New York American/September 9, 1920
Ballplayers say it is a blessing Babe Ruth does not commonly hit through the infield. He would kill or dangerously harm any men in front of one of his powerful punches at short distances.
A ball thrown by Carl Mays had sufficient force to crack Ray Chapman’s skull. Ruth drives a ball from his bat 10 times harder than the strongest man in baseball can throw.
Players who know the King of Swat say that he has always had a secret dread of smashing a ball back at a pitcher, or an infielder. It is probably that dread which causes him to pull his punches high, and to the right, clearing the infield.
No man has ever lived who hit a baseball as hard as Ruth. In the olden days, soldiers were equipped with slings and slew their enemies with missiles thrown from these slings, but it is doubtful if they got as much force behind them as Ruth puts back of a batted ball.
The weapon which was the nearest approach to Babe’s deadly drive was the catapult.
There are several little things about baseball that have always been matters of mystery to ballplayers, and spectators too. One is the phychics, or whatever you might call it, of the game, that protects pitchers from being hurt more often by balls batted back to them.
Thousands of balls are thrown by the average pitcher in the course of his career, and hit to either side of him by the batsmen. Yet few of them come close enough to the pitcher, even for him to field them.
We have talked to numerous hurlers on the subject, and they all admit that they have frequently thought of the same thing themselves. In fact, two or three said that they always had a horror of that very thing occurring.
When a pitcher delivers the ball, he nearly always throws himself off balance. He would not have a chance to dodge if the ball was smashed directly back at him.
Only the other day at the Polo Grounds, Rube Benton of the Giants stuck his hand in front of a drive from the bat of (Frank) Withrow of the Phils, and the force of the drive split the hand so badly that Rube will be unable to work again for some days.
Rube might have ducked the ball, but his instinct told him to try to stop it. The same instinct prompts every ballplayer to make a stab for drives that he would perhaps let go by if he paused to consider the danger.
Some years ago Bert Maxwell, once a member of the Giants and then pitching for the Federal League, stuck his hand in front of a ball driven back at him and the ball hit the palm of the hand with terrific force. It drove the bones of his wrist back up toward the elbow and put Maxwell out of baseball for good.
It is very rarely, indeed, that a pitcher gets a chance at one of Ruth’s raps, and then generally the ball had hit the ground first and lost some of its force. Babe is always aiming for the right field wall, so much so that it is now a common joke in the American League for the third baseman, shortstop and second baseman to group themselves over back of second almost in short-right field.
Nevertheless, ballplayers say it is very fortunate, indeed, that Babe shoots high and far; otherwise, a heavy mortality list would follow his batting.
(Source: Jim Reisler, ed., “Guys, Dolls and Curveballs,” Da Capo Press, 2005)
The works of Damon Runyon and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism. Visit our bookstore for single-volume collections–-ideal for research, reference use or casual reading.