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Breaking the Slump Listen to portions of an interview with Charles Alexander on his new book, "Breaking the Slump: Baseball During the Depression Era" by following the links below.

Alexander on baseball during the Great Depression

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  • October 1, 2002
    Using Baseball as a Backdrop to History
    By Kelli Whitlock and Jack Jeffery

    Cleats with metal spikes, uncushioned outfield walls made of cement, double headers in the heat of summer and inside pitches that laid flat any batter who dared crowd the plate. These were a few symbols of baseball during the Great Depression, conditions met head on by what one researcher says were some of the toughest players in the sport's history.

    The 1930s saw the end to America's economic boom at the decade's onset and the beginning of World War II at the finish. They were tough times for the country and for baseball, argues Charles C. Alexander, author of "Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era," published this month by Columbia University Press.

    "Baseball was a tougher game in the 1930s - a tougher profession to follow and a tougher game to play on the field," said Alexander, distinguished professor emeritus of history at Ohio University. "It's a great period in baseball history, for all the difficulties the sport had."

    Charles AlexanderAlexander has spent more than 40 years as a history professor and has been teaching university courses on baseball and sports history for more than 20 years. He is the author of 11 previous books, including Our Game: An American Baseball History and biographies about Ty Cobb, John McGraw and Rogers Hornsby. Alexander prides himself on being a historian who uses baseball as a backdrop. Since 1995, more than 3,000 Ohio University students have learned about baseball and American history in Alexander's classes, "American Baseball to 1930" and "American Baseball Since 1930."

    "I thought it would be a challenge to do baseball in the context of the Great Depression and to see how the Depression affected baseball financially, the lives of players and organized baseball," he said.

    "Ballplayers were expected to do what they had to do in those days, and that's what they did," he said. "Allowances that are made now for players were not made in the 1930s."

    Alexander delivered the keynote address at the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture in Cooperstown, N.Y. The symposium, which is co-sponsored by the State University of New York at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, examines the impact of baseball on American culture.

    "Baseball is baseball. The game has changed less and the players have changed less than is the case in any other sport," he said. "The baseball ethic still prevails: You love to play baseball, and if you're getting paid well to do what you love to do, how could it get any better than that?"

     


    Attention editors, reporters: To receive a copy of Alexander's book, contact Steve Abbott at Columbia University Press at (212) 459-0600, ext. 7127 or sa2024@columbia.edu. Images of Alexander and the book cover are available at 300 dpi. Contact Kelli Whitlock or Andrea Gibson at (740) 593-0946 or research.news@ohio.edu.

    Attention TV: A taped interview is available on Beta. For copies, call Kelli Whitlock.

    Contact: Kelli Whitlock (740) 593-2868, whitlock@ohio.edu

    Book cover photo by Bettmann/CORBIS; Jacket design, Brady McNamara
    Charles Alexander's photo by David Ahntholz

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