The 1920s Sports: Topics in the News

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The 1920s Sports: Topics in the News



Antitrust laws regulate American business and prevent individual companies from monopolizing the marketplace. Back in the mid-1910s, the Federal League, a new professional baseball league, briefly rivaled the American League (AL) and National League (NL) before folding. The Feds' Baltimore franchise filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, claiming that the AL and NL had plotted against the league. The suit alleged that the established leagues acted as a monopoly by plotting to purchase Federal League franchises and destroy the new operation. The Baltimore team argued that the AL and NL were a business. They maintained a schedule of games, featuring teams that traveled from city to city and state to state. Their players were paid employees, and the teams charged admission to watch them play. Thus, baseball constituted interstate commerce, and the AL and NL should be regulated by the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act: a federal law restricting the power of the major business monopolies that emerged after the Civil War.

However, in 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that baseball was exempt from federal antitrust laws. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841–1935) noted that, in the view of the court, professional "exhibitions of baseball" did not constitute interstate commerce.

The ruling has been challenged several times over the decades: For example, in 1957, when professional football sought similar legal protection; in 1972, when Curt Flood (1938–1997), a veteran major league ballplayer, refused to accept his trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies; and between the 2001 and 2002 seasons, when Commissioner Bud Selig (1934–) attempted to eliminate two major league franchises.


In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were heavily favored to beat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. However, the Reds came out on top. While it was neither the first nor the last upset victory in a major sporting event, the White Sox defeat was different because it was tainted.

During the last month of the 1920 season, certain members of the Sox were accused of accepting, or having had knowledge of, bribes from gamblers to throw the Series. Eight players were accused: outfielders Happy Felsch and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson; third baseman Buck Weaver; shortstop Swede Risberg; first baseman Chick Gandil; pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude Williams; and utility infielder Fred McMullen. While a grand jury did not find the eight guilty as charged, the authorities banned them from baseball for life in order to restore public confidence in the game. One of the Black Sox, Jackson, was among the decade's top players. His banishment kept him from being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In order to re-establish the game's integrity, baseball team owners created the office of the commissioner to govern the sport and insure that no similar incidents would occur. The commissioner owed allegiance neither to the American League nor the National League. In 1921, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866–1944), a U.S. district court judge, was named to the office. He ruled with unlimited power until his death.

However, one man was responsible for revitalizing the sport: Babe Ruth (1895–1948), the beloved "Bambino" and the "Sultan of Swat." Ruth came to the major leagues during the previous decade as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. During the final week of 1919, team owner Harry Frazee (1881–1929) sold him to the New York Yankees for $100,000 and a $300,000 loan. During the 1910s, the Red Sox had won four World Series; in the decades after the trade, the team rarely advanced to the World

Series and never emerged victorious. It was for this reason that the trade came to be regarded by baseball fans in general (and Red Sox loyalists in particular) as having inflicted on the team the "Curse of the Bambino."

In the years before 1919, in what was known as the "dead-ball era," major league home run totals generally were small. A player might lead his league in home runs by hitting eight, nine, or twelve pitches out of the ballpark. Frank Baker (1886–1963), a future Hall of Famer who earned the nickname "Home Run," never hit more than twelve in a season. During his thirteen-year major league career, his homer total was ninety-six. Yet in 1919, Ruth astounded the baseball world by hitting twenty-nine homers. The following year, he smashed fifty-four, a number that exceeded all the totals for every major league team but the Philadelphia Phillies. Midway through the 1921 season, Ruth belted his 137th homer, breaking the career record of nineteenth-century star Roger Connor (1857–1931). Ruth finished the season with fifty-nine homers, and led the Yankees to their first-ever World Series appearance. Back then, the NL's New York Giants were the powerhouse of New York baseball. Managed by confrontational, charismatic John McGraw (1873–1934), the Giants made World Series appearances in 1905, 1911, 1912, 1913, and 1917. In both 1921 and 1922, the Giants and Yankees faced each other. Both times, the Giants emerged victorious. When the teams met again in 1923, the Yankees won. That year was the team's first in their new home: Yankee Stadium, which quickly became known as "the house that Ruth built."

