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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