Baseball's first all-star game a success of Ruthian proportions

  • Babe Ruth crosses home plate following a two run home run off National League starting pitcher Bill Hallahan in the third inning of the first All-Star Game ever played, July 6, 1933.  Greeting Ruth at home plate are, from left:  Yankee teammate, Lou Gehrig and White Sox bat boy, John McBride.

    Babe Ruth crosses home plate following a two run home run off National League starting pitcher Bill Hallahan in the third inning of the first All-Star Game ever played, July 6, 1933. Greeting Ruth at home plate are, from left: Yankee teammate, Lou Gehrig and White Sox bat boy, John McBride. AP File Photo

Updated 7/16/2022 7:33 PM

Major league baseball's first all-star game was billed as the "Game of the Century."

The reason was its tie-in with Chicago's world's fair, known as the Century of Progress Exposition, in honor of Chicago's first 100 years of existence.


Mayor Edward Kelly, who succeeded the assassinated Anton Cermak, conceived the idea of a special athletic event for the fair and approached Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick for assistance.

McCormick delegated the task of herding the cats to Tribune sports editor Arch Ward, whose selling job began with American League President William Harridge,

He wrote on July 6, 1933, the afternoon the game was held at Comiskey Park, that he told Harridge, "Baseball needed an opportunity to show it was not in a state of decadence."

Ward was referring to baseball's decline in attendance during the Great Depression. Attendance dipped 40 percent between 1930 and 1933, and fans who showed up tended to opt for the cheap seats in the bleachers.

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The lords of baseball reacted by slashing player salaries and trimming rosters, while at the same time attempting to lure fans with such ploys as grocery giveaways.

In his pitch, Ward also said, "A Century of Progress Exposition was an ideal setting for baseball to display its wares."

In addition, the Tribune would guarantee all expenses in the event the game was rained out, all profits from the game would be donated to the Baseball Players' Charity fund, and, not least, the fans of the nation would be invited to pick the players.

Harridge swallowed the pitch, as did Cubs President William Veeck. So did National League President John Heydler after reluctant NL club owners in New York and Boston relented, with the inducement of a shift in the date of a July 5 doubleheader between the Giants and Braves.

Fan voting was conducted by the Tribune and 55 associated newspapers, with approximately 500,000 taking part.

The totals gratified Ward, who wrote, "Baseball is still America's national game."


Attendance would not be a problem on that sunny Thursday afternoon, as 47,595 fans crammed into Comiskey Park to see the greatest players in the game.

The seat prices were $1.65 for boxes, $1.10 for grandstands and 55 cents for bleachers.

The National League stars wore gray flannel uniforms with the words "National League" stitched across their chests. Each American leaguer wore his own uniform.

The managers were two of the grand old men of the game, 71-year-old Connie Mack and 60-year-old John McGraw. McGraw came out of retirement in Pelham Manor, N.Y. to manage one last game for the NL squad in what would turn out to be his last full year of life. The two men, wearing hats and suits, posed for photographers with their hands on a baseball bat.

No all-star contest would be complete without Babe Ruth. But the aging Babe's flagging skills were reflected in the vote totals, as Ruth trailed behind Al Simmons of the White Sox, the leading vote-getter with 346,291.

Simmons, along with another member of the Sox, Jimmy Dykes, would be reunited with their former manager, Mack, who piloted the AL team.

Yet Simmons would only manage one hit in four at-bats, while Ruth would dominate the first all-star game, accounting for half of the AL's runs in its 4-2 victory.

Ruth's big blast came in the third. The Cardinals' Wild Bill Hallahan lived up to his name by walking the leadoff hitter, Detroit's Charley Gehringer. That brought Ruth to the plate.

We are fortunate to have the newsreel footage of what Ruth did next, as short and quick with his swing, he sent a line drive 15 rows into the right field stands.

You can watch Ruth hustling out of the box, before easing into his home run trot. You can also see the fans in the stands, wearing straw hats and caps -- fans dressed more formally in those days. It is an incredibly vivid moment of time travel, as you are drawn intimately into the scene.

Cubs and Sox fans alike were given reason to cheer.

Cubs pitcher Lon Warneke, the Arkansas Hummingbird, thrilled the fans in the sixth inning by hitting a fly ball that fell beyond the reach of Ruth in right field for a triple.

United Press writer George Kirksey wrote that the 39-year-old Ruth "ran hell bent for leather, with his stupendous belly wobbling up and down and from side to side" in a futile attempt to flag down the ball near the right field line. Ruth "ran so fast and so hard that he couldn't pull up fast enough and had to use his stomach as a shock absorber as he bounded off the right field boxes." Warneke came home on the Cardinals' Pepper Martin's ground out.

Ruth would redeem himself in the eighth inning, backing up against the right-field wall to pull down Cincinnati's Chick Hafey's long fly ball.

Sox fans were rewarded by the play of Dykes, who hit two singles, drew a walk and scored one run.

The game's success at the gate benefited the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, formed to help old players in want. The organization received $42,000.

Baseball and the nation would recover from the Depression. Player salaries would soar, while the expense of ballpark parking alone now equals the cost of more than 50 bleacher seats in 1933. And the ground where the stars of that year played has been paved over for parking at Guaranteed Rate Field, save for the old home plate.

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