The 1930 Philadelphia Athletics
This tribute to the 1930 World Champion Philadelphia Athletics was delivered by Bob Warrington at the 2005 Philadelphia A’s Historical Society’s Reunion Weekend Breakfast.)
The opening lines of Charles Dickens classic work, A Tale of Two Cities, are a most apt starting point to tell the story of the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
The best of times, of course, applies to the team itself. The 1929 A’s were World Champions, one of the best teams in baseball history ever to take the field. And that overpowering amalgamation of talent was returning in 1930. Unlike today, when star players bolt teams upon hearing the siren’s call of fatter paychecks, in 1930, baseball’s reserve clause was in force, binding players to clubs until they retired or were released.
When one compares the Athletics’ rosters in 1929 and 1930, what is most apparent, not surprisingly, is the continuity in personnel over the two years. In the starting lineup, there was only one change. Third baseman Sammy Hale, who had been with the club since 1923 but who’s productivity at the plate had dwindled considerably in 1929, was traded to the St. Louis Browns after the season. He was replaced at that position by Jimmy Dykes, who had served as a utility infielder in 1929. The rest of the lineup remained the same:
Jimmie Foxx – 1b
Max Bishop – 2b
Joe Boley – SS
Bing Miller, Mule Haas, & Al Simmons – OF
Mickey Cochrane – C
The pitching staff also reflected continuity. Lefty Grove, George Earnshaw, Rube Walberg, and Eddie Rommel were the mainstays of the pitching rotation, with Jack Quinn and Bill Shores also contributing significantly to the Athletics’ winning ways.
It was hard not to feel optimistic about the chances of the Philadelphia Athletics to repeat as World Series Champions. Manager Connie Mack himself commented later, I knew I had another good club and would have been disappointed if we hadn’t won again.
But, as I said, it was the worst of times too. The stock market crash in October 1929 had led to the Great Depression, which in 1930 was tightening its disastrous grip on Philadelphia and the nation. As Bill Kashatus notes in his book, Connie Mack’s ’29 Triumph, No other event in the 20th century had a more profound impact on Philadelphia than the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Unemployment statistics bear out his statement. By April 1930, 15 percent of the city’s wage earners were unemployed. In the neighborhoods surrounding Shibe Park, unemployment rose to 30 percent. Think of it, one in three wage earners out of work. Apple sellers were a common sight on the corners of busy intersections across the city.
So, any description of baseball brilliance by the Athletics on the diamond at Shibe Park must be cast against the devastating economic, emotional, and psychological toll of the Great Depression because both had a tremendous impact on baseball in Philadelphia in 1930.
Connie Mack, showing his great humanitarianism, did what he could to alleviate the desperate straits of those living near Shibe Park. Neighborhood kids were hired to be sweepers or scorecard sellers at the ballpark. Mack would also send the leftovers that were still fresh from the concession stands to St. Joseph’s Home for Boys at 16th Street and Allegheny Avenue.
The poor economic times, nevertheless, resulted in attendance at Athletics’ games dropping considerably between 1929 and 1930, and again between 1930 and 1931. Dimishing gate receipts did not bode well for A’s players who performed splendidly in 1929 and believed they deserved raises in 1930. Heated negotiations over dollars and cents created tension between club officials and players, especially star players.
Some, like Jimmy Dykes, got no raise at all, earning $7,000 in 1930, exactly what he was paid in 1929. Jimmie Foxx got a modest increase as part of a three-year contract with the Athletics that would pay him $50,000 over that period, or just under $17,000 per year. Grove and Cochrane each made approximately $20,000 in 1930. Other marquee players, by comparison, like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were being paid considerably more by their clubs.
Only Al Simmons refused to sign a contract until he received a three-year deal for $100,000. Simmons held out throughout spring training, and signed his contract only minutes before the club’s opening game against the Yankees. Although Mack was not pleased at having to concede to Simmons’ salary demands, he must have smiled just a little from the dugout when “Bucketfoot” Al launched a first inning delivery from Yankees’ pitcher George Pipgras over Shibe Park’s right field wall for a home run.
The Athletics got off to a slow start in 1930. Competition early in the season was provided by the Washington Senators, who after losing their first game to the A’s beat the Mackmen seven times in a row. Although the Athletics won 21 of 30 games in May, they still trailed Washington by 4 ½ games when the Senators came to town for a Memorial Day doubleheader. The Athletics won both games, and that set the team on its way to the top.
Let me describe one anecdote from the Memorial Day doubleheader to show how times have changed in the treatment of players. Al Simmons injured his knee while running the bases during the first game. Team physician Dr. Carnett examined Simmons, discovered that he had broken a blood vessel in his knee, and that the knee had swollen to twice its normal size. Mack asked the doctor if he (Carnett) should take Simmons to the hospital. Carnett replied:
Maybe later, but not now. I want to watch the second game. Al shouldn’t play but let him sit on the bench. If the spot to pinch hit should come up, use him.
The ailing outfielder got his chance in the fourth inning. With the bases full, Simmons came up as a pinch hitter and smacked a grand slam home run. The A’s went on to win the contest 14-11.
