A Moment In Time – 6/14/32

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Navin Field, Detroit, Tuesday, June 14, 1932, Jimmie Foxx crosses the plate in the top of the 5th inning after hitting his first of two HRs on the day, a 3 run blast off Vic Sorrell with fellow future HOFers Al Simmons and Mickey Cochrane on base, and the A’s were out to an early 5-0 lead on the Tigers as dejected catcher Ray Hayworth looks on. The umpire is Roy Van Graflan.

Jimmie Foxx, of course, needs no introduction – almost midway through a prolific Hall Of Fame career, Foxx would probably have his best offensive season in 1932, at 58(a career high, just short of Ruth)/169/.364, also leading the league in slugging (no surprise), runs, and total bases. He garnered AL MVP honors, and by today’s rules (3.1 PA x team games played) he would have also had the AL Triple Crown, but Dale Alexander of Boston hit .367 in 454 plate appearances, and was recognized as the batting champ. Foxx would get the Triple Crown in earnest in 1933. Foxx already had two rings with the A’s in 1929 and 1930, but would never win another, nor even appear in another post-season, moving on to the Red Sox, Cubs and Phillies in his career.

Ray Hayworth was the starting backstop for the Tigers in 1932 and 1933, and a defensive specialist – at the game above, he was in the midst of an AL record for most consecutive chances by a catcher without an error at 439 (100 games), from 9/3/21 to 8/29/32 (a record later broken by Yogi Berra).

hayworth1Interestingly enough, the streak would end against the A’s (although at Shibe Park), and dubiously at that – as Jimmie Foxx was at bat, a dropped third strike allowing Foxx to Reach and Al Simmons to score. Today, that would be considered either a passed ball or a wild pitch, not an error, and a contemporary box score of the game does not show an error for Hayworth. Ultimately, it probably wouldn’t have secured the record for Ray – Yogi was able to reach 148 errorless games in 1959, and the current record is an astounding 253 games by Cleveland’s Mike Redmond, set in 2010.

Unfortunately, Hayworth didn’t have the power the Tigers were looking for to stay a regular, and when Detroit traded for Mickey Cochrane after the 1933 campaign, he was relegated to a backup role; but with Cochrane’s help, he made it to the World Series the next two seasons, winning his only ring in 1935, although he did not see any action in the ’35 classic.

BaseballBookVanGraflan9Umpire Roy Van Graflan had a bit of notoriety of his own – he was an AL umpire from 1927-1933, and participated in two World Series, one in 1932, and happened to be behind the plate when Babe Ruth had his “called shot”. Despite much controversy regarding this part of baseball lore, Van Graflan recalled, “Ruth looked over to the heckling Cubs bench and said, “Let him put this one over and I’ll knock it over the wall out there.”

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The A’s eventually took the Tigers 10-5 on that Tuesday in June of 1932. The win would put the second place A’s 2.5 games up on the third place Tigers, but no one was catching the Yankees that year.

Ray Hayworth had an interesting footnote to his years as a Tiger – in his rookie season he played alongside Ty Cobb in his final campaign. This bit of serendipity, and his eventual longevity, would result in an honor that he could not possibly have envisioned happening way back in 1932 – he was chosen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the final game at Tiger Stadium, on September 27, 1999, at 95 years of age, in effect representing virtually an entire century of Tigers baseball.

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Ruth in 1925; a gut-punch to the Yankees

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Tuesday, June 23, 1925, Senators/Yankees at Griffith Stadium, Washington, DC. The Babe in action, as he advances to third on a flyout by Bob Meusel in the 4th inning after lashing a double off the right field wall, and would eventually score on a sac fly to tie the game at 1-1 (Ossie Bluege is the Sens’ third sacker). Unfortunately for the Yanks and Ruth, it was only the Babe’s 21st game of the season, and with the Yankees 1925 campaign already nearing the midpoint, and the Bombers sitting at 10 games under .500 and in 7th place as the day began (with only the lowly Red Sox behind them), the season was virtually already over, and in reality, Ruth really only had himself to blame.

