Baseball’s All-Star Game Was Created By One Future Cubs Owner Despite The Initial Opposition Of The Owner At That Time.
By Scott A. Rowan
The idea of a midseason game featuring the best players in both leagues has been around since 1933, the year an employee of a future owner of the team proposed the idea to baseball officials. The owner in question wasn’t William Wrigley Jr., who died in 1932, or his son, Philip, who sold the team to the Chicago Tribune in 1981.
Arch Ward was a sports reporter for the Chicago Tribune from 1925 to 1930, at which time he took over as sports editor until his death in 1955. In 1933, the newspaper’s publisher, Colonel Bertie McCormick, summoned Ward into his office for a meeting with the city’s mayor, Edward J. Kelly. Kelly’s leadership would keep the city solvent and moving forward during the most difficult financial times in America’s history, the Great Depression and World War II. Elected to four terms, Kelly served as mayor from 1933 to 1947 and was the first to engage the African American community in city politics (which helped the Chicago Machine achieve the Democratic dominance it has held for decades). But Kelly’s greatest contribution went beyond Chicago, benefitting the entire nation—for it was his prodding that led to the creation of the All-Star Game, which baseball fans now enjoy every summer.
Almost immediately after winning the mayoral election on April 13, 1933, Kelly went to the publisher of the Chicago Tribune looking for help in mitigating the effects of the Depression that had gripped the nation since 1929. To rekindle business and innovation, Kelly wanted to convince local business leaders to celebrate the city’s centennial year with a gala exhibition that would become known as Chicago’s World’s Fair.
To build civic involvement, Kelly wanted to plan a major sporting event to occur simultaneously, but he wasn’t sure what exactly it should be. But he did know the right man for the job: Ward. The newspaperman immediately suggested resurrecting an idea that had met with stern resistance from baseball officials back when it was first proposed by F. C. Lane, editor of Baseball Magazine, in 1915.
“Thinking ahead as always, Ward knew just what he wanted to do,” wrote biographer Tom Littlewood in his book Arch: A Promoter, Not a Poet: revive “the idea of having a baseball game between the best players of the American League and the best players of the National League.”
Where Lane had failed 18 years earlier, Ward would succeed. He had two major things on his side that Lane had lacked: the backing of the powerful and influential Chicago Tribune and a knack for knowing just who to woo. Shrewd and circumspect, Ward did not approach MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, whose office was only four blocks from the Chicago Tribune. Instead, he went to American League president Will Harridge, whose office was also only blocks away, leaving it to him to convince Landis and the other AL owners. Harridge “agreed enthusiastically that the All-Star Game would be good for baseball,” and consented to push the idea in the AL, allowing Ward to focus on the National League.
Pressured by the support his AL counterpart was giving the idea, NL president John Heydler also agreed to push the plan—which wasn’t easy. Several NL teams, including those in St. Louis, Boston, New York, and, unfortunately, Chicago, opposed the idea.
Ward worked his magic on the ownership of each of those teams, creating a “blizzard of telegrams and telephone calls” that salted away the opposition in three of the cities. As for the Chicago Cubs, Ward approached team president William Veeck, rather than going directly to Wrigley. While the substance of their meetings remains a mystery, Ward obviously made it clear to Veeck that the Cubs’ current owner, Wrigley, would be unwise to oppose any ideas supported by the team’s future owner, the Chicago Tribune. “Veeck reminded [Wrigley] of the potential harm in antagonizing the Tribune,” MLB’s first official historian, Jerome Holtzman, wrote. “Wrigley had second thoughts. Reluctantly, Wrigley gave his approval.”
Although Ward was able to convince all the baseball owners to agree to his idea, there were still grave concerns, particularly for McCormick, who was paying
for the entire extravaganza. What if, for example, it rained? What if the tickets didn’t sell? It was one thing to get baseball owners to share their players for a huge event, but McCormick was paying for it. Though the Tribune would benefit from organizing the fan voting, it was still a financial risk. Still, plans went forward. Ward’s son, Thomas Ward, told Holtzman for a 1990 Tribune column, “When Colonel McCormick said, ‘What happens if nobody shows up?’ Dad said, ‘You can take the losses out of my paycheck.’ And the Colonel said, ‘If you’re that confident, we’ll underwrite it.’”
On July 6, 1933, 49,200 fans stuffed Comiskey Park and witnessed history in the third inning when Babe Ruth belted the first home run in an All-Star Game, giving the AL a 4–2 win in what was dubbed “the Game of the Century.”
MLB’s All-Star Game, created by the Chicago Tribune at the behest of Mayor Kelly, has been played every year since except for 1945. In honor of the man who made it happen, the award given to the Most Valuable Player in the game was originally called the Arch Ward Memorial Award (though it has since changed names several times).
Wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey on July 13, 20038:
These days, if a sports editor ever tried to be a promotional partner with a professional sports league, he and his unethical butt would be thrown out on the street. Most of us try to keep an emotional distance from the people we cover. That way, when we sit down to write, we don’t feel beholden to them in any way. We are free to write what we want, with no strings attached to our fingers.
Is it better this way? I think it is, but I also know that whatever innocence we might have had is long gone. The relationship between athletes and the media isn’t always adversarial, but sometimes it resembles a rugby scrum.
Ward would go on to pioneer other similar events before his death in 1955, including the College All-Star Game (played between the reigning NFL champion team and a team of college all-stars) and the Golden Gloves boxing tournament, which became so popular that Pope Pius XII once invited the participants as guests to the Vatican.9
“[Ward] was one of the most influential sports editors of the century,” wrote Chicago historian Laura Enright in her 2003 book Chicago’s Most Wanted.
Jerome Holtzman, The Jerome Holtzman Baseball Reader (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2003), 120.
Thomas Littlewood, Arch: A Promoter, Not a Poet (Iowa City: Iowa State Press, 1990), 67.
Holtzman, Reader, 122.
Rick Morrissey, “Arch would approve,” Chicago Tribune, July 13, 2003, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-07-13/sports/0307130450_1_arch-ward- century-of-progress-exposition-college-all-star.
Laura Enright, Chicago’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Murderous Mobsters, Midway Monsters and Windy City Oddities (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2005), 190.
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