Once ahead of the Senators, the Athletics never looked back. The A’s clinched the pennant on September 18th with a 14-10 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park.
In reviewing the Athletics’ 1930 season, praise for the pitching staff starts with Robert “Lefty” Grove. He went 28-5, recorded 209 strikeouts, and notched a 2.54 ERA—leading American League pitchers in all three categories. Just behind Grove was George Earnshaw, with a 22-13 record. Grove and Earnshaw were the only pair of pitchers on an American League club to win at least 20 games. Two other pitchers made it to double figures in victories: Rube Walberg with 13 and Bill Shores with 12. Together, the A’s pitching staffed notched 102 wins against only 52 defeats—a winning percentage of .662.
Amongst the hitters, at the head of the pack was Al Simmons. He led the league in batting average by hitting .381, nosing out Lou Gehrig who hit .379. Simmons was the Athletics first batting champion since Larry Lajoie in 1901. Simmons also was at the top of the league in runs scored with 152, and he punched out 36 home runs while knocking in 165 RBIs. Jimmie Foxx contributed mightily to the Athletics’ success, smashing 37 home runs, tallying 156 RBIs, and notching a .335 batting average. In comparing Simmons’ and Foxx’s statistics for 1930, it is important to note that Simmons was five years Foxx’s senior and in the prime of his career. Jimmie Foxx was only 22 during the 1930 season, far from his prime.
Of the other batters whose prowess at the plate contributed to the A’s good fortunes in 1930, Mickey Cochrane hit .357, Bing Miller and Jimmy Dykes both hit over .300, and Mule Haas was just a point under at .299.
With the American League title safely within their grasp, the Philadelphia Athletics faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
The Athletics, as we all know, won the 1930 World Series in six games. Instead of summarizing the entire Series, I want to focus on the fifth game, which historians agree was the pivotal contest between the teams. At that point the Series stood tied at two games apiece. The A’s had won the first and second games at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. The Red Birds had won the third and fourth games at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. The fifth game was played in Sportsman’s Park as well. The teams were then scheduled to head back to Shibe Park for the final two games of the Series.
The A’s knew that Game 5 would determine the overall Series victor. “The fifth game is the big one,” observed Jimmie Foxx. “If you win it, you’re over the hump and coasting. If you lose it—well, that’s not good at all.”
George Earnshaw of the A’s faced Burleigh Grimes of the Cardinals, and for seven innings, both pitchers put on a gripping display of pitching brilliance. At the end of the seventh, each team had tallied only two hits, and not a run had scored. The crowd was breathless on every pitch.
In a change of tactics, Mack ordered Mule Haas to bunt to try to get on base to lead off the eighth inning. The move worked, Haas beat out the bunt and stole second. Joe Boley was also ordered to bunt; he did, and made it to first as pitcher Grimes threw the ball to third base in a vain effort to cut down Haas. Jimmy Wilson—batting for Earnshaw—then walked, loading the bases with only one out.
Max Bishop came up and hit a grounder to Cardinal first baseman Sunny Jim Bottomley, who threw the ball to the plate to force out Haas. Jimmy Dykes then grounded out to the shortstop Charlie Gelbert to end the Athletics rally with no runs scored. According to one writer, Connie Mack’s hatband was wet with nervous sweat as he felt his club had blown its great scoring chance.
With Earnshaw out of the game, Lefty Grove came in to pitch for the A’s. Grove had pitched a 9-inning game just the day before, so he was coming in at a crucial moment of the crucial game with virtually no rest. Grove gave up a single but set the Cardinals down in the bottom of the eighth with the score still knotted at 0–0.
In the ninth, Mickey Cochrane walked to open the inning for the A’s. Al Simmons then popped out. Up to the plate came Jimmie Foxx. Frederick Lieb, in his biography of Connie Mack, tells what happened next.
On the first pitch Jimmie Foxx got his sturdy East Shore shoulders behind a swing, and there was no doubt where the ball was headed from the moment it left Jim’s bat. It landed far up in the leftfield bleachers. The collective stomachs of that 38,844 crowd sagged with the hit; it was so quiet Mack could hear the footfalls of Cochrane and Foxx as they jogged around the bases.
Grove set the Cardinals down in their half of the ninth, and thus came to an end one of the most thrilling games in Philadelphia Athletics’ history.
In an anti-climactic Game 6 at Shibe Park two days later, the Athletics easily defeated the Cardinals 7-1 to win the 1930 World Series.
Where, then, do we place the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics in baseball history? I shall leave it to Connie Mack himself to define that place. After winning the American League pennant in 1930, Mack was quoted as saying the following:
We’ve proven we’re a fine ball club. But I have always maintained that no team is entitled to call itself “great” unless it repeats. By that I mean we won a pennant and a World Series last year. We’ve won the flag again and if we take the Series, then my boys deserve to be ranked as a great team.
Well, the 1930 Philadelphia A’s did win that Series and repeat as champions, thereby proving to Connie Mack and the world that they were a great team. And I think that is a belief shared by everyone in this room today.