After rising to prominence in the AL in 1921-22-23, the Yankees slipped to second in 1924, but just barely – after a neck-and-neck race for much of the second half, the Yanks were 2 games back of Washington with two to play, but the Nats split their last two, and a final day doubleheader for the Yankees at Shibe against the Phillies was washed out and eventually cancelled as the Senators mathematically clinched. But the spring of 1925 brought more gloomy skies: Ruth, who seemed to suffer a variety of ailments throughout the spring, shockingly collapsed unconscious coming off a train on April 7, a week before Opening Day (click graphic at right for full article).

ruth25aa.JPGThe Babe, experiencing marital problems, really amped up his wanton ways that off-season, and showed up in Hot Springs, Arkansas in February (a yearly pre-spring training regimen) at anywhere from 243 to 256 pounds, depending on the source. Being overweight and out of shape was not unusual for Ruth, but coupled with a bout of the flu, and suffering a back ailment just after arriving in Arkansas, it was a long road back to playing shape. Then a groin injury in Atlanta in late March, culminating in sever chills added to his trouble – there is much speculation that his groin was the actual location of the malady, either “self-inflicted” or otherwise (he suffered a groin injury in playing that day), but as such things were not press-worthy at the time, the “Bellyache Heard ‘Round The World” was alluded to instead.

Being rushed to New York for examination, and even suffering a blow to the head on the train en route to arrive at Penn Station again unconscious, allowed the press around the world to speculate wildly on his condition (curse those fried potatoes!).

babe-ruth-hospitalizedThe London Times went so far as to announce that the great Ruth had in fact died, reported from rumors that were allowed to circulate unchecked due to the length of the Babe’s long train ride north. While he was far from death, he was more ill than Ruth’s handlers would admit, as they chalked it up to “influenza” and “severe indigestion”, despite needing an operation to treat an “abscess” on April 17.  In fact, many newspapers relayed his numerous severe convulsions upon his arrival in New York (further feeding the private speculation of syphilis), and one of his personal physicians offered some insight into his plight when asked if the Babe kept late hours or slowed down his social life in the off-season – “he’s very careless”, he said with a laugh.

As Ruth’s hospital stay continued to lengthen, the press started to speculate about its effect on the team – “Unless the bats of Ben Paschal and Bob Meusel are tuned to home run pitch, the result of the Babe’s absence may be disastrous”, and they were right. Without a Ruthian bat in the middle of the lineup, the Yankees stumbled out of the gate, going 4-7 in April, and then when it was announced on April 29 that Ruth would not play until June at the earliest, lost their first four in May as the season started to slip away.

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Ruth’s physical therapy was certainly one from another era – on May 20th, and some days afterward, he motored to Yankee Stadium with his chauffeur and members of the Yankees’ staff and would don the Yankee uniform and take BP, with no hospital personnel in sight. It seemed to have helped, as Ruth was finally discharged from the hospital on May 27th, almost 7 weeks since arriving.

ruth25cBy the time Ruth finally returned to the Yankee lineup on June 1 against Washington at the Stadium, the Yanks were 15-25, in 7th place, 13 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia A’s, and 10 1/2 behind the Senators. And while Ruth made a fine catch in right, his presence alone wasn’t enough to stir his teammates to victory, a scenario that would continue to be repeated as the season continued.

Which brings us to June 23 and the contest against the Senators in Washington, as shown in the top photo(s). It turns out this particular game may have had an effect on further developments later in this lost Yankee season.

While Ruth’s line shot off the right field wall set up the tying run in the 4th inning, it was the developments in the 8th inning that would reverberate for a while. With the Yankees down 2 runs in the 8th and the bases loaded, Ruth stepped up against Fred “Firpo” Marberry, who “looked Babe right in the eye and then threw three straight strikes over the plate. Ruth swung, but he did not see.”

