The 1930 Season, Steroids? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Steroids

I am truly sick and tired of mediots and yakkers STILL getting on their moral high horse about the “Steroid” era. Yes, players took steroids and other PEDs. Players took greenies, got shots of novocaine, xylocaine, cortisone and other meds, put crap like DMSO on their arm, you name it, for years and years.

Every era is somehow tainted. I can point to every year and know why runs were scored or not scored, whether it be rule changes, the ball, the emphasis on offense or defense in an era, the parks, etc. etc.

Offense has been fairly consistent from the dawn of the National League. Yes, there have been spikes in runs scored, and dips in runs scored, but those are mainly to changing rules, factors, equipment, you name it, and soon equilibrium sets in. Runs ballooned in 1894 due to the pitching changes that took effect in 1893. It took a while for batters to adjust, and when they did, it took a few seasons for pitchers to come back and dominate.

1999 and 2000 seem to be the peak of the wild-and-wooly run scoring era, where parks shrank, the ball seemed juiced and yes, players gained an edge with PEDs. But those seasons have nothing on 1930.

The introduction of a ‘clean’ baseball, the banning of foreign objects, and the realization that the long ball sold tickets started an offensive explosion that slowly grew until 1930.

The year 1930 was a stinky year in the US. The Great Depression started in 1929, and everyone was coming to grips on the implications of that calamity. The one thing that citizens had was entertainment, whether it be radio, movies, or baseball.

Teams scored 5.2 runs per game in 1929, which was a lot, historically. Not since the 1890’s had teams plated that many runs per game. But 1930 was a whole different kettle of fish.

The 1930 New York Yankees averaged almost SEVEN runs per game, 1,062 total runs. Babe Ruth scored 150 runs, drove in 153, and had an OPS of 1.225. Lou Gehrig scored 143, drove in 173, and had an OPS of 1.194. That team finished third. THIRD!

The AL pennant winners (and World Series champs), the Philadelphia Athletics, only averaged a measly 6.2 runs per game. But they were one of two teams to allow under five runs a contest on their way to winning 102. Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx had OPS’ over 1.000. Somehow Lefty Grove had just a 2.54 ERA (an ERA+ of 185, unheard of really) and went 28-5. Only two of his losses were in games that he started.

The NL champs were the St. Louis Cardinals. They led the NL with 1,004 runs even though no one had ultra gaudy totals. Frankie Frisch led the team in runs (121) and RBI (114) and had an OPS of just .927.

This was the year of Hack Wilson. Playing for the Cubs, he scored 146 runs and drove in 191 with an OPS of 1.177. Kiki Cuyler scored 155 and drove in 134, and Woody English scored 152 runs. The Cubs were let down by weakness in their middle infield and their bench. Somehow, Guy Bush went 15-10 but had a 6.20 ERA for the club.

But for the real shits and giggles, the 1930 Phillies take the cake.

Playing in the Baker Bowl, a park shoehorned into the streets of Philadelphia. The right field wall was 280 feet away, and the power alley in right center just 300 feet. (They did have a 60 foot wall there, like that was any help.)

The Phillies were horribly underfinanced, and made their bones by selling players around the league. Their last winning record was 1917, where they went 87-65 in finishing second. Going into 1930, their best record since then was 1929, as they won 71 games and finished fifth under Burt Shotton.

The 1930 Phillies were probably fun to watch, if you only watched when they batted. Chuck Klein slashed .386/.436/.637, scored 158 runs and drove in 170. Lefty O’Doul went .383/.453./.604. The lowest batting average for any regular was Denny Sothern’s .280. Subs Bernie Friberg and Monk Sherlock hit .341 and .324 respectively. Tommy Thevenow hit .286 and had an OPS+ of 52. The team hit .315, which was second in the NL behind the Giants .319.

The Giants finished 87-67 with that batting average. Philadelphia finished 52-102. Why?

They gave up 7.7 runs per game. 1,199 runs crossed the plate while the Phillies were in the field.

“Fidgety” Phil Collins was the ace of the staff, a legitimate and repsectable 16-11 record with a 4.78 ERA that due to park and league normalization, wound up being an ERA+ of 114. Ray Benge’s ERA was 5.70, but had an 11-15 record, which wasn’t bad considering. His ERA+ was 96.

The two ‘ringleaders’ as it were became the symbols of the Phillies ineptitude during this era.

Les “Sugar” Sweetland had a 7.71 ERA, a 7-15 record, and gave up 271 hits in 167 innings, walking 60 and fanning 36.

Claude Willoughby went 4-17 with a 7.59 ERA, giving up 241 hits in 153 innings, walking 68 and striking out 38.

They were notorious throughout the league, so much so that George Phair, a New York based writer, used to belt out “My country ’tis of thee / Sweetland and Willoughby / of thee I sing” whenever he covered a game in the Baker Bowl.

You want me to get into the rest?

Hap Collard (6-12, 6.80), Hal Elliot (6-11, 7.67) bore a lot of the damage. Snipe Hansen, age 23, went 0-7 with a 6.72 ERA in 84 1/3 innings. Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched the last games of his career, and gave up 22 runs in 21 1/3 innings. Various and sundry other pitchers took the mound, with only John Milligan having any success (a 3.18 ERA ‘helped’ by six unearned runs in 28 1/3 innings).

The staff walked more than they struck out, gave up 1,993 hits, and only threw three shutouts.

Games at the Baker Bowl were a parade of baserunners, with scores like 16-15 (April 23 win vs. Brooklyn),  19-12 (June 14 loss vs. Pittsburgh), 18-14 (June 16 win vs. Pittsburgh) not unusual. They gave up 10 or more runs in 24 home games. They also gave up 10 or more runs in 19 road games, with Brooklyn plating 22 against them on September 6th being the high (or low) water mark.

After the 1930 season, some in baseball thought it was a traveshamockery that so many runs were being scored. The NL took action, and deadened the ball. The AL didn’t, but scoring went down there anyway. Teams only scored 4.8 runs per game in 1931 and stayed close to that level for the rest of the decade.

The offensive explosion of the 1990’s and 2000’s weren’t that unusual, in context, as baseball has endured spikes like that before. No one gets on their moral high horse about being able to face the Phillies pitching 22 times a year in 1930, though.



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