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Maury Allen, biographer, on
baseball in the 1930s

Maury Allen

Baseball in the 1930s was a very, very significant part of American life, of America. What really mattered in the 1930s -- the country was coming out of the Depression in the middle 1930s -- times were getting better and people finally had a few dollars that they could do some entertaining with.

Baseball was a very reasonably priced entertainment aspect. It also was the only sport that really mattered in the 1930s. If you had any interest in sports at all, you had to have a strong interest in baseball.

Every kid in America dreamed about being a baseball player. Football was insignificant. There was no serious professional basketball. Hockey was a game played by six cities in America. But baseball was played on every lot, in every farm, in every city in America.

So baseball heroes, as Joe DiMaggio quickly became in 1936, were major American figures identified through the print media, through the press, through the magazines, through newsreel films, and through some radio. And, of course, through word of mouth. And the significance and the standing of baseball in the 1930s, can not be overstated. It was the unifying force in American life. And, and almost everybody related to it one way or another.

Q: What did it mean to you?

A: Baseball in the 1930s, when I was growing up as a little kid. First of all, we read every single word in every single sports section in New York City. There'd be 8, 10, 12 papers. They all were a penny or two cents. You could buy every paper. You kept every box score. You cut out every box score. You put it in your little notebooks.

When you went to school, that's what you talked about with your colleagues. There was no talk about the Depression. There was not talk about Franklin Roosevelt. There was only talk about DiMaggio and the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants.

And the identification was absolutely enormous. When you played stick ball, as I did as a kid in New York City in the late 1930s, early 1940s, you only played after you had a batting order in which you had a name. If you're lucky enough as the first pick on your team, you could say, ok, I'm Joe D. I'm, you know, I'm this guy, I'm that guy, I'm Babe Ruth -- even though he was gone. I'm Lou Gehrig.

So you identified yourself as one of these people and those of us who really loved playing and loved the game, really dreamed about being major league baseball players. That dream would not disappear until you were 13, 14, 15 years old and had the reality of knowing you weren't good enough. But at 8 or 9 or 10, who thinks they're not good enough to be a major league baseball player?

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