1933 Making Little Napoleon Proud

Dying of prostate cancer and recently retired after 30 years of managing the New York Giants, John McGraw watches as replacement Bill Terry resuscitates the team to a World Series triumph over the Washington Senators.

Even at the tail end of his long, remarkable reign as the New York Giants’ manager, John McGraw remained dedicated to enriching the immense talent he had assembled, as shown here with Travis Jackson shortly before handing the reins over to Bill Terry.

Bill Terry was not on speaking terms with John McGraw when the New York Giants’ first baseman was called into the legendary manager’s office early in the 1932 season. He had refused to speak to McGraw after his salary was cut 25%—despite batting .349 the previous year. McGraw’s justification for the cut? Terry’s 1931 average dropped 52 points from his 1930 mark of .401. Never mind that the ball was deader in 1931 and everyone’s average seemed to drop precipitously; the front office’s spin ruled.

But Terry remained speechless—although for a different reason—with what McGraw was ready to tell him. McGraw was quitting the game, and was offering Terry his job.

This was big news, huge. McGraw had dominated the Giants, the National League and the headlines during the 30 years he ran the team at the Polo Grounds. Though his deteriorating health had eroded the element of surprise, press coverage of McGraw’s retirement superseded the other big baseball news of the day: A four-home run performance by the Yankees’ Lou Gehrig, the first such milestone achieved in the 20th Century.

While bad health was a major factor in McGraw’s decision to leave, so was his growing failure to understand the modern ballplayer. In his early years he had been a wiry, determined autocrat who did it his way or else; his collection of rough-and-tumble types related well to him—and vice versa—winning ten NL pennants over his first 22 years at New York.

But the professional baseball player of the 1930s was more sophisticated and educated than ever—and therefore, more annoyed than intimidated by McGraw’s Stalinist disposition. Older, sicker and more portly, McGraw had also developed a healthy touch of senilityCatcher Bob O’Farrell, who played briefly for McGraw in the late 1920s, simply remembered him as “grouchy.”. More and more, McGraw took credit for the wins while blaming others for the losses. Though he maintained a good eye for talent and kept the team competitive, he hadn’t broken through to a pennant in seven years—a heady drought by his standards.

Terry was definitely representative of the new breed of player. Whereas McGraw in the old days plucked his players out of low-paying forms of drudgery such as coal mining, Terry had to be coaxed out of the front office of an oil company. But Terry was talented all the same, a consistent .300-plus hitterTerry had collected nearly 1,000 hits between 1929-32, entering his first full year as player-manager. and the last National Leaguer to hit .400, in 1930.

Nicknamed Memphis Bill after the town where McGraw grabbed him from, Terry took over as manager 40 games into the 1932 season and could only settle for sixth place. But in the process he smoothed out some bumps. Fired was McGraw’s trainer, for whom Terry suspected was Little Napoleon’s eyes and ears. Another problem was star third baseman Fred Lindstrom. Although he was glad to see McGraw go, Lindstrom wanted himself, not Terry, in the pilot seat. The resulting friction gave Terry no choice but to send the nine-year Giant veteran off to Pittsburgh following the season.

Entering 1933, the remaining Giants players had a pretty good bead on what to expect in Terry’s managerial style. It was a conservative strategy of mind over batter, emphasizing pitching, defense and winning the close ones, rather than crossing his fingers and hoping to outslug the opponent as employed by most major league teams since 1920. McGraw must have been impressed; it was retro deadball era strategies at work.

Making a humble prediction to the press corps that his Giants could finish as high as third, Terry found himself right there by Memorial Day, in the thick of a tight NL pennant race. But Terry had played little to that point due to a broken wrist, and knew his return coupled with a move elsewhere in the roster could bolster the Giants’ odds. So he sent Sam Leslie—who had filled in for Terry at first base—to the Phillies for veteran outfielder Lefty O’Doul, who would slam nine home runs while batting .306 in half a season’s work for the Giants.

