Sociology of the MLB Player: 1952by Steve Treder
August 30, 2005
A few weeks ago, we had some fun looking at the information provided in the 1940 edition of The Sporting News Baseball Register regarding each player’s date and place of birth, his marital status, his college educational status, his hobbies and his “nationality.” How about we take another look at it, this time fast-forwarding to the 1952 Baseball Register. In 1952, all the same information was presented, only the term “nationality” had been replaced by the more accurate “ancestry.” (Why 1952, you ask? Well, if you must know, it's because that’s the most recent Register in my possession that includes all of this info; the next one I have is from 1957, and by then they’d stopped including all of this juicy stuff.)
So let’s see just how much the major league baseball playing population had changed between 1940 and 1952.
Birthplace: By State
Of the 409 players listed in the 1952 Baseball Register, 15 were born outside the U.S. (an increase over the five from 1940): eight Cubans, three Canadians, and one each from Czechoslovakia, Mexico, Scotland and Venezuela.
Thus the great majority (394) were still American-born. Here’s a comparison of the top 10 birth states in the 1940 Register compared with the 1952 Register:
1940 State 1940 % 1952 State 1952 % California 12.0% California 11.4% Illinois 7.0% New York 8.6% North Carolina 7.0% Pennsylvania 8.6% Texas 6.7% Illinois 7.1% New York 6.0% Missouri 5.6% Pennsylvania 5.6% Ohio 5.1% Missouri 5.0% Michigan 4.8% Ohio 5.0% North Carolina 4.6% Alabama 3.0% Texas 3.6% Massachusetts 3.0% New Jersey 3.6%
California remained the primary source of ballplayers, even though according to the 1920 U.S. census (the closest point to when most 1952 players were born), the Golden State was still just the eighth most populous state.
Birthplace: By Region
Just like last time, I organized the 48 U.S. states into four regions, to see how those break down (the listing of states I put into each region is in the References and Resources section below). Here's how they came out for 1952, compared with 1940:
1940 Region 1940 % 1952 Region 1952 % South 39% Midwest 31% Midwest 28% South 28% Northeast 20% Northeast 25% West 13% West 16%
In just a dozen years' time, major league ballplayers had become a distinctly less Southern bunch. And while California remained the state that produced the most players, it remained the case that few other Western states were contributing many.
Birthplace: Managers and Coaches
A total of 64 managers and coaches are listed in the 1952 Register. (Their average age was 48; the youngest was Tommy Holmes at 33, while the oldest was Nick Altrock at 75.) New York was the most common state of birth among them, and none were born outside the U.S. By region, they broke out this way:
1940 Region 1940 % 1952 Region 1952 % Midwest 36% South 40% Northeast 36% Midwest 36% South 17% Northeast 36% West 11% West 9%
So while fewer players in 1952 were from the South, the ranks of managers and coaches became significantly more Southern since 1940—simply a function, perhaps, of the previous generation of players now populating the manager/coach ranks.
Fully 88% of players identified themselves as married in 1952, up from 79% in 1940. Three players, (Al Brazle, Al Rosen and Vic Wertz) reported themselves as divorced, whereas no one had done so in 1940.
The average age of the married players was 29 (the same as in 1940), and their average age when married was 23 (also the same as 1940). The average age of the single players was 25, down from 27 in 1940.
Among the managers and coaches, 95% said they were married (up from 88% in 1940). Their average age at marriage was 28. One, Bucky Harris, was reported as divorced. None of the players, managers or coaches identified himself as a widower, while there had been six (three players and three manager/coaches) in 1940.
Only 20% of players in 1952 reported having attended college, down from the 29% figure of 1940. Nine percent of the player population were college graduates, down as well from 12% in 1940. No single school had graduated more than one player, and no players indicated post-graduate work, although Bobby Brown, with a medical degree from Tulane (also having studied at Stanford and UCLA), was indicated as having completed his medical internship at Southern Pacific Hospital in San Francisco.
As in 1940, the managers and coaches were a bit more likely than the players to be college-educated, but their 28% figure was also down from the 39% reported in 1940. Moreover, only 8% of managers and coaches were college graduates, down sharply from 20% in 1940. One reported grad school: Phil Page, with an M.E. degree from Springfield College.
