The Rundown: Debunking ‘The Babe,’ Cubs Tie Sox, Wisdom Silences Heckler, Soto Set to Cash in Big

Back in 1974, there was an episode of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” starring Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison and Tony Randall as Felix Unger titled “The Big Broadcast” in which Oscar was given a live call-in sports talk show in New York City. Felix thought Oscar needed to separate the broadcast from similar gabfests so he convinced his roommate to do a live theater version about Babe Ruth that was a textbook version of over-the-top dramatization.

If you’ve seen the movie “The Babe” starring John Goodman, you would be forgiven if you believed writer John Fusco authored his screenplay using just that television episode as his research. Whereas the above version was produced as a way to validate Unger’s OCD, the movie, directed by Arthur Hiller, simply takes itself far too seriously. It’s obvious that Hiller and Fusco know nothing about baseball and the movie, save performances by Goodman and especially co-star Kelly McGillis, is a travesty.

I watched the movie several times over the weekend just to take notes of the times Hiller presented myth instead of fact and, unfortunately, there is little believable about the 1992 movie. Some of the misrepresented facts include:

  1. Ruth’s weight: For most of the movie, which is obviously about nothing but excess, the Sultan of Swat is portrayed as an overweight and slovenly individual. In fact, Ruth was slim, though barrel-chested, for most of his career. He was a great athlete, too, not the fictionalized boorish clown as portrayed by Goodman. When he started out with the Red Sox as a pitcher, he was so thin he looked malnourished.
  2. His adolescence: Though Ruth did indeed spend time at the St. Mary’s Orphanage for being incorrigible, he left quite frequently and was brought back several times for further discipline. Ruth was not abandoned and he remained close with his father throughout his life, even buying dear old dad a saloon soon after signing his first Red Sox contract.
  3. His pitching career: Ruth may have been on his way to Hall of Fame induction as a pitcher before he was moved to outfield by the Yankees. The movie overlooked it, but the slugger pitched in 147 games and won 94 of them. When MLB introduced a livelier ball starting in 1920, New York thought he was better suited to be in the lineup every day. Ruth hit 29 home runs while playing with the dead ball in ’19. He hit 54 the next season.  In fact, the Babe was the first to hit 30, 40, 50, and 60 homers in a season.
  4. The infield fly home run: In one scene, The Great Bambino hits a ball so high that he is able to circle the bases before it lands on the grass on the third base side, about 45 feet from home plate. A typical ballplayer takes about 22-25 seconds to circle the bases, while an infield pop fly may, at the most, hang up for a good 8-10 seconds. It’s a cringeworthy and credibility-destroying scene.
  5. Activism: Ruth hated the reserve clause and frequently challenged it, which is part of why he was paid so much more than the other players. Owners feared that a rival league might lure Ruth and many believed he could singlehandedly destroy MLB by jumping due to his immense popularity and the fact that baseball was rebounding from the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Despite his obscene salary, Ruth never stopped fighting for individual freedom within the allowed constraints of the game.
  6. Falsified personal life: It was the league owners who planted stories of Ruth’s alleged debauchery and, though he may have lived excessively at times, the slugger was a family man for the most part who felt uncomfortable in social situations through the early part of his career. Sportswriters were subsidized by owners back then (imagine that) and planted gossip to gain favor. The owners hoped to control Ruth by letting sportswriters drag him through the mud.
  7. The House That Ruth Built: The Yankees originally shared the Polo Grounds with the Giants and when the Bronx Bombers were evicted, so to speak, they commissioned an architect to design and build Yankee Stadium with that short right field porch in order to further exploit Ruth’s prodigious power. One might say it is “The House the Yankees Built for Ruth.

There’s so much more, including falsehoods surrounding Ruth’s two marriages, an alleged meeting with gangsters Al Capone and Johnny Torrio, and an awful turn by Wayne Messmer as a fictional Yankees radio announcer. The movie’s timeline is way off and skips over a number of significant events, too. The thing is, there is a great movie about Babe Ruth just waiting to be made, one that portrays the slugger more like Shakespeare’s John Falstaff — equally garrulous and troubled, but decent and upstanding. I’d bet the Coen brothers could make a truly great Ruth movie.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Did Ruth really call his shot in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field? Lou Gehrig was on deck when it happened and he confirmed it happened, though his interview with radio host Rudy Vallee does sound somewhat scripted.

On the Screws

Third baseman Patrick Wisdom had the best answer for a White Sox heckler. If I had to guess, the loudmouth is a ChiSox blogger, just because that’s something I’d do.

Spring Training News & Notes

Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs ran career projections for Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, and they’re incredibly similar to Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, and Ted Williams.

The Nationals say they are preparing an extension offer for Soto and it very well could exceed $400 million.

Shohei Ohtani launched two taters off of Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen and now Lorenzen is a big fan of the Angels slugger.

Ryan Braun showed up at the Brewers training complex and indicated he may not be ready to retire just yet.

With millions of workers heading back to their offices for the first time in a year, you may need a good baseball quote or two to work into your next water cooler conversation.

Between marital drama and a pending divorce, things might be a little unstable in Flushing right now had Álex Rodríguez and Jennifer Lopez been allowed to purchase the Mets. The Mets don’t often dodge woebegone circumstances, but they may have in this case.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

The city of Washington, D.C. has announced plans to allow 5,000 fans at Nationals Park beginning on Opening Night

Extra Innings

This is a tremendous photograph of John Smoltz pitching against the Cubs..

They Said It

  • “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth

Tuesday Walk Up Song

Overkill by Men at Work – Better to trust history than overthink the myth.

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