Friday, October 28, 2016

At least they were baseball fans

Read the other parts of this series:
Part 1: Baseball and Life during Wartime
Part 2: Baseball and Life during Peacetime
Part 3: Propaganda in the Twenties

The 1927 Yankees are considered by many to be the greatest baseball team of all time. (I would argue that a World Series between the 1976 Reds and the 1927 Yankees, adjusting for era differences, would result in a Reds win, but I could be biased.) Murderers Row were bashing baseballs and winning World Series at a rate never before seen, and America loved them.

It was an era of great baseball and terrible presidents. First it was Warren Harding who oversaw perhaps the most corrupt administration in US history until he dropped dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. Some speculate that his wife, fed up with his well-known womanizing, poisoned him. Harding put the federal government on a budget for the first time, which helped created the false economic prosperity of the twenties that culminated with the Great Depression. The Teapot Dome scandal, the defining event of his lethiferous presidency, leased Navy petroleum reserves to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding. Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall was convicted of accepting bribes from the oil companies and became the first Cabinet member to go to prison. No one was ever convicted of paying the bribes. Oil corrupts. Big Oil corrupts absolutely.

If only the Nats had started their partnership with White House Historical Association sooner, we could have the full failure trio...

Next up came Calvin Coolidge, whose greatest sin was assembling a terrible cabinet of the wealthiest of men who put their own needs ahead of the needs of the country. Andrew Mellon reduced taxes on business and the wealthy five times during his eight years as Secretary of the Treasury, which continued us on a path towards the Great Depression. The Wall Street Journal wrote, "Never before, here or anywhere else has a government been so completely fused with business." The American right too often points to the Coolidge presidency as an exemplar of small-government conservatism, ignoring what happened next: the stock market crashed only eight months after he left office. Economic booms that are followed by economic disasters are not booms at all. They are like extending a spring, only to have it snap back to small again. It's not real prosperity. But you have to be able to view the world through the lens of time, where everything that happened before affects the now, and everything that happens now affects the future. There is too much shortsightedness and microcosmic decision-making among policy elites. Some people just don't understand that what happens now was set in motion months or years or decades or centuries ago.

Herbert Hoover followed Coolidge with more shortsightedness, maintaining the tax cutting policies of his predecessor and supporting a tariff act that greatly exacerbated the effects of the depression. The depression wasn't his fault, of course, but he failed to steer the country out of it, leading to FDR's landslide victory in 1932. He had refused to let the government intervene in fixing prices, manipulate the value of currency, or partake in deficit spending. After his defeat, he predicted the New Deal would lead to an American version of Iron Cross, First Class or Il Duce. Yeah, right.

The twenties were an era of complete and utter corruption, with Big Business controlling the reins of government. Heard that one before?

Perhaps the only redeeming quality of Harding and Hoover is that they were big baseball fans. Coolidge was no fan and appeared at ballgames only for political photo ops. Useless. As a Senator, Harding once organized an exhibition game between the Cubs and a semi-pro team in Marion, Ohio during the middle of the 1920 season. Hoover was a shortstop for Stanford until an injury ended his playing days. His frequented MLB games during his term as POTUS.

The twenties were, to put it in simple terms, crazy and shortsighted. Across the Atlantic, Germany was a mess. You had the Social Democrats, democrats, and Catholic centrists trying to govern while the socialists and conservatives were trying to overthrow them, both despising the fledgling democracy. The country suffered assassination after assassination by men on the extreme right, leading the government to institute anti-terrorism laws. Berlin ordered the dissolution of the militias running rampant in Bavaria and other regions, but when the government attempted to enforce the laws against terrorism, the Bavarian right, to which Iron Cross, First Class belonged, organized a conspiracy to overthrow the government. The Kapp Putsch failed to establish a rightwing autocratic government in 1920, and the Beer Hall Putsch failed to do the same thing three years later.

By 1923, the German mark was useless. Goaded by the big industrialists and landlords who stood to gain from the tumbling mark, the government purposely let the currency collapse despite financially ruining the masses of German citizens. The destruction of the currency enabled German Big Business to wipe out its debt. Yet the masses did not realize how much the industrial tycoons, the Army, and the State were benefiting from the ruin of the currency. Had they been paying attention, they may not have been so quick to elect a dictator.