Dozens of baseball legends played in the major leagues during the decade. Among them were New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig (1903–1941), who began his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played in 1925; Rogers Hornsby (1896–1963), who hit over .400 three times and won the Triple Crown in 1922 and 1925 by leading the NL in home runs, runs batted in (RBIs), and batting average; Jimmy Foxx (1907–1967), one of baseball's top sluggers, who totaled 534 homers during his career; George Sisler (1893–1973), who hit .407, .371, and .420 from 1920 to 1922; and Tris Speaker (1888–1958), who hit over .375 six times. However, no other ballplayer was as colorful as George Herman "Babe" Ruth. No other ballplayer was as commanding as Ruth. No other ballplayer so shaped and influenced the game.


Throughout the twentieth century, the New York Yankees were major league baseball's most successful franchise. Arguably, the 1927 Yankees were the best of all New York teams and one of the greatest ever to play the national pastime.

The '27 Yankees were nicknamed "Murderer's Row." They finished the season with a 110 and 44 record. The team batting average was .307. Its slugging percentage was .498, a major league record. Babe Ruth smashed sixty home runs, a record that would stand until 1961 when a future Yankee, Roger Maris (1934–1985), would hit sixty-one. As a team, the '27 Yanks hit 158 home runs, 102 more than the team with the second-highest total. In addition to his sixty homers, Ruth compiled a .356 batting average and drove in 164 runs. Lou Gehrig hit .373, and drove in 175 runs. Six pitchers won at least ten games. The pitching staff compiled an earned-run average (ERA) of 3.20; the next-best club's ERA was 3.91.

The '27 Yankees swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. They did the same the following season against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the first time one team had swept two consecutive World Series, and it signaled the start of Yankees postseason domination for decades to come.

World Series Champions

YearWinning TeamLosing Team
1920Cleveland Indians (AL) 5Brooklyn Dodgers (NL) 2
1921New York Giants (NL) 5New York Yankees (AL) 3
1922New York Giants (NL) 4New York Yankees (AL) 0
1923New York Yankees (AL) 4New York Giants (NL) 2
1924Washington Senators (AL) 4New York Giants (NL) 3
1925Pittsburgh Pirates (NL) 4Washington Senators (AL) 3
1926St. Louis Cardinals (NL) 4New York Yankees (AL) 3
1927New York Yankees (AL) 4Pittsburgh Pirates (NL) 0
1928New York Yankees (AL) 4St. Louis Cardinals (NL) 0
1929Philadelphia Athletics (AL) 4Chicago Cubs (NL) 1


In the 1920s, African Americans were excluded from playing major league baseball. It was not until 1947 that Jackie Robinson (1919–1972) became the first of his race to join a major league ball club during the twentieth century. African Americans did play professionally, however, in what collectively were known as the Negro Leagues.

While all-black baseball teams dated to the nineteenth century, they remained unorganized in the early twentieth century. Then in 1920, Andrew "Rube" Foster (1879–1930), the "father of black baseball," established the eight-team Negro National League, the first structured black league. Earlier, Foster had pitched for and managed the Chicago American Giants, a successful all-black team. The Negro National League was an immediate success: in 1923, it attracted over four hundred thousand fans. Then a conglomeration of white owners set up a second league, the Eastern Colored League, consisting of six teams. In 1924, the pennant-winning teams from both leagues met in the first black World Series. The Negro National League's Kansas City Monarchs won, beating the Philadelphia Hilldales five games to four.


The climactic game of the 1924 World Series was one of the oddest and most exciting of all time. The opponents were the New York Giants and Washington Senators. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Washington player-manager Bucky Harris (1896–1977) hit a ground ball to New York third baseman Freddie Lindstrom (1905–1981). The ball glanced off a pebble, and bounded over Lindstrom's head. On the play, two Senators crossed home plate.

The game went into extra innings, with the score knotted at 3 to 3. In the twelfth inning, with one out, Washington's Muddy Ruel (1896–1963) hit a pop-up near home plate. Veteran New York catcher Hank Gowdy (1889–1966) got his foot caught in his mask and could not catch the ball. Given a reprieve, Ruel doubled. Then shortstop Travis Jackson (1903–1987) booted a ground ball hit by pitcher Walter Johnson (1887–1946). Instead of being retired, the Senators had two men on base. The next batter, Earl McNeely (1898–1971), hit a perfect double-play ball to Lindstrom. Incredibly, this ball also hit a pebble and shot over the third baseman's head. Ruel scored the winning run, and Washington won the World Series.

