Midsummer Classic: ’33 All-Star Game Started It All
The Great Depression was well into the third of its dreadful dozen years as 1933 dawned. And as if things weren’t bad enough, Adolph Hitler became German chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933.
But contrary to the doom and gloom of that winter were the words of a true optimist, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who strongly emphasized at the opening of his first inaugural address, March 4, 1933, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
With dread, misery and anxiety gripping millions of people across our nation and FDR trying to assuage such despair, Chicago’s leaders decided to go ahead with plans to stage another world’s fair. Called “The Century of Progress Exposition,” this fair was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the city of Chicago.
It was also hoped that such a fair could somehow put a bit of joy and fun into the lives of those suffering from the doldrums of the Great Depression. Every bit of entertainment that served as a distraction was highly valued.
The astute and politically well-connected 36-year-old sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, Arch Ward, came up with such a one-day distraction for his fellow Chicagoans when he dreamed up the idea of an all-star baseball game pitting the best players from the American League against the best from the National League. It would be a big event in July, midway through the run of the “Century of Progress Exposition.”
Such an all-star game might, in Ward’s opinion, also help dispel some of the lingering distrust Chicago fans felt in the aftermath of the Black Sox Scandal. That was when eight players of the Chicago White Sox were accused of but eventually acquitted of dumping games in the 1919 World Series won by the Cincinnati Reds.
Ward succeeded in convincing MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the 16 MLB club owners to stage this all-star game as part of Chicago’s World’s Fair.
This first MLB All-Star game was held July 6, 1933, in the original Comiskey Park, home of those Chicago White Sox.
It was a rousing success because the one thing the fans wanted to see above all else happened that day. Babe Ruth, the No. 1 player of his generation and possibly of MLB history, hit the game-winning, 2-run home run in the third inning to give the AL a 3-0 lead. The AL went on to win, 4-2.
NL All-Stars included Pepper Martin, St. Louis Cardinals’ third baseman; Bill Terry, New York Giants’ first baseman; Frankie Frisch, Cardinals’ second baseman and the Cardinals’ southpaw pitcher, Bill Hallahan, who gave up the home run to Ruth. Some AL All-Stars were Joe Cronin, Washington Senators’ shortstop; Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees’ first baseman; Charlie Gehringer, Detroit Tigers’ second baseman, plus Lefty Gomez of the Yankees and Lefty Grove of the Tigers pitching.
But the fans went to Comiskey Park that day to see Babe Ruth in the twilight of his career. And the “Sultan of Swat” did not let them down.
Babe Ruth, with his Yankee home runs during the Roarin’ Twenties, was the single most important person to assure the survival of MLB after the Black Sox Scandal nearly destroyed it. Similarly, Ruth was the single most important figure in making sure that the MLB All-Star game became an annual affair when he cracked that winning homer at Comiskey Park.
The 82nd MLB All-Star game will be held Tuesday, at Chase Field in Phoenix, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. We can thank Arch Ward and the Babe for that.
Babe Ruth also figured prominently, if not heroically, in the second MLB All-Star game that was held July 10, 1934, in the New York Giants’ Polo Grounds. Even though the AL eventually won the game, 9-7, it was the home team’s mighty left hander, Carl Hubbell, who stole the show when he turned in one of the most memorable pitching efforts in MLB history and certainly the best such performance to date in any MLB All-Star game.
Known as “King Carl,” the Giants southpaw made a living by throwing a screwball, a pitch that broke in toward a left-handed batter and away from a right-handed batter. This was opposite to the direction of a left-hander’s curve.
The Giants’ ace started the game for the NL and was quickly in trouble. Charlie Gehringer of the Detroit Tigers led off the game with a single and Heinie Manush, a Washington Senators’ outfielder, walked. “King Carl” was in deep trouble with Babe Ruth coming to bat as just the first of a number of typical AL heavy-hitting sluggers due up.
But the screwball ace proceeded to execute one of the most amazing pitching feats in history by striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, the Philadelphia Athletics’ third baseman, to end the first inning. And Hubbell was not finished. He then completed this astounding effort by striking out Al Simmons, the Chicago White Sox outfielder, and Joe Cronin to begin the top of the second inning.
Thus Hubbell struck out MLB’s five leading home run hitters in a row.
Carl Hubbell plus the entire 1934 AL starting lineup are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to the seven AL All-Stars listed above there was the Yankees’ battery of Bill Dickey catching and Lefty Gomez pitching.
Those first two All-Star games were surely enjoyable distractions from the horrors and fears of the Great Depression. Baseball was truly our National Pastime in the 1930s. The entire season was a source of distraction for MLB fans. Baseball games were similar to motion pictures in that they were both important means of forgetting the Great Depression for a few hours.
Although the AL won the first three All-Star games and was rather dominant in the early “Midsummer Classics” by winning 12 of the first 16 games, the NL now holds a slight edge with 41 victories to 38 for the AL. There were two ties. The NL went ahead to stay when the Senior Circuit ran two long winning streaks of eight and then eleven in a row to take 19 of 20 games, 1963—1982.
Since the first All-Star game was in 1933, one might expect this year’s game to be the 79th annual game. But it is the 82nd because two All-Star games were played in each of four years (1959—1962) and there was no All-Star game played in 1945, the final year of World War II.
The home run derby that was added to the All-Star show in 1985 proves that TV can be truly boring at times. That display of baseball muscle is strictly a television show the night before the All-Star game that gives ESPN another excuse to remain noisy for no good reason.
Following the 7-7, 11-inning tie in 2002, it was decided that the All-Star game should be a bit more important than it was. So MLB, led by its one and only commissioner, Bud Selig, pronounced that from that point forward the All-Star game winning league would have the home field advantage in that year’s World Series. This is another of MLB’s foolish ideas because no matter how the All-Star game is played it is nothing more than a delightful exhibition of excellent players.
Arch Ward started something in the Great Depression that was a substantial diversion so needed at the time. MLB should not try to tell us it is a serious game.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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