Arch Ward’s Stellar Idea

Good morning, it’s Saturday, July 6, 2018. Today is George W. Bush’s birthday, his second since losing his mother. I covered Dubya for nearly eight years when he was in the White House and once had a warm conversation with him about Barbara Bush, so my thoughts are with him today.

This date is also the anniversary of an event cherished by the Bush clan — and many millions of their fellow Americans: Major League Baseball’s first All-Star Game.

The idea for the “midsummer classic,” as it came to be designated, did not originate within organized baseball. It arose, as I wrote several years ago, as an instrument of civic pride during the depths of the Great Depression. Specifically, the annual game owes its existence to the machinations of a Chicago mayor and a famous Windy City newspaperman named Archibald Burdette Ward.

A Notre Dame graduate and natural-born promoter, Arch Ward was Knute Rockne’s first publicist, invented the Golden Gloves boxing tournament, and came up with the idea for an annual preseason game pitting the National Football League champion against a team of the previous season’s best college football seniors.

But it was baseball’s All-Star Game for which Ward is best remembered, and justifiably so. In 1933, Ward was not only a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune, he was the newspaper’s sports editor. He was also active in Windy City politics — Republican politics — and, not so coincidentally, was a confidant of conservative Tribune owner Col. Robert McCormick.

Chicagoans were reeling that year, and not only under the suffocating weight of the Depression, which had left the city’s unemployment rate at around 40 percent. Popular Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak had been mortally wounded in the Feb. 15, 1933 assassination attempt on Franklin Roosevelt. After Cermak died of his wounds on March 6, the Democratic Party’s Cook County machine turned to one of its own, Edward Joseph Kelly.

Hoping to jump-start both his mayoralty and his city’s spirits, Ed Kelly threw his energy into making Chicago’s World’s Fair — officially dubbed the Century of Progress International Exposition — a successful celebration of the city’s centennial.

Kelly envisioned a signature sporting event — he didn’t care what kind — and in the spirit of bipartisanship approached Colonel McCormick for help. The influential publisher had just the man for the job, he assured Kelly. The task was given to Arch Ward.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history — the rich history of the annual All-Star Game. I’ll revisit that subject again next week as part of the run-up to this year’s game, which will be played in the nation’s capital. But I’ll leave you with one recollection from the inaugural game, played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park 85 years ago today.

A capacity crowd of 47,595 was on hand, many to cheer Babe Ruth, whom the fans had voted in as a starter for the American League. The Babe was 38 years old, on the downside of his career, but even other future Hall of Famers couldn’t wait to share a baseball diamond with him.

“Sure, he was old and had a big waistline, but that didn’t make any difference,” Bill Hallahan, the National League’s starting pitcher, recalled later. “We were on the same field as Babe Ruth.”

The Babe didn’t disappoint. In the third inning, with a man aboard, he blasted a homer into the right-field stands, eliciting a roar from the crowd. In the eighth, he made a stylish catch in outfield to help save the win for the American League. It was a great day all around, brought about by the collaboration of a Democratic mayor and a Republican newsman.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

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