In 1940, hunting, fishing and golf had pretty much been the story. Little changed in this regard by 1952. These three pursuits, in some combination or other, continued to dominate the list of hobbies of players and managers/coaches alike.
Three hundred sixty-eight players listed at least one hobby, and of those, 136 (37%) named hunting as their favorite pastime. The second-most listed primary hobby was golf (18%), and third was fishing (11%). Bowling was a distant fourth, at 5%.
A second hobby was indicated by 231 players, and 42% of them named fishing. Then came hunting (18%), golf (10%), with basketball this time the distant fourth (4%). Sixty-one players listed a third hobby, and fishing and golf tied for the top spot there at 21%. Bowling sneaked in with 10%, followed by hunting at 8%.
Managers and coaches weren’t much different; just as in 1940, their top three hobbies were hunting (40%), golf (28%) and fishing (21%), with bowling a distant fourth at 9%.
As in 1940, a few players, managers and coaches did deviate from the huntin’-fishin’-golfin’ norm and identify more unusual hobbies. Here are some of the most interesting:
Architectural engineering: Dick Sisler
Attending theater: Mel Harder
Auto and airplane mechanics: Johnny Sain
Auto racing: Jim McDonald
Autographed balls: Bob Usher
Beagle hounds: Frank Hiller
Boxing: Eddie Stanky
Checkers: Harry Dorish
Cockfights: Sandy Consuegra
Collecting guns and antiques: Satchel Paige
Dancing: Cal Abrams
Decorating baseball for winning pitcher on his club; pitcher gets ball in several different colors with the victory number, line score, highlights of the game and something humorous: Del Wilber
Drawing: Turk Lown
Electricity: Harry Taylor
Insurance business: Birdie Tebbetts
Keeping scrapbook on own playing career: Wally Post
Lobby sitter: Rogers Hornsby
Making baseball novelties: Al Zarilla
Making calls and decoys: Johnny Hopp
Making gun stocks: Paul LaPalme
Model trains: Jackie Jensen
My two boys: Bud Stewart (aww ...)
Philately: Jocko Thompson
Pipe collector: Hank Sauer
Playing harmonica: Vern Law
Powerboats: Early Wynn
Raising homing pigeons: Cliff Mapes
Raising livestock: Earle Combs
Reading Spanish: Ken Johnson
Table tennis: Bob Miller
Talking: Dizzy Trout
Television: Tommy Holmes
Traveling: Frank Crosetti
Working with internal combustion engines: Jim Wilson
One hundred fourteen different specific combinations of ancestry were self-identified by 406 players. As in 1940, the most common component was Irish, listed in some manner as either a primary or secondary heritage by 153 (38%) of the players. Next came German (24%), English (21%) and Scotch (13%).
In 1940, Italians had been breaking in as the most significant minority group, with 15 players. In 1952, their number was up to 21 identifying themselves as straight Italian, and four others as some combination of Italian. But between 1940 and 1952, the largest new influx of ancestries was Eastern Europeans, with 55 players (14%) indicating some combination of Eastern European heritage. Of those, by far the most numerous were Poles, with 33 players (8%).
Of course, the most dramatic change between 1940 and 1952 was the inclusion of some players of color. In 1952, there were 14 players identified as either "American Negro" (George Crowe, Larry Doby, Luke Easter, Monte Irvin, Sam Jethroe, Sam Jones, Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Harry Simpson and Hank Thompson) or "Cuban Negro" (Minnie Minoso and Ray Noble). Not surprisingly, no player was identified with any kind of mixed-Negro ancestry, and most interestingly, the ancestry of Roy Campanella was not provided.
In 1940, there had been four Jewish players listed; in 1952 the total was five (Cal Abrams, Joe Ginsberg, Sid Gordon, Saul Rogovin and Al Rosen). There had been one Jewish coach in 1940 (Moe Berg), and there was one again in 1952 (Jake Pitler).
There had been five players indicating some Native American heritage in 1940. In 1952 that total had risen to 11, with Cliff Fannin identifying himself as straight Indian (though you'd never guess it from his photograph), and 10 others (Gene Bearden, Howie Fox, Nippy Jones, Morrie Martin, Willie Ramsdell, Allie Reynolds, Jim Suchecki, Joe Tipton, Virgil Trucks and Early Wynn) indicating some Indian ancestry.
Among managers and coaches in 1952, the most commonly indicated ancestries were Irish and German (each 19%), Scotch (17%), English (11%) and Italian (9%).
