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Authors: Dan Gutman

Babe & Me

BOOK: Babe & Me
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Babe & Me

A Baseball Card Adventure

Dan Gutman

Dedication

Dedicated to the real heroes—
teachers and librarians

Contents

1

The Tingling Sensation

2

Use Your Head

3

Going Back…Back…Back…

4

Blown Off Course

5

Hooverville

6

The Babe

7

Three Strikes You're Out

8

Payday

9

Living Big

10

Playing with History

11

Dumb Luck

12

A Secret Revealed

13

Fathers and Sons

14

Governor Roosevelt

15

Game Three

16

The Called Shot

17

Something Better

18

Slipping Away

19

Attack!

IT'S THE GREATEST MYSTERY IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS
. It's
one
of the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century.

And I was the only person in the world who could solve it.

 

These are the facts:

The date:
October 1, 1932

The place:
Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois

The situation:
The Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees played Game Three of the World Series on this day. In the fifth inning, Babe Ruth belted a long home run to straightaway centerfield.

 

This is the mystery: Did the Babe “call his shot”? Or not?

According to legend, just before he hit that homer,
Babe pointed to the centerfield bleachers and boldly predicted he would slam the next pitch there.

I've played a lot of baseball. Maybe you have, too. Hitting a baseball is not easy. Hitting a baseball to one side of the field or the other
on purpose
is very hard. And saying you're going to hit a home run on a specific pitch and to a specific part of the ballpark with the pressure on, well, that's just impossible. A batter who calls a shot like that is either incredibly lucky, crazy, stupid, or gifted. Maybe all four.

The closest witnesses to Babe's called shot—the Cub and Yankee players—disagreed. Some said Babe called his shot; others said he was only pointing and yelling at the Cub pitcher, Charlie Root. Some said the whole story is a myth that the press dreamed up to glorify Babe Ruth.

A few years ago somebody found a fuzzy home movie of Ruth at the plate at that moment.

A few years ago somebody found a fuzzy home movie of Ruth at the plate at that moment. He
pointed all right, but it's impossible to tell exactly
where
he was pointing.

People said it didn't matter if Babe called his shot or not. All that mattered is that he hit the home run.

Well, it mattered to
me
. I wanted to know the truth.

There was only one way for a human being to solve this mystery—to travel back to October 1, 1932, and see what happened.

The amazing thing is, I could
do
it.

Joe Stoshack

1
The Tingling Sensation

IT WAS ABOUT EIGHT YEARS AGO—WHEN I WAS FIVE—
that I discovered baseball cards were sort of…oh, magical to me.

It was past my bedtime, I remember. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my dad. This was before my mom and dad split up, before things got weird around the house. Dad was showing me his collection of baseball cards. He had hundreds, a few of them dating back to the 1920s.

My dad never made a lot of money working as a machine operator here in Louisville, Kentucky. I think he spent all his extra money on his two passions in life—fixing up old cars and buying up old baseball cards. Dad loved his cars and cards. They were two of the things Dad and Mom argued about.

Anyway, we were sitting there at the table and Dad handed me an old card.

“That's a Gil McDougald card from 1954,” Dad said. “He was my hero growing up. What a sweet swing he had.”

I examined the card. As I held it in my right hand, I felt a strange tingling sensation in my fingertips. It didn't hurt. It was pleasant. It felt a little bit like when you brush your fingers lightly against a TV screen when it's on.

I felt vibrations. It was a little frightening. I mean, it was only a piece of cardboard, but it felt so
powerful
.

“Joe,” my dad said, waving his hand in front of my face, “are you okay?”

I dropped the card on the table. The tingling sensation stopped immediately.

“Uh, yeah,” I said uncertainly as I snapped out of it. “Why?”

“You looked like you were in a trance or something,” Dad explained, “like you weren't all there.”

“I
felt
like I wasn't all there.”

“He's overtired,” my mom said, a little irritated. “Will you stop fooling with those cards and let Joey go to bed?”

But I wasn't overtired. I didn't know it at the time, but a baseball card—for me—could function like a time machine. That tingling sensation was the signal that my body was about to leave the present and travel back through time to the year on the card. If I had held the card a few seconds longer, I would have gone back to 1954 and landed somewhere near Gil McDougald.

