The First All-Star Game: Babe Ruth Prevails
In part 4, Dickson describes the action in MLB's first All-Star Game, played in Chicago's Comiskey Park. The 38-year-old Babe Ruth rose to the occasion and lead his American League nine to victory.
On July 6, 1933, 47,595 fans packed into Comiskey Park, where some of baseball’s historic moments had taken place—including four games of the infamous nine-game 1919 “Black Sox” World Series.
The rules of engagement were set. As the visitors, the National Leaguers would bat first. The American League ball, widely believed to be livelier, would be used in the first part of the game, and the National League ball after the fifth inning. Similarly, umpiring crews from the two leagues switched halfway through the game.
The weather, described as perfect, helped create the idyllic scene.
To the dismay of the press covering the game, John McGraw refused to reveal his opening lineup or his starting pitcher until Connie Mack release his lineup. Neither budged, and the writers in the press box realized they would not have the correct lineups until the teams had batted around.
Home plate umpire Bill Dinneen of the American League signaled the start of the game, and at 1:15 p.m. St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Pepper Martin stepped in as the first All-Star batter. Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez got Martin to a 2–2 count and then retired him on a ground ball to shortstop Joe Cronin of the Washington Senators. The “Game of the Century” was under way with its first official at–bat.
Babe Ruth, the man many of the fans most wanted to see, now 38 years old and showing signs of age, came to bat in the bottom of the first inning and struck out on a called third strike.
In the second inning, the American Leaguers scored the first All-Star run, helped along by the wildness of pitcher “Wild Bill” Hallahan of the Cardinals. Hallahan lived up to his moniker and walked five in his two-plus innings—a record that still stands as the most walks given up by a pitcher in a single All-Star Game—and gave up two runs.
In the bottom of the third inning, following a leadoff walk to Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth came to the plate and powered a low line drive to the right-field stands about 15 feet fair for a home run.
With one out in the sixth inning, Cubs pitcher Lon Warneke tallied a triple on a fly to right, which was poorly handled by Ruth—he dropped the ball when it caught in his webbing. The official scorer nonetheless scored it a hit. Warneke scored on a sacrifice and then Cardinals Player-Manager Frankie Frisch hit a home run, bringing the score to 3–2 in favor of the American League. The Frisch home run landed in almost the same spot as Ruth’s. In the bottom of the sixth, Earl Averill drove in Cronin with a single to make the score 4–2.
Frankie Frisch hit a home run in the sixth inning of the 1933 All-Star game. In his first turn at the plate, he batted right handed, however the switch-hitter’s homer came while batting from the left. Soon after playing in the All-Star game, Frisch became the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The scoring was finished for the day, but Babe Ruth was not. With Frisch on first with two outs in the top of the eighth, Hafey lined a shot to right field that looked like it was destined to be a home run, but Ruth moved quickly and with his back up against the outfield fence reached over and denied the Nationals a chance to tie the game. Lefty Grove shut down the Nationals in the ninth, and the American League and starter Lefty Gomez secured the victory.[i]
The game lasted two hours and five minutes. It was widely agreed that it had been a well-balanced game. The National League collected eight hits, and the American nine.
But when all was said and done, Ruth carried the day, and the writers could not wait to get to their typewriters and pound out one more story about the incredible Bambino.
Jim Gallagher of the Chicago American led his story for that afternoon’s late edition by describing the man of the hour in less than Olympian terms: “Old Babe Ruth with his matronly stomach bulging over his belt, and his huge body looming grotesquely over his spindly legs still is the most dramatic player in professional baseball.” Joe Williams of the New York World-Telegram, who had come to Chicago for the game, wrote in his column the next morning, “Maybe, after all, the chief difference between the National League and the American League is an old fat fellow named George Herman Ruth. They tossed all the stars of baseball together here yesterday . . . and when it was all over you had to admit that the old fat fellow was still the king of ’em all. . . . He wheezes and puffs when he starts to run and he goes after the sharp liners in the outfield like a tipsy dowager doing the rumba but put the old fat fellow on the spot where the pressure is tight and the ball game is at stake and watch him go.”[ii]
Ruth himself was, as the Associated Press writer put it, “as happy as a school kid” over his performance and the victory of the American League. He asked, “Wasn’t it swell? Didn’t we win?” By all accounts, the other players were keen on making the game an annual event, as were the two skippers. The players themselves sought autographs—not from their fellow All-Stars—but from their two legendary managers. McGraw—who had been lured off the back porch of his home in Pelham, New York, to manage in this game—declared that this was his final exit.
Financially the game was a success with gross receipts of $55,000, of which the net profits of $42,000 were sent to the Players Association, which announced that the money would go to the creation of a retirement home in California.
As predicted, the game was popular with the fans, who had finally gotten to see the term All-Star made real and not just a paper exercise.
Showing his paunch and being the age of 38 did not stop Ruth from showing his superb baseball fielding skills to save the day and get the win that day in 1933.
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