Opening Day, Baseball and Tough Times

A quote by Herbert Hoover that appeared on the wall at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
A quote by Herbert Hoover that appeared on the wall at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

Working at home due to covid-19, I am trying to adjust to the new normal.  As a die-hard baseball fan, my adjustment may have been eased if I had baseball to watch.  Alas, public health and reasonable prudence dictates that there will be no major league baseball until this crisis has passed.  Sad, sobering and altogether sane. Nevertheless baseball will persist.  It has endured two World Wars, the Great Depression, the putative elevation of football as America’s national pastime and the rise of E-sports.  Baseball will be back.

This long-term thinking led me to examine baseball’s opening days during the tough times of the Great Depression.  First fan President Herbert Hoover threw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day for the Washington Senators each year from 1929 to 1932.  Each of the games were in mid-April at Griffith Stadium.  Announced attendance ranged from 25,000 to 32,000.  Despite the presence of Hall of Famers Goose Goslin, Sam Rice, Heinie Manush and Joe Cronin, the Senators were a mediocre team.  They managed to win only one of their four home openers during the Hoover Presidency.

The Depression had not yet begun when Hoover threw out the first pitch on April 17, 1929.  He had been President less than two months.  Hoover managed to squeeze in nearly a full day of meetings before the game-giving time to the Monmouth, New Jersey Ladies Society and the Geauga County Maple Syrup Producers. As for the game itself, the Senators may have been better served had Hoover pitched for them. Starter Sad Sam Jones lasted two innings, giving up five runs and six hits before departing.  The home team lost to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics 13-4, beginning another losing season.

Despite Hoover’s public assurances to the contrary, the Depression was still underway when opening day dawned April 14, 1930.  After four morning meetings at the White House, Hoover arrived at Griffith Stadium ready to start the season.  Hope springs eternal as all teams open the season tied for first place.  The Senators quickly found their level, despite a strong effort from starter Firpo Marberry.  Firpo pitched 6+ innings, allowing only two runs, and went two for two at the plate.  His reward was a no-decision as the bullpen faltered.  The home team dropped a tight one to the Red Sox, 4-3.

After catching bitter public backlash for attending a World Series game, Hoover once again threw out the first pitch at the Senators’ April 11, 1931 home opener.  The domestic economy was not the only depressing situation facing Washington fans. Once again, the home fans left disappointed as the Senators lost again to the Athletics, 5-3 in eleven innings.  Hall of Famer Lefty Grove picked up the victory for Mack’s men with three innings of scoreless relief.

Hoover once again dared to attend a World Series game in 1931, despite the ravages of the Depression. As he wrote in his memoirs: ‘I kept the engagement only because I felt my presence at a sporting event might be a gesture of reassurance to a country suffering a severe attack of the jitters.’  Fans were suffering more than the jitters.  When Hoover left the game, he was roundly booed.  Hope springs eternal; Hoover once again threw out the first pitch on April 11, 1932.  This time home fan hopes were rewarded.  Behind ten shutout innings from General Alvin Crowder, the Nats prevailed over the BoSox 1-0.  Led by Hall of Famer, Manager Walter Johnson, the team finished third in 1932.

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