Looking Back At MLB's First All-Star Game

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Charles M. Conlon

By Bill Pruden

On July 6, 1933, with the Great Depression having led to catastrophic downturns in attendance, Major League Baseball offered a one-time extravaganza, a “Game of the Century,” in hopes that it might reignite the nation’s interest in the national pastime -- and perhaps also offer a pleasant distraction from the daily travails that haunted the nation. Little did anyone know that this commercially fueled interruption of the ongoing pennant races would soon become a treasured part of the baseball season for years to come.

The game was first and foremost a public relations event. That year, Chicago hosted a World’s Fair. Determined to make the Fair a success, the city’s newly elected mayor, Edward Kelly, hit on the idea of hosting an accompanying athletic event. He approached Chicago Tribune publisher and civic titan Colonel Robert McCormick about the idea, and a receptive McCormick turned the task over to his sports editor Arch Ward.

Ward quickly decided that an “All-Star Game,” a one-time contest between the best of both the American and National Leagues, would be a big draw. So confident was the young sportswriter that he told McCormick to take any losses from the game out of Ward's paycheck. Ward also suggested that donating the proceeds from the game to a charity for retired disabled and needy ballplayers would resonate with the fans whose own lives were being impacted by the national economic disaster.

Once Ward had the backing of Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the plan was put in motion. Ward teamed up with other newspapermen to spread the word about the game, one they promised would never be forgotten. It was hyped as the “Dream Game,” while baseball’s Bible, The Sporting News, announced that it “promises to be an even greater attraction than the World Series, as it provides, for the first time, a test of the best talent in each major league.”

With the excitement building, and ballots appearing in 55 newspapers across the country, the business of picking the two teams commenced.

The available star power was plentiful. Of the final 36 men making up the two 18-man rosters, 20 were ultimately elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as both managers, five of the six coaches and two of the four umpires. The fan votes determined the starting lineups, while it was left to the managers to each choose nine additional players to complete their squads.

The choice of managers reinforced the historic stature of the event with living legend Connie Mack leading the AL squad while recently retired John McGraw, despite being in failing health, was coaxed into returning to the dugout to lead the NL forces.

The scene was set for a contest that did much to reaffirm the game’s hold on the American psyche. In many ways the game itself was almost anticlimactic, so overwhelming was the pregame excitement and the feeling of anticipation. It is undoubtedly hard for modern fans to fathom the novelty, but in a time before interleague play, when people got their baseball via radio and newspapers, such a gathering of the best of the best was almost unfathomable.

In 1933, the chance to play against anyone, much less the stars from the other league, was limited to those few who made it to the World Series. But this game offered a rare opportunity to go head to head with the best that the other league had to offer.

NL starting pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals southpaw Bill Hallahan, spoke for many when he observed, “We wanted to see the Babe. Sure, he was old and had a big waistline, but that didn’t make any difference. We were on the same field with Babe Ruth.”

Ruth was joined by Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons, and Jimmie Foxx, who were themselves looking across the diamond at Bill Terry, Paul Waner, Pie Traynor, and Pepper Martin, among others. It was a dream come true for both the players and the 47,595 fans who packed Comiskey Park under sunny skies on that Thursday afternoon.

Given the inaugural nature of the event, every hit, run, or error represented a historic first. And so it was that after a first inning marred only by Hallahan’s walk of Detroit Tigers second baseman Charlie Gehringer, Chick Hafey of the Cincinnati Reds got the first hit in All-Star Game history on a bloop single to center to open the second inning.

When New York Giants star Bill Terry followed with another single, New York Yankees hurler Lefty Gomez found himself having to pitch out of the first jam in an All-Star Game. But befitting his stature as one of the top pitchers of his era, Gomez escaped, inducing Wally Berger of the Boston Braves to hit into a double play before striking out Dick Bartell of the Philadelphia Phillies to end the inning.

Then to the surprise of all, in the bottom of the second, the notoriously weak-hitting Gomez got the first RBI in All-Star Game annals when his single to center brought hometown favorite Chicago White Sox outfielder Jimmy Dykes across the plate with the game’s first run. Gomez, who left the game after three innings ahead 1-0, was also credited with the first win in All-Star Game history.

Not only did that 1-0 lead hold up, but true to form, in the bottom of the third, with no outs and Gehringer on first, Hallahan not only got to be on the same field with Ruth, but he got to pitch to him again. But while he had been able to sneak a called third strike past the Bambino in the first inning, this time Ruth gave the All-Star Game a proper christening, hitting a home run that carried to the deep right-field seats of Comiskey Park, and the AL took a 3-0 lead.

The NL put two runs on the board in the sixth inning, a scoring outburst capped by Frankie Frisch’s home run into the right-field seats off Washington Senators ace General Crowder. But that was the end of the Senior Circuit’s scoring, as Mack brought in the ace of his Philadelphia Athletics staff, Lefty Grove, who held the NL scoreless over the final three innings. Meanwhile, the AL added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth when Earl Averill singled off Lon Warneke, driving in Joe Cronin to make the score 4-2. And that was the way it ended.

Reflecting the spirit of the day, following the game McGraw went to the victors’ locker room where he congratulated Mack, a long-time adversary with whom past relations had often been chilly. But this time things were congenial, with both men expressing their hope that the game would become an annual event. The players were no less enthusiastic, with the irrepressible Ruth exclaiming, “Wasn’t it swell -- an All-Star Game? … Wasn’t it a great idea? And we won it, besides?”

The events of the day, not to mention the response from both the public and the baseball establishment before, during, and after the contest, quickly altered the original plan that had envisioned the game as a one-time thing.

Observers noted that the crowd seemed to appreciate the historic nature of the contest, commenting that it was “the most sportsmanlike crowd ever gathered for such an important event... [one that] apparently sensed the occasion as a precursor of more such games to follow in future years and lent its best behavior.”

The crowd’s reaction to the possibility that the initially planned one-time-only gathering of immortals could become an annual event was shared by many, none more important than Commissioner Landis, who declared, “That’s a grand show and it should be continued.”

At the next owners meeting, it was decided to make an All-Star Game an annual event to be played in a different city each season. To the benefit and delight of baseball fans for years and generations to come, the “Midsummer Classic” had been born.

Bill Pruden is a high school history and government teacher who has been a baseball fan for six decades. He has been writing about baseball--primarily through SABR sponsored platforms, but also in some historical works--for about a decade. His email address is: courtwatchernc@aol.com.

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