The 1930’s
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The 1930’s

With the Great Depression taking its toll on America’s psyche in the ’Thirties, baseball sought—in the words of a popular song from the following decade—“to accentuate the positive”. Three institutions focused on recognizing accomplishment were launched in the 1930’s: the Most Valuable Player Award in 1932, the All-Star Game in 1933, and the Royal Ricketts Award in 1937; a fourth, the Hall of Fame, would generate much discussion and public interest in the ’30’s before opening its doors in 1946. One other notable innovation occurred in this decade: night baseball. The first game played “under the lights”was in 1935 at Cincinnati. The Packers played seven such games that season. By the end of the decade, a handful of teams were scheduling a handful of night games each season. It would not be long before night games became the norm.


The offensive upswing that began a decade earlier reached its zenith in 1930, as the league averaged .297 and hit almost 1200 home runs. The long ball totals would remain high throughout the 30's, but batting averages were about to recede.

In the midst of all the flying baseballs was a terrific donnybrook of a pennant fight in the Eastern Division, where perennial non-contenders Baltimore and Buffalo slugged it out all season for the top spot, with Brooklyn and New York hot on their heels. The Lords and Beavers were tied going into the final three-game set of the year; Buffalo took two of the three to earn the divisional crown, and Baltimore finished one game back, New York two games back, and Brooklyn three games back. In the West Chicago and Pittsburgh stayed close to St. Louis for most of the season but the Explorers pulled away late to win their eighth consecutive divisional title.

Cleveland finally joined the modern age, unveiling the spectacular Lakefront Stadium on Opening Day. The park held 36,250, but it was generally not a banner year for the fifth-place Bobcats, although those who did purchase tickets got to see Bill McGonagil in action. Big Bill crushed 31 home runs, tops in the league. The batting title was claimed by Cincinnati’s Al Bruning, who hit .392, while Ed Wall of New York took the RBI title with 143. St. Louis’ Brock Rutherford had another great year, but this time only topped the circuit in wins (27) and strikeouts (227), losing the ERA title to Philadelphia’s Patrick Monday. Rutherford posted an outstanding 1.62 ERA but Monday’s was an even more pristine 1.52.

Buffalo had won the first official World Series back in 1886—when the team was known as the Colts—and hadn’t made another appearance in the tourney since. As they returned to the big stage they faced a hungry St. Louis team, which had been no stranger to championship bouts in recent years but had come up on the losing end of the last four straight. The clubs gave the crowds their money’s worth. Buffalo took the first game but St. Louis roared back to take the next three. Facing elimination, the Beavers took the next two to force a Game Seven, which the Explorers won to secure their fifth league crown.

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Fearing that runs were starting come a little too cheaply, the league made an effort to deaden the baseball a little for the 1931 season. The result was a 17-point drop in batting average (from .297 to .280) and a dramatic decrease in home runs, from 1189 to 846. The batting average decline was in the neighborhood of what was intended; the home run drought was not. Further experimentation would occur.

Whatever mixed success the league had in fine-tuning the game, the fans were treated to terrific three-team pennant races in both divisions for the first time in years. Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis fought for the top spot in the West for most of the season before the Traders and Industrials pulled away in September. Pittsburgh wound up on top, two games ahead of Chicago and ten ahead of St. Louis. In the East Brooklyn, Buffalo, and New York traded first place every few days until the Knicks’ late surge earned them the division, with the Bluebirds finishing four back and the Beavers finishing five back.

Philadelphia’s John Davis was the batting champ with a .370 average; Cleveland’s Bill Elliott hit 21 home runs to lead the league; Chicago’s Ron Fricker was the RBI king with 122. St. Louis’ Brock Rutherford led the way in ERA (1.54) for the ninth time and strikeouts (204) for the twelfth, but he fell one win short of the Triple Crown as Chicago’s George Culver paced the circuit with 23.

Pittsburgh’s last appearance in the World Series had been in 1904; their last World Series win had been in 1903. Both of those tilts had been against New York, and once again, the Industrials found themselves facing the Knicks for the title. Having ended the Explorers’ eight-year dominance of the West, the Ironmen were not intimidated by New York’s recent championship run either, and polished off the Knicks in six to earn their fourth world title.

