Shoeless Joe Jackson (right, Chicago White Sox) and Babe Ruth (New York Yankees), 1920
NOTE: This program has a rescheduled date (originally Aug. 3, 2017).
Everything about baseball was bigger and more robust during the 1920s. Although Babe Ruth’s rise to prominence as the Sultan of Swat dominated the decade, there was far more to baseball as it entered a time of widespread change.
During the ’20s, baseball received its first commissioner; the Negro Leagues were created; the New York Yankees won their first championship and the Washington Senators won their last. The Cubs (almost) won a World Series; the single-season home run record was broken three times; and Rogers Hornsby achieved the highest single-season batting average of any player in modern history.
The nature of the game itself shifted. Teams across the American and National Leagues ushered in a new style of play by hitting home runs in quantity for the first time, a significant break with the more strategic, stolen-base focus that characterized previous decades.
Stars who established their names earlier in the century—such as Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson—continued to make their marks into the ’20s. Even today, the 1927 Yankees, with Ruth and Lou Gehrig, are considered to be the benchmark against which all powerful teams are compared. And everything in baseball took place against the backdrop of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, which threatened to undermine the game’s credibility and existence and whose undercurrents were felt again during the mid-20s.
In a time of significant social, technological, and cultural shifts, baseball changed and was changed by events going on in America. During a sports-crazed era that included boxing and college football as major attractions, baseball during the 1920s established itself as the true national pastime—and a modern game entering a golden age.
Join John McMurray, chair of the Deadball Era Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research, for an examination of how that came about and an evaluation of this remarkable decade in baseball history.
A box of “Babe Ruth Underwear” and a wrapper from “Ruth’s Home Run” chocolate were among the celebrity-endorsed items on display in a recently closed Portrait Gallery exhibition on the baseball star. Learn why the Great Bambino was one of the first athletes to be famous enough to require a publicity agent to handle his affairs.
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)