After that night I touched other baseball cards from time to time. Sometimes I felt the tingling sensation. Other times I felt nothing.

Whenever I felt the tingling sensation I dropped the card. I was afraid. I could tell something strange was going to happen if I held on to the card. I didn't know what would happen, and I wasn't sure I wanted to find out.

Gradually, I discovered that the year of the card determined whether or not it would cause the tingling sensation. Brand-new cards didn't do anything. Cards from the 1960s to the 1990s didn't do much. But I could get a definite buzz from any card from the 1950s. The older the card, I discovered, the more powerful the tingling sensation.

One day, I got hold of a 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner card—the most valuable baseball card in the world. The tingling sensation started the instant I picked up the card. It was more powerful than it had been with any other card. For the first time, I didn't drop the card.

As I held the Wagner card, the tingling sensation moved up my fingers and through my arms, and washed over my entire body. As I thought about the year 1909, the environment around me faded away and was replaced by a different environment. It took about five seconds. In those five seconds, I traveled back through time to the year 1909.

What happened to me in 1909 is a long story, and I almost didn't make it back. After that, I
didn't think I would ever travel through time with a baseball card again. But once you discover you've got a special power, it's hard not to use it. For a school project, I borrowed a Jackie Robinson card from a baseball card dealer and sent myself back to the year 1947.

I nearly got killed in 1947, and my mom grounded me. She didn't make me stay in my room or anything like that, but she did make me stay in the present day.

“No more time traveling!” she ordered.

But, like I said, when you've got a special power, you want to use it.

2
Use Your Head


SMASH IT, STOSHACK!” ONE OF MY TEAMMATES YELLED
as I pulled on my batting glove. “Hit one outta here so we can
get
outta here.”

I snorted. Nobody has
ever
hit a ball out of Dunn Field, the park where most Louisville Little League games are played. It's not because the outfield wall is so deep. It's because it's so
high
. The plywood fence in left-, center-, and rightfield extends twenty or thirty feet off the ground.

The wall is plastered with ads for just about every hardware store, car dealership, dry cleaner, and supermarket in Louisville. The Little League sold a lot of ads this year, so they made the fences even higher to have a place to put them all.

Casey Tyler—one of the kids on my team—hit a ball off the wall once. In left center. He only got a double out of it because the ball bounced right to
the centerfielder. I hit pretty good—I mean, pretty
well
—but I can't imagine hitting one out of Dunn Field.

“Be aggressive, Joey,” Coach Zippel hollered, cupping his hands around his mouth. “That baseball is your worst enemy! Slam it.”

My team, the Yellow Jackets, was down by two runs. There were two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, which is all we play in the league for thirteen-year-olds. As I stepped into the batter's box, Casey Tyler took a lead off second base and Kevin Dougrey edged off third.

“Run on anything!” Coach Zippel yelled. “Two outs.”

I pumped my bat back and forth a few times. The pitcher wasn't so tough. I had already singled off him. A solid hit would score both our runners and tie the game. An out of any kind would end the game, with our team losing.

“Smack one, Joey!” my mom shouted. She was sitting in the “mom” section of the bleachers. That's where all the moms sit. I don't think any of them are big baseball fans, but they like to get together and gossip and stuff while we play.

The dads are usually around the field, shouting encouragement and advice to us. Most of the dads show up for our games if they can. Even though he loves baseball, my dad has never been to one of my games. He says he can't get off from work, but I think it's really because he doesn't want to see my mom unless he has to.

In fact, we live only 250 miles from St. Louis, but my dad has never even taken me to a Cardinals game—or any big-league game.

As I dug a cleat into the dirt, I snuck a peek at the fielders. I bat lefty, so the defense had shifted to the right a little.

The third baseman, I noticed, was playing almost right on the foul line and way back—just behind the third-base bag. He wanted to keep Kevin close to the base, I knew, and he wanted to prevent a double or triple down the line.

A thought flashed through my brain: I could drop a bunt in front of that guy and beat it out. Kevin would score from third easily and Casey would advance to third. It would take everybody by surprise.

I didn't want to talk my idea over with Coach Zippel. If the other team saw me go over to him, they might suspect something was up. Besides, there was no time. The pitcher was going into his windup.

