1933 "Game of the Century"
gave birth to Major League Baseball All-Star Game
By Joe O'Shea
By all accounts, including Joe Cullinane's, it was a beautiful day in Chicago when he saw the Babe in pinstripes for the first time.
On that sweltering hot day, little Joe Cullinane got lucky in the serendipitous manner reserved only for carefree 10-year-olds. While Cullinane was hanging around his home, probably with a slingshot in his back pocket, a neighbor asked if he'd like to go to a baseball all-star game at Comiskey Park that July 6 afternoon. The Chicago Tribune, which sponsored the showdown, billed it as The Game of the Century.
"I didn't think the game would be more than a one-shot deal," says Cullinane, a former sports broadcaster now living in Denver. "I don't think that anyone else did, either."
Considering that such an exhibition needed the blessing of 16 major-league owners during the height of the Great Depression, when most ballclubs were drowning in red ink, it's easy to see why young Joe Cullinane and others felt that this indeed was The Game of the Century.
While the proceeds would be donated to the Baseball Players' Charity Fund for needy retired big leaguers, the game did nothing to fatten the wallets of the owners or players of the time. It did plenty, however, to generate excitement about a sport that many felt needed a boost.
"I remember Babe Ruth, who was the big-name player in the game," adds the 76-year-young Cullinane, who lived about eight miles from Comiskey. "The Babe was just magic. He was so special that my spine would tingle when he went to the batter's box. He was a god on the baseball diamond."
It was only fitting, then, that this diamond deity be the hero of the American League's 4-2 victory that sun-splashed day. The 38-year-old Babe launched the game-winning hit -- a home run, of course -- in the third inning, and despite his ever-swelling girth, made a game-saving catch in the eighth.
Thanks to Ruth's heroics and the caliber of talent involved, The Game of the Century moniker was less hyperbolic than prophetic: 20 of the 36 players in that first all-star contest are immortalized in Cooperstown.
"The All-Star Game was considered baseball's contribution to the World's Fair," says Steven Riess, a professor of history at Northeastern Illinois University. "It was a front-page story. It did sell out and everyone was excited for it; it went so well that it was decided to make it an annual event."
Although the game went well, little else did in 1933. Times were tough. Even though Prohibition was finally repealed, few Americans could afford to raise a toast.
After a decade of excess, the Grim Reaper paid Wall Street an unexpected visit in late October 1929. Ten-plus years of prosperity came crashing down, and the nation entered an economic recession of Biblical proportions.
Soon after his inauguration in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted the Works Progress Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the National Industrial Recovery Act. They were among a handful of programs soon to be known as the New Deal. "I pledge you -- I pledge myself -- to a new deal for the American people," Roosevelt said at the Chicago Convention in July 1932.
Despite federal relief, America's woes continued. Chicago was lucky. In addition to federal aid, the city would stage the 1933 World's Fair, otherwise known as A Century of Progress Exposition.
"The fair did provide jobs, construction and the like," adds Riess. "It was a big public works project."
Originally planned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the village of Chicago, the expo became much more than a birthday party for the Second City. In a cartoon that ran on the front page of the Tribune the day before the game, the Century of Progress Exposition was depicted as a life preserver keeping Old Man Chicago afloat.
"The goals of the exposition were to build jobs; to provide recreation; and to be an uplifting event, to show that good times are ahead," says Riess. "The city said, 'Look at what we're doing and look at what we've done. We've dug ourselves out of holes like this before.'"
At the time, the game of baseball was also in a bit of a hole. Although in the midst of its golden age, the sport suffered as any other industry of the day. Twenty-five percent of Americans were out of work in 1933, and big-league attendance had drooped to a mere 6.3 million.
The hard-pressed owners' objections to the game were twofold: first, many would have to reschedule games and delay a day's worth of gate receipts; second, they feared player injuries in a meaningless exhibition.
With a little arm-twisting from the league presidents and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the owners eventually realized that the 1933 World's Fair was the perfect vehicle for baseball to promote itself on a national stage. They even agreed to generate additional headlines and interest by utilizing fan balloting, although it was advisory balloting only -- the managers picked the teams.
The launching of the Midsummer Classic was a big deal among fans -- the 49,000-seat Comiskey sold out well in advance, with at least as many turned away. According to Tribune Sports Editor Arch Ward, widely credited as the driving force behind the game, the ticket demand should have come as no surprise. Baseball fans in general, and Baseball Magazine in particular, had been clamoring for an all-star matchup for some time.