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Home runs made a comeback: the league hit over a thousand round-trippers, with four teams hitting a hundred or more and only two hitting fewer than eighty.

Buffalo ran away from the pack in the East at mid-season, beating Philadelphia by nine games. The Western Division race nearly went down to the wire, as Chicago edged Pittsburgh by two games.

Big Bill McGonagil of Cleveland won the batting championship with a .362 average. St. Louis’ Tom McMullin was the home run king, belting 27. Ed Wall of New York drove in 127 runs to pace the circuit. Brock Rutherford of St. Louis won another pitching Triple Crown, his eighth, but while he won the ERA (1.62) and strikeout (246) titles outright, he had to share the top spot in wins with two other pitchers, Buffalo’s Pete Bailey and Chicago’s Phil Cartlidge. All three hurlers posted 24 victories.

The league had pondered establishing an annual Most Valuable Player award for some time, and various newspapers and other publications had sporadically issued unofficial awards since the ’Teens. Finally it was agreed to make it official; the question remained whether to make pitchers eligible for the award, or to give them their own, separate award. Amidst the confusion, in 1932 the pitchers were left out completely; ineligible for the MVP award, but with no award of their own. Tom McMillan of St. Louis took home the first Most Valuable Player trophy after a 27 HR/110 RBI/.333 season.

Perhaps invigorated by their season-long street fight with Pittsburgh, Chicago took Buffalo by storm in the World Series, defeating the Beavers in four straight. Third baseman Mel Harrison hit .625 and drove in five runs, but the real star of the Series was the Traders’ pitching staff, which turned in three compete game victories by three different pitchers and gave up just seven runs in the four games.

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Home runs dipped back to 1931 levels, and the league batting average dropped to .266. It wasn’t quite what one might call a pitchers’ year, but for at least one season the hitters and pitchers were more or less on equal footing.

The first annual All-Star Game took place at Boston’s Atlantic Avenue Grounds, with the East All-Stars clipping the West All-Stars 1-0 thanks to Doc Moore’s sixth inning RBI double.

The Western Division race was over by mid-season. Defending champion Chicago roared out of the gate and finished 109-49, 23 games ahead of second-place Cleveland. The East featured a tighter race, but New York appeared to have it wrapped up by the first of October, holding a five-game lead over Philadelphia with seven games to play. That’s when fate planted its pivot foot: the Knicks dropped six straight at home to Baltimore and Brooklyn, while the Quakers took five of six on the road at Boston and Buffalo. Both teams won their 158th game, setting up a one-game playoff for the division. It was one for the ages: trailing 7-0, the Quakers scored seven runs in the bottom of the sixth to tie it and won it on Del Ayres’ run-scoring single in the bottom of the 10th.

Buffalo’s Jim Lee hit .358 to take the batting title. Dick Whitney of Chicago won the home run crown with 21 and the RBI crown with 119. Chicago’s Phil Cartlidge (1.59) edged St. Louis’ Brock Rutherford (1.61) for the ERA title, while Rutherford led in both wins (26) and strikeouts (182). With pitchers now eligible for the Most Valuable Player Award, it was widely speculated that Rutherford would win it, but Cartlidge beat him out in a close vote.

Philadelphia had one more card to play in their season of surprises: a World Series sweep. Chicago had led the league by wide margins in wins, runs scored, and fewest runs allowed, but seemed somehow ill-equipped to handle a Philadelphia freight train that closed out an 11-1 October to take the league title for the first time since 1919.

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Offense was on the increase again, and so was competition, at least in the Eastern Division, where no fewer than four teams remained strongly in contention well into September. New York took the flag, with Buffalo finishing two back, Baltimore finishing three back, and Philadelphia finishing seven back. The West was again no contest, this time with Pittsburgh the dominant club, 15 games ahead of Chicago and St. Louis.

The second All-Star Game, played at Cleveland this year, was another exciting affair as the East All-Stars overcame a 5-0 deficit to win 7-5 and take a 2-0 edge in the annual exhibition.

Philadelphia’s Art Cook hit .374 to claim the batting crown, while Jim Payne of Cincinnati hit 21 home runs to lead the league and Orange Koon of Buffalo topped the circuit with 115 RBI. John DeLodge of Detroit won the ERA tile with a 2.42 mark, while Frederic Isaac of Baltimore was the top winner with 23 triumphs. St. Louis’ Brock Rutherford was the strikeout king for an incredible 15th consecutive season, fanning 195. Rutherford was honored as the league’s Most Valuable Player after the season, an award he would have won many more times had it existed during the prime of his career.

