There are many long-standing myths about Washington, one of which asserts that the city was originally built on a swamp. The myth perhaps explains the misery inflicted on its residents through unbearable heat and humidity on many midsummer days. In the summer of 1932, there was much to be miserable about and not just the weather. The Great Depression caused much social and economic dislocation throughout the country. Resulting homelessness led to the sprouting throughout the country of so-called Hoovervilles, shantytowns named in “honor” of President Herbert Hoover and his ineffectiveness in dealing with the Depression. Washington was home of one of the largest Hoovervilles as the World War I-era Bonus Army sought expedited payment of bonus certificates. Their demands were refused and, within the week, General Douglas MacArthur forcibly cleared the Bonus Army from several sites around the capital.
July 22, 1932, was “a blistering hot day that made ovens of the sidewalks.”1 This was the setting for a game between the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators. The three-time defending American League champ Athletics arrived the morning of the contest in second place despite just having achieved a six-game winning streak (snapped by the St. Louis Browns, 5-3, the day before at Shibe Park). The hometown Senators defeated the Detroit Tigers the previous day, 5-4, improving to 51-41, three games behind the Athletics. Amid the headlines about the general effects of the Depression, there were reminders of its effects on the national game. The major leagues were in a rough state, but the minor leagues were suffering and seeking help from the big leagues. Newspapers reported that Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis could only acknowledge the problem but did not see the major leagues as providing the solution. The commissioner suggested, “It would take an act of Congress and the United States Treasury to pull them out.”2 If neither would act for the Bonus Army, it was difficult to imagine federal relief for minor-league baseball.
There remained the game scheduled at Griffith Stadium on July 22, with two baseball legends managing affairs in the dugouts: Philadelphia’s Connie Mack and Washington’s Walter Johnson. The pitching matchup featured two veterans with Washington’s 33-year-old righty Al “General” Crowder facing Philadelphia’s 35-year-old lefty Rube Walberg. In his most recent start, on July 18, Crowder went the distance but dropped a 2-1 decision to Detroit, evening his record at 11-11. What Crowder could not have known is that when the calendar turned to August, he would win his final 15 decisions and lead the junior circuit in wins for the season. That streak, however, would not begin this afternoon. Walberg entered the contest with a mark of 9-8 and an ERA north of five (5.10). He would pitch on only two days’ rest after a complete-game 16-6 win over St. Louis in the back half of a July 19 doubleheader.
Leading off for the Mackmen, Max Bishop rapped a single to right. Doc Cramer’s subsequent at-bat provided an early fielding thrill. From his shortstop position, Joe Cronin “raced back of second for a fancy backhand stop of Cramer’s scorcher and slipped the ball to [second baseman Buddy] Myer to force out Bishop.”3 Cramer stood on first as Mickey Cochrane strode to the plate; he would complete the remaining 270 feet around the bases when Cochrane tripled on a drive to right. Al Simmons grounded to Cronin, and the shortstop took the fielder’s choice to throw out Cochrane at home. Cronin also factored into the third out when he snared Jimmie Foxx’s liner.
Joe Kuhel held the leadoff spot in the Senators batting order. The 26-year-old Ohioan had experienced a circuitous journey to his spot in the lineup. Going back to preparations for the 1931 season, Kuhel and veteran Joe Judge had been locked in a battle to hold down first base. Judge had been the Senators’ regular first baseman since World War I, but Kuhel overtook the veteran for the 1931 season. When Kuhel injured his hand before the 1932 season, Judge reclaimed his old spot; however, Judge pulled a leg muscle running out an infield rap on July 8, allowing the younger Kuhel another opportunity.4 Kuhel rose to the occasion, evidenced by his batting average rising from .136 to .253 in just two weeks. Backstory aside, Kuhel grounded out to Bishop. Myer lined to Cramer in center field for the second out, but Heinie Manush’s single kept the inning alive. Cronin followed Manush with a triple to center that plated the latter and evened the score at 1-1. Dave Harris flied out to end an eventful opening frame.
In the second inning Philadelphia’s Jimmy Dykes hit a two-out single of little consequence. The home half of the inning, however, witnessed a lot of consequence but nothing that changed the score. Sam West led off with a single and then took a big lead off first base with Ossie Bluege at the plate. West darted for second as Walberg went into his delivery but catcher Cochrane nailed him at second base for the out. Bluege singled into left field, and Moe Berg followed suit. With runners at first and second, Crowder also singled to left. Bluege rounded third but Simmons fielded the ball cleanly and threw “straight on a trolley line”5 to Cochrane, who tagged Bluege for the out. Four straight singles but nothing to show for it, marking the inning as “one of the oddest of the season”6 for Washington. Kuhel’s inning-ending strikeout confirmed the wasted opportunity.
