Baseball’s century-and-a-half history contains more than its fair share share of ups and downs; heroes and villains; titans and buffoons. A study of the game’s chronicle reveals that much of what we bewail about baseball today has transpired at least once before, and probably more than once. Long ball explosions? Labor discord? Incompetent management? Boorish superstars? Baseball’s been there, done that, and always confounded the critics to move on to yet another Golden Age.
In this section, David Q. Voigt, one of baseball’s premier historians, provides an in-depth look at the game and how we came from cow pastures to domed stadia, pining for the good old days each step of the way.
Deeply embedded in the folklore of American sports is the story of baseball’s supposed invention by a young West Point cadet, Abner Doubleday, in the summer of 1839 at the village of Cooperstown, New York. The yarn originated in 1907, in the final report of a committee commissioned by major league executives to inquire into the origins of “America’s National Game.”
The claim that the game was invented by the late Doubleday, who also won enduring fame as a Union general in the Civil War, was based on the dubious testimony of Abner Graves, a retired mining engineer. Indeed, Graves claimed to have actually witnessed the long-ago event. The Graves account appealed to committeeman Albert G. Spalding, a former star player and club owner, and concurrently a famous sporting goods tycoon and a fervently patriotic American.
He persuaded his colleagues to accept the Doubleday invention account without further ado. With the release of the final version of the committee’s report, the legend of baseball’s immaculate conception began to worm its way into American mythology. Ever since then, sports historians have repeatedly and futilely assailed the Doubleday account, arguing that Abner Doubleday never visited Cooperstown in 1839, that his diaries contain no reference to the game, and that the form of baseball he supposedly invented far too closely resembled the game as it was played in the early 1900s.
Indeed, sports historians have marshaled impressive evidence showing that American baseball, far from being an independent invention, evolved out of various ball-and-stick games that had been played in many areas of the world since the beginnings of recorded history. Among many suggested precursors of baseball, a Russian ball-and-stick game called lapta was recently advanced by propagandists in the last years of the Soviet empire. But in early America, precursors of baseball included informal games of English origin such as paddleball, trap ball, one-old-cat, rounders, and town ball. The latter was a popular game in colonial New England and was played by adults and children with a bat and ball on an open field.
|Elysian Fields, Hoboken, N.J.|
Moreover, printed references to “base ball” in America date back to the eighteenth century. Among these accounts is one of Albigence Waldo, a surgeon with Washington’s troops at Valley Forge who poetically told of soldiers batting balls and running bases in their free time. And in the early 1820s, the grandfather of the late novelist Samuel Hopkins Adams vividly recalled playing “base ball” on Mr. Mumford’s pasture lot. Similarly in 1834 Robin Carver’s Book of Sports related that an American version of rounders called “base” or “goal ball” was rivaling cricket in popularity among Americans. Indeed, cricket played a role in the evolution of organized baseball. From this British game came umpires and innings, and early baseball writers like Henry Chadwick used cricket terminology such as “batsman,” “playing for the side,” and “excellent field” in describing early baseball games.
Likewise, the pioneer baseball innovator Harry Wright, a cricket professional turned baseball manager, drew heavily on his cricket background in promoting baseball as a professional team sport in the United States.
As an evolutionary blend of informal bat-and-ball games and the formal game of cricket, baseball needed no virgin birth to become a popular American field sport. By the 1840s various forms of baseball vied for acceptance, including the popular Massachusetts and New York versions of the game. The Massachusetts game utilized an irregular four-sided field of play, with the four bases located at fixed, asymmetrical distances from each other and the “striker’s,” or batter’s position away from the home base. “Scouts,” or fielders, put men out by fielding a batted ball on the fly or on the first bounce, or by hitting a runner with a thrown ball. But this lively version of the game was overshadowed in the late 1840s by the “New York game,” a popular version of which was devised by the members of the New York Knickerbocker Club.
|Alexander J. Cartwright|
Organized in 1845 by a band of aspiring gentlemen and baseball enthusiasts, the Knickerbocker version was devised by one of their members, Alexander J. Cartwright. Cartwright prescribed a diamond-shaped infield with bases at ninety feet apart, a standard which has stood the test of time. The pitching distance was set at forty-five feet from the home base, and a pitcher was required to “pitch” a ball in a stiff-armed, underhanded fashion. The three-strikes-are-out rule was adopted, and a batter could also be put out by a fielder catching a batted ball in the air, or on the first bounce, or by throwing a fielded ball to the first baseman before the runner arrived. Other innovations included the nine-man team and three outs ending a team’s batting in their half of an inning. Thus Cartwright’s version of baseball became the basis of the game as presently played. Over the years, other innovations were added, including the nine-inning standard for games, changes in the pitching distance, and so on.
Once it was published and propagated by the Knickerbockers, the “New York game” was speedily adopted by other baseball clubs that sprang up in the New York City area and in other towns and cities of antebellum America. In the 1850s the rise of baseball clubs and team competition helped to meet the recreational needs of Americans who were caught up in an increasingly urban and industrial society. By the 1860s one of every six Americans lived in towns or cities, and by then newspapers were covering games and noting the booming popularity of baseball.
Mostly a northern and midwestern phenomenon, baseball fever ran highest in the New York City area, where in the 1850s games were being played “on every available green plot within a ten-mile circuit of the city.” Spearheading the baseball boom were formally organized clubs with officers, clubhouses and playing grounds. Among the many clubs, the Knickerbockers sought to rule the game by posing as arbiters of play, rules, and decorum. Since no leagues or playing schedules existed, formal games in the 1850s were arranged by correspondence between club secretaries. The lordly Knickerbockers resisted such overtures, preferring to play among themselves, yet insisting on their preeminence over all other clubs.
But the dynamic American game was not to be bound by gentlemanly monopolists or by arbitrary codes of amateurism. By the end of the 1850s, victories and the prospect of gate receipts were becoming more important factors. As more clubs embraced these goals, greater emphasis was placed on obtaining good players at whatever affronts to amateur standards.
In 1858 the Knickerbockers were dethroned as would-be overlords of baseball by the newly organized National Association of Base Ball Players. That year, representatives of twenty-five clubs formed the Association for the ostensible purpose of codifying rules and establishing guidelines for organized clubs and team competition. But the Association speedily established itself as the new arbiter of the game. Among its early rulings were the establishment of a pitcher’s box and the standardization of the nine-inning game. The Association also approved the practice of charging paid admissions at games and that year saw 1,500 spectators pay 50 each to watch a game played between Brooklyn and New York “all-star” teams. Although the Association established no league or formal playing schedules, its authority was accepted and it lasted until 1871, when it was replaced by a lame organization called the National Association of Amateur Base Ball Players, to differentiate it from the newly founded National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.
Meanwhile, by 1860 some sixty clubs had joined the first National Association; mostly they came from the East and Midwest, but a sprinkling of college teams was included. By then, the mounting hostilities between the North and South account for the absence of southern clubs.
American baseball’s popularity was at high tide when the Civil War broke out, but the South was excluded from major league baseball competition for many years. Indeed, one of the smaller legacies of the war between the states was major league baseball’s east-west alignment of its franchises. And yet the war, which claimed 600,000 American lives, also popularized the game in all sections of the country, as soldiers in both armies played the game in camps and in prison compounds. This infusion of interest in the game set the stage for an even greater baseball boom which swept the North in the immediate postwar era.
Meanwhile, as the war raged toward its conclusion, baseball’s popularity diminished for a time on the northern home front. Still, strong teams like the Brooklyn Excelsiors, the Brooklyn Eckfords, and the Brooklyn Atlantics delighted fans by their spirited competition.
At the time, pitcher Jim Creighton of the Excelsiors became a popular hero by leading his team on a victorious eastern tour in 1860. In 1862 and 1863 the Eckfords laid claim to being America’s best team, and the Brooklyn Atlantics, led by Dickey Pearce, boasted consecutive unbeaten seasons in 1864 and 1865.
The game’s popularity among returning soldiers helped to inspire a major baseball boom in post-Civil War America. By 1865 the game was widely touted as America’s “national game,” and its growing popularity was evidenced by the proliferation of organized clubs. In 1865, ninety-one clubs had joined the Association; the following year membership swelled to nearly two hundred; and 1867 saw more than three hundred clubs enrolled, including more than a hundred from midwestern towns and cities. At their own expense, the powerful Washington Nationals embarked on an unprecedented midwestern tour in 1867; they were beaten in one game by the previously unheralded Rockford (Illinois) Forest City nine.
Although the Nationals’ tour suggested that some type of organized competition was needed, it failed to produce such reforms as an organized league or a fixed playing schedule. However, editor Frank Queen of the New York Clipper, a popular sporting journal, hit upon the idea of giving gold awards annually to the best team and the nine best players. But such judgments were arbitrary and inadequate. Meanwhile, the style of play continued to improve in the late 1860s. Pitchers became more than passive servers as one of them, Arthur “Candy” Cummings, popularized a wrist-twisting, curved-ball delivery. Moreover, fielders became more mobile, baserunners took to sliding to avoid fielders’ tags, and a rule change outlawed the one-bounce-and-out catch.
But baseball’s dynamic postwar growth also confronted the shaky National Association with vexing problems. Rampant commercialism was one of them. As more clubs charged admission to games, many took to dividing receipts among the players. This trend swelled the ranks of “professional” players, whose presence posed a serious threat to the Association’s amateur code. In 1863 Association leaders debated the problem, but vacillated by grudgingly allowing professionals to retain their memberships.
The following year the Association defined a professional player as one who “plays base ball for money, place, or emolument.” The definition embraced many players, some of whom drew straight salaries, or shared gate receipts, or occupied jobs that were awarded as a subterfuge to conceal their ball-playing activities. What’s more, some of the professionals were jumping their contracts for better offers from other clubs. Dubbed “revolvers,” they posed a major threat to the shaky authority of the National Association.
THE CINCINNATI RED STOCKINGS: 1869
By the late 1860s baseball was becoming more of a business, and playing competitive baseball was becoming a recognized career. As baseball writer Henry Chadwick observed in 1868, a new rank ordering among ball players was evidenced by the makeup of the Brooklyn Atlantics club. At the top was the club’s elite professional team, followed by the club’s amateur nine, with the lowly “muffins,” or third-rate players, at the bottom. As baseball clubs came to be dominated by professional interests, some clubs financed their operations by selling stock shares and becoming joint stock companies, while others, which depended on shared gate receipts, operated as “cooperative nines.”
Until 1869 the professional movement in baseball was mainly a covert trend, but in that year the Cincinnati Red Stocking club boldly announced its intention of fielding an all-salaried team which would compete against the top teams in the land. This forthright move was the brainchild of club president Aaron B. Champion, a Cincinnati businessman and local booster.
The Reds were not the first professional team, nor the first all-salaried team, nor the first team to go undefeated over a season. But as the first openly announced all-salaried team, the Reds, led by player-manager Harry Wright, who became known as the “Father of Professional Baseball,” toured the country in 1869, winning some 60 games without a loss. The following year, the well-drilled Reds won another 24 before losing in June to the host Brooklyn Atlantics by an 8-7 score in eleven innings.
Although the Reds’ effort was financially unremunerative to its stockholders, who voted to return to amateur play after the 1870 season, the experiment inspired an enduring myth that professional baseball in America arose out of this episode. In truth the professional movement was already strongly entrenched. But the Reds’ example inspired imitators and brought the smouldering amateur-professional controversy to a head.
|The Eagle Baseball Club, 1871|
Thus when the National Association, at its annual meeting in 1870, sought to curb the professional movement, the professional delegates withdrew and formed their own organization in March 1871. This successful coup stunned the amateur National Association, which never recovered and died in 1874. It also marked the beginning of major league baseball in America. From 1871 to the present day, most changes in American baseball rules and style of play would be inspired by the professional major leagues.
THE FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE: THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION 1871-1875
America’s first professional baseball league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, was also the first major league. In its ranks were the strongest teams and the best players. The players controlled the league and enjoyed full freedom of contract and movement. Financial support came to those clubs whose stockholders or investors derived more prestige than monetary rewards from their sponsorship. And in this artist-patron relationship, player salaries had a higher priority than investor profits.
The National Association was created by a single evening’s work on March 17, 1871. Structurally the league resembled the old amateur National Association, whose constitution was modified to serve professional interests and whose playing rules were adopted. Admission to the professional league required the payment of a ten-dollar entry fee, in stark contrast to the multimillion-dollar price tag now placed on a major league franchise. Like its predecessor, the professional National Association lacked a fixed schedule of games; each team was expected to play each rival five times in a season, with playing dates to be arranged by secretarial correspondence. The championship pennant was awarded to the team with the most victories, and a championship committee was empowered to rule on any disputed claims.
Although the National Association dominated organized baseball in 1871-1875, its structural defects portended its coming demise.
The player-run organization wielded little control over players or teams. The easy admission policy made for a chronic dropout problem as disenchanted teams found it easy to turn their backs on ten dollars. Because of the absence of a fixed playing schedule, few contending teams played their required quota of games. Disputes over officiating stemmed from a reliance on volunteer umpires. Teams also quarreled over ticket pricing and the division of gate receipts. Indeed, most teams lost money, and such losses fueled the tension between players and investors. Critics accused the player-controlled league of failing to discipline players, especially the contract jumpers, drunkards, and alleged game fixers. Unresolved problems like these sowed the seeds of the league’s eventual collapse, but while it lasted, the National Association also provided spectators with a sprightly brand of baseball.
