Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era

By Charles C. Alexander | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 6
Toward Recovery, 1936–1937

DURING THE 1935 SEASON , the Brooklyn Dodgers drew 470,517 people to Ebbets Field and managed to meet expenses but again finished in sixth place under Casey Stengel. The franchise was still way in debt. All in all, it wasn't much of a season to remember except for one truly macabre episode—something that many contemporaries assumed could happen only with the Dodgers. John Kieran was moved to advise his readers that Idiot's Delight, Robert E. Sherwood's hit Broadway play, had nothing to do with the Brooklyn ball club.

Len Koenecke was a thirty-one-year-old outfielder—a Wisconsinite who'd first come up to the New York Giants from Indianapolis in 1932, then been sent back to Indianapolis, and then drafted by Brooklyn. Koenecke had a good first year with the Dodgers, but in 1935 his hitting fell off, and Stengel put him in the lineup less frequently. Koenecke apparently drank a lot, at least enough that on September 17, in St. Louis, Stengel decided to hand him his unconditional release.

With two other players (both in good standing), Koenecke was supposed to return by air to New York, but in Detroit he was put off the regular commercial flight for being drunk and obnoxious. Koenecke then chartered a private aircraft to fly him to Buffalo. En route he got into a fight with pilot William Mulqueeney; unable to subdue him otherwise, copilot Irwin Davis grabbed a fire extinguisher and beat the ballplayer senseless. When they made an emergency landing at Toronto, Koenecke was pronounced dead. After a brief inquiry, both Mulqueeney and Irwin were exonerated.

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