Breakout by Region
As we did last time, the breakouts include players only (not managers and coaches). And, as last time, the nationality referred to here is that indicated by each player as his primary nationality, whether alone or in combination with another; for example, “English-X” includes each player who identified himself as either “English” or “English-Irish,” “English-German” and so on. Thus each player is counted once and only once.
Region Nationality % Married Hobby 1 % Hobby 2 % Hobby 3 % College % MIDWEST German-X 33% 88% Hunting 37% Fishing 41% Fishing 23% Attended 23% (N = 121) Polish-X 12% Golf 13% Hunting 16% Hunting 14% Graduate 3% English-X 9% Fishing 13% Golf 14% Bowling 9% Irish-X 9% SOUTH Irish-X 24% 88% Hunting 52% Fishing 51% Golf 55% Attended 35% (N = 110) English-X 22% Golf 23% Hunting 16% Hunting 9% Graduate 5% Scotch-X 19% Fishing 10% Golf 11% Fishing 9% German-X 9% NORTHEAST Irish-X 22% 81% Hunting 30% Fishing 40% Golf 27% Attended 18% (N = 100) Polish-X 18% Golf 13% Hunting 19% Fishing 27% Graduate 5% Italian-X 14% Fishing 11% Basketball 11% German-X 11% WEST English-X 21% 97% Hunting 28% Fishing 33% Bowling 27% Attended 24% (N = 63) German-X 16% Golf 26% Hunting 30% Fishing 27% Graduate 5% Irish-X 13% Fishing 11% Golf 30% Golf 18% Italian-X 11%
Moreso than in 1940, there were some rather clear differences in ancestry by region. The Midwesterners were strongly German and Polish and the Northeasterners disproportionately Polish and Italian.
Westerners were the most likely to be married, and Northeasterners the least, but overall everyone was pretty similar in this regard.
Players from all of the regions were enthusiasts of the hunting-fishing-golfing triad, with few significant regional differences. There was slightly more diversity in hobbies from regions other than the South. But only in the third-favorite hobby among Westerners do we see anything other than hunting, fishing, or golf as number one, and there bowling only manages to tie with fishing.
As in 1940, players from the South were the most likely to have attended college. But nowhere was the graduation rate higher than 5%.
Breakout by Ancestry
Ancestry Region % Married Hobby 1 % Hobby 2 % Hobby 3 % College % GERMAN-X Midwest 56% 79% Hunting 34% Fishing 46% Golf 20% Attended 31% (N = 70) Northeast 16% Golf 21% Hunting 15% Fishing 20% Graduate 4% South 14% Fishing 8% Golf 15% Bowling 20% West 14% Bowling 6% IRISH-X South 39% 90% Hunting 42% Fishing 44% Golf 33% Attended 22% (N = 67) Northeast 33% Golf 19% Golf 15% Hunting 17% Graduate 4% Midwest 15% Fishing 6% Hunting 13% Fishing 17% West 12% ENGLISH-X South 45% 89% Hunting 42% Fishing 46% Golf 29% Attended 34% (N = 53) West 25% Golf 17% Hunting 20% Hunting 14% Graduate 9% Midwest 21% Fishing 8% Golf 9% Fishing 14% Northeast 8% SCOTCH-X South 54% 92% Hunting 41% Fishing 45% Golf 33% Attended 26% (N = 39) Midwest 21% Golf 21% Hunting 25% Fishing 17% Graduate 3% West 15% Fishing 15% Northeast 5% POLISH-X Northeast 55% 88% Hunting 32% Fishing 50% Attended 15% (N = 33) Midwest 42% Golf 16% Hunting 21% Graduate 6% South 3% Fishing 16% Basketball 13% West 0% ITALIAN-X Northeast 56% 92% Hunting 26% Fishing 31% Attended 12% (N = 25) West 28% Golf 17% Hunting 23% Graduate 0% Midwest 16% Fishing 17% Golf 15% South 0% DUTCH-X Midwest 32% 91% Hunting 44% Fishing 44% Attended 27% (N = 22) South 27% Fishing 22% Hunting 33% Graduate 0% Northeast 27% Golf 17% West 14% FRENCH-X South 44% 81% Hunting 54% Fishing 30% Attended 38% (N = 16) Midwest 25% Golf 23% Hunting 20% Graduate 6% Northeast 19% West 13% AMER.NEGRO South 50% 92% Hunting 27% Fishing 40% Attended 33% (N = 12) Midwest 33% Sports 18% Hunting 20% Graduate 0% Northeast 8% Fishing 9% West 8%
The Germans, as in 1940, were predominantly from the Midwest, but, quite unlike 1940, they were the least likely to be married of any of the major groups.
