from Yeah, What Else?
There was a great commercial that ran during the recent (2012) baseball playoffs and World Series. Former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood is walking along the ivy-covered outfield wall at Wrigley Field with a State Farm agent, talking about the “discount double-check.” Kerry says he used to do an “ivy double-check” before home games, because people leave all kinds of things in the ivy. He reaches in and pulls out an old cell phone, a French horn, and—surprise—Andre Dawson, a Cubs star and Hall of Famer from the late-eighties.
I can envision my own version of that walk. I would reach into the ivy and out would come my uncle, Frank “Pat” Pieper, and George Herman “Babe” Ruth.
Uncle Pat was born in Hanover, Germany, in February of 1886. The family immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Denver. As a young man, Pat left home for Chicago to seek his fortune. He went to work for the Cubs organization in 1904, starting as a vendor at the West Side Grounds where the Cubs played their games. When the franchise was purchased and moved to what is now Wrigley Field in 1916, he became the field announcer.
Uncle Pat’s job was to announce the lineups, the batters, the defensive changes, and so on. One problem: Wrigley Field did not have a public address (PA) system until 1932. From 1916 until the system was installed, he made his announcements by way of a very large megaphone. I’ve seen pictures from those days captioned “Pat Pieper and his Pipes.”
When the PA system was installed in 1932, Uncle Pat was given a small table near the backstop, behind home plate on the third base side. And that’s where he worked until he was past his eightieth birthday and the club decided to move him to the press box for safety.
During his fifty-nine years as the Cubs field announcer, he missed only sixteen games; none after 1924. His signature line, one you would hear before every home game, was this: “Attention… attention please… have your pencils and scorecards ready and I’ll give you the correct lineups for today’s ballgame…” My wife Barbara grew up in Chicago attending games at Wrigley Field and she remembers the voice and that familiar phrase. She was back at the stadium for a game in the summer of 1975 and she realized that something had changed. The familiar voice wasn't there. Later she learned Pat Pieper had passed away in October 1974.
He is honored with a star on the Cubs Walk of Fame outside the ballpark. In the summer of 2002, I was in Chicago to visit my dear friends, Lee Nidetz and Moira Higgins, and help them celebrate the ten-year anniversary of their consulting firm, Technology Staffing Resources, Inc. Part of that celebration was a trip to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the Giants. As we waited outside the stadium for our group to assemble, I found myself standing next to the Walk of Fame. Moira snapped a picture of me with Uncle Pat’s star.
Now, what about Babe Ruth, the other guy that I pulled out of the ivy? Well, that brings us to the legend of the Called Shot Homerun.
It was the third game of the 1932 World Series, Cubs vs. the Yankees at Wrigley Field. Babe came to bat in the fifth inning, Charlie Root on the mound for the Cubs. The Cubs bench was riding Ruth mercilessly, and the Babe was giving it right back to them. With two strikes, Ruth began to gesture with his right hand, a fact confirmed years later by the discovery of a home movie taken by Matt Kandle, Sr. Was Ruth pointing at the Cubs dugout? Was he pointing at Charlie Root? Or was he pointing to the center field wall, indicating that’s where he would hit the ball? Whatever the case, he hit the next pitch an estimated 440 feet into the right center field bleachers. The Yankees won game three and then won game four to sweep the series.
A New York sportswriter, Joe Williams, was the one who coined the phrase “Called Shot.” No one else but Mr. Williams seemed to notice. Babe Ruth didn’t say anything about it for several days, but finally seemed to realize it made for a great story. Did he really call his shot? There is testimony on both sides saying “yes he did” or “no he didn’t.” From my research, the consensus is this: we’ll never know for sure.
But wait a minute. What about the field announcer, sitting back there by the backstop? What did Pat Pieper have to say? In an interview with the Loveland (Colorado) Reporter-Herald, given in June 1971, this is what he said:
Don’t let anybody tell you the Babe didn’t point to the bleachers before he slammed that homer off Charlie Root. I know, I had the best seat in the house. Babe shouted to Guy Bush, the Cub pitcher who was heckling him from the bench: ‘That’s two strikes, but watch this,’ as he pointed to the right field stands. Root came in belt high with the next pitch and, wham, it was gone.
So, after all the experts have had their say and after all the eyewitnesses are long gone, what are we to believe? I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll go with Uncle Pat.