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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Vintage Chicago Tribune: Arch Ward, Sports Editor Who Created Baseball’s Midsummer Classic

Long before the movie version, Arch Ward created a field of dreams. He was called “The Game of the Century” and the Tribune’s sports editor based it on the perennial imagination of baseball fans:

If Sweetbread Bailey was pitching and Babe Ruth was batting, who would win?

This question is as fascinating as it is disappointing. One played in the National League, the other in the American League, and he never crossed the base path until the World Series.

But Ward envisioned a means to settle such enigmas: a competition pitting the best players from each league during a World’s Fair celebrating Chicago’s 100th birthday.

“A smart inspiration in the Tribune’s sports department would place Chicago as an event of the fair, the baseball game of all time,” the paper reported on May 23, 1933. “Baseball management could have found a million reasons why it couldn’t be done, but found every reason why it should be.”

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The birth of the All-Star Game was an accidental byproduct of the Great Depression. In 1933, the newly installed mayor of Chicago, Edward Kelly, was concerned. The city was committed to hosting the World’s Fair. But with millions of Americans out of work, how can Chicago attract enough visitors to ensure the fair’s success?

Kelly posed this question to Tribune publisher Colonel Robert R. asked McCormick. There was some discussion of an athletic event, and McCormick turned the problem over to Ward, who had a talent for not only covering athletic events, but creating them.

Ward knew that the novelty of an All-Star Game would get a few days’ advance coverage and a post-mortem. The trick was to keep the public’s attention longer with headlines like the May 30 edition:

“Simmons Extends Election Lead Over Ruth. Babe Trails in First Returns from New York.”

As per Ward’s design, the lineups for the games were established by a democratic process. The Tribune asked readers to vote for their favorite players, and 47 papers quickly followed suit.

“The count will be forwarded to the Tribune every few days,” Ward explained. “Based on weekend enquiries, papers that have already been included at least twice will be enrolled in a few days.”

This changed the competition from a single ballgame to a daily face-to-face between fans. Some moved players around like a knowledgeable manager. The American League had two hard-hitting first basemen. When Lou Gehrig of the Yankees took an unbeatable lead, Jimmy Foxx fans of the Athletics still wanted him in the game.

“Foxx once played third base for the Athletics and played it very well,” the Tribune said. “Fans started voting for third baseman Foxx.”

But Jimmy Dykes of the White Sox won the spot and the American League, backed by a two-run homer from Babe Ruth, beat the National League 4–2.

A decade earlier, Ward co-founded Golden Gloves with his counterpart in the New York Daily News, another Tribune paper. His creation evolved into international boxing competition and joined Ward’s long list of celebrity friends. On the morning of their professional bouts, Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano had breakfast with Ward.

Ward did not reveal his own personality. His personal style was simple, the product of a Central American upbringing that he was proud of. Born on a farm near Irvine, Illinois, he returned there shortly before his death to finalize the barn of his youth.

“I made baseballs with twine, black tape, and glue,” he recalled. “I practiced pitching against the side of that barn. I portrayed myself as a major league pitcher or shortstop.

He liked to quote Knut Rockne, the famous football coach at the University of Notre Dame, where Ward was a student and Rockane’s evangelist.

“The Farm Boy is the best prospect for America’s future leaders,” Rockney told Ward. “The town boy is very soft, and his talk about school character building makes him more fun.” Rockne grew up in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.

Named as the Tribune’s sports editor in 1936, Ward inherited the “In the Wake of the News” column, which was a trove of gossip, quips, and contributions from readers. A reader reminded Ward of his predecessor Ring Lardner’s description of a White Sox rally: “It involved ‘a dropped third strike,’ ‘balls on base, a scratch hit, an error and a close decision’.”

Ward’s specialty was the profiles of athletes, dense with facts and sometimes run in several installments.

But his words could capture an indelible moment. For example, Joe Louis flooring Max Schmeling with a blizzard of punches at the opening bell of his 1938 Heavyweight Championship bout:

Ward recalled decades later, “Schmeling knew then and there that there was no escape from this cold, expressionless man, whose initial outburst caused his eyes to blur and a blemish on his left cheek.” “A half smile caught on his face became a definite grin.”

In 1932, Ward ignited another fan debate, noting that Jack Chevigny, the coach of the Chicago Cardinals professional football team, thought the 1930 Notre Dame team was the best football team he had ever seen.

“The conductors in this column have received hundreds of letters commenting on Chevignon’s ratings,” Ward reported. “Professional players, college coaches, and the fans who line it every Sunday have their say.”

Capitalizing on the enthusiasm of his readers, Ward created, and the Tribune, sponsored, a 1934 College All=Star Game at Soldier Field. It began with a deafening display of spectacle, as the newspaper reported:

“A giant spotlight was shining from a far corner of the field. The band hit ‘The Mecca and the Blue,’ and the men and women of Michigan began to shout. Then the spotlight was stepped up alone by Michigan great center Chuck Bernard Then came songs from Purdue and Pittsburgh, and Fritz Faebel of Purdue and Frank Walton of Pittsburgh, guards on this great All-American team, took their turns before the floodlights.

When all the school songs were sung, 79,432 fans watched the college players and National Football League champion Chicago Bears tie 0–0. Associated Press reported: “Collegeans outplay Pro League champions, get six first down to three”

The proceeds of the game went to charity, as did the subsequent games, until the series ended in 1976.

Ward died a few days before an All-Star (baseball) game in 1955. His funeral, scheduled for game day, resembled the coronation of an emperor. The game was set back an hour, so baseball honors could fly back from Chicago in time to see the first ball thrown at Milwaukee.

Bishop Bernard Scheel led services at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Belmont Avenue. Rocky Marciano interrupted his training and took off from New York. Former boxing champions Barney Ross and Tony Zell were there. So, too, were the old stars of every sport that Ward wrote about.

The Rev. Theodore Hesberg, president of Notre Dame, preached the sermon. “Ark Ward had a passion for honesty and fair play, a love of the good and his fellow men,” Heisberg said. “In the process he became immortal in the hearts of millions.”

When the college guys scored three field goals to defeat the Cleveland Browns in that year’s All-Star football game, the Tribune noted that Ward had a special affection not only for the most talented but for those who made it their own. give everything.

The Tribune wrote, “Notre Rockne’s successor descended on Notre Dame, when all else failed, he would tell his squad, ‘It’s for the Rock,’ and his young pupils responded like tigers.” “We hope we are not too short to suggest that this was for Arch Ward.”

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