After the disappointing at bat, and also beginning to suffer ankle pain that day, Yankee manager Miller Huggins announced the next morning that Ruth would be given a few days off, and perhaps “may play only at intervals this season”. “I am not going to take a chance of ruining Ruth as a player simply because he is a great box office asset,” stated Huggins. Although it appeared that the manager had the Babe’s best interests in mind, Ruth did not appear to take it as such, and was seen “brooding gloomily in a dark corner of the dug-out” that afternoon. While Ruth returned to the lineup on June 27, and again on the 30th, whether it was his disappointment regarding his inability to perform to a high level, or the continued lack of success of the team, he wasn’t a happy camper, and Huggins’ drastic measures didn’t appear to sit well with the Babe.

Ruth did play regularly throughout the summer, but as the team continued to languish, and after a 1-0 loss to the Browns in St. Louis on Friday, August 29th to run a current road trip to a 3-10 mark, it all came to a head.

ruth25dWhen the Yankees took the field on Saturday, Ruth was not present, and initial reports were that Ruth simply deserted the club and had left for New York, but when confronted with this information, manager Huggins disclosed that he had fined (a then record $5000) and suspended the Babe indefinitely, for misconduct “off the field”. “No use putting on that uniform.” he had told Ruth when informing him of the fine and suspension, who promptly left the park.

“Of course it means drinking – and it means a lot of other things besides,” relayed Huggins to the press. “There are various kinds of misconduct. Patience has ceased to be a virtue. I have tried to overlook Ruth’s behavior for a while, but I have decided to take summary action to bring the big fellow to his senses…when he started playing the first of June he was on probation more or less, bound to take care of himself physically and live up to the rules of club discipline. He has forgotten all about these restrictions on this trip, hence the fine and suspension.”

Word was that Ruth was keeping time at a St. Louis house of ill repute each night that week, and Huggins had had enough.

Ruth lashed out at his manager in the press the following day. “If Huggins is manager, I am through with the Yankees. I will not play for him. Either he quits or I quit.”

“Huggins is making me the ‘goat’ for the rotten showing of the team,” Ruth continued. “…he has been laying for a chance to get me and I gave it to him by staying out until 2:30 Saturday morning in St. Louis.As for the drinking charge, he’s all wrong…The truth of the matter is that Huggins is incompetent…last year he lost the pennant to Washington when we could have won by 15 games.”

However, after Yankees owner Colonel Ruppert backed his manager, Ruth had no choice but to swallow his words a few days later. “I made a fool of myself. I don’t know what made me talk about Huggins the way I did.” said Ruth.

In light of the Babe’s attack against his superior, the press and fans alike were forced to examine the blind adulation that was given sports stars and famous figures without compromise. In an editorial, the New York Times, for one, was pretty clear in their changing opinion of the once-untouchable Ruth:

“Ruth…is emerging in a less favorable light. The man…can hardly be viewed as an heroic figure in any argument. …The vitriolic remarks he was quoted as making…were the utterances of a man in a violent temper. Moreover, the Babe…had twice failed to follow orders in a game…and Ruth, in attempting to defend his impromptu tactics on the grounds of good baseball, made out a bad case for himself. The ring of authority and discipline is growing tighter around the playboy of baseball.

He returned to the lineup on September 7, but by that time, the Yankees were a dismal 54-72, still in the now-familiar 7th place, 27 1/2 games behind the Senators, and the season that could be called the Mess That Ruth Built (whether purposely or not) was for all intents and purposes, over.

Of course, Ruth and the Yankees rebounded splendidly, and the Yankees’ long-standing dominance of the American League would begin in earnest in 1926, with Ruth hitting 47 clouts for the AL Pennant winners, and then of course his long-standing record of 60 in 1927 for one of the best teams of all time, by which point his off-field exploits were likely again tolerated or outright ignored, and perhaps content of character again took a back seat to unbridled success. And maybe with good reason – the Yankees themselves would not have another losing season for another 40 years.

Lost in all the Ruth-induced drama of 1925 was the emergence of a young Yankee first baseman from nearby Columbia University who finally came north with the club, and on June 1, the same day as the Babe’s first game of the season, pinch-hit for Pee Wee Wanninger in the 8th inning, and never came out – it was officially Game #1 of 2,130 straight for Lou Gehrig (box score below). And, like Ruth, Mr. Gehrig would also be the subject of a well-publicized illness of his own that would dramatically play out in the press many years later. Unlike Ruth, however, Gehrig’s struggle would be seen in a somewhat more empathetic, albeit tragic, light.

