The 1910s Sports: Overview
The 1910s Sports: Overview
In the sports world, the 1910s was a decade of firsts. The initial Indianapolis 500 auto race was held. The Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) was established. Records were smothered at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, and women's competitions were added. Sir Barton won horse racing's first Triple Crown.
In the 1910s, basketball still was in its infancy, having only been invented in 1891. It was primarily a college competition. The few professional leagues that existed were poorly run and doomed to failure. However, several individual pro teams won fame, including the Buffalo Germans and original Celtics. They took on all opponents, rather than playing in leagues. The Celtics were formed in New York and should not be confused with the present-day Boston Celtics. In particular, they were a major influence in the development of the sport.
Football, like basketball, mostly was played in college. While individual universities from across the country fielded exceptional teams, the game was dominated by Ivy League teams. Before the decade began, football was a notoriously violent activity. Players at the college level frequently were injured and some even died. During the decade, groundbreaking rules were employed to ease the sport's violence.
The era's dominant boxer, Jack Johnson, was as controversial as he was talented. Johnson, the heavyweight champion between 1908 and 1915, was an African American. He was resented by the masses not only because of his skin color, but because he refused to act in a subservient manner. As Johnson pummeled various "great white hopes" in the ring, he was a source of inspiration to those of his race. (The term "great white hope" was later used to refer to any white athlete whom white audiences hoped would dethrone a black champion.)
If boxers usually were the sons of immigrants and the products of poverty, those who participated in golf and tennis were at the opposite end of the economic and social scale. In golf, the social barriers began to be torn down by two daring, talented players. One, Francis Ouimet, was an amateur. The other, Walter Hagen, was a professional. Meanwhile, during the decade, middle-class Americans increasingly began taking up tennis, which was one of the few sports in which women competed as successfully as men.
The modern-era Olympic Games were first held in 1896. The 1910s saw only one competition, in 1912, and it was marred by controversy. At those games, Jim Thorpe earned two gold medals in the grueling decathlon and pentathlon competition. Soon afterward, he was stripped of both by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because he had briefly played semiprofessional baseball prior to competing in the Olympics. The medals were returned to his family in 1982, however, almost three decades after Thorpe's death.
In baseball, the decade saw its share of thrilling games during the regular season and in the World Series. The Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox were the dominating teams, respectively winning three and four World Series. The Federal League briefly challenged the established American and National Leagues for domination in the sport. Not only did the Federal League set up teams and begin play, they attempted to lure away some of the top major league stars. After a couple of years of friction, the Federal League folded. However, an even more ominous threat to the national pastime came at the end of the decade, when eight Chicago White Sox ballplayers accepted, or knew of, bribes to throw the 1919 World Series. At the beginning of the following decade, the scandal threatened to destroy the integrity of the game.
A host of hall-of-fame ballplayers began their careers or starred during the decade. A short list includes Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, and the ill-fated "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (who would be implicated in what came to be known as the Black Sox scandal). Perhaps the most celebrated of all major leaguers debuted during the 1910s: a young Boston Red Sox pitcher named Babe Ruth. During the last week of the decade, Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees, a team that, at the time, had neither appeared in nor won a World Series. Not only would this transaction result in the transformation of the Yankees into a dominating force in baseball, but Ruth's ball field heroics (in the batter's box, rather than on the pitching mound) would save the sport from the spectre of scandal.