October 3, 2017


The Called Shot (Rich Cohen October 3, 2017, pARIS rEVIEW)

[I]n July 1932, as the Cubs were cruising, their shortstop was shot in a hotel room by a jilted lover. It's enough to say that the ballplayer was Billy Jurges and the perp was a showgirl who'd later perform under the stage name Violet "What I Did For Love" Valli. Jurges was shot in room 509 of Hotel Carlos, a few blocks from the ballpark. He'd be back on the field before the end of the season. In the meantime, the Cubs needed a solid substitute infielder if they were going to make a pennant run.

Management signed Mark Koenig, who'd been released by the Detroit Tigers at the end of 1931. He started the summer with the San Francisco Mission Reds of the Pacific Coast League before the Cubs called him up. Koenig--he grew up in California, son of a bricklayer--was with the Yankees from 1925 to 1930. He'd played shortstop for the 1927 Yankees, which many consider the greatest team ever. There's a fraternity in that, in being a member of something perfect. Depending on what you read, Ruth loved Koenig, or did not like him at all, which is not the point. If you're on the team, you'll always be on the team--that's the point.

In Chicago, Koenig, a switch-hitter who could play any position in the infield, was trying to prove he still belonged in the majors. He was only twenty-seven, with several solid seasons behind him. He appeared in just thirty-three games with the Cubs that summer but hit .353 and made memorable plays in the clutch. Yet, when it came time to apportion the World Series share--teams that made it to the championship got a bonus, which was split among the players; considering the low salaries of the time, it was a significant boon--the Cubs voted to give Koenig only a partial share.

Ruth heard about it and was incensed. Those greedy bastards, they wouldn't even be here if not for Koenig. Ruth carried that anger into the World Series, stood at the edge of the Chicago dugout and, waving his bat, denounced the Cubs by name. The Cubs heckled the Babe right back. He was a rich target in 1932, a thirty-seven-year-old fat man with just a few seasons left.

In game 3, the moment ripened to a crisis. The Yankees were up two games to none in the series. Charlie Root was pitching for Chicago. A right-hander from Middletown, Ohio, Root was a classic sort of Cub, never great but good enough to go forever. He was with the team from 1926 to 1941. Ruth spoke to him as if he were a kid, but he was thirty-three in that World Series. They called him Chinsky for his willingness to throw inside and hurt people.

The wind blew out, the train rattled past. The score was knotted at four when Ruth came up in the fifth.

Posted by at October 3, 2017 7:05 PM