The thrill of finding a 1933 World Series Score Card
I finish packing the last of a van full of antiques and collectibles I’ve purchased from a seller’s home. Making one more trip through the house to make sure I didn’t miss anything, I see a bright yellow piece of paper sticking out from underneath a pile of papers and envelopes.
I step closer, slide the slush out of the way, and …
An official 1933 World Series Score Card sits there. Washington Nationals Player-Manager Joe Cronin and New York Giants Player-Manager Bill Terryare staring up at me.
“Is this for sale?” I ask the client, who had just made me a very fair deal on a mound of Waterford crystal, Washington Redskins memorabilia, and flamingo collectibles. (You’d be surprised by how many houses serve as refuges for flamingos.)
“I would love for that to find a new home,” she tells me.
Buy or consign vintage baseball memorabilia?
The piece is so rare and in such good condition, though, that I don’t feel comfortable making her an offer. We decide that I’ll handle the piece on consignment, charging a commission. I take the program home, along with an official 1939 program from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “The President’s Birthday Ball” benefitting The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The program tumbled out of the paper pile, too. So did a fist-sized Robert F. Kennedy for President button.
My latest time machine whisks me back 88 years. Running an estate liquidation company means I rack up a lot of frequent-flyer points from time-travel flights.
I figure the program has to be from Game 3, 4 or 5 here in Washington D.C.’s old Griffith Stadium. The park sat a few long fly balls from where I live now. The American League’s Washington Nationals — still often called the Washington Senators despite adopting the new name in 1905 — were facing off against the New York Giants. The hometown team was the Cinderella club that year. It broke through the mighty New York Yankees and Philadelphia Athletics to win the pennant.
Researching an unrelated project I hope to turn into the first book I write, I had I recently uncovered an oral history account of a man sharing a priceless childhood memory. He recalled the day he managed to make it into Griffith Stadium to see the debut of some promising young pitcher he had heard adults talking about earlier that morning.
That 1933 World Series hurler’s name?
Yes. The Big Train. The pitcher who would spend his entire 20-year playing career with Washington, break all kinds of records, and enter the Hall of Fame as one of its first five inaugural members. The other four? Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Christy Matthewson. You could carve a Mount Rushmore for baseball today and be hard-pressed to cut more deserving profiles in the rock than those five.
I open the cover of the program and lock eyes with one of the most famous men in the history of baseball. None other than Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the federal judge turned commissioner of baseball. He was the man who presided over the infamous Black Sox scandal — throwing out eight members of the Chicago White Sox, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, for conspiring to lose the 1919 World Series. Landis’s image had always been to me another page of the past, a man who lived on the pages of history — not in real life.
But here he is in the 1933 World Series Score Card at a time when he is the living, breathing rule of the game. He can’t possibly imagine that we’ll still be talking about him a century later; I wonder what’s on his mind in October of 1933.
What was happening in the world in 1933?
I wonder what the person who held this program is thinking in the exact moments he or she is walking into the stadium. It’s the worst year of The Great Depression, with unemployment at a staggering 25 percent. Strong winds in the Midwest are turning farms into Dust Bowls. Adolph Hitler is the new Chancellor of Germany. Is the baseball fan a child, for whom world events are kept at bay by the long arms of a loving parent who has brought the kid to the game today? Or is the program in the hands of a weary adult who has entered Griffith Stadium in search of escape — a chance to go to the ball game, sit with the crowd, eat some peanuts and Cracker Jack, and root, root, root for the home team? A modern Washington Post story took a look back at the week, too.
Is the fan lucky enough to be one of the 25,727 people filling the seats for Game 3 on Oct. 5? A marching band with a dizzying number of musicians is hoofing across the field, filling the stadium with anticipation of what’s coming next. Did the fan get to witness, as I do now through grainy old black-and-white home movie footage found on YouTube, President Roosevelt entering the stadium in his car?
Today’s surgeon generals would not approve of old World Series program advertising
The advertisement on the inside of the cover, to the left of Landis, makes me laugh. The ad depicts Western Union master telegrapher Edson Brewster tapping out a play-by-play description of one of his 22-straight World Series games. He’s able to succeed in his craft because of his calm nerves, because “Steady Smokers turn to Camels.”
There was once a time when people thought cigarettes were good things — so bizarre.
I flip more pages and see the Nationals’ president, Clark Griffith, the namesake of the local stadium.
I peruse the starting lineup for both teams, minus the pitchers — whose names are not filled in. The program must be from Game 3, the most fun one for the Senators and their fans. Part of me wishes this fan had kept score instead of leaving the scorecard blank. It would be fun to translate the game’s action from the eyes of a person who saw it.
Play ball! The 1933 World Series begins
Cronin steps to the plate with two men on base in the bottom of the first, with dark lines on the sheet representing those runners have reached second and third base, respectively. Cronin swings. Draw a jagged line toward short and darken the line from third base to home plate and record “G-6, RBI”: Cronin grounds out to the shortstop but drives in a run. I don’t know for sure he hit to the left side as I can’t find that detail, but I hear the crack of his bat striking the ball and the crowd going wild as the Senators take the early 1-0 lead.
Draw a straight line to the outfield and darken the lines from home plate to second base, and from third home, as centerfielder Fred Schulte smacks a double and drives in another run. Brewster tap-tap-taps as fast as he can in the score booth as clouds of cigarette smoke billow through the stadium.
The Nationals are up 2-0 and Washington’s Earl Whitehill is mowing down New York hitters. The Nats take the game 4-0 — the first and only game they would win in the series. The fan with the pencil and 1933 World Series Score Card still came away with memories for a lifetime — memories the fan would pass to me nine decades later, and that I in turn would place in our eBay store to pass along to the next caretaker.
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