After back-to-back years of World Series sweeps, Pittsburgh and New York brought a competitive edge back to the Fall Classic, slugging it out for the full seven games. Birdie Deaton pitched two complete game victories and Dick Thomas delivered key pinch hits in four games to lead the Industrials to their fifth world championship.

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Pittsburgh and Buffalo led their divisions for most of the year but in the waning days of the season found themselves having to fight off charges by Chicago and New York; the Industrials and Beavers prevailed, both winning their divisions by a single game.

Brooklyn’s Big Bill McGonagil hit .349 to win the batting title; Long Lew Lydell of Detroit was the home run king with 26, and Cincinnati’s Tom Riley was the RBI champ with 121. Brock Rutherford of St. Louis, 37 years young, won both the ERA title (1.66) and the strikeout title (214). Pittsburgh’s Birdie Deaton was the top winner with 26 victories. Rutherford was the runaway choice for Most Valuable Player.

The West won the All-Star Game for the first time, beating the East 5-2 in ten innings at Brooklyn’s Flatbush Park.

Cincinnati installed lights in the Roman Arena and received permission from the league to schedule five night games—one against each divisional opponent—during the regular season. The games were well-attended, and other the clubs took notice.

The Eastern Division’s western-most team faced the Western Division’s eastern-most team to decide the championship. Pittsburgh took a 3-1 lead, but this being a season in which nothing came easy to anyone, saw their lead gone after Game Six. They beat Buffalo in the finale, 4-2, however, to repeat as world champions.

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The pennant races were thrillers, but for one team, there was a feeling that they’d been through this before, and would have preferred not to relive it. New York had a three-game lead over Philadelphia with ten to play; the Knicks sputtered to a 4-6 finish, while the Quakers, as if channeling the 1933 world champions, went 9-1 to win the Eastern flag by two games. In the West, Chicago saw a sizable lead over St. Louis dwindle down to one game by season’s end, but the Traders wrapped up the division with two games to spare.

The Explorers were no doubt disappointed to finish second, but they nearly swept the Triple Crown categories. Third baseman Gene Metcalf led the league in hitting with a .370 average, and right fielder Bruiser Brusatti topped the circuit both in home runs (31) and runs batted in (131). Brock Rutherford led the league in strikeouts (for an unbelievable 17th consecutive season) with 187 and tied Chicago’s Phil Cartlidge for the lead in wins, with 26; the only Triple Crown category an Explorer failed to win or share was ERA, in which Cartlidge beat Rutherford by a slim margin, 1.67 to 1.81.

The West won the All-Star Game at Detroit’s Wolverine Field, 6-3, to even the annual series at two games apiece.

Jason “Jaybird” Wall of New York needed five home runs to pass Fennimore McCaffree (who retired in 1931) as the league’s all-time home run leader. Wall hit 18, finishing the season with 249.

Wall’s ex-teammate and double-play partner, Doc Moore, hung up his spikes after the season. The Hamilton Hammer could still hit when he was in the lineup—.351 in 1935 and .366 in 1936—but he had battled injuries for four frustrating seasons in a row. Moore retired as the league’s all-time leading hitter, at .363.

Most Valuable Player Award voters gave Cartlidge the nod over Rutherford, just as they had in 1933. With pitchers walking away with all four MVP awards for which they had been eligible, the league decided it was time to give them their own award and leave the MVP to the position players. Beginning in 1937 the Royal Ricketts Award would be bestowed upon the league’s top moundsman.

Eastern champions Philadelphia, winners of 92 games, squared off against Western champions Chicago, winners of 103, with a chance to enact one more instance of 1933 déjà vu. On paper the Traders looked like the stronger team by some margin, but the Quakers again played like a team of destiny, wrapping it up in five, with back-to-back shutouts by aging vets Joe Hinman and Clay Easton providing the icing on the cake.

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It was not a banner year for those who liked close pennant races, nor for those who were not nostalgic for the postseason pairings of the previous decade; but it was a great year for the fans of the St. Louis Explorers, and a pretty good one for the fans of the New York Knickerbockers. St. Louis won 112 games and won the West by 12 games; New York won 97 and took the East by 14.

