“Tell the Babe to Choke Up on his Bat”

15 Aug

While Babe Ruth kept a low profile—or as low a profile as he could—in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and occasionally New York, during the winter of 1922, he received hitting advice from Christy Mathewson.

Ruth struggled—at least for Ruth, 35/96/.315—all season after starting the year suspended by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis for barnstorming during the 1921 off-season.

Babe Ruth

Ruth

Mathewson was in New York in December promoting the sale of “Christmas Seals for the aid of others stricken with tuberculosis.”  He talked to Thomas Cummiskey, writer for the Universal Service syndicate:

“’Tell the Babe to choke up on his bat a little when pitchers start tossing slow balls at him next season, and to smash some of the floaters into left field.  If he does, he’ll cross up a plan to stop his home run hitting.”

Cummiskey noted that the New York Giants pitchers shut Ruth down during the 1922 World Series—Ruth was 2 for 17 with 1 RBI—because they “slow-balled him to death.”

As for Mathewson:

“(He) saw the series, the first games he witnessed in two years because of his battle with tuberculosis that kept him at Saranac Lake.  As always, he was a close observer of everything.

“Once he says he saw Ruth choke up on his bat, instead of making his ‘follow-through’ swing at the ball for a homer, and cross up the Giants by hitting the ball to left field.

“’He should do this every time a slow ball comes up,’ Matty declares.  ‘Next season, it is a 100 to 1 shot, the American League pitchers will try to stop his home run hitting with slow balls.  If Babe chokes up a little, as I saw him do once in the series, he’ll hit them, it’s a cinch.  Then the next thing you know, the pitchers will stop throwing them.’“

Cummiskey said:

“Matty paid Ruth the compliment of ‘being a natural ball player and wise enough to realize this.’  The tip was given for ‘old time’s sake.’  Matty wants the Babe to stay in the spotlight and ‘hit them out as of old.’”

Cummiskey asked Mathewson if he felt “Use of the ‘lively ball,’ and the fact that pitchers are not permitted to rough the surface of a shiny new ball (was) tough on the pitchers.”

Mathewson, 1922

Mathewson, 1922

Mathewson said:

“Well, yes it is.  It is tough to see the ball banged out of the lot and around so much.  But they can learn how to pitch it.  They did when it came to Babe, didn’t they?”

He also said, “(I)n the old days if a batter swung like the home run leaders of the present day they would be fined.”

As for Mathewson’s health:

“Outwardly, he is robust and healthy.  He weighs 210 pounds, has a healthy color, his hand clasp is strong, his eyes clear.  Occasionally he is allowed to smoke a cigarette, but not to inhale.  Except for a slight slowness in his walk, as he tires easily, he appears ‘fine.’

‘’I haven’t a touch of T.B. anymore,’ he said.  “The X-ray and the stethoscope reveal no signs of it.  I am now a full exercise man; I can exercise all I want.  Until a few weeks ago I was restricted to twenty minutes a day.’

“He tires more easily than a man of his outwardly fine condition would indicate because he ‘has to get along on one cylinder as yet.’  This, he explained means that ‘one lung is flat but is receiving air treatment which is expected to make it function.’”

Ruth, of course, bounced back just fine from his disappointing 1922 season and World Series.  He hit .393 with 41 home runs and 130 RBIs and hit .368 with three home runs in the Yankees’ World Series victory over the Giants.

Mathewson did not bounce back from tuberculosis and died on the disease in 1925.

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