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Friday, April 13, 2012

The Whales and Monopoly Capitalism in Sports

Posted by on Fri, Apr 13, 2012 at 4:47 PM

Today is the anniversary of several events important in the history of baseball not just as a game but as an expression of capitalism, of labor relations.


1914 Major league baseball returns to Baltimore as the first Federal League game is played with approximately 27,000 patrons on hand to watch the Terrapins beat the Buffalo Blues, 3-2.

The Federal League was an attempt not just by owners to create a third major league to compete with the National and American Leagues, but by players to destroy the Reserve Clause and be able to negotiate fair wages for their labor. This league failed after two seasons, and for decades the myth of baseball as a game, not a business, flourished, as players loyally played for one team their whole careers: because they had no choice (unlike Ann Romney). I am wearing at this very moment a Chicago Whales groundskeepers' jacket (from the very cool Ebbets Field Flannels); the Whales were the Chicago entry in the FL (and 1915 League champs!), and Whales owner Charles Weeghman built the park that would become Wrigley Field.

Second, in 1972, the first MLB players' strike ended. The players got owners to not only kick more cash into pensions, they got the right to arbitration, which actually helped fuel spiraling salaries far more than free agency (the owners insisted that arbiters had to choose between the player's request and the team's offer; they could not split the difference).

Finally, the movement of MLB franchises out of the east coast and towards first the midwest, then the west coast and the south began on this date when in

1953 On Opening Day, thanks to the three-hit pitching of Max Surkont, the former Boston Braves win their first game representing the city of Milwaukee by beating the Reds, 2-0 at Crosley Field. It is the first time in since Baltimore shifted to New York to become the Highlanders (Yankees) fifty years ago that a franchise has moved to a different city.

Such movements were based on money following fans, and attempts to maintain MLB's monopoly (the Pacific Coast League was thiiiiiis close to being a Major League before the Dodgers and Giants moved in. . . ).

And in purely PNW local interest:

1990 The first sellout in Mariners history occurs when 54,874 fans attend the season home opener at the Kingdome. The Friday the 13th crowd leaves disappointed when Seattle is routed by Oakland, 15-7.

Enjoy. Will try to keep up the daily baseball lessons as long as I have time, energy, and internet access. Meanwhile, anyone know what Milton Bradley is up to?


Comments (14) RSS

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Matt from Denver 1
It took 13 years for the Mariners to sell out? It took the Rockies one day.
Posted by Matt from Denver on April 13, 2012 at 6:02 PM · Report this
emma's bee 2
I like the history lessons, hope you can keep 'em coming, but let's not forget that professional baseball essentially started in the Midwest, in 1869, with the Cincinnati Red Stockings: File:1869-cincinnati-red-stockings.jpg">…

From the MLB Reds History page:

Nov. 6: In the final official match of the season, the Red Stockings defeat the Mutuals of New York, 17-8, on Union Grounds. Baseball's first team of professionals finished the season with a perfect 57-0 record."
Posted by emma's bee on April 13, 2012 at 7:21 PM · Report this
@2: Professional baseball may have started in the Midwest (and there are arguments a-plenty about how to define "professional" in this historical context) but the game evolved in the New York and New England regions. Major League baseball during its longest and stablest era was mostly a north/east phenomenon, with St. Louis the furthest west and south team. Five cities had multiple teams (Boston, Philly, St. Louis and Chicago with two, New York/Brooklyn with three). This Boston-to-Milwaukee move was huge, since the Mil. Braves were the first team to draw 3 million fans, and they paved the way for the more famed relocations of Dodgers and Giants. Then momentum just meant that the lesser franchise in most cities relocated, with the A's going to KC, then Oakland, and the Browns becoming the Orioles.

Everyone: join SABR.
Posted by Chicago Fan on April 13, 2012 at 9:01 PM · Report this
Fnarf 4
@1, were you ever in the Kingdome?

I remember crowds in the low four digits there. 3,000 or 4,000 all the time. The only worse-drawing team I've ever seen was the A's; I've been in a crowd of barely 1,000 there -- but the A's alternated abysmal seasons like that with World Series seasons -- the least consistent franchise in baseball up until the 90s at least.

The good news: walk up five minutes before the first pitch and get a seat in the fourth row; the bad news, well, there's a reason nobody was there. Those early M's teams were TERRIBLE, and not terrible like the Blue Jays, in a "yeah, but when our kids come into their own we're going to win", but in a "these thirty-five-year-old castoffs weren't even good when they were young" way. Our best player was Bruce Bochte, for chrissakes.
Posted by Fnarf on April 13, 2012 at 9:04 PM · Report this
I once got kicked out of the players' wives section at the Kingdome (trying to move up to better seats. . . )
Posted by Chicago Fan on April 13, 2012 at 9:21 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 6

54000+ fans.

That's what an enclosed dome does for you.

Makes people want to see ball.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on April 13, 2012 at 11:20 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 7


Remind me...I remember the Kingdome seats and rows being far more spacious and comfortable with a very low rise -- the opposite of Century Link and Safeco today. True?

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on April 13, 2012 at 11:24 PM · Report this
Hey CF: you might enjoy this short piece that aired yesterday on one of our NPR affiliates (KUOW FM) on the Seattle Pilots.
Posted by gnossos on April 14, 2012 at 12:01 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 9
@ 4, you've forgotten the handy "Matt from Denver in Seattle" timeline I've given you. (Not you specifically, but I've said what years I lived there often enough.)Yeah, I was at the Kingdome. The games were so much more fun there than at Safeco.

Yeah, I think the experience of expansion teams like the M's is why they came up with the expansion draft by the time Colorado made the scene. Still, I bet that the Rockies would have sold out games that first season even if they were the 90s version of the early Mets.
Posted by Matt from Denver on April 14, 2012 at 6:25 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 10
@ 3, I think expansion had as much to do with the development of air travel as it did anything else. ALL the big sports leagues were based in the NE quadrant of the nation until then, despite the presence of major cities elsewhere, especially California.

That said, I think you're incorrect to say that MLB "evolved in the New York and New England regions," because Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Washington, Detroit, St. Louis, and your hometown are all outside of those regions. (Technically, so is Philadelphia, but I'll let you lump them in with NY, even if people from Philadelphia would object.)

For someone who quickly (and righteously) takes Sloggers to task when they're being provincial, this exclusion of more than half the MLB cities of the 1900-1950 period is weird, especially for someone who hails from one. Yes, these cities are all within a 1,000 mile diameter, but your response to @ 2 draws a hard line.
Posted by Matt from Denver on April 14, 2012 at 7:37 AM · Report this
April 14th is also Pete Rose's birthday, and the anniversary of his 4000th hit (1984).
Posted by Maggie on April 14, 2012 at 11:56 AM · Report this
@10 I meant that the GAME ITSELF evolved in New York/New England in the 1780s-1830s before spreading nationwide by the time of the Civil War. And many of the teams that played before the Cincinnati squad managed to get players some form of compensation, so that's the argument about professionalism. Did not mean to imply that only the Boston/NYC axis matters for MLB history once the game professionalized fully. Air travel, by the by, made expansion possible, but population growth in the West made it attractive, and the threat of the PCL becoming the third major league made it inevitable.
Posted by Chicago Fan on April 14, 2012 at 6:47 PM · Report this
>11. I was there. Might still have the ticket stub.
Posted by fARTing on April 15, 2012 at 9:42 AM · Report this
slade 14
Americas favorite pass time? Peanuts and Crackerjacks? Golf?…
Posted by slade on April 15, 2012 at 3:51 PM · Report this

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