Thanks to the great work of Tom Shieber, a more definitive date has been determined for Babe Ruth’s home run in the classic film Speedy (see here for video). In a post over four years ago, I declared the mystery solved, having deduced that Harold Lloyd filmed Babe Ruth’s 54th home run in the second game of a double header against the Chicago White Sox on September 18, 1927. However, Shieber has made a more convincing argument that Lloyd never filmed the Bambino at all (or at least didn’t use his own footage of Ruth in Speedy). Rather, Ruth’s trip around the bases almost assuredly seems to be stock footage from the 1926 World Series. You can read below for why I had assumed Lloyd had filmed Ruth at the end of 1927, but perhaps I should have paid more attention to the significant filming delays that Lloyd encountered due to rain. This might have necessitated a short cut, and, thus the need to use stock footage. If so, it stands to reason that only World Series film would be available. For more details about Shieber’s deduction, click the link above.
Although the Ruth home run in Speedy has been identified, that still leaves one more mystery…from when is the footage of Ruth striking out? At the risk of making the same mistake twice, if we assume this event was actually filmed by Lloyd (Ruth’s only strike out at home in the 1926 World Series occurred with the bases empty, so it doesn’t seem likely Lloyd would have access to film of another home strikeout if he didn’t shoot it himself), there’s only one possibility: August 31 vs. the Red Sox. In the first inning of that game, Ruth struck out with Earle Combs on third and Mark Koenig on first. I won’t say mystery solved this time, but the events of August 31 fit the fact pattern.
Original Post on February 25, 2011 Follows Below
Larry Granillo’s (Baseball Prospectus and Wezen-Ball) recent forensic investigation into Ferris Buehler’s whereabouts on his now infamous day off made for one of the more creative and entertaining blog posts in quite some time. For those who missed the piece, Granillo attempted (and succeeded) to determine the date of the game that Buehler attended with his fellow truants by analyzing the footage from WGN that was used in the movie.
In addition to being greatly amused by Granillo’s investigation, it got me to thinking about how many other unsolved baseball mysteries remain cloaked in movie clips from years gone by? The list of unidentified baseball references on the silver screen are probably too numerous to count, so let’s start at the beginning by examining one of the first movies to incorporate live baseball action into its script.
The movie in question is called Speedy (which will be featured at this year’s Rhode Island International Film Festival in August). Created by renowned silent-era funny man Harold Lloyd, the comedy tells the tale of hapless Harold “Speedy” Swift, whose addiction to the Yankees constantly interferes with his ability to remain employed. During the course of the movie, this compulsion causes Speedy to lose several jobs, including one as a taxi cab driver, but not before having the chance to chauffeur Babe Ruth in a harrowing ride from Manhattan to Yankee Stadium.
Speedy was Lloyd’s last silent film and resulted in his only Academy Award nomination, but more than anything, it is best remembered today for the spectacular footage filmed in 1927-era New York City. The extensive on-location filming pushed the movie’s price tag toward $1 million, an unheard of figure for the era, but Lloyd’s expense immediately paid off thanks to the buzz his month-long stay in New York created.
Over the years, the movie’s archival footage has made it even more valuable as a historical reference. As Speedy whirls around the town, we get detailed glimpses of a city brimming with motor cars, horse-drawn carriages, trolleys, and elevated trains. The movie also includes vivid images of Luna Park in Coney Island, Columbus Circle, the Brooklyn Bridge, Penn Station, the Battery, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, and most importantly to baseball fans, Yankee Stadium, which is where the real point of this exercise begins.
The first glimpse of Yankee Stadium occurs early on in the movie (4:32 in the first clip). Unfortunately, the lack of clarity and detail prevents the date of the game from being indentified…at least to this point. In the meantime, we’re treated to several amusing scenes as Speedy endeavors to perform his duties while keeping tabs on the ongoing game via telephone calls to Yankee Stadium and a visit to a public scoreboard outside the local sporting goods store (which we’ll examine later).