Did shooting of Billy Jurges lead to Babe Ruth's 'called shot'?

  • Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges.

    Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges. COURTESY OF THE JACK BALES COLLECTION

  • Violet Popovich, flanked by her lawyers, Herbert G. Immenhausen and James M. Burke.

    Violet Popovich, flanked by her lawyers, Herbert G. Immenhausen and James M. Burke. COURTESY OF BILL HAGEMAN

  • Hotel Carlos, where Violet Popovich shot Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges.

    Hotel Carlos, where Violet Popovich shot Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges. COURTESY OF THE JACK BALES COLLECTION

  • COURTESY OF JACK BALES Cover of the book "The Chicago Cub Shot for Love: A Showgirl's Crime of Passion and the 1932 World Series."

    COURTESY OF JACK BALES Cover of the book "The Chicago Cub Shot for Love: A Showgirl's Crime of Passion and the 1932 World Series."

 
Updated 7/3/2021 5:51 PM

Babe Ruth's "called shot" in the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field might not have happened if it weren't for another uncalled shot.

That shot is the subject of a new book by Aurora native Jack Bales, "The Chicago Cub Shot for Love: A Showgirl's Crime of Passion and the 1932 World Series," published by The History Press.

 

On July 6, 1932, 21-year-old Violet Popovich, a former chorus girl with the Earl Carroll Vanities, shot 24-year-old Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges in Jurges' room at the Hotel Carlos in Chicago.

Popovich had been dating Jurges and said if it "wasn't love at first sight, it was just about second." But Jurges later said he liked being "single, running around and having a lot of fun."

The Cubs were to play the Phillies at Wrigley Field. Jurges and Popovich were staying in rooms on different floors at the hotel, located near the ballpark on Sheffield Avenue.

That morning, Popovich visited his room, Room 509, and told him she wanted to get back together, but he said he wanted to concentrate on winning the pennant.

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After she asked for a glass of water, he left the room. By the time he returned, she had pulled a revolver from her purse. The two struggled, and she fired three shots, hitting Jurges in the right side and the left hand, while wounding herself in the left arm.

Popovich told police she intended to harm herself, but later confessed to her sister-in-law, "I was very angry and I wanted to kill him."

Evidence indicated Popovich had been involved with other players, including Kiki Cuyler, and Dodgers catcher and future White Sox manager Al Lopez, who had warned Jurges of her "bad reputation."

Both Jurges and Popovich recovered, but the matter reached a Chicago courtroom, where Judge John A. Sbarbaro, a Cubs fan -- on the urging of Jurges, who didn't want to pursue the matter -- dismissed the case.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The scandal faded into obscurity, though Popovich briefly capitalized on it by appearing as a singer in a Chicago burlesque theater under the name Violet Valli, "the girl who shot for love," backed by a chorus of "Bare Cub Girls."

Bales, who wrote, "Before They Were the Cubs: The Early Years of Chicago's First Professional Baseball Team," said the shooting indirectly led to Ruth's "called shot."

Because of Jurges' injury and the firing of player-manager Rogers Hornsby, the Cubs signed former Yankee infielder Mark Koenig. When the Cubs won the National League pennant, his teammates denied Koenig a full share of World Series money. Among the no votes was Jurges, who argued Koenig did not play the whole season.

Bales said, "The thing is that in 1932, Billy played in 115 games, and Mark Koenig played in just 33 games, even though he played really well."

Koenig's snub rankled the American League champion Yankees, who razzed the Cubs from the dugout, with writer Shirley Povich penning, "The Cubs' stinginess fired the Yankees to new heights." The conflict reached a climax in Game 3 when Ruth allegedly pointed to center field at Wrigley Field and called his shot.

Bales, a retired librarian from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., gathered fresh material and also spoke with Jurges' daughter and grandson and Popovich's nephew for greater insight.

Jurges' daughter, Suzanne Price, told Bales she was aware of the shooting, but "It was never mentioned in our house."

Bales said he came to feel sorry for Popovich, but doesn't excuse her behavior.

"All she wanted was a nice relationship" with a baseball player. "She certainly didn't have it at home."

Popovich was the product of a broken home caused by an abusive father and spent five or six years of her childhood in an orphanage.

"She even had to testify in court against her father," he said.

In the book, Jurges emerges as something of an enigma. An intense competitor and a superb fielder, he is portrayed as someone principally concerned with his profession.

Cubs first baseman Phil Cavarretta once said, "Billy Jurges would go out, play hard, go through a brick wall for you."

The shooting had an eerie echo when Ruth Ann Steinhagen shot Eddie Waitkus of the Phillies at Chicago's Edgewater Beach Hotel in 1949.

Author Bernard Malamud may have had either or both shootings in mind while writing "The Natural."

Waitkus and Jurges wound up as Cub teammates in the late 1940s. In fact, Waitkus played in Jurges' last major league game.

Bales said he has received positive reaction to the book from the families of Popovich, who died in 2000, and Jurges, who died in 1997.

Jurges' grandson Bill Price told Bales, "I will be buying copies for various friends and family. Hopefully, I'll personally push the title to the top of The New York Times bestseller list."

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