Baseball Legends and Myths: What’s True and What’s Not True?

We can’t be too quick to believe everything we’ve heard.

When it comes to baseball, fans have long heard stories about players or events that have been passed along as facts. But many of those accounts aren’t necessarily accurate and didn’t happen the way we may believe they did.

It’s not that the stories are fabrications. In some cases, the events happened so long ago, the accounts simply evolved over time. In other instances, what we’ve read or heard for all these years simply doesn’t line up with the facts. (And nobody cares that it doesn’t.)

Here are a handful of stories or myths surrounding players and events that didn’t happen the way we’ve always been told. See which ones you remember.

LEGEND 1: Shoeless Joe Jackson helped to throw the 1919 World Series.

Fact: Jackson was initially in on the plan, but he changed his mind and played his best.

While it’s true that Joe Jackson was banned from baseball for life along with other Chicago “Black Sox” teammates, he certainly did not make much of an effort to help his team lose the 1919 World Series. Remember, a scandal that size and prominent is a huge story and everyone involved would be branded guilty. But it was later discovered that Jackson, who admitted to initially taking $5,000 to help the White Sox lose, changed his mind and tried to give the money back. During the Series, he batted .375 and had more RBIs than anyone else on his team. But seven of his teammates were “on the take,” as they say. The White Sox lost the Series, the scandal eventually came to light and Shoeless Joe and the others were banned from baseball for life. He may have been a man playing with a guilty conscience, and perhaps that’s what caught up with him.

Footnote: Supposedly, a young fan said to Jackson at the trial, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” Jackson said that never happened and that the story was probably made up by a news reporter.

LEGEND 2: Wally Pipp asked to sit out a game because of a headache and Lou Gehrig replaced him forever.

Fact: Pipp was benched along with others in a starting-lineup change as Gehrig started his streak.

To this day, you might hear people refer to the “Wally Pipp syndrome,” which is the fear of being replaced at your job or position for good by someone else. The legend says that on June 2, 1925, New York first baseman Wally Pipp told his manager he had a bad headache, so young Lou Gehrig replaced him in the lineup. Gehrig went on to play 2,130 consecutive games over 14 years, while Pipp disappeared into history. But it didn’t happen that way at all.

Gehrig did start in place of Pipp on June 2nd, but that’s because manager Miller Huggins wanted to shake up the lineup for the struggling Yankees. Pipp and a few other starters were asked to sit so that Gehrig and others could revive the lineup. As far as a headache, Pipp—still playing for the Yanks—was taken out of a game a month later with double vision and headaches, caused by a beaning a few games earlier that almost killed him.

LEGEND 3: Babe Ruth visits a sick boy in the hospital and promises a home run.

Fact: Ruth hit a home run as promised, but there was no bedside visit beforehand.

The way the story is told in the move The Babe Ruth Story (1948), Ruth visits a very sick boy in the hospital and promises to hit a home run in the upcoming World Series game—and makes good on his promise! This would have been for Game 4 of the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The heart of the story is true. An 11-year-old boy named Johnny was seriously ill and close to death. It wasn’t from a strange illness as the movie suggests: Johnny had been involved in a riding accident and had been kicked in the head by his horse. Supposedly, the boy said he wished he could see Babe Ruth play and hit a home run. The boy’s father, a successful banker, managed to get word to the Yankees and Cardinals about his son. A package arrived with baseballs signed by both teams, as well as a note from the Babe saying he’d hit a home run for little Johnny in the next game.

Johnny wasn’t in a hospital (as portrayed in the movie), and Ruth didn’t make the promise in person.

That was Game 4 of the Series, on October 6, 1926. Ruth hit three home runs that day, as the Yankees won 10-5. Maybe the thrill of the home run was what Johnny needed. He made a full recovery from his accident after three years, served in WWII and lived to the age of 74.

A few footnotes: Ruth sent Johnny a note that promised another home run “or two” in Game 6, but he wasn’t able to knock one out. Ruth did visit Johnny after the ’26 Series ended (which the Yankees lost 4-3). However, Johnny had become famous by then. In the movie The Pride of the Yankees, Gehrig promises to hit two home runs for a sick, hospitalized boy, which must be Ruth’s Johnny. That never happened—it’s pure Hollywood. (In the movie, Gehrig comes through.)

LEGEND 4: Babe Ruth “called his shot” in the 1932 World Series.

Fact: Ruth hit a home run after a lot of gesturing at the plate, but it’s not clear if he pointed to the bleachers, predicting a home run.

Amazingly, there is actual footage of this famous at-bat in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series against Chicago. It’s clear that Ruth was gesturing with his right hand, but it could have been directed at the Cubs dugout—the players were on him—the fans or the pitcher. He certainly didn’t point to the outfield as it’s exaggerated in The Babe Ruth Story. However, Ruth took two strikes, maybe intentionally, and then hit a massive home run into center field. The homer broke a 2-2 tie. Gehrig came up next and homered too.

Most likely, Ruth was pointing to the Cubs players and talking back against all the abuse and comments they were hurling at him (something you won’t see umpires allow these days). Although the video doesn’t prove that he called his shot, it does show that he was not backing down to the Cubs bench, but was dishing it back to them. It’s more likely that he called his shot more verbally than with pointing. In either case, he came through in a big moment that lives on in legend.

LEGEND 5: Pete Rose ended Ray Fosse’s career in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Fact: Ray Fosse went on to play 42 games in the second half of the 1970 season, hitting .297 and winning the American League Gold Glove. He played for nine more seasons.

Many believe that “Charlie Hustle” ended the promising career of the Cleveland Indians’ 23-year-old catcher Ray Fosse when Rose crashed into him at the plate to score the winning run, dislocating the young catcher’s shoulder.

It’s true that Fosse was having a great season when the All-Star break came, but the collision with Rose did not end or ruin his career, although it certainly impacted it. He missed a number of games after the injury, but he didn’t go on the disabled list. He actually bounced back to play in 42 games during the second half of the ’70 season, even winning a Gold Glove. The next year, he won his second Gold Glove and made the AL All-Star team again. He was a full-time player from 1971 to 1974 for Cleveland. Later in his career, he suffered a number of injuries, none of which were related to the shoulder injury from the collision with Rose. Did that famous collision and the injury change the course of his career, or was it the start of Ray Fosse’s injury-prone career? That can be debated.


Photo Credits:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoeless_Joe_Jackson
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