly. I was attentive the whole time. I was sitting next to my uncle. I was paying attention as much as he was which was 100%.

So I was watching when Babe Ruth came to the plate. I remember very clearly because the fans were so vocal, so loud. That was a big threat and a big idea to me because it was our first big league game and it would be the only big league game we would see for 15 or 20 or 30 years. That’s one reason I can remember it so clearly is that it was a special event. What was so particularly interesting to me as a kid was that Babe Ruth was responding to the fans. It was kind of a game of its own sort where the fans were razzing him and he was turning around acknowledging the fans. When he came to the bat in this particular part of the game and I don’t know what inning it was, the first strike came and the fans gave him extra razzes. Babe turned around and held up his right hand and pointed one finger. It didn’t take a genius in my mind to see that he was saying that’s one swing or one strike. Along comes strike two and the razzing was ever so loud. Babe turned around again and to me this was so exciting. Babe Ruth is talking to the fans and they’re talking to him! He held up two fingers, all the way up, no doubt about it. There were thousands of fans watching and he was saying strike two. He took his stance in the batting area and pointed again, this time one finger up in the air, well out over center field, over second base toward center field. And the next pitch he lofted a high fly ball. Now I wasn’t that familiar with how high a fly ball could go. This one went in the center field bleachers. He had called his shot! I thought that was really great. My reaction was really minimal compared with what I saw from all the other fans.

The Chicago fans, they could not believe it. They were standing, waving their arms in disbelief. How could he do that to us? He had won this little game with the fans and I was so amazed there that they seemed to go on and on. Meanwhile, the game was going on and my job, being with Uncle Squire was to keep track of what was going on. Lou Gehrig was up at the plate and to my memory, it was the first pitch, he put a low liner and I thought, whoa, it’s maybe going to be caught by the outfielder. It goes into the stands, a fair ball, another homer!

This to me was big news, but I turned around and nobody was paying attention. Lou Gehrig didn’t even matter. They were still trying to get over what Babe Ruth had done to them. He had called his shot.

Now my next clearest memory is Uncle Squire turned to Charlie and me, I was on his left and Charlie was on Uncle Squire’s right. They were wonderful seats. Uncle Squire said, “Who’s your favorite player?” We both agreed right away, “Gabby Hartnett!” Then he said, “Would you like to meet him?” “Oh yes indeed we would like to meet Gabby Hartnett.” I don’t think it was less than five minutes than Gabby was at the rail. We should hands with Gabby and this was the big thrill for Charles and me. I mean “The Called Shot” wasn’t called anything yet. It was just Babe Ruth did it. We found out years later that it was a famous game, “The Called Shot” game. I guess it might have been 20 years later. We were doing our careers and so forth, but it was always a favorite for me, a choice memory that I had been there and watched Babe Ruth toy with fans and that meant something. Even though I was a strong Cubs fan I thought that was remarkable. 

Ruth’s gesture has been the subject of much speculation for over 80 years, but there is no doubt in Landis’ mind what he saw. Adding to his memory is a rare photo procured by his son Tim in 2002 that shows young Lincoln in the seats right behind his Uncle at Game 3.

I can’t thank them enough for sharing their story. One of the great joys of this job is talking baseball history and the Landis family certainly has a treasure trove of that.

Bob Vorwald

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