A Polo Grounds doubleheader against the contending St. Louis Cardinals in early July proved to the rest of the NL that Terry’s Giants—and especially his pitching staff—were for real. In the first game, screwball pitcher Carl Hubbell forever upgraded his reputation from solid to spectacular, blanking the Cardinals 1-0 in an exhaustive 18-inning battle. Young Roy Parmelee then outdueled an even younger Dizzy Dean in the nightcap by the same score in nine innings. The 27 frames of shutout baseballHubbell and Parmelee combined to strike out 25 and walk just one during the twinbill. were the most ever thrown at a team in a doubleheader, and it sent the Cardinals reeling into a slump; by the time St. Louis recovered, they, along with the rest of the league, had lost crucial ground to the Giants.

Terry’s starting rotation came out of nowhere to compensate for an average offense and gave the Giants their first pennant in nine years. At 30 years of age, Hubbell’s first remarkable year consisted of 23 wins (including ten shutouts) and a major league-leading 1.66 earned run average—the lowest seen in either league since the deadball era’s last breath of life in 1919. Parmelee and Hal Schumacher, both entering the year as unknowns with only nine combined career wins, grouped up for a 32-20 record in 1933; Schumacher’s 2.16 ERA was third best in the league.

Over in the American League, the powerhouses fell vacant. At New York, the defending champion Yankees witnessed a remission in their pitching, while Babe Ruth—though still potent at 38—was gradually showing he was past his prime. Meanwhile, for Connie Mack and his Philadelphia A’s, it was about to become 1915 redux. As he did then, the Tall Tactician saw the financial writing on the wall—he had lost a ton of money on stocks through the deepening depression—and believed the empire of talent he had built over the last ten years had run its course in front of dwindling, more complacent Shibe Park crowds.

Joe Cronin was the second Washington manager in less than a decade to take the job while still in his 20s—and like the first, Bucky Harris, he took the Senators to the World Series in his first year at the helm.

So Mack tore apart his second dynasty, more slowly but just as surely. Before the season he dealt away Al Simmons, Mule Haas and Jimmie Dykes to the Chicago White Sox for $100,000. Then, on a single day in December after the season, he sent all-world pitcher Lefty Grove, Rube Walberg and Max Bishop to the Boston Red Sox for $125,000; catcher Mickey Cochrane to the Detroit Tigers for $100,000; and George Earnshaw to the White Sox for $20,000. At 71, Mack thought of retiring but stayed put for 17 more years over a franchise that would become weakened second-division fodder for the rest of the league.

Slipping through the aging cracks of fallen empires were the Washington Senators, who with 99 wins enjoyed the most proficient AL campaign they would ever realize in the Nation’s Capitol.

Retired pitching legend Walter Johnson had led the team through three straight seasons of 90-plus wins, but neither included a first-place finish. Owner Clark Griffith exiled Johnson off to Cleveland and inserted his son-in-law—shortstop Joe Cronin—as his new field boss.

As the Senators’ second “boy wonder,” the 26-year-old Cronin repeated the path of Bucky Harris nine years earlier and took the AL pennant in his first year of managing, instructing a group of everyday regulars and starting pitchers all older than himself. The Washington veterans included two former batting champions (Heinie Manush and Goose Goslin), a future batting champ (Buddy Myer) and an active workhorse on the mound in Alvin “General” Crowder, who started 35 games, relieved in 17 others and, for the second year in a row, led the AL in victories with 24.

Most casual baseball fans think of the Washington Senators as a long-running American League joke. But there was nothing funny for opponents of the Senators from 1912-33, which represented a period of baseball in the Nation’s Capitol eclipsed in performance only by the emergence of the mighty Yankees.

