Paul Dickson is the author of more than 60 books and several hundred magazine and newspaper articles. He has written over a dozen bat and ball books (11 on baseball and one on softball). His most recent is the biography, Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick. It was named the 2012 CASEY Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year. In 2011 Paul was awarded the Tony Salin Memorial Award from the Baseball Reliquary for the preservation of baseball history. He was also honored in 2008 by the New York Public Library for his award-winning and widely acclaimed Dickson Baseball Dictionary, now in its third edition.
Sadly, for fans of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game the 2016 version of the contest showed a dramatic decrease in interest when measured by the level of television viewership. Not only had the television audience dropped a full 29 percent from the 2015 game, but for the first time in 50 years that audience fell below 10 million to an all-time low of 8,707,000 viewers from a high of 36,330,000 in 1976.
The period from 1935 through 1962 encompassed a time when the Major League All-Star Game became an annual fixture of the American sports calendar, bringing together baseball’s best, brightest, and most beloved players each year. (World War II travel restrictions, however, prevented the game from taking placing in 1945.) It was also a time when the East-West Game at first flourished but then died as baseball—and the All-Star Game—became racially integrated.
Despite its success, there was little immediate talk of a second Major League All-Star Game for 1934. But as the 1933 season continued, it became clear that the game was a highlight and a crowd-pleaser worthy of a repeat performance. While the American League owners unanimously backed an encore, there was clear resistance on the part of the National League owners still smarting from the 4–2 beating they took in the first game.
If the Great Depression had cut into the gate receipts of the Major League Baseball teams, it had done at least the same, but probably much worse, to the teams of the Negro Leagues, where organizational structures were constantly changing. Some of the better players in black baseball were on independent teams and sometimes moved from one team to another during the season.
For all of its popularity, the All-Star Game did not prove to be the shot in the arm baseball needed. Fans continued to stay away from ballparks in droves. In fact, the situation seemed to get worse. Cubs President William Veeck Sr. was in New York City on August 22 for a Cubs-Giants game, but the game was rained out. The writers who covered the National League were “looking for a rainy day story,” which Veeck gave them.
The most enduring baseball custom to emerge during the Great Depression—the midseason All-Star Game between the American and National Leagues—was the brainchild of several individuals with no direct connection to baseball.
The effect of the Great Depression on baseball was a severe decrease in attendance and a loss of revenue. People simply had less money available for anything other than food and shelter, and for many Americans, baseball games were a luxury that could no longer be afforded. Americans, and not just the working class, were suddenly more likely to be found in a bread line than a reserved seat at a baseball game.