What Were You Thinking? St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Yankees, Oct. 10, 1926

Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth

That Babe Ruth was one of the greatest of the greats on the baseball field is indisputable. He was one of the first five ballplayers elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His season and career home run records stood for decades, without steroids or souped up baseballs. Twelve times he led the American League in home runs. Seven times he was a World Series winner. He was an All-Star, an MVP and a batting champion. And yet was it possible that the great Bambino had a rush of blood to the head that cost his team a game? And, not just any game, but the seventh and deciding game of the 1926 World Series.

The Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals split the first six games of the World Series. The decider was played at Yankee Stadium. The Cardinals had kept their hopes alive in game six as their ace Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched a complete game. One day later, Alexander came out of the bullpen in game seven and entered the ninth inning looking to protect a 3-2 Cardinals lead. He quickly disposed of the first two batters when up to the plate strode the mighty Babe. Ruth hit .300 in the World Series, with four home runs and five RBI’s. He had already cracked one in the fourth inning of game seven. Alexander pitched cautiously and ended up walking Ruth. That brought Bob Meusel to the plate.

Meusel was a fixture in the Yankee outfield throughout the 1920’s. He was a .309 career hitter and had hit .315 in 1926 with 12 homers and 78 RBI’s. But Meusel’s turn at bat would turn out to be inconclusive. On Alexander’s second pitch, Ruth took off for second base. The throw to second base was on the money. Ruth was out. And the Yankees were out. Game over. The Cardinals were the champions.

Ruth, Landis and Meusel
Ruth (left) with Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Meusel.

So Babe Ruth, for all of his glorious accomplishments, cost his team the series with an ill-advised break for second. Well, not so fast. While Ruth’s attempted steal has often been treated as a massive mistake on his part, there is some revisionist history afoot. And the revisionists are pointing the finger at Meusel.

Writing for a web site called Baseball Egg, Dan Holmes, pointing to the Sporting News as his source, offers a different take on the game’s pivotal play:

“He (Alexander) started Meusel with a fastball that Bob was late on. At that point, something happened that has been forgotten to history. Apparently, Meusel signaled to Ruth for the hit-and-run. The Sporting News reported that ‘Meusel, after swinging viciously at the first pitch, put on the hit and run with the Babe on the next pitch.’

“This is where the Babe’s reputation is exonerated. Where a mistake is corrected. Ruth wasn’t stealing second base. It wasn’t a lark, a moment of hubris. It was a set play called by the batter.

“Alexander went to the fastball again with the same result: Meusel missing it on a big swing. Ruth got his jump and sped his piano legs toward second base. But at the moment he arrived, Rogers Hornsby also received a perfect throw from catcher Bob O’Farrell and slapped on the tag, getting Ruth on the right toe. The game was over, the series was over, the season was over.

“But Babe Ruth has been wearing goat horns for too long. His steal attempt that ended the 1926 World Series was not a steal attempt. The real goat was Bob Meusel, who called for a hit-and-run and didn’t succeed in the ‘hit’ part.”

Yankee Stadium
Yankee Stadium 1925

What did the sportswriters covering the game think of this play?  Jon Flynn, sports editor of the Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Mass., corroborated the hit-and-run story.

“Bob Meusel, who had collapsed afield in the fourth and had fallen down at bat in the fifth and seventh innings with men yearning to score, again had a chance to keep himself out of the world’s series boob ranks. The first pitch was a strike, Meusel swinging and missing the ball. Manager Huggins called for a hit and run play. Babe got off with the pitch but Meusel failed again. He swung and missed the sphere which O’Farrell caught and got to Hornsby ahead of Ruth. George Herman slid for the bag and was tagged out, the night watchman at second base deciding that Babe arrived behind schedule.”

Perhaps it is a testament to Ruth’s popularity that no one was ready to point the finger at him. Brooklyn Daily Eagle writer Thomas S Rice, offered this justification:

“Ruth’s attempt to steal second yesterday was logical in that he had a good gambling chance. He was beaten mechanically. He is still an excellent base-runner, despite his large size, his troubles with his legs and his ankles, and the natural slowing up that comes from continuously playing major league baseball through 18 seasons. He made a clean steal of second on Saturday.

“Ruth figured he had a gambling change to steal second and score on a long single. John J. McGraw would almost certainly have figured the same at that stage of the game. This writer would have taken the gamble on Catcher Hank Severeid making a poor throw with a wet ball. As it was, the play was close. Like Icarus, Ruth failed, but he failed in a great attempt.”

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Baseball’s dumbest plays:

Chicago Cubs vs. New York Giants, Sept. 23, 1908

New York Giants vs. Washington Senators, Oct. 10, 1924

St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Yankees, Oct. 10, 1926

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, July 4, 1976

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants, May 27, 2003

Minnesota Twins vs. Chicago Cubs, June 12, 2009

Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, May 27, 2021

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8 Responses to What Were You Thinking? St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Yankees, Oct. 10, 1926

  1. retrosimba says:

    The hit-and-run possibility is an interesting take, Ken.

    Another interesting twist: Grover Cleveland Alexander thought he had struck out Babe Ruth for the final out. On a 3-and-2 pitch, umpire George Hildebrand hesitated, then called it ball four. According to a book by longtime St. Louis writer Bob Broeg, Alexander walked toward the plate and asked the ump about the pitch. Hildebrand held up two fingers, barely apart, and said, “It was just that far outside.”

    Regarding the Ruth steal attempt, Rogers Hornsby, in his book, “My War with Baseball,” said, “My biggest thrill in all baseball was making a simple tag on a runner trying to steal second base. The play was the biggest surprise of my career, and I’d have to say the biggest break any of my teams ever got. Babe just decided to take off and he merely slid into my glove and tagged himself out. It was the only mistake I ever heard of his making in about 25 years of baseball. After Ruth was out, he got up and shook my hand to congratulate me.”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: What Were You Thinking? Philadelphia Phillies vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, July 4, 1976 | off the leash

  3. Bumba says:

    Very interesting. Couldn’t happen today, tho. They’d never call a hit and run, and Grover Cleveland Alexander would have been pulled after 80 pitches.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Pingback: What Were You Thinking? New York Giants vs. Washington Senators, Oct. 10, 1924 | off the leash

  5. Pingback: What Were You Thinking? Chicago Cubs vs. New York Giants, Sept. 23, 1908 | off the leash

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