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Now batting, NUMBER THREE, Babe Ruth…

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Babe Ruth in his first year wearing #3, 1929

 

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Yankee Stadium, Opening Day, April 18, 1929. And if you look close (or click the photo to see the larger version), something is unusual about the players in this photo. A sharp eye reveals that the hometown Yankees have numbers on their backs (with Gehrig’s #4 at first base most prominent), while the visiting Red Sox do not. As it turns out, this is the first year (and the first game) that the Yankees introduced numbers to their already iconic uniforms.

As the article below states, “There is never anything half measure about the way Colonel Ruppert does things. When he built the Stadium he gave baseball the biggest arena of its kind in the world. And when he decided to number his players he got them the largest numerals that money could buy and still fit on a baseball uniform. The numbers proved an unqualified success. They are clearly discernible to the naked eye.

1916 Indians

Actually, Ruppert wasn’t entirely original in this idea. At the beginning of the 20th century, a few minor league and traveling/barnstorming teams experimented with numbers, but on the players’ sleeves. The first major league team to try the idea was the 1916 Cleveland Indians, who did it for a few weeks in mid-season, and again for a short time in 1917, but was quickly abandoned.

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Harry McCurdy, 1923 Cardinals

Later, the 1923 St. Louis Cardinals gave it a try, but, per Wiki, as then-manager Branch Rickey recalled, the Cardinals’ players were “subjected to field criticism from the stands and especially from opposing players,” so the numbers were removed.

Also, the aforementioned Indians had also planned to introduce numbers on uniform backs for the 1929 season, and both teams were scheduled to open their seasons on the same day, April 16, but the Yankees were rained out, so the Indians have the honor of playing the first MLB game with proper uniform numbers. The Yankees couldn’t introduce their soon-to-be-legendary digits until April 18 (above). And as the only two teams wearing them, the first game featuring numbers on every player was the first meeting of the Indians and Yankees that year, on May 13 (in Cleveland, at League Park).

What would have been interesting is to see one team on the field with numbers, and one without. And one can just imagine the fans seeing the numbers for the first time and the interesting chatter in the stands that day; some undoubtedly decrying the modernization of the game (“they look like racehorses out there”) while others marveling at how easy it is to tell who’s who now. I wouldn’t doubt that the numbers allowed more casual fans to become more involved in the games.

As most fans know, interestingly, the Yankees were intially numbered according to their spot in the batting order on that first game in 1929 (except for the pitcher), as follows:

Combs cf #1
Koenig 3b #2
Ruth rf #3 (of course)
Gehrig 1b #4 (of course)
Meusel lf #5
Lazzeri 2b #6
Durocher ss #7 (yes, Leo Durocher was the Yankees SS in 1929!)
Grabowksi c #8

The remainder of the roster was apparently numbered as follows: The other two catchers were assigned #9 and #10, #11 through #21 were assigned to pitchers (except unlucky #13 wasn’t used), and #22 through #28 given to the remaining position players, then #29 and up assigned to coaches (manager Miller Huggins did not wear a number, but when he died suddenly in late 1929, coach Art Fletcher, #34, took over as manager and was then the first Yankee manager to have a number – good trivia question – stump your friends! Of course, this number system was too rigid to follow through the course of a season, and with pitchers going down or being released, new position players would take numbers in the 20’s, etc.

Times article from Opening Day 1929

Turns out numbered uniforms proved to be very popular indeed, with all teams having numbers by the 1930’s, including road uniforms, and now old baseball photos of uniforms without numbers look very unusual in modern times.

The Times itself had the understatement of all time in the article above: “In the event any one needs the information, Babe Ruth is No. 3. It is now expected he will make “3” as famous as the “77” Red Grange wore at Illinois.” Dare I say, Mr. Ruth’s #3 may be even a bit more famous than Mr. Grange’s #77 by now.