Watch Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Taking Batting Practice in Strikingly Restored Footage (1931)

How would Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and other famous ballplayers of bygone eras fare if put on the diamond today? Variations on that question tend to come up in conversation among enthusiasts of baseball and its history, and different people bring different kinds of evidence to bear in search of an answer: statistics, eyewitness accounts, analogies between particular historical players and current ones. But the fact remains that none of us have ever actually seen the likes of Ruth, who played his last professional game in 1935, and Gehrig, who did so in 1939, in their prime. But now we can at least get a little closer by watching the film clip above, which shows both of the titanic Yankees at batting practice on April 11, 1931.

What’s more, it shows them moving at real-life speed. “Fox Movietone sound cameras made slow-motion captures of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at batting practice during an exhibition practice in Brooklyn, New York,” writes uploader Guy Jones (whose other baseball videos include Ruth hitting a home run on opening day the same year and Ruth’s last appearance at bat a decade later). “With modern technology, we can witness this footage adjusted to a normal speed which results in a very high framerate.”

In other words, the film shows Ruth and Gehrig not just moving in the very same way they did in real life, but captured with a smoothness uncommon in newsreel footage from the 1930s. For comparison, Jones includes at the end of the video “more footage of the practice (shot at typical fps) and the original un-edited slow-mo captures.”

Unfortunately, what this film reveals doesn’t impress observers of modern baseball. “Ruth and Gehrig in no way look like a modern ballplayer,” writes The Big Lead’s Kyle Koster. “Ruth is off-balance, falling into his swing. Gehrig routinely lifts his back foot off the ground. Again, it’s batting practice so the competitive juices weren’t flowing. But even by that standard, the whole exercise looks sloppy and inefficient.” Cut4’s Jake Mintz gets harsher, as well as more technical: “Tell me Ruth’s cockamamie swing mechanics would enable him to hit a 98-mph heater.” As for the Iron Horse, his “hack is a little better,” but still “absurdly low” by today’s standards. It goes to show, Mintz writes, that “these two legends, while undeniably transcendent in their time, would be good Double-A hitters at best if they played today.” We evolve, our technologies evolve, and so, it seems, do the games we play.

Related Content:

Home Movies of Duke Ellington Playing Baseball (And How Baseball Coined the Word “Jazz”)

Read Online Haruki Murakami’s New Essay on How a Baseball Game Launched His Writing Career

Fritz Lang’s M: The Restored Version of the Classic 1931 Film

Immaculately Restored Film Lets You Revisit Life in New York City in 1911

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Comments (4)
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  • god says:

    These critics are ridiculous. Yes, Ruth with that closed foot swing could never hit a 93MPH slider on the black but HE NEVER HAD TO DO THAT IN HIS BASEBALL CAREER. Therefore, to compare Ruth & Gehrig to modern baseball is absurd. This is like me saying, “Abraham Lincoln, while transcendent in his time, would be a good small time mayor at best if he lived today.”

    Open Culture, why not just present this cool video of these two American icons & let it be? There was no need to include this unnecessary modern day scouting report.

  • Dave says:

    Unfortunately, openculture is run by lefties. They have to editorialize. I wonder if this will make it past their monitors.
    I agree this is VERY cool footage. This should be watched respectfully not critically. One of the first games I saw at Fenway was when Ted Williams was manager of the Washington Senators. I too have a high appreciation of those who made this game what it is. I will never compare eras because it’s foolish.

    • DC says:

      Nice attempt to turn a completely apolitical post into a political one. You should at least save your trolling for posts that actually have a political subtext.

      In the meantime, we’re glad that, despite the lefty commentary, you’re still getting good use of the site.


  • R J Smith says:

    In 1931 we are still working on high-speed photography.  Kodak was working on high-speed filming but there was no high-speed film in 1931. We had sound on a record for film back then and they had to be started at the same time. Plus you can tell the sound is faked. But it’s still cool to see.

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