Cronin’s Senators also let it be known that they were ready to fight. In an early season contest at New York, the team rallied and responded with words and fists, adding to an ugly situation where Yankees baserunner Ben Chapman—well known for his insensitivitiesChapman’s name would be infamously linked with Jackie Robinson 14 years later, when as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies he led a profane onslaught of racist remarks at Robinson while playing against him. toward mankind—made a vicious slide into Senator second baseman Myer, who was Jewish. Myer, Chapman and 22-game winning Senator pitcher Earl Whitehill were all suspended five days each for their central roles in the ensuing brawl, which nearly tuned into a full-scale riot at Yankee Stadium.

A World Series rematch between the Giants and Senators lacked the suspense, drama—and wayward pebbles—of the 1924 original. With two player-managers strategizing against one another, it was superior Giants pitching that would ultimately neutralize the solid Senators offense. Washington could muster only five earned runs off New York hurlers through a five-game Series loss, ending with two extra-inning defeats at Griffith Stadium. Carl Hubbell, in particular, held the Senators down tight; he allowed only three runs (all unearned) on 13 hits over 20 innings, winning both of his starts—including an 11-inning, 2-1 Game Four nail-biter.

Perhaps the most memorable game of the season was the one that didn’t count in the standings: The inaugural All-Star Game at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

Games of this sort had been played before, but they were mostly benefit contests, often matching up a group of stars against a regular team. But Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward thought up something more novel; to hold an exhibition of the best players in both leagues to compete against one another. And if the fans weren’t excited enough of the idea of seeing the best of the best, they would be the ones granted the power to select the players. The All-Star Game was a great concept, a heavily hyped event, and an instant hit.

Babe Ruth crosses home plate after hitting the first home run in All-Star Game history at the inaugural event at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

On a hot July afternoon in Chicago, a sellout crowd of over 47,000 paid a top ticket price of $1.65 to see a who’s who of baseball legends: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, Paul Waner, Carl Hubbell, Frankie Frisch, Chuck Klein—the list of greats went on and on.

The American League scored early and held on to win the initial battle, 4-2. All too appropriately, Babe Ruth hit the first home run in All-Star Game history; inappropriately, Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez knocked in the first run. Gomez more suitably emerged as the winning pitcher, while Grove pitched the final three innings to collect the save; the Cardinals’ Wild Bill Hallahan was tagged with the loss for the National League.

Originally planned as a one-time event to coincide with a world’s fair being held in Chicago, baseball owners decided to continue this “Game of the Century” as an annual event, to be played every July at a different ballpark across the majors. And thus, the “Mid-Summer Classic” would become as important an addition to the baseball calendar as Opening Day and the World Series.

More than a year after he stepped down, John McGraw was brought back to Comiskey Park to manage the NL All-Stars. Tired and weakened by his condition, he basically came as a figurehead and sat quietly in the dugout during the game, while it was Bill Terry—the man hand-picked by McGraw to replace him a year earlier—who appeared to do most of the directing.

Little Napoleon had lived just long enough to see that his team carry on well without him. He was on the podium at New York City to help celebrate the Giants’ NL pennant, attended the World Series with his wife Blanche, and threw a party for the team when they returned triumphant from Washington.

Four months later, at the age of 60, John Joseph McGraw lost his battle with cancer and died in New Rochelle, New York.

1934 baseball historyForward to 1934: Dizzy, Daffy and Ducky The Cardinals' Gashouse Gang goes into full bully mode behind the dazzling Dean brothers.

1932 baseball historyBack to 1932: The So-Called Shot Babe Ruth's historic and highly debated gesture gives a hostile World Series its flashpoint.

1930s baseball historyThe 1930s Page: Dog Days of the Depression The majors take a hit from the Great Depression as both attendance and bravado are on the wane—until newborn icons Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams emerge to rejuvenate the game's passion for the fans.

