Babe Ruth Film: September 9, 1928

Honestly, they could’ve called first.

Major League Baseball Productions has unearthed a wonderful, almost archaeological find – 51 seconds of film, apparently home movies, of Babe Ruth in action at Yankee Stadium. Ruth is briefly shown playing right, then we watch him called out on strikes on a check swing, then we see a pan of the outfield, which stops tantalizingly maybe a second before we could’ve seen the scoreboard. MLBP’s call for detectives to help it pinpoint just when the footage is from and who else is shown in it, reached both NBC Nightly News and The New York Times.
Uh, fellas, I’m standin’ right here. The acknowledged ace amateur unidentifiable photo identifier, certified by the Hall of Fame for crying out loud!
There are several good conclusions drawn by the MLBP researchers: That the advertisements in the outfield are said to match still photographs known to have been taken in 1928 (which I assume they have carefully researched) – that Ruth (and Gehrig, on deck) are wearing uniforms without numbers (the Yankees first adopted them in 1931) and Gehrig is seen approaching the plate from the third base side (the Yankees called the third base dugout home until 1946).
But then come the suppositions – unclear if these belong to MLBP or The Times:

…the archivists believe that the clip dates to 1928. Perhaps it is the World Series, which might explain the full stands and long shadows.

Narration in an additional Times video clip adds in the possibility that the “full stands” owe to it being Opening Day or the 4th of July or, as mentioned, the Series.
So if it’s a big day like that – where’s the bunting?
Check any photo, or any of the film, of baseball in the ’20s, especially at Yankee Stadium. Opening Day, the major holidays, the Series, and they festooned the place to within an inch of its life. Film from any of those days in 1928 would show bunting designed to evoke the American flag on every available railing not in fair territory. There is no bunting.
Also, why the assumption that only Opening Day could produce “the full stands”? That’s one of the easiest things to check. The Yankees’ game-by-game log, with boxes for every game and attendance figures for most, is found in two seconds at the fabulous Retrosheet.Org. From it we learn the Yanks opened at home on April 20th, 1928, against the Philadelphia A’s, and drew just 30,000.
In point of fact, the big days for attendance in the house that the guy striking out in the film clip built were July 1 (65,000 for a doubleheader with the A’s), August 19 (65,000 versus Cleveland), and September 9 (85,265 for another doubleheader with the A’s). 
The jam-packed nature of those crowd shots sure suggests 85,265.
September 9 might also produce you those “long shadows” while still explaining the large amount of white in the crowd (for the most part, the gentlemen are not wearing jackets). And it also jibes with the only bit of information that the catcher in the image provides, until somebody puts the clip through computer enhancement. Clearly the top of his cap is light-colored. And per Marc Okkonen’s opus Baseball Uniforms Of The 20th Century the only American League teams to wear such caps in 1928 were the Browns, Red Sox, White Sox — and Athletics. Cleveland wore dark caps.
So we’re getting there.
Huge crowd? September 9 versus the Athletics (85,265) works. No bunting, no cold weather, not a holiday, not the World Series? September 9 versus the Athletics works. Catcher’s got a light-colored cap? September 9 versus the Athletics works.
So, what do we know about Ruth in those games? Again, per Retrosheet, we see he played in them both – and struck out in them both, twice in the opener, in which the only strikeouts by Philly pitchers were recorded by John Quinn and Eddie Rommel, and once in the nightcap, in which all the Philly strikeouts were by Rube Walberg.
Mickey Cochrane caught the first game for the A’s, and also got four at bats in the nightcap before  being replaced by Cy Perkins (probably late, after Walberg was lifted in the seventh). We never see the pitcher in the film, not even a hint as to whether he’s a lefty or righty. We do see the third baseman, the second baseman, and probably the rightfielder. Conveniently, the same three guys played both games for the A’s on September 9, 1928: third baseman Jimmy Dyk es, second baseman Max Bishop, and rightfielder Bing Miller.
So, given that everybody sees long shadows, the better bet here is the second game. Thus the informed guess here — assuming MLBP’s 1928 date is accurate — is:
Date: September 9, 1928
Game: Yankees versus Philadelphia Athletics, Second Game
Attendance: 85, 265
Pitcher: Rube Walberg
Catcher: Mickey Cochrane
Third Baseman: Jimmy Dyk es
Second Baseman: Max Bishop
Rightfielder: Bing Miller
Umpires Visible: Brick Owens (Home), Bill MacGowan (third)
Third Base Coach: Art Fletcher
There is a very small percentage chance that the images could be from the other Yanks-A’s doubleheader on July 1, but the crowd isn’t packed enough. Kind of too bad: the A’s rightfielder for both games that day, just barely visible at the end of the film, was Ty Cobb!
The Times’ headlines that day tell us all else we need to know:

Largest Gathering in Game’s History Overflows Stadium– Receipts Are $115,000. 
Shirt-Sleeved Throng Cheers as New York Regains Lead From Athletics. 
Three Start Their Vigil Early on Saturday Evening–Mayor Walker Receives an Ovation. 
Yankee Stadium Too Small. Receipts Set a Record. Crowds on Apartment Houses. 
85,265 SEE YANKEES WIN AND TAKE LEAD 50,000 Linger Outside. Seventy in Line at Midnight.

Sorry about the delay on this, but you guys didn’t call, and I was in the hospital much of the evening, and I don’t carry my Okkonen with me.
Oh yeah, one other thing. I could’ve told you straight up that whatever it was or wasn’t, it certainly wasn’t Game One of the 1928 World Series. My friend, the venerable actor Norman Lloyd, stunned me one day by asking “Did I ever tell you about the first baseball game I saw in person? First Game of the World Series! How about that! The 1928 World Series! Babe Ruth slid into second base, ripped the seat of his pants. We howled! Normally the player runs to the bench for repairs. Not the Babe! Little man runs out to him with a sewing kit, patches him up right at second base! Tremendous! I was thirteen! I loved it.”
The video’s pretty clear. Babe Ruth’s pants have not been patched!



    Maybe I can shed some light on why this happened. You know how it is when you’re the kid in class who knows the answers, but the teacher gets tired of calling on you because they want to “hear from somebody else”? Perhaps that’s why they ignored your upraised hand. LOL.

    Or it could be that they just didn’t want to disturb you, figuring that you’re busily engaged in battle against greedy insurance companies and their pet politicians. 🙂

    As always, all the best to you, your father, and your family.


    Hey, unpaka… maybe it’s the same reason my father didn’t want me to work on whatever it was he was trying to repair, some thirty years ago. I asked if I could help, and he said “no”. When I asked why, he said “because you’ll fix it!” and then he laughed. He wanted to do it himself. By the way – how did you get those paragraphs to separate??

    Keith, I love that story! I have always enjoyed doing research, but I think you have me beat by a mile. Remind me never to challenge you on baseball history! Ever! 🙂 But I can’t imagine having a better or more interesting guide to the game than you.

    It’s the same as with the Christy Mathewson story – you had me deeply involved in the whole thing. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like doing research like that with you… I think it would be a blast!


    Keith, great post here!

    Also, I wanted to say thanks for referencing my minor league blog a few days ago. A couple of people emailed me about it, and I was amazed to actually see it. I’m obviously a big fan, so to receive a compliment from you means a lot. I couldn’t find an email address for you, so I sent a note to the Countdown email address. Just wanted to express my gratitude for that.

    Garrett Broshuis


    Wow. I’m just stunned. This is the greatest post on this blog so far. I don’t know why, maybe because it’s history, or because it’s The Babe, or because it’s just The Game, but I am close to tears. Not kidding.


    Good afternoon, Keith!
    I, too, enjoyed this post! As a nursing major pursuing a history minor, I understand the difficulties of interpreting primary sources and documents….A task you seem to have mastered!

