Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era / Edition 1

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Overview

Breaking the Slump is the engrossing story of baseball during the 1930s, when the National Pastime came of age as a business, an entertainment, and a passion, and when the teams of the American and National Leagues fielded perhaps the greatest rosters in the history of the game. Whether as rookies, stars in their prime, or legends on the wane, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Dizzy Dean, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio all left their mark on the game and on the American imagination in the decade before America's entry into the World War II. In one remarkable year, 1934, the entire starting lineup of the American League All-Stars consisted of future Hall of Famers. This surfeit of talent provided much needed entertainment to a nation struggling through economic hardship on an enormous scale.

In the face of the Great Depression, noted baseball historian Charles C. Alexander shows, Organized Baseball underwent an array of changes that defined the structure and operation of the game well into the postwar decades. The 1930s witnessed the advent of night baseball, the flowering of an extensive and, in some cases, controversial minor-league system of "farm clubs," and the exploitation of the relatively new broadcast medium of radio. Power brokers such as Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and owners Branch Rickey and "Colonel" Jacob Ruppert oversaw these and other developments even as they retained other traditional aspects of the game. As it had since the 1880s, the reserve clause continued to limit the salaries and mobility of ballplayers, subjecting them to the will of ownership to a degree unfathomable today. And Organized Baseball remained racially segregated throughout the 1930s, as the Negro leagues operated largely beyond the notice of white baseball fans.

While tracing these and other organizational developments, Alexander keeps his focus on the daily experience of the ballplayers. What was it like for young men trying to make their way as professional ballplayers in an economy that offered few prospects for them otherwise? What kind of conditions did they have to deal with in terms of playing facilities, transportation, lodging, and relations with their employers? And what about the play itself? Alexander offers an expert appraisal of how the ballplayers and the quality of the game they played differed from today's.

Americans have periodically been reminded of baseball's extraordinary capacity to enrich and enliven the national spirit during hard times. Breaking the Slump is a vivid portrait of the great game and its cultural significance during America's hardest times.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Baseball history does not get much better than this study of the Depression years... Everything is here: the heroes, the statistics, the personalities... a model of scholarship.

USA TodayBaseball Weekly
[I]t is Alexander's descriptions of day-to-day living for the average ballplayer that are most fascinating — where they lived, how they earned extra money, their traveling and lodging conditions.
Chicago Tribune - Mark Luce

Flat-out entertaining, sometimes-touching baseball anecdotes.

History - West Singletary

A worthy addition to the sports history canon, providing a valuable secondary source for anyone with an interest in the game's evolution.

American Studies - Jack E. Davis

[It chronicles] important periods in the history of baseball, and [It] will thoroughly engage that sport's aficionados.

American Historical Review

Like a quickly paced, mid-season game on a sunny summer afternoon, Charles C. Alexander's book provides another comfortable examination of the national pastime.... he demonstrates a thorough command of the narrative nature of the game itself and a solid ability to find meaning in the play of men.

Dallas Morning News

Alexander follows his excellent biographies... with this engrossing look at baseball in the Depression Era. His running narrative of seasons and games is a welcome adjunct to his explorations of more serious themes.

San Francisco Chronicle

Alexander writes for baseball junkies, peppering his prose with baseball slang and laboring through game-by-game series recaps.

ESPN Magazine

The beautiful dustjacket alone is almost worth the purchase price.

Natural History

Some fine scholarship.

Booklist

A worthwhile slice of baseball history for devoted fans.

USA Today Baseball Weekly

[I]t is Alexander's descriptions of day-to-day living for the average ballplayer that are most fascinating -- where they lived, how they earned extra money, their traveling and lodging conditions.

Chicago Tribune
Flat-out entertaining, sometimes-touching baseball anecdotes.

— Mark Luce

Choice

Baseball history does not get much better than this study of the Depression years... Everything is here: the heroes, the statistics, the personalities... a model of scholarship.

History
A worthy addition to the sports history canon, providing a valuable secondary source for anyone with an interest in the game's evolution.

— West Singletary

Journal of American History

Written in a lively, traditional narrative style rich in colorful illustrative anecdotes... enjoyable and informative.

American Studies
[It chronicles] important periods in the history of baseball, and [It] will thoroughly engage that sport's aficionados.

— Jack E. Davis

Library Journal
Alexander, author of a fine biography of Ty Cobb and other baseball books, doesn't strike out with this history of baseball from 1930 until American entry into World War II. But he doesn't get good wood on the ball either. It seems a natural to combine an analysis of the last decade of what some refer to as baseball's Golden Age with such a definitive event as the Great Depression. How did baseball and a struggling nation relate? Did the antics of Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang, the supremacy of the lordly Yankees, and the exuberance of the barnstorming Negro Leaguers deliver fans from their suffering, if only for the few hours of a game's duration? Or was baseball only a diversion, something to be set aside if a choice had to be made between tickets or a meal? While Alexander examines the baseball of the time in great detail and also speaks about the Depression, he never entirely melds the two. In addition, while he offers an exhaustive season-by-season analysis, it feels too much like a laundry list whose format could just as well be a chronological time line. A good overview but not compelling reading, this is recommended for baseball collections lacking other resources about the decade. Jim Burns, Jacksonville P.L., FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 steelproduction 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)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231113434
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/17/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 7.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles C. Alexander is Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio University. He is the author of the biographies Ty Cobb, John McGraw, and Rogers Hornsby, and of Our Game: An American Baseball History. He lives in Athens, Ohio.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

PrefaceI. Past TimesII. The Last Fat Year (1930)III. Lean Years (1931-1932)IV. The Leanest Year (1933)V. New Deal Baseball (1934-1935)VI. Toward Recovery (1936-1937)VII. Pathos and Progress (1938-1939)VIII. Baseball LivesIX. ShadowballX. Recovery and War (1940-1941)PostscriptNotesSelected BibliorgraphyIndex

Columbia University Press

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