I waited until the last possible instant to square around and slide my hand up the barrel of the bat.

“He's layin' one down!” the coach of the other team screamed.

The pitch was right over the plate, just where I like it. I held the bat out the way Coach Zippel taught us in our bunting drills. You're supposed to sort of “catch” the ball with the bat. The idea is to tap it just hard enough so the catcher can't pounce
on it, but softly enough so it stops far in front of the third baseman. It was a good bunt, I thought.

When the ball hit the bat, I broke for first. The third baseman made a dash toward the plate as soon as he saw me squaring around to bunt.

From the corner of my eye, I saw him reach down and scoop up the rolling ball bare-handed. In one motion, he whipped it underhanded toward first. He made a great play, but I thought I had it beat. As my foot hit the first-base bag, I heard the ball pop into the first baseman's mitt.

“Out!” bellowed the umpire. “That's the ball game!”

“What?” I yelled, turning around to find the ump. “I beat it out! I beat the ball to the bag!”

“Son, I had the best seat in the house,” the ump said, “and you were out.”

“Oh, man!”

The kids on the other team were pounding the third baseman on his back and congratulating him on his great play. My teammates just packed up their gear. Nobody gave me a hard time about it, but when I got back to the bench, Coach Zippel pulled me aside.

“Why'd you bunt, Joey?” he asked, his arm on my shoulder. I could tell he was angry, but he was doing his best not to show it. The coaches in our league are supposed to encourage us, even when we mess up.

“I saw the third baseman playing way back,” I
explained. “I thought I could drop a bunt in front of him.”

“But, Joey, you're a good hitter. You could have tied the game for us with a hit. Even if you had been safe at first on the bunt, we only would have scored one run. We needed two. And Frankie was up next.”

Frankie Maloney was our worst hitter. The coach didn't come out and say it, but we both knew there was no way Frankie would have driven in the tying run. That was
my
job. I messed up.

“I hadn't thought of that,” I admitted. “I'm sorry, Coach.”

“Don't be so afraid to take a big old rip at the ball, Joey,” the coach advised me. “If you would only let loose, there's no telling how hard you might hit it.”

 

All the way home from the game, I sulked. The coach was right. I was too cautious. I
wanted
to hit the ball hard, but when the pressure was on and the pitch was coming in, something stopped me. So I usually took a halfhearted swing. Or I thought up some excuse to bunt.

“It was a beautiful bunt, honey,” Mom said, trying to cheer me up as we pulled into our driveway. “You did the best you could.”

Mom doesn't understand baseball. Everybody makes an error from time to time, but there's no excuse for a guy to make a dumb decision like I did. I never should have bunted. I should have swung away. Mom just saw the play, not the strategy.

My mom is Irish and my dad is Polish. Not that it matters or anything, but I thought you should know a little about me. Mom is a nurse at the University of Louisville Hospital. I don't have any brothers or sisters, though I guess I would have if my folks had stayed together. I've got a couple of cousins, but they live in Massachusetts and we hardly ever get together.

“Your father is coming over after dinner,” Mom said as she cleaned a carrot for dinner. “He says he has something he needs to talk to both of us about.”

“What is it?”

“He wouldn't tell me,” Mom said, digging into the carrot a little harder than was necessary.

I don't know why my parents got divorced. I'm not sure if my mom or dad knows, either. One time I asked my mom about it, and she said my dad was angry all the time. He would never say what was really bothering him. Like it was some big secret or something. For years Mom tried to get him to talk about what troubled him, but finally she decided she just couldn't live with him anymore.

Dad lives in an apartment across town. He comes over to see me from time to time, but I don't feel all that comfortable with him. I guess I blame him for divorcing Mom, even if it was her idea.

 

“How'd you do in your game today, Butch?” Dad asked when I opened the door. He's always called me Butch.

I felt like telling him he could have seen for
himself how I did, if he had only come to the game. But I didn't want to set him off.

“I did okay,” I said unenthusiastically. “Got a hit.”

“That's my boy.”

“What did you want to talk to us about, Bill?” Mom asked. She never liked to chitchat with Dad.

Dad shuffled his feet a little and looked down uncomfortably, a sure sign of bad news.

“I got laid off again,” he said finally. “Business is slow. They had to get rid of people. Naturally, I was the first to go. I got no luck.”

