BREAKING THE SLUMP by Charles C. Alexander

BREAKING THE SLUMP

Baseball in the Depression Era

KIRKUS REVIEW

Baseball historian and biographer Alexander (Rogers Hornsby, 1995, etc.) takes a breathless tour through the national pastime as it adapted to the harsh economy of the Great Depression.

Detroit Tiger star Hank Greenberg lost his $6,000 signing bonus when the stock market collapsed in October 1929, but baseball business remained robust through the 1930 season. The Yankees drew 1.6 million fans that year, a record that stood until 1946. Alexander combines anecdotes and statistics to summarize the pennant races and World Series for each year of the decade. In 1931, when teams trimmed rosters to 23 and salaries were declining, the National League adopted a “dead ball” to decrease scoring. Hack Wilson, the Cub slugger whose 1930 record of 190 RBIs still stands, suffered with the unresponsive ball and began drinking heavily. Dizzy and Paul Dean, members of the St. Louis Cardinals Gas House Gang pitched beautifully and quarreled endlessly with umpires and management. A declining Babe Ruth, a healthy (until 1939) Lou Gehrig, and an emerging Joe DiMaggio led the Yankees to five World Series in the 1930s. Alexander (History/Ohio Univ.) uses the teams’ financials to reveal the economic strain. Cleveland business manager Billy Evans provided a budget for 1932. Team costs were $535,000, with $235,000 going to player salaries; hotel rooms ($5 per night), meals ($4 per player per day), and transportation totaled $30,000. To break even, a team had to draw 500,000 fans at home and the same amount on the road. Of eight teams in the American League, only the Yankees made money. Macroeconomic data paints the big picture: the Roosevelt Recession of 1938 undermined the 1935–37 improvement; auto and steel production were down; unemployment was back up to 11 million people. Alexander concludes with an analysis of the demographic changes in the player population and a long chapter on the popular Negro Leagues.

A useful, informative presentation. (38 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-231-11342-0
Page count: 353pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2002




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