Campaigns of the National Association
|Hartford Team, 1875|
The Association’s 1871 campaign featured an exciting three-way battle between the Chicago White Stockings, Philadelphia Athletics, and Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings. The Chicago team, which was housed in a new 7,000-seat wooden park and which boasted a $4,500 salaried star among its players, set a fast pace until the city’s tragic fire destroyed the park. Forced to play their remaining games on the road, the White Stockings finished third and dropped out of the league until 1874. At the season’s end, the Athletics and Red Stockings each had won 22 games, but the championship committee awarded the pennant to the Athletics, who had fewer losses.
Harry Wright’s plea that his Boston Reds had come closer to meeting their scheduled obligations was disallowed. Thus in spite of continuing controversy and a devastating fire, the National Association enjoyed an auspicious debut.
Most clubs profited, and only one dropped out of the race. At the Association’s annual meeting, the professionals tightened their hold on the league by electing one of their own, Bob Ferguson of the Brooklyn Atlantics, to serve as president.
Eleven clubs entered the lists for the 1872 campaign, but hopes for a wide-open race were crushed by Harry Wright’s powerful Boston team, which rolled to the championship on a 39-8 record. Stocked with stars like pitcher Al Spalding, infielder Ross Barnes (whose bunting prowess permitted him to take maximum advantage of the then-prevailing fair-foul hitting rule), and shortstop George Wright, the Red Stockings won the first of four consecutive pennants. They were the first of many powerful major league dynasties to come, a phenomenon which, over the course of major league baseball history, consistently made a mockery of the idea of competitive balance.
With nine teams competing in 1873, the Reds won a second pennant by staging a late-season drive to overtake the front-running Philadelphia “Phillies,” or “Whites.” Two Boston newcomers, catcher Jim White and outfielder Jim O’Rourke, contributed to the Reds’ 43-16 winning gait. Although overall league revenues were disappointing, only one club dropped from contention during the course of the season.
In 1874, Wright’s Reds posted a 52-18 record, to lap the New York Mutuals by 7.5 games. That year Wright’s team was the only one to play its full schedule of games, an impressive feat considering that Wright’s team, in company with the Philadelphia Athletics, embarked upon a six-week baseball tour of Britain in hopes of persuading English sportsmen to adopt America’s “national game.” Like this first baseball mission, the Association’s 1874 season was a financial bust.
Although only one club dropped out of the race, accusations of gambling and fixed games clouded the league’s reputation.
The 1875 season was the last campaign of the National Association.
Thirteen teams entered the fray, but Boston’s juggernaut, headed by Spalding, Barnes, O’Rourke, White, and George Wright, buried all rivals. With four Boston men topping the league’s hitters, the Reds posted a 71-8 record to finish 15 games up on their nearest pursuers. Of the thirteen contenders, seven failed to finish the 1875 season.
Now in full disarray, the sullied National Association reeled under problems of competitive imbalance, financial losses, and excessive player freedom. The time was ripe for a reformist coup, and a new breed of club directors, headed by William A. Hulbert of the Chicago White Stockings, moved to raise a rival major league that would better serve the interests of the club owners.
But the pioneering National Association was by no means a failure. For all its weaknesses, the Association had popularized professional baseball. Supporters like Henry Chadwick, the innovative sportswriter who now wore the title of “Father of Base Ball,” publicized the league by his coverage of games and by his statistics-laden guidebooks. Chadwick’s game coverage provided detailed accounts of games with box scores, including a lasting version which he devised in 1876. Such coverage enhanced the game’s popularity and inspired widespread coverage by leading newspapers. Chadwick also served on the Association’s rules committee, which approved a pitching change that allowed the underhanded pitchers to utilize wrist-snapping curveballs. But Chadwick’s quixotic proposal to make baseball a ten-man game failed.
The Association’s most solid innovator was Harry Wright, who set high standards for professional promotion. Wright’s Boston payroll was baseball’s highest until the early 1880s. As Boston’s manager, Wright presided over a $35,000 annual budget and dealt creatively with such problems as proper groundskeeping, equipment design and procurement, advertising, and the recruiting and training of players. Wright’s mastery paid off in his team’s astonishing success. He was honored in these years as the “Father of Professional Base Ball,” and his envious colleagues also referred to the National Association as “Harry Wright’s League.”
THE FIRST STABLE MAJOR LEAGUE: THE NATIONAL LEAGUE
President William A. Hulbert of the Chicago White Stockings was the driving force behind the coup that dethroned the National Association. Determined to field a strong team in Chicago, Hulbert in 1875 signed Boston pitcher Al Spalding to play with Chicago the following season, along with three other Boston stars: Ross Barnes, Jim White, and Cal McVey. Hulbert also signed Adrian Anson of the Athletics, who later became Chicago’s longtime player-manager and the first major league hitter to notch over 3,000 hits.
Fearing possible reprisals from the player-run National Association, Hulbert moved to create a new league run by business-minded club investors. Backed by representatives from the St. Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati clubs, Hulbert met with representatives of several eastern clubs, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Hartford, in February 1876. Out of this meeting came the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs.
The first permanent major league embraced Hulbert’s thirteen-point plan of organization. In keeping with its title, the league emphasized the interests of member clubs over those of the players. Admitted as members were well-financed, joint-stock company clubs, each of which paid annual dues of $100 which were used to finance the league administrative body’s handling of disputes, recordkeeping, and officiating fees. The latter expense went for a staff of umpires, each to be paid $5 a game.The eight charter clubs of the new National League were aligned on an east-west basis, and each team was granted a monopoly over its territory.
For the 1876 season, each team agreed to play each rival ten times, with expulsion from the league the penalty for failing to do so. Adopting a high moral stance, NL leaders ordered member clubs to ban gambling, liquor sales, and Sunday games, and to draw up tightly written contracts aimed at preventing players from “revolving.” For the players this was tough medicine, but with the strongest teams enrolled in the new league, there was little to do but submit. Indeed, the National Association never survived the NL coup and collapsed in 1876.As the “Father of the National League,” Hulbert presided over its fortunes from 1877 until his death in 1882. However, this most powerful of NL presidents to date owed much to his chief lieutenant, Al Spalding, who retired from the field to become the NL’s most powerful advocate and defender.
As a reward for his loyal support, Spalding’s fledgling sporting goods company received the contract to supply the league’s balls and to publish its annual guidebook. Beginning in 1877, Chadwick became the perennial editor of the league’s official Spalding Guide.Although its debut was auspicious, the NL’s first four campaigns were marred by flagging profits, a major scandal, and opposition from a strong rival in the International Association. In 1876 Spalding pitched and managed the Chicago White Stockings to a 52-14 record, topping their closest pursuer by six games.Because of this runaway, attendance tailed off, prompting two teams, the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Mutuals, to forgo playing their final games in the west. For this breach of rules, Hulbert expelled the pair, thereby depriving the NL of franchises in the populous Philadelphia and New York areas until 1883.
However, Hulbert made no effort to replace the two; hence only six teams took the field in 1877, the year the NL adopted a formal schedule of games. Spalding’s decision to quit pitching that year dashed Chicago’s hopes, but Louisville’s hopes ran high until late in the season, when Wright’s Boston Reds overtook them and won by seven games.But revelations that gamblers had bribed four Louisville players to lose key games marred Boston’s victory. Faced with a major crisis, Hulbert responded by banishing the four players (Jim Devlin, George Hall, William Craver, and Al Nichols) for life. In the wake of the scandal, Louisville dropped from the league, followed by Hartford and St. Louis. To replace them, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Providence clubs joined the league.Meanwhile the NL also faced strong competition from the rival International Association.
A loose league of mostly cooperative (gate-receipt-sharing) teams, the International Association threat prompted NL leaders to form a “League Alliance” of independent teams. By paying fees of ten dollars a year, League Alliance teams won the right to play exhibitions with NL teams, and the NL also pledged to honor their territorial rights and player contracts.The hard-pressed NL suffered another profitless season in 1878, with Boston winning a second pennant by four games over Cincinnati. Still challenged by the International Association, the NL retaliated by raiding the circuit’s teams and playing rosters. Over the winter of 1878-1879, Syracuse and Buffalo were persuaded to quit the Association for memberships in the NL, while Milwaukee and Indianapolis were dropped from the NL.
Troy and Cleveland were also admitted to bring the number of NL teams back to its original eight.Such tactics undermined the International Association, which fielded an enfeebled minor league called the National Association in 1879.In returning to an eight-team format in 1879, NL teams imposed rigid austerity measures. Among them, salaries were slashed and players compelled to buy their own uniforms and share the costs of meals. Moreover, player mobility was limited by the adherence to a reserve clause in player contracts. Limited to five players per team in 1879, by 1883 the reserve system was applied to most player contracts.Thereafter the reserve clause became a major bone of contention between owners and players. Meanwhile Providence won the 1879 pennant race; managed by George Wright and paced by John M. Ward’s pitching, the Providence Grays won by 5 games over Wright’s Boston Reds.
NL CAMPAIGNS OF THE 1880
As the sole major league in 1880, the NL saw its fortunes rise with those of the Chicago dynasty. Winners of three consecutive pennants over the years 1880-1882, the Chicago team was led by player-manager Cap Anson, a popular hero and the leading hitter of the nineteenth century. Fielding a nucleus of stars, including colorful Mike “King” Kelly, pitchers Larry Corcoran and Fred Goldsmith, and catcher Frank “Silver” Flint, Chicago topped Providence by 15 games in 1880, by nine games in 1881, and by three games in 1882. In an unofficial postseason encounter with the rival American Association’s Cincinnati champs, the two teams split a pair of games before AA officials canceled this 1882 harbinger of the World Series.
The rise of the AA threatened the dominant NL, which was left leaderless by Hulbert’s death in 1882. At Spalding’s suggestion, A.G. Mills was elected president. That fall the NL strengthened its position by dropping Troy and Worcester and planting teams in New York and Philadelphia. The NL playing schedule was increased to 98 games.
|Cincinnati Red Stockings, 1882|
In the hotly contested 1883 race, Boston ended Chicago’s reign by edging Anson’s team by four games. That fall Mills ended the AA war by negotiating the National Agreement of 1883, which conceded major league status to the rival AA. Under the agreement, the AA adopted the reserve clause, the two leagues ceased raiding each other’s players, and postseason World Series play between the two leagues was accepted. The agreement provided for major league control over lower levels of professional baseball by recognizing the territorial rights of minor league signatories.
With frequent changes, this National Agreement remained in force until the American Association war of 1891.
In 1884 the two major leagues faced competition from another major league aspirant. To combat this Union Association incursion, the NL and AA extended reserve coverage to all players and upped their playing schedules to 112 games. The surfeit of major league games contributed to lower attendance for all three embattled leagues, but the Union Association suffered more and was driven out. Least damaged was the NL, whose sprightly 1884 campaign saw pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn employ the new rule legalizing overhand pitching with telling effect. Radbourn won 60 games to lead Providence to 10.5-game victory over runner-up Boston. And in the first officially sanctioned World Series, Radbourn defeated the AA champion Mets in three straight games.
The following year Anson’s White Stockings regained the heights as they won the first of two consecutive pennants. With ace pitcher John Clarkson winning 53 games, Chicago held off the New York Giants by two games to land the 1885 NL pennant. The Giants’ surge owed to a piece of skullduggery by its owner. Having acquired a financial interest in the AA New York Mets, the Giants plucked ace pitcher Tim Keefe from them, and Keefe won 32 games for the Giants in 1885. Such trickery by the NL now had AA leaders wary of their rival, but in the World Series of 1885 AA prestige rose when the St. Louis Browns tied the powerful Chicagoans, and it soared further in 1886, when the Browns defeated Chicago in the $15,000 winner-take-all World Series of that year. The loss blighted Chicago’s gritty 2.5-game victory over Detroit in the 1886 NL campaign. Following the loss, Spalding sold King Kelly to Boston for $10,000. The sale electrified baseball fans, but it also signaled the end of the Chicago dynasty.
In the memorable 1887 campaign, Detroit won the pennant by 3.5 games over the Philadelphia Phillies. Wildly inflated batting averages resulted from rule changes that modified the third-strike rule and scored bases on balls as hits. Detroit feasted under the new rules as Sam Thompson and the “big four” of Dan Brouthers, Jack Rowe, Hardy Richardson, and Jim White keyed a league-leading .343 (.299 when adjusted for that year’s counting of walks as hits) team batting average. In World Series play, Detroit thrashed the Browns, winning ten of the fifteen games. That fall the rules committee scuttled the average-inflating rules and the NL increased its playing schedule to 132 games.
As Detroit faded, the New York Giants captured the next two NL pennants. Managed by Jim Mutrie and captained by John Ward, the well-balanced Giants defeated Chicago by 9 games and humbled the Browns in the 1888 World Series. The following year the Giants repeated, edging Boston by a single game and then trouncing the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in the World Series.
The profitable 1889 season marked the passing of the first golden age in major baseball history. Over the next two seasons the NL fought two costly interleague wars that overshadowed the pennant races. In 1890, as the NL battled the serious challenge of the Players League, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, who were enticed to jump the AA for the NL, won by 6.5 games over Anson’s Chicago Colts. And in 1891, as the NL battled the AA, manager Frank Selee’s Boston Beaneaters defeated Chicago by 3.5 games. By then the interleague wars had ended with the NL the victor in both frays. Thus as the 1892 season dawned, the NL once again reigned supreme over major league baseball.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL’S GOLDEN AGE: 1880-1889
As the decade of the 1880s dawned, major league baseball was only a pale reflection of the enormously popular spectacle that it would soon become. In 1880 the NL reigned supreme, but the league’s financial performance was dismal. Thus far no NL club had matched the profits of Wright’s 1875 Boston Reds, player salaries barely exceeded those of the 1869 Cincinnati Reds, annual membership changes underscored the league’s instability, and the NL was unrepresented in the populous New York and Philadelphia areas.