    Next spring, my school will be offering a class on the history of baseball. I will probably be the only over-40 female to have ever enrolled in the course. (Very excited to get to do this, btw!)

    As always, best to you, your family, and most especially, your father…


    @olympictrees: I used HTML tags to separate my paragraphs. I’ll put brackets around the tags to illustrate, because if I used the regular symbols used in HTML, you wouldn’t be able to see them. 🙂

    To anyone who’s interested, just put [br][p] after each paragraph, and remember to substitute the proper symbols for them. MLB blogs can be a bit wonky, so sometimes the tags will work, and sometimes they won’t. I hope they’ll work on this comment I’m writing…!


    Keith, you are the #1 baseball detective out there, no doubt about it — and, unlike some researchers, you have both the gift of the gab and the gift of the pen (I hope we can still say that in the computer age…). If I can find someone as gifted with writing about hockey, I’ll be all set 🙂

    And‘s explanation is reasonable. In their place, I would probably think it was a trivial thing to come to you with, given everything you are going through. But some people have to keep busy, and you strike me as one of those persons. So don’t take it personally — you’ve never left a doubt as to the fact you are, indeed, a walking baseball encyclopedia…

    Still praying for your dad, even more so after your Special Comment, which I’ve referred everyone I know to your website to watch…


    Thanks, unpaka!

    Let’s see if this works….

    Hey – it seems to! Thanks very much!

    And Keith – you really do have a way with words. What is it they say about never getting in an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel? 🙂 But then, I have no reason to pick a fight with you. We’re on the same page so often it’s almost eerie, but I like it.

    Hugs to you and your father.


    Baseball has been in the back of my mind all day. My location for most of the day was the Jimmy Fund Clinic at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Children’s Hospitol in Boston. I was my son’s age when I went to my first Red Sox game at Fenway Park. Even then, while I didn’t know what it was, I noticed that the team supported the Jimmy Fund.
    When I got home from what was a gruelling day, I told my housemate that I was going to ‘watch my guy’ and then go to bed. Lawrence O’Donnell always does a wonderful job when he fills in for you but my heart sank. My best to you and your father and family. I know how much it sucks when someone you love is sick and you can’t make it go away. I wish I could be more eloquent, I just don’t have it in me right now.
    I check your blogs especially when you are not visible and this one made me smile. I got to point out a photo of a statue of Ted Williams to my son today and tell him about how that man taught his aunt how to swing a bat. (We went to school with his youngest daughter in Vermont.) I’ll tell him that story again when he doesn’t feel so rotten and I’m sure he will recognize how cool that story is. Got any suggestions for a good baseball history book? He’s 10.

    Mostly I just wanted to thank you. You have reminded me that even when things are ruff we need to embrace those things in life that help to soothe the soul. It was just what I needed.

    Be well.

  10. astrophann

    Excellent detective work, Keith – it all seems very plausible.

    My mom saw the network news piece on the film and she told me her first thought was, “Did they ask Olbermann about it? He would have a good a clue as anybody on this and probably better than most!

    It struck me that one might be able to take a look at the weather on that day, if records exist, and try to see if it fits what’s shown on the film.

    Hard shadows = sunny day

    Shirt sleeves = warm weather

    Unfortunately, I did NOT find any immediately locatable rain vs. sun data but I did find this:

    The top chart is the relevant one – daily (and presumeably nightly) temperatures, somewhat hard to nail down day for day exactly.

    The dots are weekly increments and if each dot begins on a Sunday (?) it’s looking like the temperature that day was mid 80’s which I would guess for New Yorkers circa 1928 would certainly equate to shirt-sleeve weather.

    I’ll leave it to people who know Yankee Stadium’s orientation in relation to the sun and the shadows it throws on the field at that time of year to hazard a guess to the film being shot during a first or second game of a double-header, if indeed it was shot that day – you make a good case that it was.

