Academic journal article Nine

Those 1940 Detroit Tigers: The Story of a Trio of Hall of Famers with Birdie, Barney, Bobo, Schoolboy, and Pinky Higgins

Academic journal article Nine

Those 1940 Detroit Tigers: The Story of a Trio of Hall of Famers with Birdie, Barney, Bobo, Schoolboy, and Pinky Higgins

Article excerpt

John C. Fountain. Those 1940 Detroit Tigers: The Story of a Trio of Hall of Famers with Birdie, Barney, Bobo, Schoolboy, and Pinky Higgins. Detroit: Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association's Grant Fund, 2008.128 pp. Paper, $25.00.

In the summer of 1940, an eight-year-old John Fountain listened to the broadcasts of pioneer sports announcer Ty Tyson and fell in love with the Detroit Tigers. Fountain's account of that 1940 season begins with spring training when a mediocre team of long-in-the-tooth veterans assembled in Lakeland, Florida. Through the eyes of Fountain, we see this team win the pennant but lose the seventh game of the World Series to Cincinnati.

In 1940, America was between the depression and World War II. It was a time when baseball players held menial winter jobs, and the $2,140 each player received for winning the World Series was a fortune. Baseball was Detroit's chief diversion. At Briggs Stadium, bleacher seats went for fifty cents, and hot dogs cost a dime. When Al Schacht, "The Clown Prince of Baseball," performed before the games, a fan enjoyed lunch, a show, and a ball game for about a dollar. Detroit fans were obsessed with their team, and the rivalry between Detroit and Cleveland became so intense that Detroiters waited at the train station to taunt the Indian players, and during the game Tiger fans pelted them with vegetables, fruit, and an occasional bottle. In Cleveland, the Tigers were subject to similar abuse.

This was not a politically correct world, and various prejudices were so entrenched that they were not questioned. Blacks were not permitted entry into Major League Baseball, and other ethnic groups were in short supply. Fountain notes that seven-year veteran Hank Greenberg, the most talented Tiger, had to deal with anti-Semitism. Greenberg, who played on Rosh Hashanah but not on Yom Kippur, complained, "how and the hell could you get up to home plate every day and have some son-of-a-bitch call you a Jew bastard, kike and a sheenie and getting on your ass without feeling the pressure." This does not quite mesh with Greenberg's discussion of this matter in his autobiography. Although Greenberg did confront anti-Semitism, he was mainly dismissive of it and said he was more uncomfortable with the nickname "Han-kus Pancus," which Tyson had devised, than some of the ethnic slurs which were common in this era. …

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