At this point, however, a powerful stimulus came from the nation’s booming economic and urban growth, and professional baseball expanded vigorously. The first to prosper was the NL, but its rising fortunes inspired rivals like the American Association (AA), which was recognized as a major league under the 1883 National Agreement. The following year another rival, the Union Association, vied for major league status, but the NL and AA joined forces to crush the pretender and maintain the dual major league system. The dual major league system lasted from 1883 to 1891, when it was replaced by a single major league. But in its heyday the dual major league system, with its annual World Series competition between the two leagues, proved to be popular and profitable. By 1889 leading clubs from both circuits counted annual profits of over $100,000.
While most of the profits went to club owners, player salaries increased, averaging $2,000 a season, with a few stars getting as much as $5,000. Such gains by players were modest enough, but club owners still sought to limit player salaries. In opposing salary ceilings, players banded together under the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, which also opposed the unwritten reserve clause, unreasonable fines, and the sale of players from one club to another. In this decade the NL’s Chicago team received $10,000 apiece from the sale of “King” Kelly and John Clarkson to the Boston club.
The prosperity of the major league game was further evidenced by the expanded seasonal playing schedule. From 84 games a season in 1880 the NL increased its schedule to 132 games by 1889, while the AA upped its seasonal schedule to 140 games in 1889. To accommodate growing numbers of fans, including the 2 million who attended major league games in 1889, clubs erected new wooden parks with double-decked stands. To serve them, concessionaire Harry M. Stevens introduced the now classic baseball lunch of hot dogs, soda pop, and peanuts. And to sate the public’s hunger for baseball news, daily newspapers expanded their coverage of games, and two weekly journals devoted to baseball, Sporting Life and The Sporting News, sprang to vigorous life in this decade. Moreover, at the peak of baseball’s popularity, Spalding dispatched, in 1888-1889, two major league squads on a world tour in hopes of spreading the American game to other lands.
If Spalding’s mission fell short of its goal abroad, at home the professional game was spreading to all corners of the land. In 1889 some 15 minor leagues were operating. Under the National Agreement of 1883, and its subsequent revisions, minor leagues were recognized as a part of organized baseball. Territorial rights and player rosters of such teams were protected by the major leagues.
But black players and teams were increasingly excluded from organized baseball. In the past, gentlemen’s agreements barred black teams from the amateur National Association and the professional National Association. At this time a few blacks played briefly in the major AA and in some minor leagues, but the presence of the segregated Negro league in Pennsylvania, in 1889, plus the existence of all-black independent professional teams, signaled the trend toward segregation of black players from organized baseball. Not until 1946 would the color barrier be lifted.
In this dynamic golden age, professional baseball’s maturation as a field sport was speeded by a rash of rule changes. In 1881 the pitching distance was extended to fifty feet; in 1884 overhand pitching was legalized; in 1887 a uniform strike zone was established; in 1888 the three-strikes rule and in 1889 the four-balls rule were permanently adopted. These and other changes in playing rules resulted from pragmatic experiments by major league rules committees, whose constant tinkerings kept the game in a state of flux. Some short-lived changes, like the 1887 rule scoring bases on balls as hits and employing a modified four-strike rule, aimed at correcting the pitching-batting imbalance. But these quixotic rules inflated batting averages and produced sixteen .400 hitters before they were discarded at the close of the 1887 season.
RIVAL LEAGUES OF THE 1880
The NL’s most formidable nineteenth-century rival, the American Association of Base Ball Clubs, was organized by promoters who
opposed the NL’s monopoly. In wooing prospective clubs, the AA promoters saw an opportunity: New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis were good baseball cities that were not represented in the league. They also established a basic 25 cent admission price and allowed member clubs the option of selling booze and playing Sunday games. To entice good players, the AA promoters rejected the NL’s reserve clause; and to ensure orderly play, a salaried corps of umpires was hired, an innovation soon imitated by the NL.
In its maiden season of 1882, the AA’s six teams (Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Baltimore) prospered.
All six finished the season, with Cincinnati winning the pennant by 11.5 games over Philadelphia. Emergent stars of the AA included pitcher Will White and second baseman Bid McPhee of Cincinnati, first baseman Charles Comiskey of St. Louis, and outfielder Pete Browning and pitcher Tony Mullane of Louisville among the contenders.
In 1883 the AA expanded to eight clubs by adding Columbus and the New York Mets. By opposing the NL’s reserve clause, the AA lured a number of disgruntled NL players into its ranks. Thus strengthened, the AA staged another profitable campaign, which saw the Philadelphia Athletics edge the St. Louis Browns by a single game.
The AA’s sprightly season prompted the NL to accommodate its rival. That fall NL president Mills and AA president Denny McKnight negotiated the National Agreement of 1883, which recognized the AA as a major league and instituted World Series play between the two leagues. For its part, the AA adopted the reserve clause.
The agreement between the NL and AA was barely concluded when a new league made a bid for major league recognition. The rival Union Association of Base Ball Clubs was organized in Pittsburgh in the fall of 1883. To entice players from the established majors, the UA leaders proclaimed their opposition to the reserve clause. A few major league players jumped to the new league, but most remained with the clubs out of fear of blacklisting, or in some cases because they were bought off by salary increases.
With mostly unknown players in their ranks, the eight-team UA commenced playing a 128-game schedule in 1884. From the start the league suffered from unbalanced funding and talent distribution. The UA’s principal backer, Henry V. Lucas, poured most of his money into his St. Louis Maroons, a team which won its first twenty-one games and made a shambles of the pennant race. Plagued by financial losses, only five charter teams survived the campaign. Nevertheless, the UA drained attendance from the established majors-especially the AA, which unwisely expanded to counter the threat. In the fall of 1884, the UA folded when Lucas accepted an offer to enroll his St. Louis Maroons in the NL.
The collapse of the UA left the dual major league system intact, but relations between the NL and AA were strained. AA leaders accused their NL allies of duplicity for persuading the AA to expand to twelve teams to counter the UA’s incursion. As a result the AA suffered heavier financial losses in its 1884 campaign, which the New York Mets won by 6.5 games over Columbus. The Mets’ victory was soured by their loss to Providence in the first officially sanctioned World Series. But even more damaging to the AA was the revelation the Mets had come under the ownership of the NL New York Giants.
Moreover, AA suspicions of NL duplicity were heightened by the UA peace settlement which brought the St. Louis Maroons into the NL, where they competed directly with the AA’s St. Louis Browns. As it turned out, the Maroons were no match for the Browns, whose profitable formula of cheap baseball, liquor sales, sideshows, Sunday games, and winning baseball was making a folk hero of the Browns’ colorful president, Chris Von der Ahe. Beginning in 1885, player-manager Charles Comiskey led his team to four consecutive AA pennants. In 1885 the Browns won by 16 games over Cincinnati; in 1886, by 12 over Pittsburgh; in 1887, by 14 over Cincinnati; and in 1888, by 6.5 over a beefed-up Brooklyn team. Star players like infielder Arlie Latham, outfielder Tip O’Neill, and pitchers Dave Foutz and Bob Caruthers paced the Browns to the first three pennants.
|St. Louis Maroons|
Then, when Von der Ahe sold Foutz and Caruthers to Brooklyn in 1888, Comiskey came up with pitcher Silver King, whose 45 victories helped land a fourth consecutive pennant. In World Series play the Browns tied Chicago in 1885 and defeated Anson’s team in 1886. But the team was drubbed by Detroit in 1887 and by the Giants in 1888.
Bitter rivalry between the Browns and Brooklyn Bridegrooms dominated the 1889 race, which ended with the Bridegrooms on top of the Browns by 2 games. But the Bridegrooms lost to the Giants in World Series play. Over the winter the St. Louis and Brooklyn factions battled over the choice of a new AA president, and in the stormy aftermath Brooklyn and Cincinnati joined the National League. The loss of these clubs, together with the loss of key players to the newly organized Players’ League, crippled the AA. Forced to field weak teams in 1890, the AA ran a poor third to the NL and the Players’ League. The AA’s dismal race was won by Louisville, which only the year before had finished dead last in the AA with a 27-111 record.
PLAYERS LEAGUE WAR
The Players League of 1890 arose out of the long smoldering hostilities between major league players and owners, dating back to the NL seizure of power in 1876. Under NL control, players lost money and freedom of movement, and were subjected to harsh disciplinary codes backed by threats of expulsion and blacklisting. To the list of player grievances was added the reserve clause in player contracts, which players viewed as a device for lowering salaries and a denial of one’s right to sell his services to the highest bidder. For their part, owners credited the clause for stabilizing teams and increasing profits. Although legal challenges sustained the players’ position, such victories were too limited to overturn the reserve clause. Nor were players helped when rival leagues attacked the clause because the AA soon embraced the clause and the UA was driven out of business.
Frustrated on these fronts, in 1885 the players resorted to collective action by forming the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players. Initially organized as a benevolent association, the Brotherhood, under the leadership of star player and lawyer John Ward, became a collective-bargaining agency by 1887. In confronting the major league owners, the Brotherhood sought redress on such matters as the reserve clause, the sale of players, and the threatened salary ceiling, known as the Brush classification plan.
In 1888 protracted negotiations between the Brotherhood and the owners broke down when the NL owners refused to budge on the salary ceiling issue, which had been accepted by the AA as part of the National Agreement. When the owners rejected Ward’s ultimatum on the key issues, the Brotherhood moved to field a rival major league in 1890. With most of the best players in the fold, the Players’ League attracted financial backers who accepted Ward’s plan of sharing profits and power with the players. In 1890 the eight-team PL opened play with well-stocked teams in every NL city except Cincinnati.
Faced with a head-to-head battle for survival, the NL relied upon its war committee headed by Spalding. Spalding met the PL head-on by scheduling games on the same dates as PL teams, bribing PL players to jump ranks, initiating costly lawsuits over the reserve clause, lowering ticket prices, cajoling press support by threats to withdraw advertising, and raiding the AA and minor league rosters for players.
Loyal managers like Anson, Wright, Bill McGunnigle, and Jim Mutrie persuaded good players to stay with the NL. Roster raids on AA teams lured stars like Billy Hamilton and Tommy Tucker; and promising rookies like pitchers Kid Nichols and Cy Young, infielder Bobby Lowe and outfielder Jess Burkett beefed up the NL teams.
Although beaten in the courts and at the turnstiles by the PL, which finished its season with Mike Kelly’s Boston team beating out Ward’s Brooklyn team by 6.5 games, the PL’s financial losses were too much for its backers to bear. In the fall of 1890, the disenchanted PL backers broke ranks and sued for peace. Magnanimous in victory, Spalding imposed no reprisals on PL players, but he gave no ground on the key issues. With the NL girding for war with the AA in the upcoming 1891 season, the salary ceiling implementation was delayed until the latest struggle was over.
The collapse of the PL afforded little relief for the stricken AA. In 1891 all-out war erupted between the NL and AA over the return of players and the relocation of franchises. When the AA’s weak Cincinnati club folded, its popular manager Mike Kelly joined the Boston AA team, but after a few days he joined the Boston Nationals. With Kelly gone, the Boston AA team won the pennant by 8.5 games over the Browns, but Boston fans flocked to watch Kelly captain the Boston Nationals to the NL pennant.
The 1891 season was the last for the AA. That fall four AA clubs, St. Louis, Louisville, Baltimore and Washington, quit the dying circuit to join the expanded twelve-club National League.
THE “BIG LEAGUE”: THE NATIONAL LEAGUE: 1892-1899
The defeat of the AA in 1891 saddled the NL with a $130,000 debt, which was incurred by buying out four of the defeated circuit’s clubs. The remaining four AA teams, Baltimore, Louisville, St. Louis, and Washington, were added to the NL to form the twelve-club National League and American Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs.
From 1892 to 1899 this monopolistic “big league” represented major league baseball. Enthralled by their newly created baseball “trust,” the league’s owners styled themselves as magnates presiding over a million-dollar entertainment industry. The magnates fully expected their monopoly league to produce unprecedented cash and glory. But such dreams were dashed by external factors, including a chronic national recession, the 1898 war with Spain, and the league’s competitive imbalance. Eight seasons of play under the twelve-club format underscored its imbalance.
With Boston, Baltimore, and Brooklyn winning all the races, fans in other cities lost interest. As profits dwindled, owners imposed a $2,400 ceiling on player salaries and battled one another over the division of gate receipts. Lacking strong leadership, each individual owner ran his club like a feudal fiefdom. Indeed, the blustering antics of the owners often upstaged players in newspaper accounts of this time. Some magnates hatched grandiose schemes aimed at making the monopoly league work more efficiently. Thus Andrew Freedman of the Giants advocated the annual pooling and redistribution of players and profits, provided that the “strongest and most lucrative franchises” got the best players.
And another, Cincinnati owner John T. Brush, proposed harsh disciplinary measures aimed at curbing rowdy players, while also experimenting with minor league farm systems as a cheap source of talent.
Indeed, owner infighting over these and other issues damaged the big league’s image, but the biggest threat to the league’s credibility was the “syndicate” issue. The term “syndicatism” used at this time referred to interlocking club ownership schemes. Following bitter debate in 1898, two such interlocking directorates were approved by the owners. One of these schemes permitted owner Frank Robison of the Cleveland and St. Louis teams to transfer his best players to St. Louis; the other allowed owners Ferdinand Abell and Harry Vonderhorst of the Brooklyn and Baltimore teams to stock the Brooklyn team with the pick of those two squads.
These operations made a farce of the 1899 pennant race and prompted the NL to return to an eight-club format in 1900; the cutback was accomplished by dropping Cleveland, Baltimore, Washington, and St. Louis from the NL.
