Baseball's Pivotal Era, 1945-1951

Baseball's Pivotal Era, 1945-1951

William Marshall
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 528
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Baseball's Pivotal Era, 1945-1951
    Book Description:

    With personal interviews of players and owners and with over two decades of research in newspapers and archives, Bill Marshall tells of the players, the pennant races, and the officials who shaped one of the most memorable eras in sports and American history.

    At the end of World War II, soldiers returning from overseas hungered to resume their love affair with baseball. Spectators still identified with players, whose salaries and off-season employment as postmen, plumbers, farmers, and insurance salesmen resembled their own. It was a time when kids played baseball on sandlots and in pastures, fans followed the game on the radio, and tickets were affordable. The outstanding play of Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Don Newcombe, Warren Spahn, and many others dominated the field. But perhaps no performance was more important than that of Jackie Robinson, whose entrance into the game broke the color barrier, won him the respect of millions of Americans, and helped set the stage for the civil rights movement.

    Baseball's Pivotal Era, 1945-1951also records the attempt to organize the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Mexican League's success in luring players south of the border that led to a series of lawsuits that almost undermined baseball's reserve clause and antitrust exemption. The result was spring training pay, uniform contracts, minimum salary levels, player representation, and a pension plan--the very issues that would divide players and owners almost fifty years later.

    During these years, the game was led by A.B. "Happy" Chandler, a hand-shaking, speech-making, singing Kentucky politician. Most owners thought he would be easily manipulated, unlike baseball's first commissioner, the autocratic Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Instead, Chandler's style led one owner to complain that he was the "player's commissioner, the fan's commissioner, the press and radio commissioner, everybody's commissioner but the men who pay him."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5879-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1945
    • 1 Winds of Change
      (pp. 3-13)

      Coverage in America’s major newspapers of the death of commissioner of baseball Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis on November 25, 1944, was subdued. Throughout 1944, almost all events of major interest were eclipsed by news of a war that had reached its apex. German armies were reeling, following the Allied D day invasion in June, and Japanese strength in the Pacific continued to wane under the onslaught of increased American military pressure.

      Although the passing of Judge Landis did not go unnoticed, the implications of his death and the effects of the war itself on the game were not readily apparent...

    • 2 “No One Is Qualified”
      (pp. 14-27)

      In the midst of the heaviest fighting along the Bastogne front in Belgium, in December 1944, a girl drove her jeep into the American front lines. She wore a GI helmet and overcoat but carried no identification. After lengthy questioning by those who suspected her of being an infiltrator, she was released and sent on her way. “I finally convinced the major that I was an American,” explained Virginia Von Lampe of Yonkers, New York, “when I rattled off the Brooklyn Dodgers’ lineup for the 1941 World Series.”¹ Not unlike this Red Cross girl, baseball, by the beginning of 1945,...

    • 3 1945: Season of Hope
      (pp. 28-42)

      The death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, cast a pall over the nation and further dampened the spirits of those faced with a cold and rainy month. The pennant races in both leagues were largely determined by the manpower shortage caused by the war and by the recent decimation of baseball’s 4-F ranks. When President Harry S Truman declared victory in Europe on May 8, 1945, however, the reviews of 4-F players were suspended, and baseball began a slow climb to regain its prewar strength.

      In spite of the reversal of the government’s policy, however, baseball’s...

  5. 1946
    • 4 The Mexican Baseball Revolution
      (pp. 45-63)

      Danny Gardella was the unlikely catalyst who sparked a baseball revolution in 1946. Teammates thought of the wartime Giants’ outfielder as a physical fitness buff and a free spirit. An impulsive character, he entertained fans and players alike by eating dandelions in the outfield grass while walking on his hands or traversing the roofs of Pullman cars while pretending he was a tightrope walker.¹ Gardella was also a renowned prankster who, during the 1945 season, wrote a suicide note and climbed out on a four-inch hotel window ledge just to see roommate Nap Reyes’s reaction.²

      A chance meeting between Gardella...

    • 5 Murphy Money and More
      (pp. 64-82)

      Following the end of World War II, unions wielded more influence than at any time in American history. Conversion to a peacetime economy, deregulation, and fewer overtime hours caused hourly wages to fall—a situation that caused American labor concern. Labor not only wanted to protect its gains but also to share in America’s newfound prosperity. Union-sponsored strikes swept the country between November 1945 and June 1946, including those staged by oil, auto, electrical, steel, and mine workers over wage increases and health and welfare benefits. When a walkout staged by the Railroad Trainmen and Locomotive Engineer Brotherhoods resulted in...

