In 1975, Kirk Kandle figured out he had something special. At the time, the now 60-year-old freelance copywriter and graphic artist was in his mid-20s, living in Frankfort, Ky., and working a low-paying public relations job for state government. Kandle had picked up the Sunday magazine in the Louisville Courier-Journal and found out he was the owner of one of the rarest artifacts in baseball history.
The magazine article that opened Kandle’s eyes was a collection of baseball myths and legends that had been compiled by a C-J writer. Accompanying the article was an illustration of Babe Ruth pointing to the sky just before the “Called Shot” of the 1932 World Series
, one of the most debated at-bats in baseball history. Some fans believe the New York Yankee legend was pointing up to “call” his second home run before he actually hit it. Others, especially Chicago Cubs fans, feel just as strongly that Ruth was simply pointing out a boisterous Cubs fan who was calling him names, and that Ruth and others invented the “Called Shot” later.
According to the Sunday magazine article that Kandle read, the controversy raged on for decades because there was no newsreel footage or still photos of Ruth’s home run. “It said, ‘There is more myth than fact about the legend of Babe Ruth’s called shot,’” Kandle remembers. “This article made the little four- or five-year-old in me jump up and down.”
Kandle got so excited because he knew the footage of the “Called Shot” existed. As a child, Kandle remembers sitting in the basement of his Chicago home while his father would put a white sheet on the wall and project 16mm home movies he had inherited from his grandfather, Matt Miller Kandle Sr. During the Great Depression, Matt Sr. (Kirk’s grandfather and father are also named Matt Kandle) was a printer and inventor who liked to toy with new things. In 1932, the movie camera
qualified as a new thing, so Matt Sr. borrowed one from his employer, R.R. Donnelley, to play around with. The majority of the films he made were of family vacations or relatives puttering around the house. Only one of them is sports-related. Matt Sr. had taken his daughter Gladys to the third game of the World Series where he filmed every potential home run hitter. He got two home runs from Babe Ruth including the infamous “Called Shot.”
“After I read the article, I got on the phone and asked my dad, ‘Am I dreaming? Don’t we have this footage of Babe Ruth in the ’32 World Series?’” Kandle explains. “It was such a vague memory because it was from early childhood. I remembered my dad showing these home movies – out West with the Indians and that sort of thing. When this particular home movie (of Babe Ruth) would come up, my dad would be like, ‘You have to watch this carefully.’”
Kandle called the Courier-Journal reporter who’d written the baseball legends article to let him know there was footage of the game. The reporter and a photographer showed up at Kandle’s home to see for themselves. The Village Voice
has called Kandle’s footage “the Zapruder film of baseball,” but unfortunately it is not as definitive as that film of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Matt Sr. was sitting rather high up in Wrigley Field
, and from his footage you can make out Ruth pointing before the home run but you can’t tell if he’s calling his shot or gesturing toward the screaming fan.
“One film producer said he wished they could have gotten my great grandfather better seats,” Kandle laments. “But it is what it is. It’s a fragile image of this legendary event.”
It’s amazing that the film exists at all. The Ruth footage has survived several moves to different cities, a flooded basement, and Kandle’s father running it through an ancient projector known for burning film. Today, the original footage sits in a safety deposit box at a Stockyards Bank in downtown Louisville. (Kandle also likes to point out that Ruth hit the infamous home run with a Louisville Slugger
.) Scenes from Matt Sr.’s film have been used in Ken Burns’ “Baseball”
documentary on PBS, in a Diane Sawyer interview of former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (the game was one of the justice’s earliest memories), and most recently, in August on ESPN when the Yankees and the Cubs met for only the second time since 1932.
Kandle maintains a website, http://thecalledshot.com
, and has a lawyer on retainer who fields requests to use the footage and protects his copyright of the material. He receives a small royalty for use of the film that varies depending on intentions of the filmmaker. Over the years there have been numerous requests for Kandle to donate the footage, as well as offers to buy it from as far away as Japan. Kandle, who also writes a bike blog called “PedalAround” (http://pedalaround.blogspot.com
), says he plans to hold on to the film for the foreseeable future and pass it down to his own son, Adam, because it’s hard to put a price on something that is one of a kind and also of sentimental value.
“I’ve become the custodian of this holy grail of baseball,” Kandle says. “If I could ever market this right, I’m not opposed to making millions of dollars off this thing. But if that happened, I’d set up a trust for the funds to help a youth-serving organization do something fun, like teach some kids to play baseball.”