The return to the eight-club format ended eight wayward seasons of major league baseball played under one unwieldy league format. Nevertheless, major league baseball continued to mature in the 1890s. Surprisingly enough, there were no franchise changes in these years. In 1898 the 154-game playing schedule was introduced, a format which dominated until 1961. And in 1893 a major change in playing rules fixed the pitching distance at 60’6″ from home plate and also replaced the pitching box with a rubber slab atop a mound. This permanent change was introduced that year to correct the pitching-batting imbalance, a desirable goal which to this day remains elusive. The immediate effect of the lengthened pitching distance was not to give a mild boost to batting averages, but to send them soaring.
Thus in 1894 the Phillies posted a .349 team batting average, with the four-man outfield of Ed Delahanty, Sam Thompson, Billy Hamilton, and Tuck Turner combining for a .400-plus batting average. Sluggers also prospered, as Thompson hit 129 homers in this era, and Washington outfielder Buck Freeman hit 25 homers in 1899; both these records endured for twenty years. (Later recounts gave the career record to Roger Connor and the single season mark to Ned Williamson who had 27 tainted homers in 1884.)
It took pitchers several seasons to adapt to the increased distance, but they did so by developing curves, changeups, and ball-doctoring trick deliveries to go with their fastballs. Meanwhile two offensive styles vied for acceptance in this era. For a brief time the “manly slugging” style feasted on pitchers, but the “scientific style” mastered by the Baltimore and Boston teams, which stressed bunting, stealing, sacrificing, and the hit-and-run, became the dominant offensive style of the next twenty years.
At this time other rule changes allowed player substitutions, established the infield fly rule, treated foul bunts as strikes, defined sacrifice flies and bunts, and introduced the pentagon-shaped home plate. On the playing fields, players wore stylized uniforms and most sported gloves, with catchers employing the big “Decker” mitt and wearing masks and chest protectors. When in action, teams played heady ball, using signals to trigger offensive and defensive movements. Defensively, infielders aligned themselves to turn double plays and outfielders coordinated their play by using backups, cutoffs and relays. Offensively, bunting, sacrificing, sliding, stealing, and hit-and-run plays were familiar tactics.
|New York, 1902|
But when teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Spiders augmented their play with roughhouse tactics like spiking and jostling runners, baiting umpires, and bench jockeying, this “rowdy” brand of ball stirred the ire of reformers like Indianapolis owner John Brush.
But hard-nosed baseball survived its critics, as did Sunday baseball. Despite fervent opposition from Sabbatarians, Sunday games were permitted by local option, although eastern cities held out against such games for twenty years. By then, major league clubs had outgrown the wooden parks of this era. A spate of ballpark fires late in this era inspired tougher safety codes that soon prompted the replacement of the vulnerable old wooden parks with concrete-and-steel edifices.
NL CAMPAIGNS 1892-1899
During the big league’s eight-year existence, pennant monopolizing was the rule as only Boston, Baltimore, and Brooklyn teams won pennants. Managed by Frank Selee, the powerful Boston Beaneaters won back-to-back pennants in 1892-1893 and in 1897-1898. Paced by pitcher Kid Nichols (who won 297 games in this decade), Boston won the 1892 race played under a split-season format. Boston easily won the first half, but lost the second half by 3 games to manager Pat Tebeau’s Cleveland Spiders, whose ace pitcher was the great Cy Young. In the postseason playoff, after the two teams played a scoreless tie, Boston swept the rest of the games to land the 1892 pennant.
In 1893 the unprofitable split-season format was dropped and the pitching distance was increased to 60’6″. In a campaign marked by heavy hitting, Boston won by 5 games over Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s Frank Killen won 34 games to lead hurlers, and outfielder Billy Hamilton batted .380.
The following year saw Boston fall to the Baltimore Orioles, who rebounded from an eighth-place finish in 1893 to win the first of three consecutive pennants. Although plagued by poor pitching, the offense-minded Orioles batted .343, with every regular topping the .300 mark at the plate. Future Hall of Famers on this star-studded team included Dan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, John McGraw, Joe Kelley, Willie Keeler, and Wilbert Robinson. The Orioles won the 1894 pennant by 3 games over the Giants, but lost the first postseason Temple Cup Series, played between the first- and second-place finishers. In this inaugural Temple Cup Series, manager John Ward’s Giants swept the Orioles in four straight games.The following year manager Ned Hanlon’s Orioles repeated as NL champions by edging the Cleveland Spiders by 3 games. A .324 team batting average and a brilliant 54-14 home won-loss record keyed the 1895 Orioles. But once again the Orioles failed in Temple Cup play, this time falling to the Spiders by four games to one. In 1896 the Orioles won a third consecutive NL pennant by 9.5 games over the Spiders and swept their rivals in postseason Temple Cup play.
Bolstered by newcomers Billy Hamilton, Chick Stahl, and Jimmy Collins , Boston regained the heights in 1897-1898. Nichols won 30 games as the 1897 Beaneaters edged the Orioles by 2 games. But the Orioles won the postseason Temple Cup four games to one, the last year of this unremunerative and “shabby spectacle” which, one observer said, no more resembled the old World Series than a “crabapple does . . . a pippin.”Boston repeated in 1898, in a baseball campaign overshadowed by the Spanish-American War, beating the Orioles by 6 games. But by then the unprofitable “big league” was in its last throes. In a race marred by ludicrous syndicate ventures, in 1899 the Brooklyn Superbas won by 8 games over Boston. A syndicate team, the Superbas were managed by Hanlon, who stocked the Brooklyn team with the best players from the Brooklyn and Baltimore rosters.
A similar venture that season had Robison’s St. Louis-Cleveland syndicate loading the St. Louis team with the pick of these two clubs. But Robison’s venture failed miserably as St. Louis finished fifth while the Cleveland team’s 20-134 record was the worst by any major league team playing a 154-game schedule.
In the aftermath of the 1899 campaign, the owners scuttled the twelve-club big league and cut back to eight teams. Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington, and Louisville were dropped at a cost of $100,000, a buyout shared by the eight surviving teams. Born in debt, the monopoly big league died in debt, but the dawning twentieth century soon saw major league baseball prospering under a revived dual league format.
THE AMERICAN LEAGUE WAR: 1900-1902
The American League’s struggle for major league recognition began in 1900, a propitious time for such an incursion. The NL owners had recently shed four teams, which left many unemployed players and some promising territories. Moreover, NL owners were distracted by an abortive attempt by other outsiders to revive the American Association , and by the NL’s prosperous season of 1900. With a hefty boost from the nation’s booming economy, most NL teams made money that year. In a close race the Brooklyn Superbas repeated as NL champs by beating a strong Pittsburgh team by 4.5 games.
Such distractions favored the cause of the American League schemers.
Prior to 1900, the newly proclaimed American League had operated as the Western League, a strong minor league based in the Midwest. Since 1894 the Western League’s president, the able, dictatorial, and hard-drinking Byron “Ban” Johnson, had dreamed of making his circuit into a major league. To this end he had battled with NL owners over the drafting of his league’s players, a practice which underscored his league’s inferior status. Johnson’s opportunity to press toward his goal came in 1899, when the NL cut back to eight teams. With the backing of lieutenants like Charles Comiskey and Connie Mack, Johnson renamed his circuit the American League, his clubs snapped up surplus NL players, and Comiskey moved his team to Chicago, where his White Stockings boldly confronted the NL’s Cubs. With solid financial backing and a new ballpark, Comiskey’s team of major league castoffs and promising youngsters captured the first AL pennant in a profitable campaign.
Emboldened by the AL’s successful 1900 campaign, Johnson took note of the expiring National Agreement and unilaterally proclaimed the AL to be a major league. This 1901 declaration formally opened the American League war, and Johnson’s promoters commenced hostilities by invading the NL’s Philadelphia and Boston territories and occupying the former NL sites of Baltimore, Washington, Cleveland, and Detroit. To stock their teams, Johnson’s financiers offered higher salaries to NL players, and in 1901 over a hundred NL players snapped at the bait. The jumpers included a bevy of stars, among them Cy Young , Clark Griffith, Jimmy Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Then, in a hotly contested and profitable pennant race, Comiskey’s Chicago team edged Boston by 4 games to capture the 1901 AL pennant.
The timing of the AL’s assault was excellent. In 1901-1902 the leaderless NL owners were locked in a bitter struggle over the choice of a league president. Two factions, one headed by owner Andrew Freedman of the Giants and the other by Spalding, battled to a standstill. In 1902 a temporary Control Commission headed the NL, which finally elected Henry Clay Pulliam as its president. In a complicated settlement the controversial Freedman sold his New York Giants interests for $125,000, on the condition that one of his cronies be permitted to plant an AL franchise in New York in 1903. By then, the AL had concluded another profitable season. With more NL players joining AL ranks, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics landed the 1902 AL pennant by beating the Browns by 5 games.
In the fall of 1902, with most war-weary NL owners favoring a return to the dual major league structure, the NL sued for peace with the AL. Early in 1903 Johnson and Comiskey met with Pulliam and Cincinnati owner August “Garry” Herrmann and negotiated the National Agreement of 1903. Under its terms, the NL and AL would operate as separate but equal major leagues, bound by common playing rules, harmonized playing schedules, and mutually recognized territories and player contracts. The player contract accord restored the reserve clause and ended the AL’s roster raids. The agreement also allowed an AL franchise to be located in New York, which Johnson secured by moving the financially shaky Baltimore Orioles to Manhattan, where in time the team prospered as the New York Yankees. Among other points, the Agreement reclassified the minor leagues and set new rules for the drafting of minor league players. Indeed, in this era minor league baseball grew lustily, reaching an all-time peak in 1913, when 46 leagues started the season. But if the National Agreement stimulated the growth of organized baseball, it did little to empower major league players. Major league players were denied representation on the controlling National Commission , and over the years 1902-1913 two attempts by players to organize unions were beaten down. And if the National Agreement included no salary ceiling plank, the Agreement unequivocally embraced the reserve clause and asserted the right of the National Commission to control baseball “by its own decrees . . . enforcing them without the aid of law, and making it answerable to no power outside its own.”
The power to enforce these baseball laws came via a master stroke when the negotiators created a three-member National Commission charged with enforcing the National Agreement and keeping peace between the rival major leagues. As earlier demonstrated by the uneasy coexistence that marked the dual major league system of the 1880s, some such high-level executive and judicial body was needed to settle disputes between two independent and highly competitive major leagues. It was a challenge that the National Commission successfully met for seventeen years.
Heading the National Commission were league presidents Johnson and Pulliam and Cincinnati magnate Garry Herrmann, who served as the Commission’s permanent chairman. On the face of it, this gave the NL two votes, but Johnson and Herrmann were close friends.
Together they served during the lifetime of the National Commission, while four relatively weak presidents represented the NL, whose owners feared to empower any president. By contrast Johnson reigned as the most powerful president in major league history. As the AL’s entrenched “czar,” Johnson used his powers to safeguard his league against any NL treachery. In defending his league, Johnson personally held all AL franchise leases, ruled on ownership changes, fixed playing schedules, set basic admission prices, and imposed his standards on owners and players. Inevitably such powers incurred enmities among AL owners, but until the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, Johnson’s domination of the AL held firm.
Over the years 1903-1920, with Herrmann’s support, Johnson dominated the National Commission. In those years the Commission functioned as baseball’s Supreme Court, settling disputes between clubs (mostly involving rights to player services), supporting the interests of club owners, disciplining players, defending umpires, fending off Federal League interlopers, defusing a players’ union threat, and overseeing relations with the minor leagues. But the most important achievement of the National Commission was its profitable administration of the revived World Series. Initially revived in 1903, the World Series got off to a shaky start when the Giants refused to play the AL champion in 1904. But in 1905 the two leagues adopted a new World Series format that placed the conduct of the classic under the control of the National Commission. With 10 percent of World Series revenues set aside for financing National Commission activities, the Commission faced a stern test. By capable administration the Commission met the challenge and the annual World Series became a profitable and permanent part of each major league season. By 1910 profits from World Series games had increased tenfold over those of 1905. But the Commission was responsible for any World Series chicanery; thus the rigged World Series of 1919 precipitated the downfall of the National Commission.
PEACE AND PROSPERITY: 1903-1920
By reviving the dual major league system with World Series play, the framers of the National Agreement harked back to the successful format of the golden 1880s. To that profitable format was added a National Commission charged with keeping the peace between the two major leagues. The combination launched the major leagues on a stable course which produced no franchise changes for the next fifty years.
In the 1903-1919 era the pattern was set and the two major leagues enjoyed a silver age of popularity and prosperity.
In these years the popularity of the national pastime was buoyed by rising attendance, increased media coverage including motion pictures, and the ever-popular song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” introduced in 1908.
Brooklyn Federal League
The game’s increasing popularity swelled annual profits, but as always these were unevenly distributed. In these years attendance at major league games increased steadily; from 4.7 million in 1903, attendance rose to 10 million in 1911, before falling under the impact of the Federal League incursion and the nation’s involvement in the First World War.To house the growing numbers of fans, durable ballparks constructed of concrete and steel were built during the construction boom of 1909-1911. Capable of housing 30,000 or more fans, these parks served until the post-World War Two construction boom. At this time increasing profits boosted player salaries. By 1910 annual salaries ranged from $900 to $12,000, and by 1915 salaries of superstars like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Walter Johnson approached $20,000.
In this era stability also characterized the style of play. Only a few rule changes were made. Among them, a rule limited the height of pitching mounds to fifteen inches above the baseline level, the infield fly rule was invoked, a foul bunt on a third strike was ruled a strikeout, and earned run averages by pitchers were included in annual records. On the playing fields teams employed the deadball style of play that resembled the “scientific game” of the 1890s.
With new balls seldom being introduced into games, pitchers took command, using a variety of deliveries including spitballs and defacing balls with other foreign substances. In this era, earned run averages of 3.00 or below were seasonal norms, and seasonal batting averages, now affected by bigger parks and improved gloves, hovered around the .250 mark.