    • 6 1946: Season of Tumult
      (pp. 83-98)

      As the nation’s industries retooled and the service sector returned to peacetime pursuits, baseball was encouraged to do the same. J.G. Taylor Spink, editor of theSporting News, predicted that the game would far exceed its prewar stature and would lead the nation through a postwar sports boom of unprecedented magnitude. He called for night baseball, renovated and freshly painted ballparks, and the creation of an atmosphere that would prove attractive to the female fans who were drawn to the game during the war. “Without them,” he wrote, “the game no longer can exist.”¹

      One owner who did not require...

  6. 1947
    • 7 Durocher Finishes Last
      (pp. 101-119)

      Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was rarely characterized as a nice guy. Nevertheless, his suspension by Commissioner Chandler during the 1947 season for conduct detrimental to baseball made him a hero and a martyr in Brooklyn. There is little doubt that Chandler sought to make an example of Durocher. The commissioner used Durocher’s vulnerability to prove once and for all that he was as tough on gambling and undesirable behavior as Judge Landis had been. Durocher was also a pawn in a feud between two baseball executives, Larry MacPhail and Branch Rickey, as well as a victim of his own...

    • 8 Jackie Robinson’s America
      (pp. 120-150)

      The suspension of Leo Durocher drew baseball’s attention away from one of the most momentous events of American social history—the integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson. In 1946, American society was deeply segregated. An African American’s place was well defined by law and accepted practice. In the South, home of 77 percent of the country’s black population, segregation was public, formal, and direct. Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, and intimidation kept African Americans “in their place.” This meant segregated schools, hospitals, waiting rooms and washrooms in railroad stations, dual drinking fountains, and separate milk bars at the five and...

    • 9 1947: Season of Fury
      (pp. 151-166)

      Dodger scout Burt Shotton was in Miami when he received a telegram from Branch Rickey that read, “Be in Brooklyn tomorrow morning, see nobody, say nothing.” A few days later he was offered the job of interim manager to replace Leo Durocher. Rickey explained that Joe McCarthy had turned down the Dodgers and that Shotton was the unanimous choice of the Brooklyn coaches and scouts. “You know the way to the Polo Grounds.” Rickey told him, “Take my car and drive over there.” Shotton never had a chance to refuse the job. “You just don’t resist Branch Rickey,” he noted,...

  7. 1948
    • 10 Miracle on Lake Erie
      (pp. 169-184)

      The sudden departure of Larry MacPhail in 1947 deprived the game of one of its greatest innovators. Nevertheless, the void left by the instigator of night baseball and ballpark modernization was ably filled by William Veeck Jr., who burst onto the baseball scene in 1946 as the new owner of the Cleveland Indians. Indeed, Bill Veeck’s promotional activities and marketing techniques during the Pivotal Era shattered existing major-league attendance records and unalterably changed baseball’s relationship with its fans. A baseball insider who became an outsider, Veeck’s father, William Veeck Sr., was a newspaperman who served as president of the Chicago...

    • 11 Ownership Has Its Privileges
      (pp. 185-209)

      The Pivotal Era was a transitional period for ownership. For a brief time following World War II, baseball maintained a firm grip on the attention of a sports-starved public. Radio was still broadening baseball’s appeal and attracting the interest of millions of fans, many of whom had never seen a live game. Television, which was just entering the barroom, did not overtake the living room until the end of the era. The huge surge in attendance between 1946 and 1949 was fueled by the success of night baseball—an evening attraction that encouraged family attendance. By 1948, only Chicago’s Wrigley...

    • 12 1948: Indian Summer
      (pp. 210-228)

      A fat, wrinkled man reached his hand through the flowers and affectionately placed his palm on the Babe’s clasped hands. Within seconds, he was rushed away by the two policeman who guarded the casket. “I loved the man,” he apologized, “I loved that man.” The mourners passed the Babe at the rate of a hundred persons a minute—kids clinging to baseball bats and mitts and adults alike, all hoping to get one last glimpse of an American icon.¹ More than 100,000 persons viewed the body as it lay in state in the rotunda of Yankee Stadium from 5:00 p.m....

  8. 1949
    • 13 Gardella’s Folly
      (pp. 231-249)

      Commissioner Chandler’s five-year ban on the Mexican League jumpers was the beginning of a saga that almost brought baseball’s perpetual reserve clause to its knees long before the 1975 McNally-Messersmith case. Unlike the Federal League jumpers of 1914, who were quickly reinstated following their league’s collapse, Chandler’s ban was implemented. When catcher Mickey Owen presented himself at Chandler’s Cincinnati offices following his flight from Mexico in August 1946, he was rebuffed. This reaction sent a message that baseball would not take back its prodigal sons. While in the short-term this policy successfully discouraged others from jumping to Mexico, the long-term...

