Five O'clock Lightning: Babe
Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the Greatest Team in Baseball History, The 1927 New
(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
"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.
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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