Monetary policy across the globe was all over the place in the twenties, and none of it was very good. The US was well into its first decade of the Federal Reserve system, a mechanism for private banks to lend funds to one another, thus ensuring there is always a flow of money. In theory, anyway. The first incarnation had some problems, to put it mildly. Under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover (the triumvirate of pre-Great Depression failure), the Federal Reserve deliberately ignored sound empirical policy framework. Instead of focusing on money stock, price level, and other quantity theory indicators, the Fed focused on market interest rates, member bank borrowing, and commercial paper eligible for rediscount. While statistical analysis in the twenties was primitive compared to today's standards, the fact that the Fed shunned such analysis is astounding, at least in hindsight. Of course, the Fed was created as a decentralized and non-interventionist system, but by the twenties, some economists were clamoring about stabilization. They advocated that the Federal Reserve Act be amended to make price stability the main responsibility of the Fed and that a centralized authority should unify the policy actions of the individual reserve banks. Their advice went unheeded...

Babe Ruth was the highest paid player for thirteen years straight, starting in 1922, when he made $52,000. He would peak at $80,000 in 1930 before dropping to $35,000 in 1934. You can see the impact the Great Depression had on player salaries. 

In 1930, the average American income was just under $2000. Ruth's salary was 40 times that and 2.4 times greater than the next highest, Rogers Hornsby, a gap that has not been reached since (Alex Rodriguez came close at 38%). Ruth put butts in seats, and Hornsby was a jerk, which may have hurt his salary a bit, but Ruth was one of the biggest stars in a country that was just coming to develop a culture of celebrity worship. When asked if he thought he deserved to be making more money than Hoover, Ruth said, “Why not? I had a better year than he did.”

When Ruth's salary dropped to $35,000 in 1934, the average American salary had dropped to $1600. A chicken in every pot? Not even close.

Sixty home runs! Sixty!

Before Babe Ruth hit 29 homers in 1919, the single season record was 27, set by the Cubs' Ned Williamson in 1884. I mean, if you consider hitting a ball over the wall at Chicago Lake Front Park (dimensions: 186", CF 300" and RF 196") a home run. MLB does, but can you imagine a ballpark that small? He hit 54 in 1920 and 59 in 1921 before suffering an injury shortened season in 1922, when he only hit 35. He hit 41 and 46 the next two seasons but in 1925, a serious intestinal issue caused by his lifestyle limited him to 98 games and 25 homers. “Day and night, broads and booze,” recounted teammate Joe Dugan. In 1926, he was back to form, slugging 46 homers before that magical 1927 season.

In 1926, a man by the name of Otto Hess died. He was a Swiss immigrant who became a Major League Pitcher - still the only Swiss-born MLB player. He had one good season. His name will rarely come up in a discussion about baseball, nor will it come up in a discussion about almost anything, unless you're talking about wild pitches. But he does have the distinction of being one of only five players to have fought in both the Spanish-American War and World War I. (The others were Ben Caffyn, Jacob Doyle, Arlie Pond, and John Grimes, who also fought in the Indian Wars. They deserve to be remembered.) Hess died after suffering for a decade with tuberculosis that he contracted while serving in France in World War I.

Rudolf Hess, of no relation, was born into a wealthy family of German merchants living in Egypt. Upon the start of World War I, he volunteered and became an officer in the same regiment as Iron Cross, First Class, but they never met. They did, however, suffer through the same battle that saw 2,900 German soldiers die over four days. He attended some of the early meetings when Iron Cross spoke, and reports surfaced about him asking "Was this thundering orator foolish or was he the Messiah?"

He went with Messiah, and wrote his thesis at University of Munich about his future fuhrer, entitled, "How Must the Man Be Constituted Who Will Lead Germany Back to Her Old Heights?" Translated into simpleton, that is: Make Germany Great Again.

Hess wrote, "Where all authority has vanished, only a man of the people can establish authority...The deeper the dictator was originally rooted in the broad masses, the better he understands how to treat them psychologically, the less the workers will distrust him, the more supporters he will win among these most energetic ranks of the people. He himself has nothing in common with the mass; like every great man he is all personality...When necessity commands, he does not shrink before bloodshed. Great questions are always decided by blood and iron...The lawgiver proceeds with terrible hardness...As the need arises, he can trample them [the people] with the boots of a grenadier..."

He himself has nothing in common with the mass...

Like every great man, he is all personality...

