Babe Ruth bet makes fine baseball trivia

By David Stevens: CNJ editor

Trivia question: Name the one-time Bailey County landowner who was roommates with Babe Ruth and helped the New York Yankees win the 1927 World Series.

If you said Wilcy Moore, then you must be a baseball-trivia expert. Now maybe you can help settle the mystery related to the Babe’s bet with the Yankees’ rookie pitcher prior to the 1927 season.

I’ve written about Moore, and his nephew with the same name, many times before. Wilcy Moore of Muleshoe, 75, said Saturday he still grows cotton on the land his uncle bought with money earned playing baseball.

The senior Wilcy Moore died in 1963 at age 65. He was famous enough that his passing warranted mention on The Associated Press wire and in The New York Times.

Moore’s big-league baseball career was solid — six seasons, 53 wins, including two in the World Series — but hardly worth mentioning in the same paragraph with Ruth, who hit 714 home runs and is still considered by many to be the game’s all-time greatest slugger.

Here’s why they go together:

Moore had a lively sinkerball and quickly earned the respect of his Yankees teammates when he came on board for his rookie season in 1927. But when batting, he couldn’t hit a beach ball with a boat oar.

Ruth was so amused — and amazed — by his new friend’s inability to make contact at the plate that he offered up what he thought was a sure bet.

Until recently, I thought that bet went like this:

Ruth put up $300 to Moore’s $100 that Moore would not get three hits the entire 1927 season. Moore surprised everyone by managing six hits that year.

But while researching the Ruth-Moore wager for a recent speaking engagement — I tell weird stories to any group willing to listen — I stumbled across Moore’s obituary written by AP for The New York Times.

The story reported on a bet that went like this:

“Moore, who was Babe Ruth’s roommate for several years, once won a bet with Ruth of $300 against $15 that he couldn’t hit a home run.”

I called the younger Wilcy Moore on Saturday to see what he thought about this second version of the bet. He thinks the AP got it wrong. His uncle, he said, would not have made such a bet because he knew he was not likely to hit a home run.

Indeed, Wilcy Moore recorded 205 official at-bats in the major leagues, managing just 21 hits (a .102 average) and striking out 97 times.

But there is one statistic that seems to give credence to the AP report in 1963.

Moore hit one home run in his career. It came in 1927.

Ruth “fell off the bench,” when he hit it, AP reported.

Both versions of the bet end the same way: Wilcy Moore won and used Ruth’s $300 to buy two mules for his farm in Oklahoma; he named one mule Babe, the other Ruth.

Moore kept the mules for 10 years before trading them in on a tractor.

Either way, the Wilcy Moore story is a fun one.

David Stevens is editor for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. Contact him at 1-800-819-9925 or by e-mail: david_stevens@link.freedom.com