Live Ball Era - 1920 - 1941
In this time, a cork-and-rubber-center ball, replacing a rubber-core ball, was now consistently used by both the National and American Leagues. Pitchers, sans a handful of grand-fathered cases, were no longer permitted to alter baseballs or use trick pitches. A fresh ball was used in play at all times. During this period, on average, nearly ten runs were scored per game. Batting average and homerun records were shattered. In 1930, the National League's batting average was over .300. Starting pitchers completed their games 47% of the time. In 1935, "night" baseball was introduced. For the most part, clubs traveled from city to city by train. Teams began broadcasting their games on the radio and later television. Also, in 1920, the Negro Leagues were formed in an answer to racial discrimination in the major leagues.
It was not the Black Sox scandal by which an end was put to the dead-ball era, but by a rule change and a single player.
Some of the increased offensive output can be explained by the 1920 rule change outlawing tampering with the ball, which pitchers had often done to produce "spitballs", "shine balls" and other trick pitches which had 'unnatural' flight through the air. Umpires were also required to put new balls into play whenever the current ball became scuffed or discolored. This rule change was enforced all the more stringently following the death of Ray Chapman, who was struck in the temple by a pitched ball from Carl Mays in a game on August 16, 1920 (he died the next day). Discolored balls, harder for batters to see and therefore harder for batters to dodge, have been rigorously removed from play ever since. There are two side effects. One, of course, is that if the batter can see the ball more easily, the batter can hit the ball more easily. The second is that without scuffs and other damage, pitchers are limited in their ability to control spin and so to cause altered trajectories.
At the end of the 1919 season Harry Frazee, then owner of the Boston Red Sox, sold a group of his star players to the New York Yankees. Amongst them was George Herman Ruth, known affectionately as "Babe". At the beginning if his career, Babe Ruth was a pitcher. The story that he did so in order to fund theatrical shows on Broadway for his actress lady friend is unfounded. No, No, Nanette was indeed first produced in 1925 by Harry Frazee, though the sale of baseball superstar Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees had occurred five years earlier. In the lore of the Curse of the Bambino, Frazee supposedly financed the production by selling Ruth, yet drawing a line five years apart from the sale's proceeds to the production costs of the musical are circumstantial at best.
Ruth's career mirrors the shift in dominance from pitching to hitting at this time. He started his career as a pitcher in 1914, and by 1916 was considered one of the dominant left-handed pitchers in the game. When Edward Barrow, managing the Red Sox, converted him to an outfielder, ballplayers and sportswriters were shocked. It was apparent, however, that Ruth's bat in the lineup every day was far more valuable than Ruth's arm on the mound every fourth day. Ruth swatted an unprecedented 29 home runs in his last season in Boston. The next year, as a Yankee, he would hit 54 and in 1921 he hit 59. His 1927 mark of 60 home runs would last until 1961, and, because of two record books (one for 154 game season and one for 162 game season), longer still.
Ruth's power hitting ability demonstrated a new way to play the game, and one that was extremely popular with the crowds. Accordingly, the ballparks were expanded, sometimes by building outfield seating which shrunk the size of the outfield and made home run hitting more practical. In addition to Ruth, hitters such as Rogers Hornsby also took advantage, with Hornsby compiling extraordinary figures for both power and average in the early 1920s. By the late 1920s and 1930s all the good teams had their home run hitting "sluggers": the Yankees' Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx in Philadelphia, Hank Greenberg in Detroit and Chicago's Hack Wilson were the most storied. While the American League championship, and to a lesser extent the World Series, would be dominated by the Yankees, there were many other excellent teams in the inter-war years. Also, the National League's St. Louis Cardinals would win three titles themselves in nine years, the last with a group of players known as the "Gashouse Gang".
The first radio broadcast of a baseball game was on August 5, 1921 over Westinghouse station KDKA from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Harold Arlin announced the Pirates-Phillies game. Attendances in the 1920s were consistently better than they had been before the war. The interwar peak average attendance was 8,211 in 1930, but baseball was hit hard by the Great Depression and in 1933 the average fell below five thousand for the only time between the wars.
1933 also saw the introduction of the All-Star game, a mid-season break in which the greatest players in each league play against one another in a hard fought but officially meaningless demonstration game. In 1936 the Baseball Hall of Fame was instituted and five players elected: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. The Hall formally opened in 1939.By Tom Hannon
- Gashouse Gang