Everybody Is A Star: Q&A With Author Lew Freedman

Ron KaplanContributor IJuly 12, 2010

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 25:  A statue of Babe Ruth is seen at the National Baseball Hall of Fame during induction weekend on July 25, 2009 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Well, perhaps not everybody

With apologies to Sly and the Family Stone .

In honor of the annual contest—held this year on July 13 in Anaheim—I run this little Q&A with Lew Freedman, author of The Day All the Stars Came Out: Major League Baseball’s First All-star Game, 1933 , (McFarland ).

Bookshelf: What made you pick the first official All-Star game as a topic?

Freedman : I just always thought it was neat how the All-Star game was created with its tie-in to the 1933 World’s Fair and I was always blown away by how many famous names were connected to the game, players and the managers, Connie Mack and John McGraw. I worked at the Chicago Tribune , in the sports department, but if that was any influence it was unconscious.

As someone who reads a large number of baseball books and has done considerable research for my own baseball history books, I just thought it was a worthwhile subject to explore in depth.

Bookshelf: What was the original concept for the Game?

Freedman : The Major League Baseball All-Star game was created to be a sports showcase event at the Fair. The new Chicago Mayor Ed Kelley had missed out on the planning of the extravaganza and went to Colonel Robert McCormick, the powerful and civic-minded booster who was publisher of the Chicago Tribune , and asked him to get behind some kind of sporting event. McCormick asked his sports editor Arch Ward for ideas.

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Ward’s immediate proposal was to conduct a baseball All-Star game in conjunction with the Fair. There had been some suggestions in the past, dating to 1915 by Franklin C. Lane, the editor of Baseball Magazine , that the sport initiate an All-Star contest, but they had faded in memory.

Bookshelf: How was the game put together?

Freedman : Ward began bombarding the public with articles about this upcoming “Game of the Century,” as he termed it. A plan was hatched to print ballots in newspaper sports sections around the country and hundreds of thousands of fans voted for their favorite players.

The planning time was short, with approval in the spring and the game scheduled for July, but everything moved smoothly and quickly on the organizational front. Comiskey Park was chosen as the site over Wrigley Field based on a coin toss.

Bookshelf: Isn’t it true that this was originally considered a one-shot deal? When was the decision made to make it an annual event?

Freedman : Even after the first game was played—and was proclaimed an all-around hit—it was not yet suggested that there would be another All-Star game. But once the owners gauged the level of popularity and positive publicity they had earned from the fans, they decided to go ahead and play a second game in 1934. The game continued year-by-year for a short while before it kind of morphed into a permanent fixture on the calendar. The connection to Chicago and to the World’s Fair gave the creation of the game the key boost to get started, but it was clear soon after that it would move to different locations. The Chicago Tribune was no longer backing the game financially. The second game was played at the Polo Grounds in New York.

Bookshelf: How did the players feel about the games? Did they consider it an honor or a nuisance?

Freedman : Right from the start the players welcomed selection to the first All-Star game as an honor. There were feelings of identification with their leagues and there was a sense of proving superiority being at stake. There was never a suggestion that players would be fatigued or might get injured as an argument used against [it]. Even in 1933, newspapers were the primary manner of obtaining sports news. Although the Tribune was the initiator, other newspapers around the country jumped on the bandwagon with support immediately and clamored to be allowed to print ballots for fans to use to vote for their favorites. Fifty-five newspapers ended up participating. The Sporting News also played up the idea of an All-Star game and ran a contest amongst its own voters to be sent to the game. A mailman from Philadelphia won the trip.

Bookshelf: What about the owners? Did they protest the use of their players, worried about excess fatigue or injury?

Freedman : Ward worked behind the scenes with the presidents of the American and National League to convince owners, some skeptical, that they should back this proposal in the middle of the Depression. The owners worried they would lose money, but the Tribune guaranteed any losses. Once the league presidents and owners were on board they brought the idea to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Seeing no objection, Landis approved it.

Bookshelf: Since Babe Ruth ostensibly won the game in story-book fashion with the first All-Star homer, was there ever any whispers about the incident being “scripted”?

Freedman : I have heard no suggestions that there was any scripting in the result of the first All-Star game. Ruth hit his home run early on when the National League had plenty of time to make a comeback. Lesser known is the fact that in the late going (I think it was the eighth) Ruth made a leaping catch in right field to kill a National League comeback rally. At that point in his career, Ruth was considered a liability in the field. He was overweight and wasn’t nearly as quick as he had once been. Of the two key plays he figured in it was more surprising that he made the grab in the outfield than he hit the home run.

By the way, Freedman, currently the sports editor of The Republic (Columbus, Indiana), and the author of more than 40 books, has never seen an All-Star game in person.