He Had The Babe’s Number – Shucks Pruett
by Paul Semendinger
August 26, 2021
(This article also appeared in the IBWAA Newsletter, “Here’s The Pitch.”)
I know the first question most people are going to ask… Who was Shucks Pruett?
Hub “Shucks” Pruett was a left-handed pitcher who pitched in the Major Leagues from 1922 to 1924 with the St. Louis Browns, then again from 1927 to 1928 with the Philadelphia Phillies, and then again in 1930 with the New York Giants, and then finally in 1932 with the Boston Braves.
Hub Pruett pitched in 211 Major League games, with 69 starts. In his career, he had a 29-48 record with a 4.63 ERA.
Great, he wasn’t.
But, ol’ “Shucks” (because he was known not to curse) had a skill unlike most others. The man knew how to pitch to the greatest batter of his age, or any age, George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Using a “fadeaway” (the same pitch made famous by Christy Mathewson), Pruett baffled the Babe time and time again.
And this is where it gets fun.
We know that Pruett had a lot of success against Ruth, but how good he was is up for debate.
Baseball research is fun, if sometimes frustrating. Even today, with all the data available to us, it is still an inexact science.
Let’s take a look:
According to Wikipedia, of the Babe’s first 14 plate appearances against Pruett, 10 ended with the Babe striking out. The other four at-bats resulted in three walks (one intentional) and a bounce out to the pitcher. In his 15th plate appearance, as one might imagine, the Babe homered.
Hub Pruett’s 1982 obituary from UPI has the Babe striking out in 10 of the first 13 times they faced each other.
The Baseball Reference Bullpen credits Pruett with striking out the Babe 13 times in 16 at-bats.
According to this article from ESPN, “Hub struck out Ruth the first 13 times he faced him. Ruth batted against Shucks a total of 17 times in 1922 and struck out 15 times.”
In Leigh Montville’s The Big Bam, he notes, “Every hitter in history, no matter how successful, comes across a pitcher and a pitch he can’t handle. Shucks was that pitcher for Ruth … In the first 12 times he faced Ruth … [he recorded] nine strikeouts, two walks, and a tapper back to the mound for an out.”
Author Robert Smith describes these showdowns in Babe Ruth’s America: “Even at the plate he found a nemesis, a kid left-hander with St. Louis who seemed to hold some hypnotic spell over Babe. Ten times out of the first fifteen [times] that Ruth faced Hub Pruett, that rookie struck him out.”
In The Life That Ruth Built, Marshall Smelser describes this all as such: “Pruett was Ruth’s master. 1922 was Pruett’s first and best season. The first time he faced Ruth he came in in relief and struck him out with three pitches (he did the same to Cobb). Ruth struck out ten of the next twelve times he faced Pruett.” This book claims that Ruth hit only .182 against Pruett in his career.
Finally, we turn to Robert W. Creamer. His book, Babe: The Legend Comes To Life, has long been considered one of the best (if not the best) biographies of Babe Ruth. Creamer notes, “The Browns won the second game of the series, 5-1, as Sisler batted safely in his 41st consecutive game, a record that stood until Joe DiMaggio broke it in 1941. The winning St. Louis pitcher was Hub Pruett … who is also an integral part of Ruth’s legend. The legend says Pruett struck out Ruth every time they met, and while that is not so, the truth is almost as impressive … Ruth batted twelve times against Pruett and had struck out nine times.”
In the end, these are just details. The bottom line is that Shucks Pruett had the Babe’s number. Babe Ruth struck out often against Pruett. According to the UPI obituary, in his career, the Babe batted just .190 against him.
All the sources are in agreement that once the Babe finally connected with a hit, the result was a home run. It seems that on that pitch, Pruett abandoned his fadeaway (due to a sore arm or a signal from his catcher — or both) and went with the curve. It didn’t work.
Pruett, who later became a physician, credits baseball and the Babe for providing him with the finances necessary to put him through medical school.
Shucks Pruett was highlighted in a May 1964 Sports Illustrated article stating,
“My won-and-lost record doesn’t look too impressive. What got me a reputation and kept me in baseball were those dramatic strikeouts of Ruth. Seeing the Babe strike out was almost as exciting as seeing him hit a home run. I owe him a lot. I only spoke to him once in my life. I met him in 1948 here in St. Louis at a baseball dinner sponsored by the Ford Foundation. Babe was receiving an award from The Sporting News. I went up and introduced myself and said, ‘Thanks, Babe, for putting me through medical school. If it hadn’t been for you, nobody would ever have heard of me.’ The Babe remembered me. He said, ‘I’m glad there weren’t many more like you. I never would have gotten by in the major leagues. If I had anything to do with making you a doctor, well, I’m glad I helped somebody.’ “
Paul Semendinger, Ed.D., is an elementary school principal and is also the Editor-in-Chief of Starting Spreading the News, a blog primarily about the Yankees. At 53 years old, Paul just pitched the game of his life in a baseball tournament at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown helping his team win the tournament. You can follow him on Twitter @DrPaulRSem.
Paul’s new book about the Yankees, The Least Among Them, will be released by Artemesia Publishing in October. There will be a FREE Book Launch Celebration at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, NJ on Sunday, October 10, 2021 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. All are invited!!! Please register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/free-yankees-book-launch-special-event-the-least-among-them-tickets-167100178131