Offensively, teams relied heavily on bunts, hit-and-run tactics, and base stealing to produce a few runs which power pitchers protected. Not surprisingly, pitching masters like Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Eddie Plank, and spitball artist Ed Walsh sparkled among the leading stars of this era. But pitted against these dominant hurlers were some of the greatest hitters of all time. The masters of the deadball offense included Detroit’s Ty Cobb, who won thirteen AL batting titles while scoring runs and stealing bases at unprecedented rates, and Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner, who won eight NL batting titles and stole 722 bases. Other hitting stars included Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, Sam Crawford, and the ill-fated Joe Jackson. The decline of the “deadball style” was foreshadowed by the 1910 introduction of the cork-centered ball. When widely used later in the era, it ended the conservative style of offensive play. The transformation was signaled in 1919, when Babe Ruth of the Red Sox hit 29 homers to set a new seasonal homer mark.By 1919 the stability of the silver age had been undermined by a series of disturbing events. In 1913 interlopers launched the Federal League and vied for major league recognition. That fall President James Gilmore lined up enough wealthy backers to plant Federal League teams in Chicago, Baltimore, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Brooklyn, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Over the next two seasons, the “Feds” took to raiding major league rosters with offers of higher salaries. The surfeit of games in 1914 and 1915 lowered major league revenues, but the Federal League invaders suffered more. There were two Federal League campaigns; Indianapolis won the 1914 pennant and Chicago took honors in 1915. The 1915 season was the last gasp of the Feds. Staggered by financial losses, the Feds surrendered when the established majors paid $5 million in compensation and awarded major league franchises to two Federal owners. But an antitrust suit pressed by dissident Baltimore owners against the majors eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
|The Brooklyn Federal League Park Opening Day, 1915|
In 1922, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, speaking for a unanimous court, dismissed the suit and judged major league baseball to be mainly a sport and not a commonly accepted form of interstate commerce. But the 1922 decision did not end the controversy, and the major leagues would have to defend the reserve clause against future attacks in the courts and in the Congress of the United States. Nevertheless the FL challenge was the last full-scale incursion by a rival major league against the established majors.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” song slide
Soon after the Federal League war, major league baseball faced another crisis brought on by America’s entry into World War One. In supporting the nation’s total war effort, dozens of major league players entered the armed services, and clubs staged patriotic displays, donating money and equipment to troops. For all that, in 1918 the provost marshal ruled major league baseball to be nonessential to the war effort, but his ruling permitted the majors to play a shortened 1918 campaign. That year attendance sank to 3 million, prompting tremulous owners to vote to shorten the 1919 playing schedule. However, to their surprise the war ended, and the attenuated 1919 campaign attracted 6.5 million fans. Caught short by this unexpected boom, officials sought to recoup money by upping the World Series schedule to a best-of-nine-games format.
As it turned out the expanded 1919 World Series precipitated the final crisis that ended the commissioner system. Embittered over their low salaries, eight Chicago White Sox players accepted bribes from gamblers to throw the World Series to the NL champion Cincinnati Reds. When revelations of this “Black Sox Scandal” came to light, it destroyed the National Commission and ended the old National Agreement. Chairman Herrmann resigned early in 1920, and that fall Federal Judge Kenesaw M. Landis was named the game’s sole commissioner, an action confirmed by the new National Agreement of 1921. As the autocratic Landis defused the Black Sox Scandal by barring the eight accused Chicago players from organized baseball for life, the major league game lurched into a new golden age of cash and glory.
DEADBALL DYNASTIES: THE AL, 1903-1920
Over the years 1903-1920, Ban Johnson’s “great American League” surpassed its NL rival in attendance and also took an enduring lead over its rival in World Series victories. However, such dominance was not a result of the league’s competitive balance; indeed, this dream was never realized in any era of major league history until the early 1980s. In this early phase of AL history, four teams, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit, dominated all AL pennant races.
The first of the AL mini-dynasties, the Boston Pilgrims relied in 1903 on the pitching of Cy Young, Bill Dinneen, and Tom Hughes to trample the Philadelphia Athletics by 14.5 games and then go on to win the first modern World Series over Pittsburgh. The following year Boston repeated, winning a close race by 1.5 games over the New York Highlanders. That year manager John McGraw of the Giants refused to meet the Pilgrims in World Series play, but the controversy was resolved over the winter of 1904 with the establishment of a permanent World Series format.
In 1905 manager Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics got 87 victories from the pitching corps of Rube Waddell, Eddie Plank, Andy Coakley and Chief Bender, to edge the White Sox by 2 games. But with league-leading pitcher Waddell sidelined by an injury, the A’s fell to the Giants in the World Series.
As the A’s faded in 1906, the most impotent of all pennant winners, the weak-hitting Chicago White Sox, won a close race by 3 games over the Highlanders.In winning, the White Sox batted .230 and scored a mere 570 runs. Yet in World Series play against the Cubs, whose 116 victories were the most ever by a team playing a 154-game schedule, the White Sox prevailed, winning four of the six games.
The next three AL pennants were captured by the Detroit Tigers, the league’s most formidable dynasty to date. Managed by Hugh Jennings and powered by outfielders Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb, the latter the Georgia sensation who won the first of a record nine consecutive AL batting titles, the 1907 Tigers defeated Mack’s Athletics by 1.5 games.
The following year the Tigers eked out a half-game win over player-manager Nap Lajoie’s Cleveland team, and in 1909 the Tigers held off the Athletics by 3.5 games. But in World Series action the Tigers resembled kittens. In 1907 and again in 1908 they fell to the Cubs, and in 1909 they lost to the Pirates.
Those three consecutive World Series losses infuriated AL president Johnson, but four straight AL victories over the years 1910-1913 restored the aplomb of the portly czar. In 1910 Mack’s revamped Athletics, newly located in Shibe Park, used the pitching of Plank, Bender, Jack Coombs, and Cy Morgan, and the offensive and defensive skills of his “$100,000 infield” of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank “Home Run” Baker, to lap the Yankees by 14.5 games and topple the Cubs in the World Series. The following year the A’s repeated; this time they crushed the Tigers by 13.5 games and then beat the Giants in World Series play.
Mack’s A’s faded to third in 1912, but the renamed Boston Red Sox, now playing in their new Fenway Park, breezed to a 14-game win over the Senators. “Smokey Joe” Wood’s 34-5 pitching and Tris Speaker’s .383 batting led the Red Sox, who followed their league win with a victory over the Giants in the World Series. With this latest Series, the AL took a lead in this fall competition, which they hold to this day.The Federal League war was beginning when Mack led his resurgent A’s to a 6.5-game win over the Senators and another victory over the Giants in the 1913 World Series. In 1914 the Mackmen captured their fourth AL pennant in five years as they outran the Red Sox by 8.5 games, but then they lost the World Series to the sweeping “miracle” Boston Braves who had come from last place on July 4 to take the NL flag. That fall, racked by heavy financial losses incurred by the Federal League war, Mack sought to recoup by selling some of his stars. As a result, Mack’s emasculated A’s spent the next seven seasons in the AL cellar.
The Star System
As the A’s collapsed, the Red Sox and White Sox, both strengthened by player purchases from Mack, monopolized the next five AL races. By purchasing Jack Barry from Mack and snapping up minor league pitcher Babe Ruth, whom Mack had passed over, Boston was the first to cash in.The Red Sox won the 1915 pennant by 2.5 games over the Tigers and went on to trounce the Phillies in World Series action. In this the last year of the Federal League war, Boston was one of only seven major league clubs to show a profit. But with the Feds out of the way in 1916, prosperity returned to the major leagues.
Despite dealing Speaker to Cleveland, where his .386 batting ended Cobb’s skein of nine straight AL batting titles, the Red Sox repeated.
Ruth’s 23 pitching victories led Boston to a 2-game victory over the White Sox and 5-game victory over the Dodgers in the World Series.
America’s entry into the First World War in 1917 sent major league attendance plummeting as manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland drove his White Sox to a 9-game win over Boston.
Shine-ball pitcher Eddie Cicotte’s 28 victories led all AL hurlers, and Eddie Collins, Joe Jackson, and Happy Felsch supplied the power as the White Sox capped their victory with a win over the Giants in the World Series.
But major league profits were low in 1917, and they touched rock bottom the following year, when the war effort forced the majors to cut their playing schedules to 128 games. The Red Sox rebounded to win the 1918 campaign by 2.5 games over Cleveland. And by drubbing the Cubs in the World Series, the Red Sox notched their fifth World Series title in as many tries. However, at this point the Red Sox fell victim to their impecunious owner, Harry Frazee, whose player sales soon divested the team of its ablest stars, including Ruth. As the Red Sox faded, so did their record of World Series triumphs. To this day Red Sox fans are still waiting for a sixth World Series victory.
Boston’s collapse opened the way for the powerful White Sox to win the shortened 1919 race by 3.5 games over the surging Cleveland Indians. In the wake of the White Sox victory came the sordid World Series of 1919, which saw eight Chicago players conspire with gamblers to throw the extended Series to the Cincinnati Reds. In 1920 the much-publicized revelations of that piece of skullduggery forced owner Charles Comiskey to suspend his eight Black Sox players in the last week of the red-hot 1920 pennant campaign.
Stripped of their stars, the White Sox finished second, a game ahead of the Yankees and two games behind the victorious Cleveland Indians. The gritty Indians lost their star shortstop Ray Chapman when he was fatally beaned by pitcher Carl Mays of the Yankees. To the present day, this remains the only fatality in major league history that was the direct result of a playing field accident. In the memorable World Series of 1920, Cleveland and Brooklyn were tied at two games apiece when Indian second-sacker Bill Wambsganss busted a promising Dodger rally by pulling off the first and only unassisted triple play in World Series history. And in that same game Indian outfielder Elmer Smith hit the first World Series grand-slam homerun. Such heroics, plus three pitching victories by Stan Coveleski, boosted the Indians to a five-games-to-two triumph in the 1920 fall classic. Cleveland’s victory also ended the Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago pennant monopoly of the AL’s deadball era, while Ruth’s 59 homers as a Yankee in 1920 heralded the incoming “big-bang” style of play that would characterize the coming decade of the 1920s.
DEADBALL DYNASTIES: THE NL, 1903-1920
A similar pattern of competitive imbalance also marked the NL campaigns of the silver age. In this era three NL mini-dynasties, those of Pittsburgh, Chicago, and New York, monopolized the first 14 NL campaigns. Moreover, even as outsiders rose up to win three consecutive pennants over the years 1914-1916, the Giants and Cubs came back to win pennants in 1917-1918 before yielding to the Reds and Dodgers in this era’s final two campaigns. Under manager John McGraw, “the Napoleonic genius” who jumped the AL in 1902 to skipper the moribund Giants, the New Yorkers won six pennants, finished second eight times, and suffered only one losing season.
In 1901 the first of this dynastic trio, the Pittsburgh Pirates, won the first of three consecutive NL pennants. Pittsburgh’s rise began in 1900, the year the NL cut back to eight teams. When his Louisville team was dropped in the NL’s cutback, owner Barney Dreyfuss purchased the Pittsburgh club, which he strengthened by adding Louisville stars Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner to his Pirate team. Powered by player-manager Clarke and Wagner, and unscathed by the disastrous roster raids by AL teams that were weakening his opponents, Pittsburgh won the 1901 NL race by 7.5 games over the Phillies; they then won the 1902 race by an awesome 27.5 games over runner-up Brooklyn, and captured the 1903 flag by 6.5 games over the Giants. In each of these campaigns, both Wagner and Clarke topped the .300 mark in batting. Moreover, Wagner’s .355 hitting won the 1903 batting title while outfielder Ginger Beaumont’s .357 batting won the 1902 batting title. The Pirate pitching staff was fronted by Deacon Phillippe, who won 66 games in these years, and by Jack Chesbro, who won 49 games in two seasons before jumping to the AL in 1903.
In postseasonal play, the 1903 Pirates lost the first modern World Series to the Boston Red Sox.
Pittsburgh sank to fourth place in 1904 as the Giants surfaced to win consecutive pennants in 1904-1905. In 1904 the Giants won 106 games to beat the runner-up Chicago Cubs by 13 games. Power pitching by “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity (35-8), Christy Mathewson (33-12), and “Dummy” Taylor (21-15) paced the light-hitting Giants to victory. But in the aftermath of the win, manager McGraw refused to meet the AL champion Boston Pilgrims in World Series play. That issue was resolved in 1905, the year McGraw drove his team to a 9-game win over the Pirates and then to an easy conquest of the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series, with Mathewson tossing three shutouts.
The following year, the Chicago Cubs emerged as the third NL dynasty of the deadball era. Pennant-starved since 1886, the Chicagoans recouped with a vengeance, winning an astonishing 530 games over the years 1906-1910.
Such mastery was good enough to land four pennants in those five years. Skippered by player-manager Frank Chance, who, along with fellow infielders Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, is now immortalized in baseball folklore, the 1906 Cubs won their record 116 games. Powered by Chance and third baseman Harry Steinfeldt, and armed by Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown’s 26-6 pitching, this superb team buried the Giants by 20 games, but lost the World Series to their hometown AL rivals, the “hitless wonder” White Sox.
the Unfortunate One
The Cubs made it three victories in a row by winning in 1907-1908. The 1907 Cubs crushed Pittsburgh by 17 games, and in the unforgettable season of 1908, the Cubs edged the Giants by a single game. With two weeks remaining in the 1908 season, the Giants, Cubs, and Pirates were locked in a close race. Then, in a fateful encounter with the Cubs at the Polo Grounds, Fred Merkle of the Giants blundered by failing to touch second base as his Giants were scoring what looked like the winning run. In the stormy aftermath of this play, Umpire Hank O’Day ruled Merkle out for failing to touch the base and declared the game a tie because the swirling masses of Giant fans on the field made resumption of play impossible. Later NL president Harry Pulliam supported O’Day’s decision and ruled that if necessary the game would be replayed at the close of the season. As it turned out, this was necessary because the Cubs and the Giants finished the season in a dead heat. To settle the outcome, the controversial game was replayed on October 8 at the Polo Grounds.
