There’s little doubt that Major League Baseball as currently configured is a phenomenal enterprise, with billions of dollars at stake and a global reach that couldn’t have been imagined just a half century ago.
(Roy Campanella original artwork by Andy Jurinko.)
But I’m here to tell you as swell as it all is, much is lost when something gets as big as MLB now is, and much is lost when that size and global reach reflect an emphasis of business over sport that’s as onerous as it is unavoidable.
I am not suggesting that economic questions didn’t have their own relative importance in the years, for example, immediately following the end of World War II, but noting only that the economic questions didn’t overwhelm the daily dialog as they do now.
When Walter O’Malley decided to break millions of hearts in Brooklyn and move the Dodgers to the West Coast after the 1957 season, obviously money was at the center of the equation. Not survival money, just maximizing money, as in the Dodgers wouldn’t have been doomed by staying in Brooklyn, they simply wouldn’t have maximized their profitability.
While much of conventional historical thought emphasizes all the woes connected with an aging Ebbets Field in 1957 and the drawbacks connected with inner-city ballparks, the reality is that O’Malley was still making good money at the time he decided to head west: the Dodgers’ payroll was essentially covered before the first pitch was thrown on opening day, thanks to the growing importance of fledgling television and radio broadcast revenues.
So I understand that the good old days weren’t nearly as rosy as we like to imagine, but that doesn’t change the reality that the dialog that engulfed the game – most especially the Hot Stove League variety – didn’t center so thoroughly on salaries, revenues, labor woes, etc., to the extent that it does now.
It does little good to bemoan all the changes, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to remember that it wasn’t always this way. Before the expansion of television in cable and later the myriad elements of the Internet boom, Hot Stove League talk used to be largely marshaled by newspapers and pulp magazines that helped pique interest in the sport over the long winter months.
And about the most significant salary discussion I can remember from those days was when Sandy and Don held out before the 1966 season. Ironically, we have O’Malley to thank for that one, too.