New York’s Prince Hal Scarlet hit .375 to edge St. Louis’ Gene Metcalf (.373) for the batting crown. St. Louis’ Jim Payne out-homered Detroit’s John Oberg by a single round-tripper to win the home run title with 28; Scarlet led in RBI with 120. Brock Rutherford of St. Louis, clearly unaware that at age 39 he was supposed to be making retirement plans, instead turned in one of the greatest seasons of his incomparable career, winning his eighth Triple Crown with a 1.40 ERA (a career best), 28 wins, and 240 strikeouts. Obviously, Rutherford was an easy choice for the first Royal Ricketts Award, while teammate Metcalf, with a .373/21/102 line, was a runaway winner of the MVP Award.

The East broke their two-game losing streak in the All-Star Game, winning 4-3 at Baltimore, to take a 3-2 edge in the all-time series.

St. Louis had beaten New York only once in five consecutive Fall Classic match-ups in the 1920’s, but these were by and large different teams, and this edition of the Explorers took their 112-win regular season momentum into the Word Series, where they triumphed in six for the franchise’s sixth world title.

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New York won the Eastern Division title in a walk, finishing 101-57, 17 games ahead of Buffalo. St. Louis repeated in the West, but their road was rockier, fighting a hot Chicago club the whole way, and finishing with 99 wins and a 3-game edge over the Traders.

Philadelphia’s Art Cook flirted with a .400 season, but had to settle for a .397 average and the batting title. Cook also hit 23 home runs, sharing the lead with New York’s Frank Wells. Tom Riley of Cincinnati was the RBI champ with 132. Philadelphia’s Hugh Zipp posted a 2.03 ERA to lead all hurlers, while Brock Rutherford of St. Louis posted 28 wins and 208 strikeouts to pace the circuit in those categories. Rutherford also notched his 500th career victory during the season. The Royal Ricketts Award went to Rutherford unanimously while Cook took home the Most Valuable Player trophy.

Jaybird Wall called it a career, retiring as the league’s all-time home run champion, with 274 round-trippers. Wall also retired with the career record for walks, 1465, nearly 200 more than any other player.

The All-Star Game, played at defending champion St. Louis’ Castle Point Field this year, was a romp for the East All-Stars, who won 9-3 to improve their all-time record in the mid-season clash to 4-2.

The East would not find St. Louis as hospitable in the fall. With Rutherford tossing shutouts in Game One and the clinching Game Five, the Explorers made quick work of the Knickerbockers in the World Series and secured their second consecutive league title and seventh overall.

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Pittsburgh stormed out of the gate, winning their first nine games and spending the entire regular season in first place in the Western Division, ultimately finishing 111-47, 19 games ahead of second-place Chicago. New York won the Eastern Division title for the third consecutive season, winning 94 games, 7 more than Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

To many observers, though, it was the year of the Beaver—not the Buffalo variety, but the Cincinnati variety. Packers second baseman Winslow Beaver hit .417—the highest single-season average of all time—becoming only the second player in history to break the .400 barrier and the first since 1894. The other offensive titles went to Detroit’s John Oberg, who topped the circuit with 29 home runs, and Pittsburgh’s Pepper Wirtz, whose 132 RBI led the loop. Chuck Munson of Pittsburgh won the ERA crown with a 1.82 mark, while Hugh Zipp of Philadelphia led the league in wins with 29 and strikeouts with 172. Beaver was the Most Valuable Player while Zipp claimed the The Royal Ricketts Award.

The name Brock Rutherford was, for the first time in just short of two decades, missing from the leaderboards in the pitching Triple Crown categories. Rutherford injured his elbow in his first and only start of the season and was lost for the remainder of the year.

The Eastern Division won the All-Star Game, 2-1, giving the Easterners a 5-2 in the all-time series.

Pittsburgh scored 842 runs during the season, tops in the league, while giving up just 560, more than a hundred less than any other team. During the World Series, however, New York right fielder Elmer Davis battered the Industrials’ mound staff at a .615 clip while the Knicks’ pitchers limited the Steel City hitting machine to three runs in four games, pulling off a surprising sweep for their tenth world title.

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