The Cubs won the sudden-death game 4-2, as Brown outpitched Mathewson. In baseball folklore the Giant defeat permanently stigmatized “Bonehead” Fred Merkle as the blamesake of the Giants’ defeat. As for the Cubs, they took full advantage of their quirky victory by defeating the Tigers for a second straight time in World Series action.
In 1909 the Cubs won 104 games, with Brown pitching 27 victories. But the Pirates won 110 that year to beat Chance’s men by 6.5 games. Wagner led the league in hitting, and pitchers Vic Willis and Howie Camnitz combined for 48 wins. In World Series action, the Pirates hung a third straight loss on the AL champion Tigers. But the Cubs rebounded in 1910, winning 104 games for a second straight year. This time it was enough to lap the Giants by 13, but the Cubs then fell to the Athletics in the World Series.
Over the years 1911-1913 the Giants dominated NL play. In winning three consecutive pennants, they piled up 303 victories; pitchers Mathewson and Rube Marquard accounted for 147 of these, while Giant hitters led the NL in batting each year. But in World Series appearances McGraw’s men repeatedly swooned, losing to the Athletics in 1911 and 1913 and to the Red Sox in 1912.
Over the years 1914-1916, a whiff of competitive balance settled over the NL as three outsiders wrested pennants from the three dynasty teams. In 1914 the “miracle” Boston Braves stormed from 10 games back in mid-July to win 60 of their last 76 games; the surge was enough to crush the Giants by 10.5 games. The following year, the Philadelphia Phillies landed their first NL pennant on the strength of 31 wins by pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander and 24 homers by Gavvy Cravath. The Phillies beat out the Boston Braves by 7 games.
And in 1916, manager Wilbert Robinson’s Dodgers got 25 victories from pitcher Ed Pfeffer as they edged the Phillies by 2.5 games. But this trio of outsiders produced only one World Series victory, which came when the Braves swept Mack’s Athletics to win the 1914 classic. As for the other interlopers, both the Phillies and Dodgers fell to the Boston Red Sox.
|1915 World Series|
Like the AL’s, the NL’s wartime campaigns of 1917-1918 were plagued by poor attendance which caused some tremulous owners to sell players in hopes of recouping losses. But the pennant monopolists held firm. The Giants won the 1917 race by 10 games over the Phillies, but then fell for a fourth straight time in World Series play as the White Sox prevailed. And in 1918, after winning the attenuated NL race by 10.5 games over the Giants, the Cubs bowed to the Red Sox in the World Series.
The deadball era was drawing to a close in 1919, which was the year that manager Pat “Whiskey Face” Moran drove his Cincinnati Reds to their first NL pennant. The Reds won by 9 games over the runner-up Giants as future Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush batted .321 to lead the league. The Reds also won the World Series, but the stench of the Black Sox Scandal sullied their victory.
As breaking news stories of that scandal overshadowed stories of the 1920 pennant race, in progress when the news broke, the Brooklyn Dodgers went on to defeat the Giants by 7 games. But the Dodgers lost to an inspired Cleveland Indians team in the World Series. In the atmosphere of gloom caused by the Black Sox Scandal revelations, it was also apparent that the deadball era of stylized baseball play was ending. But a new era was unfolding in the 1920s that would launch the major leagues into new uplands of cash and glory.
BASEBALL’S SECOND GOLDEN AGE: 1921-1931
Over the winter of 1920-1921, crestfallen club owners slavishly chose Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be baseball’s high
commissioner and empowered him to restore the game’s scandal-sullied image. At the time few observers could have predicted that major league baseball was moving into another golden age of cash and glory that would be highlighted by the dazzling exploits of Babe Ruth, who already was enthralling fans by his mastery of the new “big-bang” offensive style.
But the sparkling turnabout in baseball’s fortunes was also buoyed by the optimistic spirit of America’s “roaring twenties.” This was a decade of booming prosperity, an expanding urban population, declining work hours, and hefty increases in recreational spending by the American people. By 1929, indeed, Americans were annually spending $4.9 billion for recreational pursuits. To be sure, much of this spending was diverted into movies, radios, and automobiles, but major sports like baseball, football, basketball, boxing, golf, and tennis were attracting millions of hero-worshipping fans. Such adulation made demigods of athletes like Red Grange, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, and Bill Tilden, but all of these sporting heroes were overshadowed by Babe Ruth, who now became the most photographed American of the decade.
During baseball’s “guilty season” of 1920, it was the fun-loving Ruth, not the stern moralist Commissioner Landis, who diverted the attention of fans from the Black Sox Scandal. In 1920 the Babe accomplished this feat by smacking 54 homers to break his own seasonal mark, which he had set only the year before. Ruth’s latest achievement fully justified the astonishing $125,000 which the Yankees shelled out before the 1920 season to obtain the former Red Sox pitching ace, whose batting achievements caused him to be assigned to regular duty as an outfielder.
With the Yankees, the charismatic Ruth bestrode the baseball scene like a young colossus. The very embodiment of the big-bang offensive style, Ruth notched ten AL homer titles over the years 1920-1931. In the last six of those seasons, he smacked 302 homers, including a record 60 blows in 1927. At the close of the 1931 season Ruth’s homer output exceeded 600, and when he retired in 1935, he had raised his total to 714, along with a lifetime batting average of .342.
Inspired by Ruth’s example, the big-bang style dominated major league baseball offensives of this and all subsequent eras. While no other team matched the consistent power of the Yankees, in this era NL teams outslugged their AL counterparts. And if no player surpasses Ruth’s consistent power, sluggers like Cy Williams, Hack Wilson, Chuck Klein, Harry Heilmann, and Rogers Hornsby ably mastered the big-bang style. In 1930 Wilson hit 56 homers to set an NL seasonal mark, but for sheer all-around batting consistency Hornsby and Heilmann had no peers. Over the years 1921-1927 Tiger outfielder Heilmann topped .390 four times, hit 104 homers, and won four AL batting titles.
Incredibly Hornsby bettered this performance. Over the years 1920-1925, Hornsby won six NL batting titles, topped the .400 mark in batting three times, and won two Triple Crowns. Hornsby’s lifetime batting average of .358 is the best of any right-handed batter in major league history.
Such heroics by players of this era were the highlights of all-out seasonal offensives that dwarfed those of the deadball era. In this decade seasonal batting averages in both major leagues topped .280, with NL batters averaging a whopping .303 in 1930. At the same time, league-wide homer production, averaging 540 a season in the NL and 490 in the AL, helped raise per-game scoring to an average of five runs per team, while relegating base stealing to the status of a secondary tactic. Abetting the big-bang offensives of this era were innovations in technology and in pitching rules. Technology provided livelier balls, which were more frequently changed during games; indeed, fans were now permitted to keep balls hit into the stands. Meanwhile, rule changes of 1920-1921 barred the use of spitters and other doctored balls by all pitchers except for a few specified veterans. Such changes made for much battered pitchers with ERAs of 4.00 now regarded as an acceptable level of pitching performance.
To cope with the situation, managers now relied more heavily on relief pitchers. Nevertheless, virtuoso starting pitchers like Johnson, Alexander, Grimes, Grove, Pennock, Hoyt, and Vance ranked among the top stars of this decade.
|Cool Papa Bell|
That fans welcomed the new offensive style was evidenced by the record-setting attendance marks of this era. Despite the lurid exposes of the Black Sox Scandal, a record 9.1 million fans attended major league games in 1920. Then, after falling below that mark for three seasons, attendance soared to an average of 9.6 million a season over the years 1924-1929 and peaked at 10.1 million in 1930.
Helping to swell attendance in this era were Sunday games, which were legalized in all cities outside of Pennsylvania. Such support boosted revenues by 40 percent over the previous era and raised annual player salaries to an average of $7,000 by 1930. However, such average figures are misleading. In the NL, the Giants, Dodgers, Pirates, and Cardinals got most of the profits, and the AL Yankees alone accounted for 25 percent of that circuit’s annual attendance. Player salaries also varied widely, ranging from less than $2,000 for fringe players to Ruth’s princely $80,000 for the season of 1930; moreover, in this era the Yankee and Cub payrolls topped those of other teams.
That the Cardinals ranked with the most profitable NL clubs at this time owed to the genius of General Manager Branch Rickey. One of baseball’s greatest innovators, Rickey had an impact on the game that extended far beyond this decade. At this time Rickey made a contender out of the impecunious Cardinals by reviving the farm system and using minor league farm clubs to develop and train young players. By purchasing minor league clubs and establishing working agreements with others, and by deploying scouts to sign young players at low costs, Rickey built and stocked a network of minor league farm clubs which supplied the Cardinals with a steady flow of star players. Despite opposition from Landis, Rickey’s farm network flourished and was widely imitated. By cornering the market on young talent and selling surplus players to other major league teams, the Cardinals profited despite poor attendance. For his part, Rickey profited by reaping a percentage from each player sale.
As a baseball innovator, Rickey had a much more enduring impact on the game than Commissioner Landis. By banishing the Black Sox, disciplining players, and presiding in watchdog fashion over annual World Series games, Landis contributed to restoring the game’s honest image. But Landis’ autocratic posturing grated on major league owners, some of whom resented his opposition to farm systems and his conservative approach to the sale of World Series radio broadcasting rights. Landis also stubbornly opposed the racial integration of organized baseball. Thus in this era outcast black players turned to their own leader, Andrew “Rube” Foster, who founded the Negro National League in 1920. In 1923 the Eastern Colored League took to the field as a second black major league, but gave way in 1928 to the Negro American League, which lasted until 1950. Such leagues fielded great black stars like future Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Pop Lloyd, “Cool Papa” Bell, the slugging Josh Gibson, and Ray Dandridge. In this decade postseason exhibition games played between white and black major leaguers drew attention to the black stars, whose abilities matched and often surpassed those of white major leaguers.
But the limited exposure afforded to black stars contrasted starkly with the broad media coverage now lavished on the white majors. For this golden era of major league baseball history was gilded by newspaper coverage which touted the games and the player-heroes in romanticized style. Moreover, motion pictures and radio coverage opened new dimensions for promoting the game that suspicious owners of the age were slow to exploit. Conservative owners also took a dim view of the night baseball games which pioneer promoters were staging in the minors and in the black leagues. However, when the golden age ended amidst the worst economic depression of this century, such innovations would enable hard-pressed owners to better cope with the austerities of the 1930s.
GOLDEN AGE CAMPAIGNS: THE AL, 1921-1931
In this era dreams of a competitively balanced AL went for naught as three teams, the Yankees, Senators, and Athletics, dominated the eleven pennant races. Foremost among these powers, the lordly Yankees used Ruth’s explosive power to win six pennants and three world titles, while outdrawing all other AL teams by a wide margin.
Once established, the Yankee dynasty lasted for forty years, during which time no more than three seasons passed by without the Yankees hoisting another AL pennant. In laying the foundations for this awesome domination, Yankee owners Jake Ruppert and Cap Huston repeatedly took advantage of their financially strapped Boston colleague, Harry Frazee, to denude the latter’s Boston Red Sox of its ablest stars. In 1919 the Yankees pried pitcher Carl Mays from Frazee, and at the end of that year, the Yankee owners paid Frazee $125,000 up-front money and also a $300,000 loan to snag their biggest catch of all in Babe Ruth. What’s more, over the next few years Frazee paid off the loan by sending more players to New York. By then, picking the right Boston players was the job of General Manager Ed Barrow, who left his former post as Boston field manager to come to the Yankees. After joining the Yankees at the close of the 1920 season, Barrow’s dealings with Frazee over the next three seasons made Yankees of such Boston stars as pitchers Waite Hoyt, Sam Jones, Joe Bush, Herb Pennock, and George Pipgras, catcher Wally Schang, and infielders Everett Scott and Joe Dugan.
Over the years 1921-1923, these acquisitions helped to carry the Yankees to three consecutive pennants while burying the once-proud Red Sox. In 1921, with Ruth smashing 59 homers and driving in 171 runs, and Mays pitching 27 victories, the Yankees defeated the Indians by 4.5 games. The following year ex-Red Sox players Jones, Bush, and Scott were on hand to help the Yankees edge the Browns by a single game. However, consecutive World Series losses to the rival New York Giants, whose Polo Grounds the Yankees shared as tenants, blighted these victories. But in 1923 the Yankees, now owned outright by Ruppert, moved into their brand-new Yankee Stadium, where Ruth’s opening-day homer signaled a coming turnabout. With Ruth batting .393 that season, leading the league in homers, and sharing the lead in RBI, the Yankees swept to an easy 16-game romp over the runner-up Tigers. And then, after dropping two of the first three games of the 1923 World Series, the Yankees swept the Giants to land their first world title.
