Breaking the Slump|
Baseball in the Depression Era
by Charles C. Alexander
Columbia University Press, 2002 | Buy the book
In January 1938, when Grover Cleveland Alexander was notified that he'd gained the necessary three-fourths majority in the Base Ball Writers Association's Hall of Fame selections, he said, "The Hall of Fame is fine, but it doesn't mean bread and butter. It's only your picture on the wall." [Sporting News, January 27, 1938, p. 4.] The fifty-year-old Alexander -- who'd won 373 games and thrown ninety shutouts over twenty big-league seasons -- had spent the previous summer managing a semipro club in Springfield, Illinois, and now worked as a greeter in the owner's bar. Meanwhile, at a Brooklyn nightclub, a tuxedoed Hack Wilson, still only thirty-eight, was also chatting up customers, besides doing a song-and-dance number with a tall chorus girl.
At the 1938 World Series games in Yankee Stadium, veteran sports-writers and even a few older fans may have recognized two elderly men who were working as ushers. One was seventy-eight-year-old Arlie Latham, who'd been a famous third baseman in the 1880s and later one of John McGraw's coaches; the other was Bill Dahlen, sixty-eight, once considered the National League's premier shortstop.
The predicament of such men -- men who'd had lengthy playing careers at salaries substantially above what most people earned -- was fairly common in a time before players were able to wring a pension program out of the club owners. As Waite Hoyt (who'd quickly found a home in radio) wrote in 1941, baseball was a fine profession, but it had major drawbacks. It was an expensive way of life that usually involved the maintenance of two residences, especially if one had children of school age. Hoyt estimated that a player averaging $10,000 per year for ten years could manage to end up with savings of only about $30,000. If he put his money into some of kind of business enterprise, his lack of experience might very well doom him to failure. The problem with "baseball as a life's work," Hoyt concluded, was that "it takes the player's best years and trains him for nothing else." [Sporting News, January 23, 1941, p. 3.]
This essay is reprinted from the book, Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era by Charles C. Alexander.
Copyright © 2002 by Charles C. Alexander. Used by arrangement with Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.