Dozens of exemplary ballplayers starred in the Negro Leagues. Those who played during the 1920s included Oscar Charleston (1896–1954), arguably the greatest all-around Negro League player; Leroy "Satchel" Paige (1906–1982), a legendary pitcher and the leagues' premier draw; Bill Foster

(1904–1978), Rube's half-brother, a top hurler; William "Judy" Johnson (1899–1989), a steady third-baseman and expert contact hitter; Wilbur "Bullet" Rogan (1889–1967), a brainy pitcher and outfielder; John Henry "Pop" Lloyd (1884–1965), the best-ever Negro League shortstop; James "Cool Papa" Bell (1903–1991), a lightning-fast base-stealer; Martin Dihigo (1905–1971), who played all nine positions; and Willie Wells (1906–1989), a power-hitting shortstop. Sturdy first-baseman Walter "Buck" Leonard (1907–1997) and slugging catcher Josh Gibson (1911–1947) were two future Negro League greats. Occasionally, Negro League players squared off against, and played as well as, their white major league counterparts.

Jackie Robinson's integration of the majors proved catastrophic for the Negro Leagues, which ceased to exist during the 1950s as more and more young black ballplayers signed with American and National League ball clubs.


Throughout the 1920s, basketball primarily was an amateur sport, played on college campuses. Even then, school teams mostly competed solely within their regions. There were no major nationally known basketball stars to rival those in college football, and no single team dominated the sport.

Concurrently, efforts to establish professional basketball leagues were unsuccessful. One of the more enterprising attempts was the American Basketball League, formed in 1925, which folded in the 1930s. The decade's major professional team was the Original Celtics (not to be confused with the Boston Celtics), which had been formed in New York before World War I. The team had no league in which to play, so it barnstormed across the country taking on local and amateur squads. Celtic players were the first to be signed to individual contracts instead of being paid on a game-by-game basis. As a result, they were able to gel as a team. Players could concentrate on honing their individual skills and working together to develop on-court offensive and defensive strategies. Usually, the Celtics won 90 percent of their games. During the 1922 and 1923 season, they compiled a 204 and 11 record.

During this period, neither professional nor college teams featured African American players. In 1927, Abe Saperstein (1901–1966), a businessman and promoter, formed the Harlem Globetrotters, an all-black team. Initially, the Globetrotters regularly walloped the competition. They eventually evolved into a troupe of entertainers who combined athletic skill with flashy passing, jumping, and dribbling. Supposedly, Saperstein added physical comedy to the Globetrotters' act to entertain fans who were tiring of the team's customary, one-sided victories.


Jack Dempsey (1895–1983), who defeated Jess Willard (1881–1968) in 1919 to win the heavyweight title, was perhaps the 1920s' most compelling boxer. His two greatest fights were both against Gene Tunney (1897–1978), another dominating heavyweight. After beating Willard, Dempsey knocked out all challengers: Billy Miske and Bill Brennan in 1920; George Carpentier in 1921; and Tom Gibbons and Luis Firpo in 1923. Then in 1926, he was defeated by Tunney. By then, boxing had become overwhelmingly popular. When Dempsey took the title from Willard, he did so before 19,650 fans at the Bay View Park Arena in Toledo, Ohio. By contrast, the official attendance at the first Dempsey-Tunney bout, held at Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia, was 120,757.

The rematch, held exactly one year later at Chicago's Soldier Field before 104,943 fans, became one of the twentieth century's legendary title fights. It was dubbed "the battle of the Long Count" because of a determination by the referee that Dempsey failed to return to a neutral corner after knocking down Tunney in the seventh round. Because of Dempsey's negligence, the referee delayed the count. Tunney got up at the official count of "nine," which was estimated to really have been "fourteen." He eventually beat Dempsey in a ten-round decision and in 1928 retired with his championship intact.

Benny Leonard (1896–1947), a powerhouse fighter, was lightweight boxing champion from 1917 to 1924, at which point he retired. He mounted a comeback after losing his life savings in the 1929 stock market crash. Fighting as a welterweight, he won nineteen bouts before stepping aside permanently in 1932. It has been said that, pound for pound, Leonard was the toughest fighter who ever lived.

Tex Rickard (1870–1929), a shrewd promoter, was responsible for increasing the winnings of the top boxers and bringing glamour and prestige to their bouts. In 1921, Rickard staged the first boxing match to draw $1 million at the gate: the heavyweight title fight pitting Jack Dempsey against Frenchman George Carpentier (1894–1975). The bout also was the first to be aired on radio. For the second Dempsey-Tunney fight, the gate topped over $2.6 million. Tunney's cut was a record $990,445.


