The Golden Age of Baseball: The 1930s

1935 PIttsburgh Crawfords

When the Great Depression struck, many baseball owners feared the worst. They would have trouble drawing fans. The fans they did draw would have a hard time paying for the extra souvenirs or food concessions. Little did they know, people would still come to the ballpark if only to forget about their own troubles for a while. Attendance would be down in the 1930s but none of the sixteen franchises ever folded or moved as a result of the Great Depression and some of the games’ lasting stars said goodbye while others said hello. New ways of playing emerged, lasting vestiges of the game emerged, and a new era of baseball had begun.

Coming out of the 1920s, baseball began to boom. Newspapers and radio combined to turn the game into a way to forget about your problems for a couple of days. New stadiums had been built and offense was booming. In 1930, both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit over 40 home runs. By the end of the decade, both men would be out of the game. In September of 1939, Gehrig would make his last appearance and give one of the most memorable speeches in all of history.

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body

— it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.

The game continued to evolve in the 1930s. The Cincinnati Reds brought lights into the game in an effort to get more fans to the game. It was a new way of playing and spread all across the country. It would take 50 years before the Chicago Cubs would add lights. In fact, it was during the 1930s that a young Bill Veeck planted the ivy at Wrigley Field which would become the face of the field and the franchise. It was also in Chicago that Babe Ruth would supposedly call his shot in the 1932 World Series.

The 1930s also saw two immortal aspects of the game arrive. The first being the Baseball Hall of Fame. It would not be until 1939 that the Hall was built, but its first five inductees would be Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. The 1930s also saw the arrival of the All-Star Game. Originally, played in Comiskey Park in 1933, the managers and the fans selected the players. The game was thought up Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward. The game was to be a part of, and take place simultaneously as, the celebration of Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition.

The 1930s also saw its fair share of stars on the field too. Aside from Ruth and Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio arrived to roam center field for the Yankees in 1935. Jimmie Foxx dominated the decade at the plate. In 1933, Foxx hit .364 with 58 Home Runs and 168 driven in. He kept this up for most of the decade. In 1938, Foxx hit .349 with 50 Home Runs, and drove in 175. The 1930s also saw the Gas House Gang arrive in St. Louis in 1934 and win the World Series. Led by Dizzy Dean and Leo Durocher, the Cardinals were constant rivals to the Cubs and Giants to win the National League pennant in the 1930s.

Much like the 1920s, the Yankees dominated the second half of the decade. Led by manager Joe McCarthy, the Yankees won four World Series in a row to close out the decade. While Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics started out the decade by winning two AL Pennants in a row, their back to back run of 29-30 came to a close in 1931. The 1930s also saw the introduction of a 17 year old Bob Feller, Lefty Grove, Power Hitters Hank Greenberg and Mel Ott, and a Young Ted Williams arrived in 1939.

The Negro Leagues were in their hey-day in the 1930s. Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and a young Satchel Paige flourished as stars; and even the Negro League’s greatest ambassador, Buck O’Neil, made his debut. Some of the finest baseball ever played was never seen by most of America.Whether it was in league play, barnstorming, or playing exhibition against white teams, the brand of baseball played in the Negro Leagues would not arrive as a unified style until the late 1940s and 1950s.

What Rube Foster was to the 1920s for the Negro Leagues, Gus Greenlee was to the 1930s. He organized the East – West All Star Classic in Comiskey Park. Greenlee’s 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords may have been the greatest team ever to play the game. The Crawfords boasted five future Hall-of-Famers: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson and Oscar Charleston. Contrary to popular opinion it was the Crawfords who dominated this era, not the Homestead Grays. The Crawfords won nine consecutive Negro National League Championships.

But the Negro League’s true star was none other than Satchel Paige. Joe Dimaggio even once said, “After I got that hit off Satchel (Paige), I knew I was ready for the big leagues.” Ted Williams echoed the sentiment when he said, “Satchel was the greatest pitcher in baseball.”

When one looks back at the decade, it is a wonder the game survived in such a harsh economic climate. Thanks to its stars and innovations made in the 1930s, the game lived on. Surviving the war would be another story as most of the great players of the 1930s signed up to serve their country. However, the stars it did have made the 1930s able to stake its claim as the Golden Age of Baseball.

Check out this student made Documentary on the greatness of Satchel.

For Further Reading
Golden Age of Baseball: The 1920s

Golden Age of Baseball: The 1930s

Golden Age of Baseball: The Post War World

Golden Age of Baseball: The 1960s

Golden Age of Baseball: The 1970s

Golden Age of Baseball: The Steroids Era

The Golden Age of Chicago Baseball