This initial display of Yankee dominance ended in 1924, when the team lost to the Washington Senators by two games. It was Washington’s first AL pennant. Led by their “boy manager,” second baseman Bucky Harris, the Senators went on to down the Giants in a seven-game World Series struggle. Pitching in relief, the veteran Walter Johnson notched the victory in the final game. The following year the Senators repeated, using a powerful .303 batting assault to top the Athletics by 8.5 games. But in World Series action the 1925 Senators blew a three-games-to-one lead and lost to the Pirates in seven games.As the AL’s 1926 season began, any likelihood of a Yankee resurgence seemed a remote possibility. Only the year before, the Yankees languished in seventh place, as illness and insubordination tolled on Ruth’s performance. But a contrite Ruth came back as strong as ever, and young infielders Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Mark Koenig revitalized the team. In a close race the Yankees edged the Indians by 3 games, but lost to the Cardinals in a memorable seven-game World Series battle. Rebounding from that defeat, the 1927 Yankees mounted one of the most devastating assaults in major league history. In crushing the runner-up Athletics by 19 games, the Yankees batted .307 and led the AL in all major offensive categories. Ruth’s 60 homers set a seasonal mark that lasted for 34 years, and Gehrig weighed in with 47 homers and 175 RBI. In World Series action the Yankees easily dispatched the Pirates in four games. The following year the Yankees repeated, although they were pressed hard by the Athletics, who finished 2.5 games behind. Still the 1928 Yankees finished their season in fine fettle by scoring an avenging four-game sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series.
The Yankees’ latest stranglehold on the AL ended in 1929, when manager Connie Mack’s power-packed Athletics captured the first of three consecutive pennants. The resurrection of the once-powerful Athletic dynasty was a triumph of patient rebuilding by Mack. After the veteran owner-manager broke up his formidable 1914 team, the Athletics spent the next seven years in the AL cellar. After quitting the depths in 1922, the team improved steadily. In 1928 the Athletics came close to dethroning the Yankees, and in 1929 the Mackmen mounted an offensive which rivaled that of the 1927 Yankees as they crushed the New Yorkers by 18 games. The team’s .296 batting average was led by outfielder Al Simmons, who batted .365 with 34 homers and a league-leading 157 RBI, and by first baseman Jimmy Foxx’s .354-33-117 performance. The pitching staff, led by Lefty Grove (20-6), George Earnshaw (24-8), and Rube Walberg (18-11), was the league’s best. In World Series play the Athletics crushed the Cubs in five games; one of the team’s victories included a devastating 10-run outburst that turned an 8-0 deficit into a 10-8 victory.Over the next two seasons, the Athletics continued their dominance. In 1930 they defeated the Senators by 8 games, and in 1931 they crushed the runner-up Yankees by 13.5 games. In postseason action, the Athletics beat the Cardinals in six games to win the 1930 World Series, but in 1931 the team lost a seven-game struggle to the Cardinals. Indeed, the 1931 AL pennant was to be the last for manager Mack and for the Philadelphia Athletics. Financial losses caused by the nation’s deepening Depression forced the aging manager to sell star players to weather the storm. In the past such drastic measures had worked, and Mack had been able to rebuild his team. But advancing age and changing baseball fortunes now conspired against Mack.
GOLDEN AGE CAMPAIGNS: THE NL, 1921-1931
Although upstaged by Ruth and the Yankees and bested in six of eleven World Series clashes, NL teams of this era more than held
their own against AL rivals. Indeed, NL sluggers outslugged their AL counterparts in nine of these seasons, NL pitchers posted better ERAs than AL hurlers, and in the inflationary 1930 season NL batters outhit and outslugged their rivals by wide margins. That year NL batters averaged .303 to the AL’s .288, and NL sluggers powered 892 homers to 673 for the junior circuit.
And yet in this era the NL was no better balanced competitively than the AL. Of the eleven NL campaigns of this era, the Giants and Cardinals each won four, the Pirates won two, and the Cubs won the other. In 1924 manager McGraw’s Giants became the first major league team of this century to win four consecutive pennants. This was a feat matched only by Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings of the 1870s and by Charley Comiskey’s St. Louis Browns of the 1880s.
For their part, the Giants of this era turned the trick with a potent batting attack; in their four-year sway, Giant hitters averaged better than .300 and smashed 335 homers.
In stocking his first pennant winner, McGraw pulled off astute trades with the moribund Braves and Phillies to obtain pitcher Art Nehf, shortstop Dave Bancroft, and outfielders Irish Meusel and Casey Stengel. These acquisitions joined with future Hall of Famers Frank Frisch and Ross Youngs to lead the Giants to the 1921 pennant. That year the Giants edged the Pirates by 4 games, and in 1922 they repeated, beating the runner-up Reds by 7 games. In both years the Giants met and defeated the Yankees in World Series play. In 1923 the Giants won a third straight flag by edging the Reds by 4.5 games, but they lost the World Series to the Yankees. In 1924, with the addition of first baseman and future Hall of Famer Bill Terry, the Giants eked a narrow 1.5-game victory over the Dodgers. In World Series play the Giants lost to the Senators in seven games. The 1924 pennant was McGraw’s last as the Giants’ manager and the last by a Giant team in this era.
As sicknesses took their toll on McGraw, coach Hugh Jennings, and outfielder Ross Youngs, the Pirates ended the Giants’ four-year reign with an 8.5-game victory over the New Yorkers. Future Hall of Famers, third baseman Harold “Pie” Traynor, and outfielders Max Carey and Hazen “Ki Ki” Cuyler, led the Pirates, who went on to score a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Senators in the 1925 World Series.
As the squabbling Pirates faded to third place in 1926, the hitherto unsung Cardinals won their first NL pennant. It was the first of four championships in this era by this emergent new dynasty. The rise of the Cardinals was the handiwork of general manager Branch Rickey. From Rickey’s expanding farm system came stalwarts like infielders Jim Bottomley and Tom Thevenow and outfielders Chick Hafey and Taylor Douthit. In 1921 player-manager Rogers Hornsby led the team to a 2-game victory over the Cincinnati Reds. And in a classic seven-game struggle, the Cardinals went on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series.
That fall Rickey enraged Cardinal fans by dealing the contentious Hornsby to the Giants for second baseman Frank Frisch. Frisch batted .337 to lead the 1927 Cardinals, while Hornsby batted .361 with the Giants. Nevertheless, both teams came up short, as the Pirates edged the runner-up Cardinals by 1.5 games. Pittsburgh’s .305 team batting average was sparked by future Hall of Fame outfielders Paul and Lloyd Waner; Paul’s .380 clouting led the league, and brother Lloyd batted .355. But the Pirates were crushed by the Yankees in the 1927 World Series.
Under manager Bill McKechnie, the resilient Cardinals rebounded to win the 1928 campaign by 2 games over the Giants. But like the 1927 Pirates, the Cardinals too were swept by the Yankees in the World Series. As the Cardinals slipped to fourth place in 1929, the Cubs won their only pennant of this era. Managed by Joe McCarthy, the Cub revival was powered by a .303 team batting attack. Newly acquired Rogers Hornsby, who was pried loose from the Braves in a mammoth deal, led the Cubs with a .380 batting average. Behind Hornsby the team’s power-packed outfield weighed in with Riggs Stephenson hitting .362, Hack Wilson batting .345 and driving in 159 runs, and “Ki Ki” Cuyler batting .360. The assault boosted the Cubs to a 10.5-game victory over the Pirates, but the Chicagoans were no match for the rampaging Athletics in the World Series.
As the golden era ended, manager Gabby Street drove the Cardinals to consecutive pennants in 1930-1931. In 1930 the Cardinals struggled to a 2-game victory over the Cubs, who dumped manager McCarthy in the wake of the loss. In this vintage year of NL hitting, the Cardinals batted .314, but were outhit by the Giants, who smote .319 as a team! Every Cardinal starter in 1930 topped the .300 mark, and in World Series play the Cardinals outhit the Athletics.
Nevertheless, the Athletics won the World Series in six games. The following year, as NL batting mirrored the falling national economy by dropping to .277, the Cardinals coasted to a 13-game victory over the Giants. A .286 team batting average and stout pitching by “Wild Bill” Hallahan, Burleigh Grimes, Paul Derringer, and Jess Haines paced the Cardinals, who defeated the Athletics in the World Series, four games to three. But falling attendance caused by the deepening Depression marred the 1931 NL season. Indeed, the decline signaled the end of the latest golden age and the beginning of a long era of austerity in major league baseball.
AUSTERITY BASEBALL: 1932-1945
In company with most industrialized nations, America during these years suffered the calamitous effects of a lingering economic Depression followed hard after by years of total war. In America the great Depression blighted the 1930s by creating millions of jobless workers, holding wages far below their 1929 level, slowing population growth, and, of course, drastically reducing recreational spending.
Although abetted by federal remedial programs, the national economy languished until 1940, when federal defense-spending programs spurred an economic revival. But the following year the nation faced a second ordeal, when it embarked upon four years of total war against the Axis powers.
Major league baseball felt the effects of the gathering Depression in 1931, when the AL suffered losses while the NL barely broke even.
Once engulfed by the economic storm, both major leagues were hard hit as attendance fell to 8.1 million in 1932 and hit rock bottom with an overall total of 6.3 million in 1933. Thereafter attendance improved, but not until 1940 did annual attendance totals reach 10 million. A similar sickening decline affected the minor leagues. But the minors recovered strongly after 1933 and zoomed to a record total attendance of 18 million in 1940.
Since major league baseball’s fate was at its gates, declining attendance translated into financial losses. In the AL, six previous years of domination by the Yankees and Athletics had the junior circuit trailing the NL in overall revenues. After losing a total of $156,000 in 1931, the AL suffered three desperate years during which overall losses topped $2 million. Slow improvement began with the 1935 season, but as always revenues were unevenly distributed.
Strong clubs like the Yankees and Tigers fared far better than the financially battered Athletics, Browns, and Senators. Nor were conditions much better in the NL, which also lost heavily during the years 1932-1934. In that three-year span every NL team suffered at least two seasons of red ink. A turnabout began with the 1935 season, but over the next six seasons annual profits only twice totaled $500,000. Moreover, like those of the AL, NL revenues were unevenly distributed. The Cubs, Giants, Cardinals, and Reds fared far better than did the woebegone Braves and Phillies.
Under such financial pressures, salaries of major league players were slashed. Annual salary spending in the majors fell from $4 million in 1929 to $3 million in 1933, and as late as 1940 total payrolls still lagged behind the 1929 figure. Such cuts dropped the average player’s salary to $6,000 in 1933, and the 1939 average salary of $7,300 still lagged behind the $7,500 figure of 1929. While such pay was good for those desperate times, job insecurity was rife among big league players of this era. Most players of this era needed no reminders that budget-slashing owners could easily find cheap replacements in the minor leagues. But for the time being, the great stars of the black majors, which also suffered from Depression austerities, posed no competitive threat. However, winds of change were stirring against segregated institutions in America, including major league baseball’s unwritten color bar.
Of course, owners also faced a survival-of-the-fittest struggle in this depressed decade. Better-located clubs like the Yankees, Tigers, Cubs, and Giants adapted far better than did the owners of the financially strapped Athletics, Senators, Browns, Braves, and Phillies. Caught up in a vicious cycle, these poorer owners were forced to sell players to better-heeled clubs, a policy which had the effect of worsening attendance. However, one club, the Cardinals, managed to sell players to much better advantage. Although plagued by poor attendance, including three seasons which produced an aggregate home attendance total of fewer than 900,000, and one of those a world championship season which attracted only 325,000 fans at home, the Cardinals still managed to hold their own financially. Player sales from Rickey’s well-stocked minor league farm system enabled the Cardinals to recoup financially and at the same time field strong teams.
At this time eager purchasers of players included Tom Yawkey, the wealthy new owner of the Red Sox. In this decade Yawkey spent $1 million on players. As a result Red Sox attendance rose while that of his moribund NL rival the Boston Braves worsened. Other bullish owners included the owners of the Cubs, Reds, Tigers, and Dodgers. But the well-financed Yankees emulated Rickey’s example and built an efficient farm system of their own. Directed by the ruthlessly efficient George Weiss, the Yankee farms strengthened the Yankees’ stranglehold on the AL.
Still, Depression-imposed austerities challenged all clubs of this era to find new ways to beef up revenues. Perhaps the most drastic of these was the plan of the owner of the St. Louis Browns to move the club to the West Coast, a strategy which was aborted by the outbreak of World War Two. But for the most part promoters tried to find ways of wringing more money from ballpark fans. Among these, expanding concession sales, utilizing promotional schemes, and staging night baseball games were tactics borrowed from minor league promoters and the black majors. But night baseball proved to be the wave of the future for the major leagues. When introduced to the majors in 1935 by Cincinnati general manager Larry MacPhail, the popularity of night baseball had most major league clubs following suit by 1940. Yet another source of profits came from the sale of local radio rights to broadcast accounts of games, a scheme which some owners had tried, but most had stubbornly resisted back in the twenties. By 1939 radio income totaled 7.3 percent of club revenues, up from a negligible 0.3 percent in 1930. Similarly, sales of World Series radio rights, a windfall shared by all major league clubs, now fetched higher prices. And at the close of the decade, the new medium of television showed promise, but the onslaught of World War Two delayed its profitable exploitation.
In the near future such innovations would profoundly alter the major league scene, but for now survival dictated sticking to more conservative measures. Thus in this era no privately financed ballparks were constructed (as, indeed, had been the case in the 1920s with the exception of Yankee Stadium), but Cleveland’s publicly financed Municipal Stadium foreshadowed a future building boom that would replace most of the aging major league parks with modern facilities financed by public monies. When that day dawned, black players at last would be playing alongside whites in organized baseball. But in this era Commissioner Landis and his supporters continued their stubborn resistance in the face of mounting public support for organized baseball’s integration. The breakthrough came, a year after Landis’ death in 1945, as the first black player in this century signed a major league contract. Ironically, the integration of the white majors dealt a death blow to the flourishing black major leagues.