Philadelphia punished Washington for its profligacy in the top of the third. Bishop opened the inning with a single to center field. After Cramer popped up to third baseman Bluege in foul ground, Cochrane connected with a “herculean wallop that had the carry to escape from the park over the high wall in deep right.”7 The two-run blast was Cochrane’s 15th home run of the season and extended Philadelphia’s lead to 3-1. Simmons popped up in foul territory, this time on the first-base side of the field, and Foxx flied out to left fielder Manush to end the Athletics’ barrage. Crowder seemed to have weathered the early storm and settled into the game as he kept Philadelphia batters from the basepaths in the fourth and fifth. Other than a stray single in each of the same innings, Walberg matched Crowder’s effectiveness and allowed the Athletics to maintain their advantage.
Cochrane served again as an offensive spark, hitting a leadoff double in the top of the sixth. Simmons grounded to Bluege, whose errant throw to Kuhel allowed runners at the corners with none out. Foxx popped up to Berg in foul ground behind the plate for the first out. Crowder’s free pass to Mule Haas loaded the bases to set up the force, but the tactic proved lacking when Eric McNair’s infield single plated Cochrane. With the bases still loaded, Dykes also tapped an infield grounder, but Cronin gathered the ball and flipped it to Myer for the force at second base; Simmons scored from third, however, extending Philadelphia’s lead to 5-1. Walberg flied out to West in center field for the third out, then the pitcher made quick work of the Senators in the bottom of the inning.
If the sixth inning hinted at Crowder losing his effectiveness, the seventh confirmed it. The General walked Bishop to start the inning and allowed a single to Cramer that placed runners at the corners. Before this game, Cochrane had sported a mere .185 batting average against the Senators. His single to right completed the cycle, drove in Bishop, and sent Crowder to the showers. Firpo Marberry assumed pitching responsibilities from Crowder and surrendered a single to Simmons that scored Cramer. With his team leading 7-1 and none out, Foxx’s grounder to Cronin resulted in a double play; that Cochrane crossed the plate from third provided some consolation. The Athletics enjoyed an 8-1 lead, and Cochrane had played a role in six of the visitors’ runs. Haas flied out to West for the final out.
Walberg remained effective in the seventh, permitting only a two-out single by Kuhel. In the eighth, however, the conditions caught up to the pitcher. “[S]uffering from the heat and sweating profusely,”8 Walberg allowed consecutive singles to Manush, Cronin, Harris, and West to open the Senators’ eighth. Unlike events in the second inning, the hits by Harris and West scored Manush and Cronin, respectively, for an 8-3 score. Bluege’s grounder to Dykes allowed the Philadelphia third baseman to tap his bag for the force against Harris. Berg’s single loaded the bases once again, and manager Johnson tapped Sam Rice to hit for Marberry in hopes of extending the rally. Rice, the honoree of the aptly-named Sam Rice Day on July 19 against Detroit, grounded out to Bishop; West crossed the plate on the play, narrowing the deficit to 8-4. Washington could get no closer as McNair scooped Kuhel’s grounder for the third out.
Lloyd Brown took the hill for Washington in the ninth and set down Cramer, Cochrane, and Simmons in order. Despite his wobbles the previous inning, Walberg returned to finish the game. Myer’s grounder to Foxx allowed the first baseman to tally an unassisted out. Manush singled to center and Cronin lofted a fly ball to Haas for the second out. Walberg “fell to the grass,”9 the effects of the heat clearly weighing on the pitcher. Lefty Grove started warming up, but Walberg stayed down for a minute before gathering himself and inducing a Harris groundball to Dykes for the game’s final out.
The game itself was not the sort of back-and-forth affair that makes legends of sporting contests. Rather, Mickey Cochrane was the story of the game. His offensive performance, including hitting for the cycle, provided the difference between the two teams. In the end, only one game would separate Philadelphia and Washington in the final 1932 AL standings. Individual performances like Cochrane’s provide just such a margin over a 154-game season. What neither team could prevent was a season like the Yankees’ 107-47 World Series-winning season. Philadelphia’s pennant streak ended, and Washington would have to wait another year for its final pennant in the “swamp.”
1 James C. Isaminger, “Cochrane’s Bat Big Factor in Mack Win,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 23, 1932: 10.
2 “Majors in No Position to Aid Minor Leagues, Landis Asserts,” Washington Evening Star, July 22, 1932: A-11.
3 John B. Keller, “Coffman Again Is Seeking First Hill Win: Leading Minor Leagues Appear Safe,” Washington Evening Star, July 22, 1932: A-8.
4 Denman Thompson, “Kuhel Wins First Base Post Away from Judge,” The Sporting News, August 4, 1932: 3.