    Anyway, just another possible piece to the puzzle.
    Great blog, Keith and thanks for pointing out Garrett Broshuis’ blog – there’s some wonderful stuff in there and he’s an excellent writer.

    All the best to you and your family.


    Let’s say that it’s Gehrig at the plate preceding Ruth’s strikeout, and Gehrig appears to possibly hit a popup to the left side (***** starts leaning that way)… Thus, it’s Gehrig walking back to the dugout while Ruth is at the plate…
    In analyzing the Game 2 box score, I believe this batter footage would have occured in the bottom of the fourth…

    Here’s a possible outcome of the play-by-play:

    FIRST: Combs triple, Koenig RBI groundout, Gehrig strikeout, Ruth out

    SECOND: Meusel out (possible K), Lazzeri out, Dugan out

    THIRD: Bengough out, Heimach strikeout, Combs walk, Koenig out

    FOURTH: Gehrig out, Ruth strikeout, Meusel out (possible K)

    FIFTH: Lazzeri out, Dugan out, Bengough out

    SIXTH: Heimach strikeout, Combs strikeout, Koenig out

    SEVENTH: Gehrig walk, Ruth safe on fielder’s choice, Meusel single, Lazzeri out, Paschal RBI single, Gazella walk, Collins walk-RBI, Combs out

    EIGHTH: Koenig single, Gehrig double, Ruth walk, Meusel grand slam, Lazzeri out, Hoyt out, Gazella out

  12. andrews1969

    The NYT story page for that game has a shot of the centerfield bleachers (“shaving brushes” ad visible in photo and in film) and a story about how spectators removed coats and hats to enjoy the game in shirtsleeves. 4th inning of game 1 is most likely because Gehrig popped to 2nd base before Ruth struck out on 3 straight pitches, the last one called (according to NYT play by play). In Ruth’s other 2 strikeouts that day, the one in 1st inning of 1st game was with a runner on 3rd (clearly not the case in the film) and the one in the 2nd game was the 3rd out of the inning. However the previous poster has the play by play wrong — Koenig would be on first when Ruth strikes out.


    andrews1969: Game 1 makes sense because there’s no shadows yet moving in from the third base side (wasn’t Yankee Stadium like most parks in that the pitcher’s mound was northeast of home plate?). One would guess the September sky was low to the south and the top of the stadium in those days was more on top of the field. Maybe the filmmaker was not settled into his seat yet in the first inning and waited until Gehrig and Ruth’s next time up (thus, the fourth).

    Nice work securing the play-by-plays of the two games. However, I’m puzzled as to how Koenig was on first base in the 4th inning of Game 2, with Ruth making the final out. The box score indicates four runners left on base. Presumably, three of the four could have been in the seventh — Collins drawing bases loaded walk and Combs making third out (?). If Ruth struck out to end the fourth, that would leave seven batters for six outs, but no room for a left on base.

    Also, in the Game 1 play-by-play, were any runners on first or second in the fourth (with no outs) when Gehrig and Ruth batted? I ask because Cochrane did not whip the ball to third after the Ruth strikeout, which could lead one to think the A’s had something going. Hard to tell the body language of the third base coach.


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  15. Matt O.

    I have compiled a very detailed photo record of Yankee Stadium going back to the first day of construction in 1922 (about 5,000 photos). It’s collated by year, so I can compare photos at a glance. Looking at the photo record, while bunting was used for most special occasions in Yankee Stadium in the 1920s, there were exceptions. There was no bunting in Yankee Stadium for the 1923 World Series, 1925 Opening Day, or the 1926 World Series. The bunting set-up used for Opening Day 1923 is unique. Similar bunting is seen for both the 1927 & 1928 World Series, and for Opening Day 1929. I agree that the most likely date for the Babe Ruth in RF footage is the Sep 9 1928 DH vs Phi. Many of the best photographs of Yankee Stadium were taken that day.

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