During the 1920s, the popularity of college football skyrocketed to dizzying heights. Schools constructed huge steel-and-concrete stadiums which seated seventy thousand or more cheering students and football diehards. If Harold "Red" Grange (1903–1991) of the University of Illinois and Ernie Nevers (1903–1976) of Stanford were the most celebrated college grid stars, the one team that dominated throughout the decade was Notre Dame, coached by the legendary Knute Rockne (1888–1931). Until the 1920s, most college football teams had played only regional rivals. However, under Rockne, Notre Dame competed against the best teams across the country. A string of illustrious athletes played under Rockne. Few were more famous than the 1924 backfield, nicknamed "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." They won this nickname after sportswriter Grantland Rice (1880–1954) saw them perform against Army. "Outlined against the blue-gray October sky," Rice wrote, "the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they were known as famine, pestilence, destruction, and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden." Another Notre Dame all-American earned immortality for an alleged off-the-field declaration. Fullback George Gipp (1895–1920) became fatally ill during the 1920 season. While on his deathbed, legend has it that he told his coach, "Sometime, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to win one for the Gipper."

Among the many memorable Notre Dame games during the decade was a 27 to 10 victory in the 1925 Rose Bowl over Stanford, with the Four Horseman pitted against Nevers. Other teams also enjoyed success, however. One was Stanford, which in 1926 played Alabama to a 7 to 7 Rose Bowl tie. The teams emerged as conational champions.


Prior to the 1920s, pro football was a disorganized, disreputable enterprise. Most teams were located in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the Chicago, Illinois area; players often switched teams during seasons; and gambling scandals were frequent. Not surprisingly, fans preferred college football.

In order to improve the image of pro football and increase profitability, representatives from several Ohio teams met at a Hupmobile car agency showroom in Canton, Ohio, in 1920. Emerging from this meeting and a subsequent gathering was the American Professional Football Association (APFA). The league's goal was to raise "the standard of professional football…eliminate bidding for players…[and] secure cooperation in the formation of schedules, at least for the bigger teams." Fourteen teams competed during the inaugural season. With the exception of two teams from New York (the Buffalo All-Americans and the Rochester Jeffersons), all were from the Midwest: Akron Pros; Canton Bulldogs; Chicago Tigers; Cleveland Tigers/Indians; Columbus Panhandles; Dayton Triangles; Decatur Staleys; Detroit Heralds; Hammond Pros; Muncie Flyers; Racine (Chicago) Cardinals; and Rock Island Independents. At the end of the 1920 season, the Association changed its name to the one familiar to present-day football fans: the National Football League (NFL).

National Football League Champions

1921Chicago Staleys (Bears)
1922Canton Bulldogs
1923Canton Bulldogs
1924Cleveland Bulldogs
1925Chicago Cardinals
1926Frankford Yellowjackets
1927New York Giants
1928Providence Steamrollers
1929Green Bay Packers

Most teams lasted a season or two before folding. The Green Bay Packers joined the league in 1921, and almost suffered the same fate the following season. The Packers' demise was avoided when local Green Bay businessmen established a public, nonprofit corporation to run the team. Back then, a fan could purchase a share in the team, along with a season ticket, for the princely sum of $5! By the end of the twentieth century, the Packers were valued at more than $150 million and remained a publicly held franchise.

Of the original league franchises, only two survived throughout the twentieth century. One was the Decatur Staleys. A year after the league's inception, the Staleys moved to Chicago. In 1929, the team name was changed to the Chicago Bears. The other was the Racine Cardinals. Actually, from the outset, the team was located in Chicago; the "Racine" referred to a Chicago street, rather than the Wisconsin city. During the 1920 season, the team became the Chicago Cardinals. That franchise relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1960 and to Arizona in 1988.


George Halas (1895–1983), a player, coach, team owner, and league founder, is one of the blocks of granite at the foundation of the NFL. At the league's outset, Halas represented the Decatur Staleys. He played left end on the team and also was its coach and business manager. He remained the franchise's coach (intermittently) through 1967.

During its early years, the NFL was floundering. Most college stars disregarded the infant league, which was in urgent need of a gate attraction. Halas was responsible for winning credibility for the NFL when, in 1925, he signed college gridiron star Harold "Red" Grange" (1903–1991) to play for the Staleys. Grange became the NFL's initial superstar. His first game out of college drew a standing-room-only crowd of thirty-six thousand spectators to Chicago's Wrigley Field; seventy-three thousand fans showed up when the Staleys went to New York City's Polo Grounds to play the Giants. It was the largest crowd ever to attend a pro football game. Ernie Nevers (1903–1976) followed Grange to the NFL, signing a contract with the Duluth Eskimos the following season.

Halas's other innovations included instituting daily practices, signing radio broadcast contracts, covering the playing field with a tarpaulin when it was not in use, and employing a public address system to inform fans which player had just carried the ball, who had made the tackle, and how much yardage was needed for a first down. He also understood the importance of employing top assistant coaches who were experts in their respective specialties. It was for good reason that Halas earned the nickname "Papa Bear."


While not as wildly popular as major league baseball, pro boxing, and college football, golf enjoyed a surge in interest during the 1920s. Between 1916 and 1920, the number of weekend golfers doubled across the country. New courses, both public and private, were constructed. Previously, golf had been the domain of the well-to-do. Now, those in the middle class were enjoying the sport both as participants and spectators.

Three golfers dominated the sport: Bobby Jones (1902–1971); Walter Hagen (1892–1969); and Gene Sarazen (1902–1999). Together, they were dubbed the Three Musketeers; no other golfer, foreign or American, matched them in competition. Jones simply was a master golfer. He won thirteen major titles: four U.S. Opens, three British Opens, five U.S. Amateurs, and one British Amateur. In 1926, he became the first golfer to win the U.S. Open and British Open during the same year. The feat earned him a ticker-tape parade in New York City. Then in 1930, Jones won the British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Open, and U.S. Amateur. Afterwards, he retired from competition. In 1950, an Associated Press poll judged the feat "the supreme athletic achievement of the century."

U.S. Golf Association Open Champions

1920Edward "Ted" Ray
1921Jim Barnes
1922Gene Sarazen
1923Bobby Jones
1924Cyril Walker
1925Willie MacFarlane
1926Bobby Jones
1927Tommy Armour
1928John Farrell
1929Bobby Jones

Unlike many golfers of the period, who came from comfortable backgrounds, Sarazen grew up in poverty. He became the first player ever to win all four Grand Slam titles: the Masters; the U.S. Open; the British Open (which he won twice); and the PGA Championship (which he won three times). The third Musketeer, the likable, outgoing Hagen, was fondly nicknamed "The Haig." He won his first U.S. Open in 1914, and was the British Open champ in 1922, 1924, 1928, and 1929; his 1922 victory was the first by an American-born golfer. Hagen also was the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) champion for four consecutive years, beginning in 1924.


Before the rise of Man o' War, horseracing was viewed in many circles either as an amusement for the rich or a temptation for those corrupted by gambling. However, this powerful and apparently unbeatable horse single-handedly helped popularize and make reputable yet another sport among the masses.

Man o' War, a son of Fair Play, was foaled in Kentucky and sold as a yearling for five thousand dollars. Nicknamed Big Red for his deep chestnut color, the colt won an astounding twenty of twenty-one races in 1919 and 1920, when he was two and three years old. He suffered his lone defeat in August 1919, at the Sanford Stakes in Saratoga, New York. The winning horse had a most appropriate name: Upset.

Kentucky Derby Winners1

1920Paul Jones
1921Behave Yourself
1924Black Gold
1925Flying Ebony
1926Bubbling Over
1928Reigh Count
1929Clyde Van Dusen

While Man o' War was not entered into the Kentucky Derby, the horse did win the other two legs of the Triple Crown: the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. In July 1920, Man o' War took on John P. Grier in the Dewey Stakes at New York's Aqueduct track in what is regarded as one of the great races in the sport's history. The horses ran neck-and-neck for most of the race, with Man o' War finally forging ahead. He not only won by almost two lengths but also set a new world record of one minute and 49.12 seconds for a mile-and-one-sixteenth course.

In the final contest of his career, Man o' War easily defeated Sir Barton, the 1919 Triple Crown winner, in a match race. Man o' War retired as the sport's leading money winner, totaling a then-record $249,465.


With the world finally at peace after the horror of the recently concluded Great War (1914–18; also known as World War I), the 1920s saw three Olympics Games held, all in Western Europe. Antwerp, Belgium, was the site of the first contest in 1920. This small European country was so honored because of the courage its citizens had displayed during the war. Unfortunately, Belgium was not a wise selection because insufficient finances were available to construct adequate facilities for the games. In any case, with the war having just ended, most nations fielded under-trained teams. However, the 1920s Olympics were noteworthy as the first in which American women were allowed to compete, and the first featuring the famous five-ring Olympic flag. In 1924, the games were held in Paris in honor of Baron de Coubertin (1863–1937), retiring chairman of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). That year also saw the debut of the Winter Olympics, held in Chamonix, France. Four years later Amsterdam, the Netherlands, hosted the summer games. These Olympics were the first in which women competed in track-and-field events, and the first in which an Olympic flame burned throughout the games. In 1928, the second Winter Olympics were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Numerous Olympic legends starred during the decade. In 1920, Aileen Riggin was just past her fourteenth birthday when she won the diving competition, making her the youngest female gold medalist in history. Four years later, she won medals in swimming and diving and continued swimming competitively into the 1990s, when she was in her nineties. Also in 1920, Charley Paddock (1900–1943) became the first of several athletes throughout the twentieth century to earn the title "world's fastest human" when he won the 100-meter dash. That year, Hawaii's Duke Kahanamoku (1890–1968), a fabled swimmer and surfer, set an Olympic swimming record of 1:01.4 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle.

Two athletes dominated the 1924 games: Paavo Nurmi (1897–1973), the Flying Finn, a distance runner who won four events; and swimmer Johnny Weissmuller (1904–1984), who claimed three gold medals. Weissmuller won another in 1928. Then he retired from athletic competition and during the 1930s, he became Hollywood's most famous Tarzan. The 1924 games featured upset victories by Harold Abrahams (1899–1978), a Jewish student at Cambridge, in the 100-meter race, and Eric Liddell (1902–1945), a devout Scottish missionary, in the 400-meter race. Their stories are recounted in the Academy Award-winning film Chariots of Fire (1981). Also in 1924, swimmer Gertrude Ederle (1906–) came away with one gold and two bronze medals. In 1926, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel.


During the 1920s, Bill Tilden (1893–1953) became the first tennis player to earn national renown, winning seven U.S. Open titles and three championships at Wimbledon in England. Tilden was noted for his power game, which consisted of hard serves and ground strokes. His dramatic play helped secure popularity for yet another sport that previously had been considered the exclusive domain of the wealthy. Tilden's one nemesis, however, was a Frenchman, René Lacoste (1905–1996). In 1927, Tilden was beating Lacoste in the French Open before he faltered and lost. Later that year, Lacoste defeated him again in the U.S. Open. Lacoste himself won seven major singles titles.

U.S. Open Tennis Singles Champions

YearMale WinnerFemale Winner
1920Bill TildenMolla Bjurdstedt Mallory
1921Bill TildenMolla Bjurdstedt Mallory
1922Bill TildenMolla Bjurdstedt Mallory
1923Bill TildenHelen Wills
1924Bill TildenHelen Wills
1925Bill TildenHelen Wills
1926René LacosteMolla Bjurdstedt Mallory
1927René LacosteHelen Wills
1928Henri CochetHelen Wills
1929Bill TildenHelen Wills

Women also dominated the sport. France's Suzanne Lenglen (1899–1938), nicknamed the "French Goddess," brought attention to women's tennis both for her exceptional game and for the clothing she wore in competition. Previously, women players were modestly attired, playing in long, often heavy dresses. Lenglen wore clothing that exposed her ankles and forearms, which was considered quite shocking. She also broke another taboo by showing emotion on the court, and she even took sips of brandy between sets. Among her accomplishments during the decade were five straight Wimbledon titles.

Lenglen's American counterpart was Helen Wills (1905–1998). Unlike Lenglen, Wills played without emotion; she even earned the nickname "Little Miss Poker Face." Wills had just won three straight U.S. Open titles when, in 1926, she faced off against Lenglen while touring through France. The two met at the Carlton Club, a small country club in Cannes, and Lenglen emerged victorious. It was the only time they competed. Despite this defeat, Wills won an astounding eight Wimbledon crowns and thirty-one major titles.

A third woman starred in the sport during the decade: Molla Bjurstedt Mallory (1884–1959). In 1921, in the second round of the U.S. Open, Mallory defeated Lenglen. It was the latter's only defeat as an amateur.

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The 1920s Sports: Topics in the News

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The 1920s Sports: Topics in the News