In 1940, the Italians had almost all been from the West—from the San Francisco Bay Area, in fact. But in 1952, most of the Italians were from the Northeast. And while in 1940 the Italians had been the group least likely to be married, in 1952 they were among the most likely.
The Poles were the biggest new group, and they were almost exclusively from the Northeast and Midwest. They and the Italians were the least likely to have attended college.
The other significant new arrival was the "American Negroes," and though it's a small sample, it's interesting to see that they were among the most likely to have attended college. The black players were predominantly from the South, but not hugely so. Indeed it's the case that the profile of these dozen African-Americans doesn't show them to be strikingly different from the rest of the players in any regard, with the notable exception of them not pursuing golf as a hobby the way everyone else did—not a whole lot of integrated courses in those days.
As in 1940, in general the hunting-fishing-golf culture seemed not to be a function of ancestry at all. Pretty much all the players pursued the same hobbies in about the same proportion.
Major league baseball in 1952 was still played almost exclusively by Americans, but the small proportion of foreign-born players was up to 15, as opposed to five in 1940. The Americans were from the Midwest, South, and Northeast in rougly equal proportion, with the West contributing signficantly fewer. Those who did come from the West were very disproportionately Californians, as Calfornia, as it had been in 1940, was the single most productive state.
To an even greater degree than in 1940, players from all regions and backgrounds were highly likely to be married, or at least identify themselves that way. Only 12% of players in 1952 said they were single, and just three players (less than 1%) admitted to being divorced.
College education among baseball players was even more rare in 1952 than it had been in 1940, with only one in five players having attended college and fewer than one in 10 having graduated.
As in 1940, these ballplayers, mostly in their late 20s (and of course, athletes by profession), very predominantly pursued three outdoor, physical hobbies: hunting, fishing and golf. This cultural conformity applied quite uniformly across regional and ancestral boundaries.
Major league players in 1952 remained fairly homogeneous racially and ethnically, but not to the strong degree of 1940. The community was still a white, Northern European bastion, but since 1940 three significant changes had occurred: (1) the Italian-American population in MLB had stabilized and become established within the coaching ranks; (2) players of Polish and other Eastern European heritages had arrived in large number; and (3) the agonizingly slow process of racial integration had begun.
References and Resources
I don’t know how the Register editors compiled this data, but my guess is that they had Sporting News reporters present a questionnaire to each prospective book subject. Given this, we must take the factual precision of this information with a grain of salt.
There’s no reason to doubt that birthplaces are accurate. But we know that lots of players lied about their birth years in that era; a quick comparison of the presented birth years of any 20 or so players at random from the 1952 Register will almost always reveal at least one discrepancy with the birth years in a modern resource such as baseball-reference.com.
And more generally, the information on college attendance and graduation, marital status, and ancestry must certainly be taken as self-reported and unverified. Anyone experienced in social research (I’ll out myself here as a long-ago Sociology Ph.D. candidate) knows that self-reported data in subjects such as these is quite unreliable, for a variety of reasons, including both inclinations of subjects to fib (or simply be mistaken) and the inability of recorders to verify. (Ted Williams, for example, whom we know to have been of partly Mexican heritage, identified himself as Welsh-French.)
Undoubtedly, these Baseball Register inquiries were no kind of scientifically objective inquiry, but instead much more of a fan-magazine kind of collection. In general, I think we should consider this information to be simply:
- What players were willing to say about themselves
- Whether it was true or not
I divided each player's state of birth into regions on the following basis:
Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana
Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado
New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Vermont, Maine
The average MLB player in 1952 was born in about 1922. According to the 1920 U.S. Census, three of these regions had about the same overall population (Midwest 34.0 million, South 32.5 million, and Northeast 29.9 million), while the West was significantly less populated (8.9 million, with California representing more than one-third).
Steve Treder can often be found spending way too much time talking baseball at Baseball Primer. He welcomes your questions and comments via e-mail.