“You'll get another job, Bill,” Mom said.

“Yeah? What do you know? Who's gonna hire me?”

Dad's eyes flashed anger. It was like he was blaming Mom for losing his job, when all she was trying to do was comfort him.

“The newspaper is filled with ads for guys who do what you do,” Mom tried again.

“Sure, if I want a crummy job that pays nothin'.”

Mom sighed. When Dad got into one of these moods, there was nothing anyone could say or do that would make him cheer up. Wearily, Mom took out her checkbook and started writing.

“I didn't come here to ask for more money, Terry.”

“Just take it,” Mom said, handing him a check.

He ripped the check in half and handed it back to her.

“Joe,” Dad said, turning to me, “do you still have that old Babe Ruth card I gave you a while ago?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“Would you be really upset if I asked for it back?”

It must have been really tough for him to ask that. He gave me the Ruth card as a present when I turned twelve. He must be selling off his card collection, I figured. He must need money pretty badly.

“Don't ask Joey to return a gift,” Mom lectured him. “I'll lend you money.”

“Quiet, Terry.”

“I'll get the card,” I said.

I keep my older, more valuable cards in clear plastic holders. This is partly to protect them and partly because I get that tingling sensation when I touch them. I wouldn't want to send myself back through time accidentally.

The Ruth card was the gem of my collection. It was from 1932 and very rare. My dad got the card for next to nothing from some lady who'd sold her husband's old card collection after he died. She had no idea it was valuable. The card was in good condition. I looked it up in a book once, and the book said it was worth ten thousand dollars.

I didn't want to give the card back. Someday, I thought, I would use that card. My dad had told me the story of the called shot many times. It fascinated me. Someday, I thought, when my mom felt I was old enough, I would travel through time
again. I would see with my own eyes whether or not the Babe called his famous home run in the 1932 World Series. If I gave the card back to Dad and he sold it, I would never get the chance.

That's when I came up with an idea.

 

I ran down the stairs with the Ruth card in my hand. Mom and Dad were standing around awkwardly, trying to make small talk.

“Instead of giving you the card,” I suggested, “what if I
use
it?”

“What do you mean, use it?” Mom asked suspiciously.

“You mean use it to go back in time?” Dad asked.

“Yeah. I could go back to 1932 and bring back a bunch of cards. You'll make a lot more money than if you just sold this one.”

“Absolutely not!” my mother exclaimed. “We talked about this, Joey. I won't have you going back in time anymore.”

“Aw, Mom!”

“Why not?” Dad asked.

“Because it's too dangerous, that's why not,” Mom explained. “What if Joey got stuck in the 1930s? Or killed?”

“I'm not going to get killed,” I insisted. “Please, Mom?”

“No!”

“I don't want to give the card back,” I protested. “It will be so easy for me to just travel back to
1932, grab some old baseball cards, and bring them back with me. Dad could sell them for a lot of money.”

“You see what you started?” Mom glared at Dad.

“What did
I
do?” Dad asked, holding his hands up innocently.

“You started him on this stupid card collecting.”

“It's not stupid!” I chimed in.

“Well,” Dad said, “what if I went back
with
Joe?”

“You mean, back to 1932?” I asked.

“Yeah. Can we do that? Can you take someone with you?”

“I don't know,” I admitted. I had never tried to take anyone with me.

“You hardly spend any time with Joey in the
present
,” Mom complained. “You expect to take care of him in the
past?

“I'm unemployed now,” Dad said. “I've got plenty of time. I'll take good care of the boy, Terry. I
am
his father.”

Mom shook her head and let out a sigh.

“How long will it take?” she asked.

“A few days,” I replied.

“I'll give you three days,” she told Dad. “If Joey's not back in three days, I will never let you take him anywhere again.”

Big deal
, I thought.
He hardly ever takes me anywhere anyway
.

“We'll be back,” Dad said. “I promise.”

I had mixed feelings about taking Dad back in
time with me. It would be awkward hanging out with him, I knew. But it might give us a chance to get to know each other again, too. And who knew? Maybe I would be able to find out why he was so angry all the time. I walked Dad to the door and asked him when we would leave for our trip to 1932.

“Tomorrow.”

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