- No Money, No Beer, No Pennants: The Cleveland Indians and Baseball in the Great Depression by Scott H. Longert
Major league baseball teams confronted the Great Depression in different ways. Strong teams with a large fan base, such as the New York Yankees, New York Giants, and Chicago Cubs, soldiered on, barely missing a beat. Other teams resorted to gimmicks to draw fans who would otherwise be reluctant to waste their limited resources on a baseball game. In Cincinnati, the Reds attempted to attract customers who were employed (and, consequently, who could afford to attend a ballgame) by introducing night games in the major leagues. On the East Coast, the nearly bankrupt Brooklyn Dodgers recruited Babe Ruth as a first base coach and allowed him to take batting practice to draw an audience, while the seemingly moribund Braves changed their name to the "Boston Bees" to win over new fans. In Cleveland, the 1932 opening of a new, state-of-the-art stadium, approved by the voters fifty-one weeks before the 1929 stock market crash, should have provided the Indians with the glitter necessary to weather the Great Depression. Scott H. Longert, in No Money, No Beer, No Pennants: The Cleveland Indians and Baseball in the Great Depression, however, argues that, even with the luxury of a new home, the Indians struggled during the economic crisis.
Although the book is filled with stories about the players, managers, owners, scouts, and city officials, Cleveland's Municipal Stadium is the most significant character of the book. Longert examines the political intrigue involved in the approval, construction, and leasing of the new lakefront facility. When it opened, with a capacity of 78,000, Municipal Stadium became the largest venue in baseball, dwarfing Yankee Stadium, which contained 16,000 fewer seats. The future seemed bright for the ball club, as over 80,000 fans, including standees, crammed into the stadium on 31 July 1932, to witness the Indians' first game in their new ballpark. But, shortly after that, the reality of the Great Depression set in. With Cleveland out of the running for the pennant, attendance sank to abysmal levels. Longert points out that, even with almost half their games played in the new behemoth, in 1932 the Indians drew 15,000 fewer fans than the previous season.
According to Longert, the new stadium was not universally popular. Outfielders, who had to cover more territory and sluggers who found the outfield walls farther away, hated it. Fans preferred the intimacy of League Park, a significantly smaller venue that opened more than four decades earlier. More importantly, for the ball club, playing in Municipal Stadium was a costly undertaking, as the Indians had to pay a minimum cost [End Page 622] of $50,000 a year to rent the facility. After a year-and-a-half in the new Stadium, the Indians retrenched in 1934, returning to the smaller, but cheaper, ballpark.
Avid baseball fans, especially Cleveland fans, will enjoy No Money, No Beer, No Pennants. Longert chronicles the day-to-day tribulations of the team, including the wins, losses, injuries, player transactions, and contract negotiations. The book begins with the purchase of the ball club by Cleveland real estate mogul Alva Bradley in 1927, and continues to follow the team through the arrival of teenage phenom Bob Feller during the 1936 season. Longert views the season when Feller joined the Cleveland pitching staff as the place to end the book because, twelve years later, the future Hall of Famer would lead Cleveland to the 1948 American League pennant and the World Series Championship.
Some readers, however, may find the ending unnatural and unsatisfying. Longert discusses how, even though the team no longer played in Municipal Stadium, the Indians used that facility to host the 1935 Major League All-Star Game. He also writes about how the Indians returned to the stadium for one game in 1936, in conjunction with the...