Capturing a Piece of Yankee History
Footage Offers Rare Look at Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
The newsreel film from June 1, 1925, animates a historic day for the Yankee franchise: Babe Ruth’s first game of the season since the illness dubbed the “bellyache heard ’round the world” and a pinch-hitting appearance by Lou Gehrig that became the first of his 2,130 consecutive games.
The Yankees were playing the Washington Senators in Yankee Stadium that afternoon. Walter Johnson, with a 7-2 record, was on the mound against Sad Sam Jones (5-5).
In a sequence filmed before the game, Ruth and Gehrig showed the personalities they would often display during their careers. Ruth was the extrovert, standing on the dugout steps talking to the Fox Movietone News cameraman. He was the news of the day. The introverted Gehrig sat on the bench in the background, perhaps listening to Ruth’s banter. At times, he fiddled with his right ear.
Ruth was already the Bambino and an established superstar in 1925. But after missing the first 41 games of the season, he clearly had plenty to talk about.
Gehrig was an unproven major leaguer. He had appeared in only 11 games that season. He was batting .174 and had no home runs. He had played sparingly the previous two seasons.
In the eighth inning that day, he flied out while pinch-hitting for the light-hitting shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger. The next day, Gehrig replaced Wally Pipp at first base and did not miss a game until May 1, 1939.
“It’s amazing to see,” said Tom Shieber, senior curator of the Baseball Hall of Fame, who found the film while looking for Ruth footage in the Fox Movietone archive at the University of South Carolina’s moving image research collections, which have about 400 reels of baseball footage. “To me, there’s a real human connection when you can see how they hold themselves on film. You don’t see it in photos.”
He added: “It might be the earliest moving footage of Gehrig ever.” Shieber detailed his findings Monday at his website, Baseball Researcher.
Jonathan Eig, a Gehrig biographer, said, “You picture him as this nervous rookie waiting for his chance, but he looked happy and relaxed.” Newly discovered Gehrig footage is welcome, Eig added, because “there’s so little of it.”
“You tend to see the same eight or 10 moments, but we don’t have any of his dramatic moments on film,” he said. “We don’t even have his full speech.”
In recent years, old baseball footage — some of it lost, some of it forgotten and some of it unseen except by its maker — has emerged into public view. It comes from sources that would make any fan or historian wonder how much more is yet to be found in homes, flea markets and unexamined archives.
Kinescopes of Game 7 of the 1960 Yankees-Pirates World Series were found in Bing Crosby’s old wine cellar nearly four years ago. Film of Ruth playing the outfield and striking out in 1928 against the Philadelphia A’s was discovered by a New Hampshire man in his grandfather’s home movie collection. A cellar in Illinois yielded film of Ruth and Gehrig while they wereon a barnstorming tour in 1927. And 16-millimeter film of Ruth’s disputed home run against the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series — did he call it or not? — was provided to ESPN in 1999 by the family of the Indiana man who shot it.
Shieber’s goal in seeking film of Ruth was to use it in the rebooting of the Hall of Fame’s permanent Ruth exhibit, which will close near the end of April and reopen June 12. He said it would now include a “scrapbook” feature that will examine Ruth through the words of the writers of his time and film.
The cinematic snapshot of Ruth and Gehrig in the dugout — along with outfielder Earle Combs and an unidentified man in a suit and cap on the bench — was only part of what Fox Movietone filmed that day. In reels from the archive marked June 1, 1925, were nearly four minutes of footage from that day at Yankee Stadium.
With help from Retrosheet.org, the box score archive, Shieber verified the date on the reels was accurate. The play-by-play record, also provided by Retrosheet, showed that in his three plate appearances that day, Ruth grounded out twice and walked. The second groundout, to second baseman Bucky Harris, occurred in the sixth. During the at-bat, the record showed that Senators catcher Muddy Ruel threw out a runner at second base. In the newsreel, Ruel is seen making the throw after the third pitch to Ruth. That cinched it for Shieber.
On the seventh pitch, Ruth hit the inning-ending grounder. He did not run hard to first and then cut across the infield to return to the Yankees’ dugout, then located along the third-base line.
“When you see Ruth batting, he doesn’t look great,” Shieber said. “His first game back, he faced Walter Johnson. They took him out after the sixth inning.”
Shieber also wondered why Fox Movietone would be in the Bronx for a not-very-consequential game between the Yankees, who were in seventh place (where they would finish), and the second-place Senators, who lost the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“They wouldn't send a cameraman toa game willy-nilly,” he said. But he soon reasoned that Ruth’s first game back from his lengthy absence would be reason enough for Fox Movietone to show up.
Of course, no one knew that Gehrig would begin to make history that day.