In honor of the fact that I was going to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati this year, I read a book about the first All-Star game. I knew a few things about it already – that it happened in 1933 and that an aging Babe Ruth hit a 2-run homer. But that was about it. This was a great read, in part because of the personal fact I was going to this year’s version of the Midsummer Classic. But in general this was just a really good book. It was fun going to the game after reading this book – I remember walking into Great American Ballpark and thinking “This is the same tradition that started back in Chicago in 1933 with a Babe Ruth home run”.
I’m calling these posts “Sunday Stories: Major League Memoirs”. This is the second book I’ve covered. The first was a chronicle of the home run exploits of Babe Ruth. So Ruth has played a big part in both posts so far!
Title/Author/Publisher: “TheDay all the Stars Came Out: MLB’s First All-Star Game” by Lew Freedman (McFarland, 2010, 231 pages)
Description: The book is a beginning-to-end narrative of how MLB’s first All-Star Game came to be and then played out. The game was originally conceived by Arch Ward, the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune. His boss and owner of the Tribune, Colonel Robert McCormick, asked him to put together a sporting exhibition as part of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
At the time, this was viewed as a one-time deal, dubbed the “Game of the Century” by Ward. The game was such a success – despite being played in the midst of the Great Depression – that it soon became an annual rite of summer. Freedman’s book describes the game through the game’s conceptualization and build-up, then covers the playing of the game itself and the impact it would have on the sports world in the future. Freedman ends with a chapter detailing the accomplishments and the “where did the end up” of each of the players and managers involved.
My review: Overall, this was just a great book. It was a fast read, without a single part that seemed to drag. The first part of the book discusses how the All-Star game came to be – and it really trumpets Arch Ward as the driving force behind the creation of the idea. The book describes everything from how he got baseball’s power players involved to the fact that he offered up his annual salary if the game wasn’t a financial success. Ward basically put his career on the line – and then spent the 2 months between May (when the event was greenlit) to July (when it was played) doing everything he could to promote it. Despite the fact that an All-Star game is obviously about the players – I would say Ward was the star of this book. Freedman really shows not only how instrumental Ward was in making this first game a success.
He does cover the players, though, and does so in an interesting fashion. Each inning of the game gets its own chapter, and Freedman covers every single player who played in the game. He weaves their backgrounds into their current place at the bat or on the mound in the All-Star Game. For example, when covering the at bats for Bill Terry (the NL’s starting 1B and the NY Giants’ manager in 1933), Freedman covers the relationship between “Memphis Bill” and his former skipper John McGraw (who was honored with the manager spot for the NL).
Ruth was the star of this game – he hit a 2-run homer to pace the Americans’ victory, and he made an 8th inning catch to stifle a National League rally. And while Ruth was important, he doesn’t really get any more coverage in the book than any other of the All-Stars. In fact, Freedman covers Ruth’s homer in a great chapter. But as opposed to spending 10 pages recapping the Babe’s exploits, he covers the homer from the perspective of the bat boy John McBride.
The book finishes up with a look at the Negro League All-Star game that followed shortly after MLB’s “Game of the Century”. This was a cool feature, and it made me want to read the book that’s out there about that event. Finally, the book spends a chapter covering the rest of Arch Ward’s career, and another full chapter covering what each of the players and managers did after that game. This doesn’t just mean their baseball career – Freedman covers where the players lived and died after their career. He goes in order of their death, and it’s a cool touch to finish up the book.
Other Notable nuggets: This book has so many things that I just didn’t know. But it’s not just stuff about the more famous guys like Ruth, Gehrig, or McGraw. Here’s a few of them.
- I knew about the 1911 benefit game to help the family of Addie Joss after his untimely death. That game was a collection of AL All-Stars playing against his old team, the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians). But I didn’t know about the All-Star barnstorming tour that Joss actually played on as a rookie in 1902. The book covered this in one of the early chapters, discussing how Win Mercer killed himself after ostensibly gambling away his fellow players’ proceeds from the trip.
- FC Lane, a writer for Baseball Magazine, had championed the idea of an All-Star Series nearly 2 decades earlier.
- The Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 was a similar scale event as the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. The 1933 Fair introduced us to the All-Star game, but the 1893 version also produced another baseball staple – Cracker Jack!
- The book covers the unique relationship between Terry and McGraw, which began as extremely contentious before morphing into a situation where McGraw recommended Terry as his replacement. It also covers the relationship between Jimmy dykes and AL manager Connie Mack. Mack had been forced to sell Dykes to the White Sox the year before, but the two had a great rapport and Mack taught him well enough for Dykes to become a manager for over two decades himself. Like Terry and McGraw – Dykes wound up replacing his mentor when Mack retired in 1950.
- It’s all too common for today’s athletes to be tattooed to the gills. But one pitcher on the 1933 team, Al “General” Crowder was notable for having enough tattoos to be called a “human picture gallery”.
- The NL and AL used different balls back then (they actually did so until 2000). Like the selection of Comiskey Park over Wrigley Field, this was a point of contention. The umpires switched balls mid-way through the game, after the top of the 4th.
- The 2nd All-Star game was played in the Polo Grounds in 1934. It had a national fair tie-in as well – for 300 years of New York sports.
- Ward was offered the role of NFL commissioner, but turned it down to stay at the Tribune. He later helped form a competitor of the NFL – the AAFC. He also created the annual Chicago All-Star Football Classic.