"Where the salvation of the nation is in question, he does not disdain utilizing the weapons of the adversary, demagogy, slogans, processions, etc."

Make My Country Great Again.

"Down with the traitors of the Fatherland! Down with the November criminals!" Such were the cries from the crowds of people who watched these rightwing demagogues give violent speeches against the national government.

Lock her up.

Propaganda. How easily the human mind is manipulated. How easily that is remedied, but the masses are too intellectually lazy to learn.

It continues to blow my mind that people CHOOSE dictatorships. These are people who either benefit directly from such regimes (money, power, or both) or those who really aren't all that bright and can't grasp the implications of such an arrangement. Most often it's the former convincing the latter to go along with it.

After the Beer Hall Putsch, Iron Cross, First Class went to trial and spent nine months in a jail for the privileged. The socialists who had also revolted at a different place, including Rosa Luxemburg, were executed without trial. That was the privilege of being rightwing in an anti-government climate, where conservatives defended the Kaiser and the war and held the economic power in the country. Their wealth subsidized their political parties and the press.

At the trial, Iron Cross, First Class was defiantly proud of his rebellion, stating, "I wanted to be the destroyer of Marxism." His hatred for democracy, Marxism, and Jews was captured in a book he wrote while in prison and had wanted to call "Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice." It sold 9,473 copies in 1925.

In 1930, the year Babe Ruth was paid $80,000 to play baseball, "My Struggle" sold 54,086 copies. By the time Iron Cross, First Class was elected by a grossly deceived population as Chancellor of Germany, the book sold a million copies, earning $300,000 dollars for its author in a time of global economic chaos.

To be continued...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Half a life ago

I was in college the last time the Indians were in the World Series. Remember that team? I can still name the whole lineup - Thome at first, Baerga at second, Vizquel at short, Fryman at third, Manny, Kenny, and Joey called Albert manning the outfield, Sandy behind the plate... Oh wait, Baerga and Belle were gone by then, and Fryman didn't come until the next year.

Funny how fragile memory is. I should have at least remembered that Matt Williams was at third.

Those were some great teams - five first place finishes in a row, culminating with a 1997 pennant. I was studying in Luxembourg that autumn, the junior year that changed everything. I didn't get to watch any of the playoffs, not that I can remember anyway, but we did get to see a few World Series games. Back then, we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to a baseball game, and MLB.TV hadn't been invented yet.

We watched a couple of games at my host family's house. The games were condensed, so they lasted less than two hours. I tried not to find out the scores before watching, but sometimes a student would give it away. Kramer!

My host father is, well, a racist. He watched a game with us and I'll never forget his amusement at the fact that Devon White was a black guy with the last name White. It is, in fact, my strongest memory of the entire World Series. How strange is that?

Other games we watched at a local bar right next to our school. It was full of old, grumpy men and my housemate and I were two college girls demanding that an old, grumpy bartender play a foreign sport that nobody watched there on the single, small screen television in the corner of the bar. I think we watched two games in there under the unwelcoming eyes of the bar's aged patrons. But he let us watch.

The things you do for baseball.

I don't remember too much about the specifics of the Series, but I do remember the disappointment as the fake team with the rent-a-players and the evil owner poured onto the field in triumph. I had liked the Indians as the "other" Ohio team and had even seen a game at Municipal Stadium back when they were ripe for a comedy to be made about them. That Game 7 loss was tough.

A Cubs-Indians World Series is gonna be classic. Hopefully, Cleveland won't be on the losing end this time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Z is for Zombie

Oh, the suffering! Droopy eyes, foggy brain, yawning mouth opening and closing like Chris Christie's refrigerator, swells of coffee useless against the ravages of sleep deprivation. But for what, I ask?


Ratings? How? When most of the weary country partakes in nocturnal routine, slumbering while the boys of summer are lumbering through a California autumn, how can ratings be more than a pipe dream conjured by the opiates of greed and bad decisions?

Three ay em, the wee hours, dreamland, a pipe dream for the diehard. The diehard is dying. While the powers that be have no problem starting the "lesser" teams at lesser times, we lesser people are to choose between the sacred advent of our chosen religion and the debilitating case of lesser sleep.

The woe of bias, of favoritism, a team of interest, yes, but not three hours into a new day, not even after 108 years (108 stitches)...why must we the people of baseball suffer so?

I hope the Cubs lose to spite MLB.