WASHINGTON, July 16, 2013 — The year 1933 was the worst year of the Depression. But a new president had taken office, assuring the American people that they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his first 100 days, implemented innumerable programs, including “fireside chats” over the radio. The busy president took time, however, to throw out the Opening Day ceremonial pitch to inaugurate the 1933 season of baseball.
That year saw the first All-Star Game and the last World Series. That is to say, the last World Series in which a Washington ballclub would participate.
The first World Series had taken place 40 years earlier in 1903, pitting the Boston Americans of the American League against the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. Boston captured the championship by winning the last four of the then nine-game Series.
The All-Star Game, however, did not come into being for another 30 years. The brainchild of Arch Ward, sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, the contest was intended to inject baseball into the 1933 World’s Fair, called the Century of Progress Exposition. At this spectacular event, manufacturers such as Oldsmobile exposed their wares while Sally Rand, the famed fan dancer, somehow managed not to.
Mr. Ward’s idea was an exhibition game to be played at Comiskey Park in which each League would offer its best players at each position to compete in an All-Star Game.
A grandstand seat at that game cost $1.10, a box seat was $1.65, and a bleacher seat was a mere 55 cents. At that time a gallon of gas was just 10 cents, a loaf of bread 7 cents, and a house could be rented for only $18 a month. These prices sound ridiculously cheap until one considers that the average annual salary was only $1,550.
That was also the year that the “Noble Experiment” called Prohibition, implemented 14 years earlier by the 18th Amendment, went down the drain with the ratification of the 21st Amendment.
Big gun mobster Al Capone was serving time in a federal penitentiary in Atlanta for income tax evasion while awaiting transfer to a new prison on an island off San Francisco called Alcatraz. Gangster George “Machine Gun” Kelly sat in Leavenworth, awaiting his transfer to Alcatraz to become AZ #117.
Bonnie and Clyde still roamed the Midwest, robbing banks and gunning down anybody who got in their way.
Popular songs of this Depression era were, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” by Rudy Vallee; “We’re In the Money” by Dick Powell; and “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” by Eddie Cantor.
The Marx Brothers scored big at the box office with “Duck Soup,” and New York City would never seem the same after the great “King Kong” climbed to the top of the Empire State Building, girl in hand.
In 1933, Washington’s Billy Martin, who had played ball with Jim Thorpe on the 1914 Boston Braves, joined his father in opening Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown. An immediate success, it has maintained its menu of classic American fare though four generations of Martin ownership, making it the oldest family-owned restaurant in the nation’s capital. Martin’s has served every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush, and in one of its intimate booths Jack proposed to Jackie.
Washington baseball enjoyed a great year on its way to the World Series in 1933. Senators owner Clark Griffith brought up a Georgia farm boy from the Chattanooga Lookouts named Cecil Travis. Suiting up in his Washington uniform, the 19-year-old Travis not only had never played in a major league game, he had never seen one.
To call his debut auspicious would be an understatement. In his first time at bat, the left-hander belted a hit to right field. Second time up, a hit to right field; third time up, a hit to right field; fourth, a hit to right field; fifth, a hit to right field. His sixth time up, the pitcher intentionally walked him.
That first All-Star Game of 1933 featured fine players, many whose names register with knowledgeable baseball fans of today and reside in the Baseball Hall of Fame for all time.
The American League lineup boasted such players as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Charles Gehringer, Al Simmons, Rick Ferrell, and Joe Cronin.
The National League offered such outstanding players as Carl Hubbell, Paul Waner, Bill Terry, Gabby Hartnett, and Pepper Martin.
That first hard-fought All-Star Game ended as if Hollywood scripted, however, with the legendary Babe Ruth pounding a line drive into the stands with one man on base to give the American League a 4-2 victory.
Now, exactly 80 years later, we are about to engage in another All-Star Game. One can only speculate as to which players of this 2013 Midsummer Classic will one day be immortalized in that revered Valhalla at Cooperstown, New York, the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in major newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as the legendary Paul Harvey, New York Times Magazine columnist William Safire, and Mr. Shirley Povich, dean of American sportswriters.
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