Arts and Leisure

Sunday Baseball Fails To Rescue the Boston Red Sox From the Cellar in 1929

[jpshare]Hard luck dogged the Boston Red Sox during the 1920s, and nothing they did, not even Sunday baseball, made things any better.

Babe Ruth, 1918

Babe Ruth, 1918

The decade began with the traitorous Harry Frazee selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, an event Red Sox fans still view with bitterness. ‘Leaping Mike’ Menosky replaced Ruth in left field, hitting nine home runs over the next four years. The Babe hit 189.

Before Frazee sold Ruth, the Red Sox dominated Major League baseball, winning five of 17 World Series. The Yankees had been irrelevant, but after acquiring the Bambino they won their first of 27 World Series in 1923. The Red Sox would dwell at or near the cellar until the late 1930s, and go 86 years without a World Series championship. (This, by the way, is nothing Red Sox fans don’t know already.)

To add insult to injury, the 1923 world champion Yankees had 11 former Red Sox players on the team. Frazee, after selling Ruth, sold off all the team’s good players.

Things went from bad to worse. In 1921 the Red Sox finished fifth and had the worst attendance in the American League. A sportswriter called for a fan boycott.  In 1922 the team’s socks weren’t even red – they’d been changed to a dark stripe – and the Red Sox finished dead last in the league.

Boston Red Sox trainer Bits Bierhalter stokes up the hot stove in clubhouse at Fenway, 1928 or 1929. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Boston Red Sox trainer Bits Bierhalter stokes up the hot stove in clubhouse at Fenway, 1928 or 1929. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

In the middle of the next season, Frazee sold off the entire team for $1 million to a group of Midwesterners headed by St. Louis Browns general manager Bob Quinn. The Sporting News, aware of the hatred for Frazee, suggested, ‘Hub May Make Date of Red Sox Sale New Holiday.’ Hardly. The Red Sox started off with a burst of optimism but only managed to finish in seventh place. They fell back into last in 1925.

On May 8, 1926, the left-field bleachers burned down. Quinn could barely meet payroll and couldn't afford new seats. Attendance was so poor he didn’t need them anyway. Until the team changed hands and the stands were rebuilt, players could catch foul balls behind the third-base grandstand. That year, and the next, and the year after that.

Unknown Detroit Tigers player slides into third base against unknown Boston Red Sox third baseman as ball pops loose in front of unknown umpire during a 1929 game at Fenway Park. The Red Sox probably lost. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Unknown Detroit Tigers player slides into third base against unknown Boston Red Sox third baseman as ball pops loose in front of unknown umpire during a 1929 game at Fenway Park. The Red Sox probably lost. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

The 1929 Red Sox thought their luck may have changed when the city of Boston finally allowed professional baseball to be played on Sundays. Games couldn’t be played at Fenway Park, though, because it stood within 100 yards of a church they were finally allowed to play ball on Sundays. So the Red Sox played at Braves Field about a mile away.

Their first Sunday home game, on April 14, 1929, was an exhibition game in which the Braves shut out the Red Sox 4-0. Once again, they finished last.

In 1932, someone finally thought to ask the minister if he cared. The minister said no, because baseball games started after services were over.

The first Sunday game at Fenway Park was held on July 3, 1932. The Red Sox lost that one, too, to the Yankees, 13-2.

The Red Sox had an omen on Opening Day in 1930 that the next decade wouldn’t be any better. President Herbert Hoover threw out the first pitch – which bounced before it hit its target.

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