Past Time: Baseball as History

By Jules Tygiel | Go to book overview

Adjusting to the New Order

Branch Rickey, Larry MacPhail,
and the Great Depression

The Great Depression ensnared baseball slowly, but inexorably. In 1930, as the nation slid into a deep recession, baseball flourished. Major league hitters, led by Chicago Cub Hack Wilson, who hit a National League record 56 home runs and drove in an astonishing 190 runs, and Babe Ruth, who again led the American League in home runs, treated fans to an unprecedented offensive outburst. A heart-stopping four-team pennant race in the National League further stimulated attendance. Thus, despite the economic downturn, attendance in 1930 topped ten million for the first time and major league profits soared to almost $2 million, more than triple the 1929 surplus. The season seemed to uphold the conventional wisdom that "poor business years are good baseball years." In past recessions, baseball had found that unemployed workers, many with savings to tide them over, had ample time and adequate funds to attend games. The latest economic slump, reasoned base‐ ball owners, would be no different. 1

The year 1931, however, hinted at a disturbing reality. Attendance fell by more than 15 percent and income plummeted. Although the major leagues as a whole showed a $2I7,000 profit,

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