On July 6, 1933, Major League Baseball’s first All-Star Game took place at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. The brainchild of a determined sports editor, the event was designed to bolster the sport and improve its reputation during the darkest years of the Great Depression. Originally billed as a one-time “Game of the Century,” it has now become a permanent and much-loved fixture of the baseball season.
Between 1930 and 1933, attendance at major league baseball games, which had skyrocketed during the 1920s, plummeted 40 percent, while the average player’s salary fell by 25 percent. Fans who could still afford tickets migrated from the more expensive box seats to the bleachers, which cost 50 cents. Owners of baseball teams across the country economized by shrinking their rosters, firing their coaches and slashing wages. Many teams also experimented with discounts and other innovations designed to woo back fans, including free admission for women, grocery giveaways and the first night games in baseball history.
Surprisingly, the most enduring promotional event to emerge during this period—the midseason All-Star Game between the American and National Leagues—was the brainchild of several people with no direct connection to baseball. In 1933, Chicago hosted a World’s Fair known as the Century of Progress International Exposition, an event devised to celebrate the city’s centennial while cultivating a sense of optimism during the depths of the Depression. Mayor Edward Kelly, newly elected and intent on making the fair a success, approached Colonel Robert McCormick, the powerful publisher of the Chicago Tribune, with the idea of holding a major athletic event in conjunction with it.
McCormick turned the matter over to his sports editor, Arch Ward, who proposed a one-time “Game of the Century” that would pit the finest players of the American and National Leagues against each other at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. As an added twist, fans would have the opportunity to vote on the lineup. Ward was so certain the game would be a hit that he told McCormick to take any losses out of Ward’s own paycheck. With his boss on board, Ward made his case to the presidents of both leagues and the various team owners, assuring the skeptics among them that the event would help pull baseball out of its slump. By donating all proceeds to a charity for retired players, he argued, they could show the country that Major League Baseball was not, as some had suggested, embracing a culture of “decadence” while ordinary Americans suffered financial ruin. Eventually, the persuasive editor’s lobbying won over the baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the game was set for July 6, 1933.
As the date drew near, Ward wrote story after story in the Tribune, hyping the game and encouraging the public to participate. Ballots were printed in 55 newspapers across the country, and fans cast several hundred thousand votes for their favorite players, with Babe Ruth drawing 100,000. Along with the Bambino, fans elected the likes of Lefty Grove, Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin to the roster.
On July 6, 47,595 fans packed into Comiskey Park, where some of baseball’s most historic moments had taken place. This would be another. The game, which ended in a 4-2 victory by the American League, did not disappoint, thrilling the crowd with its star-studded roster, built-in drama and unprecedented matchups. Indeed, for many of the players, this was their first chance to meet and compete with their counterparts from the other league.
Arch Ward’s All-Star Game proved so popular that its organizers held another “midsummer classic” the following year. Since then, it has become an annual fixture of the baseball season, bringing together the sport’s most talented and beloved players every year with the exception of 1945, when it was cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions.