Do you think that you predict the starting lineup for the 2020 Red Sox? With the wealth of information at your fingertips and the ability to read detailed analysis of the team with the click of a mouse, it might not seem like a daunting task. Many of us could predict, with some degree of accuracy, what the starting nine will be on Opening Day. In 1936, this task might have been a little harder. Your knowledge of new acquisitions, especially if they came from a non-rival or from the other league, might be limited to newspaper snippets and your knowledge of the farm system would be a fraction of what it is today.
For Opening Day 1936, the Boston Globe challenged its readers to predict the starting nine for the Boston Bees (formerly and would later be renamed Braves) and Red Sox. The Globe figured that enough off-season transactions had taken place for both teams that this would present a unique challenge for readers. In order to prevent eager fans from following spring training and making guesses based on which players were being played and where, they set a deadline of February 15th for entries. Fans were also welcome to submit multiple entries.
The grand prize for the fan who came the closest to guessing the Opening Day lineup would be season tickets to both the Bees and Red Sox. The 50 who came the next closest would each get a pair of tickets to an early Sunday home game. In the event of a tie, the person who submitted their entry first would be judged the winner. The Globe announced the contest on January 8th and featured frequent reminders up until the deadline.
The contest was ultimately won by 23 year old Don Stuart of Middleboro, Massachusetts (pictured right with Red Sox manager Joe Cronin). The challenge was complicated by manager Joe Cronin’s decision to start infielder Billy Werber in right field. Werber, a career infielder, had only played in the outfield once in his career and had zero starts there. There’s no record of whether or not Stuart actually guessed correctly on Werber’s position but if he had, it likely narrowed the field of competitors that he had to beat out for the grand prize.
Unfortunately for Mr. Stuart, neither the Bees or Sox put out a winning product. The Sox, who had been perennial basement dwellers since winning the World Series in 1918, went 74-80 and finished 6th in the American League. Despite their record however, the team was beginning to show signs of life. After years of abysmal and neglectful ownership, the team was purchased by Tom Yawkey in 1933, who made wholesale changes to the struggling franchise and invested money into its improvement. Prior to 1936, the Sox had even acquired superstar Jimmie Foxx from the Philadelphia Athletics. Despite their losing record, the Sox did manage to go 15-7 against eventual American League Champions and dreaded rivals, the New York Yankees. There were reasons to be excited to be a Sox fan in 1936. In 1938 the Sox would finally move into the upper half of the American League when they finished 2nd to the Yankees.
The 1936 Boston Bees were a team with no hope and no real path to contention. After owner Emil Fuchs gave up ownership of the Braves partway through the 1935 season, Major League Baseball assumed control. The team finished the season with 115 losses. In the offseason, MLB sold the team and new ownership, desperate to distance themselves from the team’s recent tumultuous history, decided to rename the team “the Bees” and Braves Field was renamed “the Bee Hive.” The 1936 team was more competitive than the train wreck of 1935, finishing 71-83, good enough for 6th in the National League.
Could you predict the starting lineup for your favorite team on Opening Day? In 1936, it would’ve been an interesting challenge. The manager deciding to start a career infielder in right would certainly be an unexpected curveball. Would you be fooled?