    • 14 A Stepchild in Peril, The Minors
      (pp. 250-269)

      The minor leagues reached the height of their prosperity and success during the first five years (1945-49) of the Pivotal Era. On the verge of extinction during the Depression, minor-league baseball was saved by night baseball and the Shaughnessey playoff system. The strong leadership provided by North Carolina judge William Bramham, who took over the presidency of the National Association in 1932 at a time when only ten leagues remained, also helped. Bramham forcefully placed the leagues on a sound financial footing and demanded integrity from the association’s members.¹ Baseball quickly recovered from the manpower shortage during World War II...

    • 15 1949: Pinstripes Prevail
      (pp. 270-289)

      World powers were deeply immersed in the Cold War by 1949. As the new baseball season commenced, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established, the Alger Hiss spy trial began, and the Soviet blockade of Berlin was lifted. In June, the last U.S. occupation forces from World War II were quietly withdrawn from Korea. Hollywood producers, intent on capitalizing on baseball’s popularity, rushed in to make a quick dollar. Several baseball movies appeared, includingIt Happens Every Spring, The Stratton Story, andThe Kid from Cleveland. When Commissioner Chandler read the script ofIt Happens Every Spring, which starred Ray...

  9. 1950
    • 16 “Who Were Those Guys?”
      (pp. 291-318)

      Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a tall, thin Chicago clerk-typist, was infatuated with Cubs bachelor Eddie Waitkus. In a nightly ritual, she covered her bed with photographs and press clippings of the first baseman. She included baked beans in her diet because Waitkus was from Boston, and she studied Lithuanian because he was of Lithuanian descent. As a regular ticket holder at Wrigley Field, she often stood with other bobby-soxers to watch the players pass outside the park, and once she almost got close enough to touch Waitkus. The prospect of such contact nearly caused her to faint. Steinhagen believed that she...

    • 17 The Great Triumvirate and Other Stars
      (pp. 319-350)

      Hank Greenberg was shocked when he heard radio reports of his sale to Pittsburgh. The news was confirmed by a telegram from general manager Billy Evans, which read, “This is to inform you that your contract has been assigned to the Pittsburgh club of the National League trust you will find your new connection a most profitable one.”¹ After leading the league in home runs and runs batted in 1946, Greenberg had been unceremoniously dealt to the Pirates without a phone call, personal contact, or any explanation whatsoever from the Tigers. To add insult to injury, the other American League...

    • 18 1950: Year of the Whiz Kids
      (pp. 351-372)

      On June 26, 1950, Americans were jolted by the news that a Soviet-equipped and -trained North Korean army had invaded South Korea and was threatening the capital, Seoul. President Truman rushed troops to Korea to stem the tide and dispatched a fleet to protect Formosa from possible invasion by Red China. The Korean conflict reversed American military retrenchment, and the draft, which had been reinstituted in 1947, again threatened baseball. There was fear that America might be faced with World War III and that baseball and other professional sports might have to cease operation. Fans and owners alike were not...

  10. 1951
    • 19 Chandler’s Waterloo
      (pp. 375-396)

      Until the evening of December 11, 1950, baseball’s winter meetings were remarkably quiet—no major trades or transactions were announced, and there seemed little of a controversial nature to report. Most of the legion of baseball writers covering the St. Petersburg meeting were having a night on the town some thirty-three miles away in Tampa. Unbeknownst to most of them, the National and American League owners were meeting in executive session at the Soreno Hotel to discuss the next day’s agenda, which included the renewal of baseball commissioner Happy Chandler’s contract. St. Louis owner Fred Saigh recalled jesting with a...

    • 20 1951: “The Shot Heard ’Round the World”
      (pp. 397-425)

      A mixed chorus of boos and cheers greeted President Harry S Truman as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Senators’ home opener on April 20, 1951. It was the president’s first major appearance in public since he removed General Douglas MacArthur from his command in Korea and the Far East. His reception at Griffith Stadium was in stark contrast to the ticker-tape parades and hero’s welcome accorded MacArthur during the previous week and marked the first time a U.S. president was heckled at a baseball game since Herbert Hoover was met with the chant of “We want...

    • 21 Baseball Then and Now
      (pp. 426-440)

      Many of baseball’s gains during the Pivotal Era were squandered or allowed to languish during the following decades. Ford Frick’s election as baseball commissioner in 1951 ensured that baseball would backslide. “When the clubs pushed me out in 1951,” noted Frick’s predecessor Happy Chandler, “they had a vacancy and decided to keep it. So they named Ford Frick.”¹ Although Chandler’s comment is harsh, Babe Ruth’s ghostwriter was a fan, an insider, and a known quantity who did not threaten the owners. He believed that the game did not need a policeman and that the commissioner’s job was to administer baseball’s...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 441-489)
  12. Sources
    (pp. 490-495)
  13. Index
    (pp. 496-514)