"For years baseball fans the country over have been arguing the relative class of the two leagues," Ward wrote in the May 19, 1933, Tribunearticle that trumpeted the game.
An All-Star Tradition
Although no game of this magnitude had taken place before, all-star matches could trace their roots to baseball's infancy.
In the late 1850s, the best of the Brooklyn "base ball" clubs regularly engaged the New York stars in an inter-city all-star series at the Fashion Race Course near Jamaica, Long Island.
Barnstorming troupes of stars were popular as well. One of the earliest star-laden tours took to the road on the eve of the Civil War. In 1860, the Brooklyn Excelsiors, who would become world champs later that year, topped 15 straight all-star clubs, from Baltimore to western New York state.
Sporadic all-star games were staged during the latter half of the 19th century, with standouts from various leagues and associations playing. But after the upstart American League began play in 1901, engaging the 15-year-old National League in a heated competition for top talent, it took more than 32 years to schedule a legitimate all-star game between the rival outfits.
Sure, baseball people organized occasional all-star excursions and charity games during the early 1900s. An all-American baseball tour of the Orient took place during the winter of 1908-09. In 1911, a charity all-star game was played in Cleveland to honor star pitcher Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps, who died prematurely of tubercular meningitis. But other than the annual World Series, interleague play didn't materialize until the Herculean efforts of Ward and the Tribune bore fruit in 1933.
"Arch Ward was synonymous with that first game," notes Cullinane in a broadcaster's baritone. "He dreamed up the game."
While it's uncertain if Ward was the only person who came up with the idea, he certainly had a flair for sports promotion. Prior to the 1933 all-star baseball game, Ward gave birth to the Golden Gloves boxing competition in 1923. Eleven years later, he organized the annual College All-Star Game between the NFL and a team of college standouts, a tradition that lasted until 1976.
The first game
On game day, Ward explained how the contest was organized in his regular Tribune column, Talking It Over. Since the game was announced on May 19, Ward typed that "scores of fans" wrote to him, "venturing the opinion that eloquent persuasion must have been required to win approval of the league presidents and club owners.
"There is no better time to make known that the proposal was received enthusiastically right from the start by nearly every man connected with the game."
Ward was exaggerating somewhat. While American League President William Harridge immediately endorsed the concept, soon to be seconded by Cubs owner Bill Veeck, not all the owners were so easily convinced. The last clubs to be won over were the National League entries in St. Louis, New York and Boston. The Cardinals eventually caved in, but New York and Boston would have to reschedule a twin bill slated for July 5. Stars from neither team could make it to Chicago in time for the game a day later.
"That left the Boston club the last obstacle in the way of big game," wrote Ward. "A telephone call to Charles Adams, owner of the Braves, brought the information that they would make no protest if the National League ordered the doubleheader shifted to another date."
The doubleheader was rescheduled and the All-Star Game was on.
In conjunction with 55 other newspapers, the Tribune conducted fan voting. According to Ward, 500,000 fans participated. "This is truly America's game," Ward wrote. "Never have so many people had a hand in the arrangement of a sports event."
Never had America seen such an assemblage of stars on one diamond, either. The National Leaguers wore gray flannel "road" uniforms with National League emblazoned across the chest. The American stars sported their home outfits.
Fans from 46 states forked over regular admission prices ($1.65 per box seat, $1.10 for a grandstand spot, and 55 cents to sit with the bleacher bums) to see one inaugural member of the Hall of Fame suit up that day, Babe Ruth in his baggy pinstripes.
Two members of the Hall of Fame's 1937 class, Philadelphia Athletics field general Connie Mack and New York Giants boss John McGraw, were called upon to manage the American and National leagues, respectively.
McGraw and Mack were the yin and the yang of big league managers. Mack, the Tall Tactician, was a cool customer who favored suit, tie and hat to a wool uniform. McGraw, the feisty Irish-American, never met a confrontation he didn't like.
Known as Little Napoleon, McGraw retired from the New York Giants at the end of the 1932 season, but was lured out of his rocking chair by the chance to manage the 1933 National League stars. "It was the last game he ever managed," points out Cullinane; McGraw died within the next year.