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1933 Standings

National League
New York Giants
Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs
Boston Braves
St. Louis Cardinals
Brooklyn Dodgers
Philadelphia Phillies
Cincinnati Reds
American League
Washington Senators
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Chicago White Sox
Boston Red Sox
St. Louis Browns

1933 Postseason Results
World Series New York (NL) defeated Washington (AL), 4-1.

It Happened in 1933

Mister, Can You Spare a Box Seat?
Major league attendance hits its depression-era nadir, drawing a total of six million fans—the lowest numbers since the war-shortened 1918 season. The New York Yankees are the biggest home draw—with just 728,000 paying customers; the woebegone St. Louis Browns can only attract 88,000. With revenues shrinking, so are salaries; the average yearly paycheck also bottoms out at $6,000. No one’s complaining, as players and management are sensitive to the roughly 25% of the American workforce out of work. Benefit games are played to raise money for those most in need of it, and commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis slashes his own salary nearly in half as a symbolic gesture.

The Perks of Chasing a Record
Despite being thrown out along with his manager Joe McCarthy during a 13-5 loss in Boston on June 14 for excessive arguing, the Yankees’ Lou Gehrig does not receive the same three-game suspension his boss does—and therefore keeps his growing consecutive-game streak from coming to a halt. Fifty-nine games later, Gehrig surpasses Everett Scott’s all-time mark of 1,307 straight games played, and he’s far from done.

Finally Zeroed In
When Philadelphia A’s pitcher Lefty Grove shuts out the Yankees on August 3, 7-0, it ends a streak of 308 consecutive games—the equivalent of two full seasons—in which New York had gone without being held scoreless, an all-time record.

Give Me Five
Getting off to the right start of a 12-year career in which he’ll bat .314, Washington’s Cecil Travis collects a major league-record five hits in his first game on May 16 against the Cleveland Indians. Travis hits safely in his first five at-bats before being retired in his final two times up during a 12-inning, 11-10 victory for the Senators.

Atta Boy
Yankee pitcher Russ Van Atta has his own sensational debut on April 25, shutting down the Senators on five hits, 16-0—while collecting four hits himself, the most ever by a pitcher in his first game.

Say It’s So, Joe!
Offering a sign of things to come, an 18-year old named Joe DiMaggio hits safely in 61 straight games for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

Just Like Old Times
The Yankees, in more or less a promotional stunt, send Babe Ruth, one of the AL’s top pitchers in his early major league life, to the mound in the season’s final game, October 1 against the Boston Red Sox. In what will be his last career appearance on the mound, the 38-year-old Ruth goes the distance and collects his 94th lifetime victory in a 6-5 triumph, scattering 12 hits and three walks while striking no one out. At the plate, Ruth will aid his own cause by hitting a home run.

Petered Paul
Despite a 3.30 earned run average, pitcher Paul Derringer pitches his way to a 7-27 record, split between the St. Louis Cardinals and (mostly) the cellar-dwelling Cincinnati Reds. It is the most any pitcher has lost during a season since 1910; no one has lost more since.

Finally, Light at the End of the Fenway Tunnel
The Boston Red Sox are sold to 30-year-old Tom Yawkey for $1.5 million; soon the Sox will be purchasing talent, not giving it away as it has over the previous 15 years.

Nick of a Long Time
Washington coach and resident clown Nick Altrock, 57, pinch-hits in an October 1 game against the Philadelphia Athletics. A 20-game winner from 1904-06 with the Chicago White Sox, Altrock played sparingly after 1909, and since 1912 had appeared as a pitcher and/or a pinch-hitter in 17 games, coaching less and entertaining crowds more with his comedic brand of on-field routines before games. His hitless at-bat in 1933 makes him the last active major leaguer with 19th-Century experience, having begun his career with the 1898 Louisville Colonels.

Fetch an Extra Pair of Eyeglasses
Three umpires are used on a regular basis for the first time.

Chucked Away
Philadelphia’s Chuck Klein sets a National League mark by collecting over 200 hits for his fifth straight year—and is then sold by the cash-poor Phillies to the Chicago Cubs for $65,000 and three players after the season. The Phillies will realize how much they miss Klein and get him back midway through the 1936 campaign.

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