The Baseball Tragedy of Hack Wilson
Buy it from Amazon from Barnes & Noble
THE BIG HANGOVER
Rogers Hornsby finally acted the part of the stern disciplinarian and thereby let the world in on the fact that the good-natured, healthy Hack Wilson doesn't like to go to bed early. Hack should have been a morning newspaper man. They never go to bed, and nothing is said about it.-- The Sporting News
Despite the extraordinary offensive accomplishments of the 1930 season, baseball proved to be as susceptible as any other enterprise to the economics of the Depression. The 1930s witnessed the first significant financial problems for major league franchises since the first decade of the century. Some clubs in two-team cities or small markets, such as the St. Louis Browns, the Boston Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Cincinnati Reds, found themselves in a chronically depressed situation in the 1930s. They were consistently outbid for promising minor league players and their records were poor, while their ballparks began to deteriorate and their attendance dropped after the 1930 season -- for that year overall major league attendance reached 10.5 million, a figure that would not be equaled for another 16 years once the 1931 season began.
Another development was that the original map of major league franchises began to show some signs of age. Competitiveness was at stake, as the rich teams got richer and the poor teams got poorer, both talent-wise and financially. That point alone prompted baseball executives to reevaluate the imbalance between hitting and pitching in the 1930-31 off-season.
It was no coincidence that Organized Baseball tried to again micro-manage the manufacturing of the baseball used for season play. This time, they sought to lessen the run scoring with a few tweaks of the game.
First, they deadened the ball by making it with a thicker cover and raised the stitches, which helped the pitchers grip it better. Two, the NL adopted the AL's ground-rule double policy, which meant that when a ball bounced into the seats the batter got a two-base hit instead of a four-base hit. Three, the sacrifice fly was abolished for any runners advancing, including those who had scored on the flyball out, thus giving the batter an official at bat. Previously, batters were not charged with at bats when runners advanced or scored on flyball outs, and so their averages weren't adversely affected. The sacrifice fly was not fully reestablished until 1954.
Many players would be affected by these decisions, especially Hack Wilson, who spent the winter celebrating, and oblivious, like most players, to the changes in the game. While his home runs had attracted much attention, it wasn't until January 1, 1931, that the magnitude of his RBI total was significantly noticed.
On that day, The Sporting News headlined an article, "Hack Wilson Bats in 190 Runs, Tops Sluggers in NL." The article pointed out that the Cubs' clean-up hitter had "established a new league record of runs batted in, breaking his own mark of 159, made the year previous."
Around that time Hack returned to Chicago to perform vaudeville with teammates Gabby Hartnett, Kiki Cuyler, and Cliff Heathcote. The clothing store Haberdasheries hired him to model the latest and finest men's fashions. He reveled in the attention, especially on stage. In one of the most humorous passages about Hack, the Chicago Tribune's Ed Burns wrote:
"After his first matinee Hack thought he could dance better than Terpsichore and Bo-Jangles Bill Robinson combined and that he possessed the voice of a nightingale, much sweeter than Caruso's ever was. As the act went on, Wilson's superiority complex increased to the point where the presence of his three pals irritated him and he wanted them to hide behind the piano while he was doing his stuff."
As for being a fashion model, Burns noted, "In his extra-curricular appearances he received additional adulation while demonstrating what the well-dressed man should wear. Sometimes, though he had been signed on merely as a mannequin, Hack would drift off into a song and dance. Never a day went by that he didn't autograph a gross of baseballs, but this never seemed to remind him that he was just a star player who was the big man of the day."
From Fouled Away: The Baseball Tragedy of Hack Wilson by Clifton Blue Parker.
Copyright © 2000 by Clifton Blue Parker. Reprinted with permission.