McGraw and Mack's rivalry dated back to the turn of the century, when the pair clashed in the 1905, 1911 and 1913 World Series. Mack's Philadelphia Athletics took the latter two titles, and the 1933 All-Star exhibition would be no different. Mack managed to win. Save for Browns outfielder Sam West replacing Ruth in right for defensive purposes in the ninth, Mack employed only a few pitching changes while maintaining his starting lineup in the Comiskey game.
Apparently, Al Capone's accountant kept tabs of ticket stubs: Some reports claim that 49,000 witnessed the historic matchup, others say 47,595 or 42,900. Whatever the final figure, the game was a rousing success. Again, the final totals differ, but approximately $45,000 was raised for needy retired ballplayers.
Ironically, it was the star most near retirement who stole the show that day. Ruth's hurricane-generating strikeout in the first inning aside, the Bambino did little wrong that afternoon. But it was one of two "Leftys" in the AL lineup who "drew first blood," according to the Associated Press game account.
"Here's a great trivia question that no one will get," says Riess. "Who drove in the first run of the game?"
Light-hitting Yankees hurler Lefty Gomez, who also earned the win, is the answer.
In the bottom of the second, White Sox third baseman Jimmy Dykes reached on a walk and advanced to second when Senators shortstop Joe Cronin worked a free pass. Red Sox catcher Rick Ferrell flew out to Chuck Klein in right field, but Gomez stepped to the plate and ripped a single to left, scoring Dykes for a 1-0 edge.
An inning later, Tigers second baseman Charlie Gehringer accepted a base on balls from Cardinals pitcher Wild Bill Hallahan, who suffered the loss. Then, with a one-and-one count, Ruth lofted one of Hallahan's "slants" into the right-field seats, giving the junior circuit a 3-0 cushion.
"I forget a lot of things about the game," claims Cullinane, whose memories still seem vivid. "I remember Ruth hit a lazy fly ball, not a tape-measure shot, but the ball got several rows up into the seats in straightaway right field.
"I remember those short, mincing steps," adds Cullinane. "It was a magic moment when he hit the ball out."
The Nationals sliced the lead to 3-2 in the top of the sixth, when Cubs pitcher Lon Warneke tripled on a shot that eluded Ruth in short right. Cardinals third baseman Pepper Martin hit into a fielder's choice groundout to Dykes at third, scoring Warneke. The other Cardinals infielder, second baseman Frankie Frisch, then rifled a solo home run to right for the Nationals' final run.
The Americans doubled their lead in the bottom of the inning when Cronin singled past second, Ferrell sacrificed him to second, and pinch hitter Earl Averill, an Indians outfielder, drove Cronin home for the final margin.
Ruth's game-saving grab in the eighth sticks out in Cullinane's mind for several reasons. With Frisch on first, Reds left fielder Chick Hafey lined to right.
"Right field wasn't his customary spot late in his career," Cullinane says of Ruth. "He normally avoided the sun field in his later years, and would usually play left field when the Yankees came to Comiskey.
"He was old then," Cullinane adds. "He had only one more year with the Yankees, but he made the defensive play of the game that stays with me till this day.
"Ruth, with a protruding stomach at the time, made a diving catch of a ball slicing away from him," says Cullinane. "I was sitting in the left-field seats, but I can still remember seeing him on the dead run make a great catch."
Although of less import to those outside the Hub, the American League had quite a catch of its own in Boston backstop Rick Ferrell, the lone Red Sox player on the roster. He would later team with brother Wes, a pitcher, as the best sibling tandem in team history.
At the time, Ferrell was the least well known of the three American League catchers, ranking third in the fans' poll behind luminaries such as Yankee Bill Dickey and Athletic Mickey Cochrane. But Dickey jammed his thumb in batting practice, and Cochrane was nursing two broken ribs suffered against Detroit 10 days earlier.
So Mack left Ferrell in for the entire game, and he caught Lefty Gomez, Senator Alvin Crowder, and Lefty Grove. The trio tossed three innings apiece, combining for an eight-hit victory.
As Ferrell, a Hall of Famer, breathlessly told The Boston Herald's Burt Whitman, it was "The greatest game of ball in which I ever played, and that's what Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the rest of the players declared too."
Joe O'Shea is a freelance writer based in Pembroke, Mass. Joe Cullinane chronicles his half-century of broadcasting sports in the soon-to-be-published book, Sportscasting -- A Roller Coaster Ride.
Copyright 1990-present Joe O'Shea, Jr.