Baseball Episode Five Review
Ken Burns's "Baseball" Documentary: Delving into the Complexities of the 1930s with "Shadow Ball"
The 1930s, a tumultuous decade marked by economic struggles on a global scale, paradoxically, emerged as a golden era for baseball aficionados. This period witnessed unparalleled talent and resilience, particularly within the enigmatic confines of the Negro Leagues. Ken Burns's "Shadow Ball" the fifth episode of his illustrious "Baseball" documentary, deftly unravels the complexities of this epoch.
Broadcast Revolution: The Dawn of Radio in Baseball: Baseball underwent a monumental transformation in the 1930s, most notably with the advent of radio broadcasts. Stadium seats were empty as fans were unable to afford tickets during the depression. The Cincinnati Reds emerged as trailblazers, initiating regular radio broadcasts of their games. At first, owners across the league thought the idea of broadcasting games for free was insane. What they didn’t expect was more fans in seats. The belief was that fans would not bother coming to games if they could listen to it for free at home. However, the game now became a family affair. Before this, it was mostly men in suits going to games. Afterward, whole families fell in love with teams and went to games as a unit. This innovation wasn't just technical; it fundamentally redefined fan engagement. Baseball narratives now resonated in homes nationwide, firmly anchoring the sport in America's collective auditory memory.
The Iron Horse's Tryst with Destiny: Lou Gehrig and ALS: The 1930s also bore witness to a heart-wrenching chapter in baseball lore: Lou Gehrig's confrontation with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which later colloquially became known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease". Celebrated as the "Iron Horse" due to his astounding consistency, Gehrig found himself pitted against an adversary that even his formidable spirit struggled to combat.
Gehrig's illustrious career, punctuated by record-setting streaks and iconic partnerships, most notably with Babe Ruth, stands in stark contrast to final year. Gehrig pulled himself from the lineup on April 30th, 1939. He knew something was wrong and realized he would not be able to contribute to the team.
Diagnosed with ALS in 1938, the baseball world grappled with the reality of its shining star dimming prematurely. However, Gehrig's spirit remained indomitable. His farewell speech on July 4, 1939, remains etched in history, epitomizing his grace, humility, and profound optimism. For those who have never read the full speech I will put it below.
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know. So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."
His struggle thrust ALS into the spotlight, galvanizing research and advocacy. Today, Gehrig's legacy transcends his achievements on the field, resonating in the ongoing quest for a cure and serving as a beacon of hope and resilience.
Spotlight on the Stars: The Luminaries of the Negro Leagues: "Shadow Ball" is not merely a chronicle of events; it's a celebration of the human spirit and talent. Central to this episode are the titans of the Negro Leagues:
Satchel Paige: Beyond his reputation as a baseball virtuoso, Paige emerged as a beacon of hope, dazzling audiences with his formidable skills and magnetic presence.
Josh Gibson: Heralded as the "Black Babe Ruth" Gibson's prodigious talents remain a testament to what might have been had racial barriers not curtailed a direct face-off with his Major League counterparts.
Buck Leonard: A lynchpin of the Homestead Grays, Leonard's consistency and leadership epitomized the unparalleled talent within the Negro Leagues.
Through a medley of interviews, archival material, and poignant music, Burns weaves a compelling narrative of the 1930s. While "Shadow Ball" brilliantly illuminates a pivotal chapter in baseball history, a more nuanced portrayal of the era's socio-economic backdrop, especially the pervasive impact of the Great Depression on baseball, could have enriched the tapestry. Diversifying the narrative to incorporate stories of lesser-known luminaries would also have provided a more panoramic view of the decade.
World Series Champions of the 1930s: The decade was filled with fierce competition. Here are the World Series winners from the 1930s:
1930: Philadelphia Athletics
1931: St. Louis Cardinals
1932: New York Yankees
1933: New York Giants
1934: St. Louis Cardinals
1935: Detroit Tigers
1936: New York Yankees
1937: New York Yankees
1938: New York Yankees
1939: New York Yankees