Film of any baseball legend from almost ninety years ago is pretty rare. But when film is unearthed that includes three Hall of Famers, well, that makes it all the more remarkable.
This is exactly why what Baseball Hall of Fame curator Tom Shieber revealed on Monday is one of the rarest finds in baseball history. Shieber uncovered footage of New York Yankees legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, as well as Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson in an archive at the University of South Carolina.
The footage is part of the Fox Movietone News outtakes, and was donated to the University during the 1980s. As Shieber points out, this footage is extremely rare because since it did not make the news, it is likely that no one more than a few editors even saw this footage when it was first created. Now, Shieber has the footage posted on his website for every fan's viewing pleasure.
Shieber details in his post how he was able to conclude that the film recovered from the University of South Carolina was from a sixth inning at-bat of Ruth’s against Walter Johnson on June 1, 1925. Below is an excerpt from Shieber’s post:
Ruth's final trip to the plate came with one out in the sixth inning, with teammate Earle Combs already on first base. According to the play-by-play account, Ruth grounded out to second base. This matches nicely with what we see in the footage. But it is another part of the at bat that ultimately convinced me that we're seeing action from the June 1 game.
At one point in the footage, with the count 2-and-1 on Ruth, we see the Senators catcher receive a pitch from Johnson (ball three) and then quickly fire the ball toward the infield. His throw is nothing like his normal, leisurely tosses back to Johnson. It is clearly a throw to second base. This corroborates perfectly with the play-by-play from the June 1 contest which notes that, during Ruth's at bat, Combs tried to steal second, but was retired: catcher Muddy Ruel throwing to shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh for the putout. A perfect match between footage and play-by-play There's no question that we're seeing Ruth's sixth-inning at bat on June 1, 1925.
While footage of a Babe Ruth groundout against Walter Johnson may not be much to write home about, Shieber’s discovery of the game date also reveals another historic moment in the film. Footage of Ruth from pre-game reveals another Yankee legend, Lou Gehrig, in the background.
Gehrig did not start that game, instead coming off the bench to pinch-hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger. However, he would start the next day, in favor of first baseman Wally Pipp, and would not leave the lineup until 1939.
In terms of rare baseball discoveries, Shieber has struck gold. Finding footage of the greatest hitter in baseball history squaring off with arguably the game’s greatest pitcher is fantastic. Finding footage of Lou Gehrig from the day his monumental streak began on the same reel? That is pure gold.