However, such impending changes were only dimly perceived by owners of this era. On the whole the 1930s were conservative years, with no significant rule changes invoked. In these years teams continued to master the big-bang style of play, with annual homer barrages, and pitching ERAs surpassing those of the 1920s. And if Ruth’s departure in 1935 deprived the game of its most colorful hero of all time, new slugging stars like Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio proved to be worthy successors. Their accomplishments and those of this era’s teams were lavishly covered by sportswriters and by a new breed of radio sportscasters, whose ranks included some ex-players. Such coverage broadened baseball’s appeal. So did the 1939 opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, and the annual ritual of electing baseball immortals to the select circle. Indeed, the first annual election conducted in January of 1936 selected Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson as the five charter members.
Over the years the number of enshrined players swelled to over 200, including stars from the segregated black majors. And so did the numbers of fans who annually made the pilgrimage to the Hall of Fame; from a few thousand a year in this era, the number of visitors now exceeds 250,000 annually.
AUSTERITY ERA CAMPAIGNS: THE AL, 1932-1945
In the Depression era of 1932-1941, the AL extended its domination over the NL by winning seven of ten World Series encounters and six of the first nine All-Star Games. The annual All-Star Game was instituted in 1933 and quickly became a popular spectacle that marked the midpoint of each seasonal campaign. Meanwhile in the seasonal campaigns of this decade, AL batters topped their NL counterparts in batting average, homers, RBI, and stolen bases, while NL hurlers posted lower ERAs than did AL pitchers. But there was an illusory quality to this apparent pattern of mastery. This was because the AL’s dominance owed most to the powerful Yankees, who captured six of the AL’s seven world titles in these years.
After a three-year hiatus, the Yankees recaptured the AL heights in 1932, crushing the Athletics by 13 games. Gehrig and Ruth combined for 75 homers and Yankee hitters batted .286. Under Manager Joe McCarthy, who was destined to become one of baseball’s most victorious managers, pitching superiority also became a Yankee hallmark. In 1932, with Lefty Gomez leading the Yankees staff with 24 wins, the Yankee mound corps led the AL in ERA with 3.98. Thus fortified, the versatile Yankees went on to sweep the Cubs in a legendary World Series matchup, highlighted by Ruth’s much-debated “called shot” homerun in the third game. And over the winter George Weiss was hired to build a Yankee farm system, a task which Weiss handled effectively. Within a few years the Yankee farm system laid the foundation for an awesome phase of Yankee domination. Meanwhile, the other AL teams enjoyed a brief respite, as the Yankees fell behind the front-running Senators and Tigers over the next three seasons. As age tolled on Yankee stars like Ruth, the Senators, now skippered by another young player-manager, shortstop Joe Cronin, defeated the Yankees by 7 games to win the 1933 pennant race.
New York Yankees 1932
League-leading hitting and sturdy pitching by Al Crowder and Earl Whitehill, who combined for 46 victories, carried the Senators, who went on to lose the World Series in five games to the Giants. Worse yet, in this rock-bottom Depression year, the Senators attracted only 437,000 home fans. Confronted with financial losses, owner Clark Griffith sold outfield star Goose Goslin to the Tigers. Goslin’s loss dashed the Senators’ hopes for 1934, and when the team slipped to the second division that year, Griffith sold Cronin-his son-in-law-to the Red Sox for $250,000.
As the Senators suffered, the Detroit Tigers prospered. In addition to landing Goslin in 1934, the Tigers also purchased catcher Mickey Cochrane from the Athletics. Installed as the Tigers’ player-manager, Cochrane headed a Tiger resurgence that saw the team rise from a fifth-place finish in 1933 to consecutive AL titles in 1934-1935. In 1934 Cochrane and Goslin teamed with Hank Greenberg and Charley Gehringer to spearhead a .300 team batting attack. What’s more, pitchers Schoolboy Rowe and Tommy Bridges combined for 46 wins as the Tigers defeated the Yankees by 7 games. The sprightly effort attracted 919,000 home fans, who watched Detroit land its first AL pennant since 1909. Unhappily for the fans, they also saw the Tigers extend their World Series losing streak to four as the Cardinals prevailed in a seven-game struggle. But in 1935 the Tigers repeated as AL champions, edging the runner-up Yankees by 3 games. Greenberg led the team’s .290 batting offensive by batting in 170 runs, and the purchase of Crowder from the Senators beefed up the team’s pitching staff. Although a late-season injury kept Greenberg out of action in the 1935 World Series, the Tigers downed the Cubs in five games. It was Detroit’s first World Series victory since 1887. But as it turned out, this victory was also the last World Series triumph by any AL team but the Yankees until 1945.
The second phase of Yankee domination over the AL began in 1936. The year before, Ruth’s departure had removed the club’s greatest drawing card, but this year young Joe DiMaggio appeared. Purchasing him from the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League for $25,000 and five other ballplayers, the Yankees were taking a chance that DiMaggio would be able to play effectively in spite of his injured knee. Indeed, he was, although the outfielder did prove to be injury-prone. But in 1936 the highly touted DiMaggio was an immediate sensation. In his freshman year he hit .323 with 29 homers and 125 RBI.
That year Gehrig’s 49 homers led the league and the Yankees batted .300 as a team with 182 homers. The Yankee assault lapped the runner-up Tigers by 19.5; games and in World Series action the Yankees downed the Giants in six games. It was the first of four consecutive World Series titles by the Bronx Bombers. During this record-setting streak, Weiss’ farm system provided a steady flow of talented replacements. Included were pitchers Spud Chandler, Steve Sundra, Marius Russo, and Atley Donald; outfielders Tommy Henrich and Charley Keller; and second baseman Joe Gordon. In 1937 the Yankees repeated by topping the Tigers by 13 games; in 1938 they beat out the beefed-up Red Sox by 9.5; games; and in 1939 the Red Sox trailed the all-conquering Yankees by 17 games. In each of these seasons the Yankees blasted at least 166 homers. And in World Series play their mastery of their NL rivals increased steadily; in 1937 the Giants fell in five games, and in 1938 and 1939 the Yankees swept the Cubs and the Reds. Landing four consecutive world titles was an unprecedented achievement, but such domination also kindled an enduring wave of anti-Yankee hostility among fans and rival teams. Mercifully for the rest of the AL contenders, a year’s respite from Yankee domination came in 1940. The year before, Lou Gehrig’s tragic illness ended the career of the great first baseman, whose “iron man” record of having played in 2,130 consecutive games still stands. In 1940 Gehrig’s absence was keenly felt, and it enabled the Tigers and Indians to battle the Yankees on even terms. Cleveland’s fireballing pitching ace, Bob Feller, won 27 games to lead his team’s assault, but tensions between the Indian players and manager Oscar Vitt adversely affected the team’s morale. Such tensions enabled the hard-hitting Tigers to close the gap. Batting a league-leading .286, the Tigers were paced by future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg; the big outfielder batted .340 with a league-leading 41 homers and 150 RBI. First baseman Rudy York weighed in with a .316 batting average, and his 33 homers and 134 RBI complemented Greenberg’s production. Second baseman Charley Gehringer, another destined Hall of Famer, batted .313 and drove in 81 runs, and outfielder Barney McCosky batted .340. To top it off, portly pitcher Bobo Newsom enjoyed a vintage season with a 21-5 record. In the last week of the season the Tigers deadlocked the Indians, and on the last day of the campaign the Tigers defeated the Indians to win the hotly contested race. In the decisive game, won by the Tigers 2-0, rookie Tiger pitcher Floyd Giebell outpitched the great Feller. Ironically it was Giebell’s last major league victory. But in World Series action the Tigers lost to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games.
|Joe DiMaggio’s restaurant|
Hard after that defeat, the gathering storm of World War Two dealt the Tigers a crushing blow. After playing 19 games of the 1941 season, slugger Greenberg was drafted into the Army. As the Tigers slumped, the Yankees rebounded and romped to a runaway 17-game victory over the second-place Red Sox. But this last peacetime AL campaign was fraught with memorable events. For one, by hitting safely in 56 consecutive games, Yankee outfielder Joe DiMaggio sparked the Yankee surge and established an enduring major league record.
For another, by batting .406 over the season, Boston outfielder Ted Williams became the last major league player to this day to top the .400 mark. And in the unforgettable World Series of 1941, by missing a third strike with two out in the ninth inning, thereby opening the floodgates for a game-winning Yankee rally in the fourth game, Dodger catcher Mickey Owen won enduring notoriety as the blamesake for the latest Yankee victory. The 1941 Series victory was the eighth straight by Yankee teams.
In 1942 the Yankees led the league in homers, fielding, and pitching to defeat the bridesmaid Red Sox by nine games. Yankee pitcher Ernie Bonham led all AL hurlers with a 21-5 mark, while Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams followed his brilliant 1941 season by notching a rare Triple Crown effort; Williams batted .356 with 36 homers and 137 RBI. However, Yankee hopes of extending their World Series winning streak came a cropper as the Cardinals downed the New Yorkers in five games.
But the resilient Yankees bounced back in 1943. League-leading slugging and pitching, the latter fronted by Spud Chandler’s 20-4, 1.64 ERA performance, carried the Yankees to a 13.5-game win over the Washington Senators. To top off the victory, in World Series action the Yankees scored an avenging victory over the Cardinals, who were beaten in five games.
In 1944 the military draft finally denuded the Yankees, who fell to third. As the Yankees sagged, the Browns and the Tigers battled for the top position, and the struggle ended with the St. Louis Browns winning their first and only AL pennant. In edging the Tigers by a single game, the Browns’ .252 team batting mark ranked near the bottom of the league. But stout pitching by Jack Kramer, Nelson Potter, and reliever George Caster, and shortstop Vern Stephens’ league-leading 109 RBI made the difference. Matched against their hometown rivals in World Series play, the Browns fell to the Cardinals in six games.
In the last wartime campaign, the 1945 Tigers eked a 1.5;-game victory over the Senators. Although the Tigers were outhit by five other teams, pitcher Hal Newhouser’s 25-9, 1.81 ERA pitching and slugger Greenberg’s timely return from military service sparked the Tigers. After missing four seasons of play, Greenberg returned to play in 78 games, during which he batted .311 and drove in 60 runs. In World Series play Greenberg’s .304 batting and his two homers led the Tigers to victory over the Cubs in seven games, in what has been described as “the worst World Series ever played.”
AUSTERITY CAMPAIGNS: THE NL, 1932-1945
Although offensively outclassed by the AL, the NL boasted the best pitching in these years. Indeed, pitching decided eight of the first ten NL campaigns of this era while also contributing to the senior circuit’s better competitive balance. Over the years 1932-1941 the NL campaigns featured nine close races with five different pennant winners. Thus the longest reign of any would-be dynasty was two years, a feat achieved by the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1932 the Chicago Cubs rose to the top of the NL and continued a quirky pattern, dating back to 1929, of winning a pennant every three years. In August the embattled Cubs replaced manager Rogers Hornsby with first baseman Charlie Grimm, a timely move that rallied the Cubs. Player-manager Grimm, in company with infielder Billy Herman and outfielders Riggs Stephenson and Johnny Moore, led the .278 team batting attack, while pitcher Lon Warneke (22-6) fronted the team’s league-leading pitching staff. The Cubs went on to defeat the Pirates by four games, but were swept by the Yankees in the World Series.
As the Cubs swooned in 1933, another player-manager, first baseman Bill Terry, led the Giants to their first NL pennant since 1924. They did it by scoring a five-game victory over the Pirates. Terry batted .322, and outfielder Mel Ott’s 23 homers keyed the Giants’ league-leading homer assault. The pitching staff, fronted by lefty Carl Hubbell’s 23 victories, was the league’s best. And in World Series action the Giants beat the Senators in five games.
The following year the Giants again boasted league-leading pitching, but the hard-hitting Cardinals overtook the New Yorkers in the final week to win by 2 games. Dubbed the “Gas House Gang,” these Cardinals symbolized the Depression austerities that affected the nation in this worst year of the economic hard times. The Cardinals drew only 325,000 home fans, but player-manager Frank Frisch, in company with Rip Collins, Ernie Orsatti, Joe Medwick, and Spud Davis, topped the .300 mark in batting to pace the team’s league-leading .288 batting effort. But the brightest star was pitcher Dizzy Dean, who won 30 games to become the last major league hurler to crack the 30-game barrier for over thirty years; moreover, Dean’s brother Paul won 19. In World Series play, the Cardinals rebounded from a 3-2 deficit in games to beat the Tigers.
The folksy Arkansas country boy Dizzy Dean won 28 games in 1935, but the Cubs trumped the Cardinal ace with their league-leading pitching staff. At the close of the campaign, the Cubs led the Cardinals by four games. Heading the Cub hurlers were Lon Warneke and Bill Lee, each a 20-game winner. Five Cub regulars topped the .300 mark, including infielders Stan Hack and Billy Herman, outfielders Frank Demaree and Augie Galan, and catcher Gabby Hartnett, to pace the team’s .288 batting offensive. And outfielder Chuck Klein, a timely acquisition from the moribund Phillies, powered 21 homers. But the Cubs were no match for the Tigers in World Series play; the Tigers defeated the Chicagoans in six games. Over the next two seasons, Cub hitters topped all NL teams in batting, but each time the team finished second behind the Giants.
Dominant pitching, paced by Carl Hubbell’s 26 wins and Ott’s league-leading 33 homers, led the 1936 Giants to a five-game win over the Cubs and Cardinals. In the second half of the campaign, many eyes were on lefty Hubbell, as the Giant hurler finished the season with 16 consecutive victories to threaten the record seasonal streak of 19 owned by Rube Marquard of the old Giants. Hubbell won the opener of the 1936 World Series, but the Yankees beat the lefty in the fourth game and went on to down the Giants in six games.
But postseasonal play was discounted, and Hubbell went on to add another eight victories in 1937. When the ace finally lost one on Memorial Day, his record (over two seasons) of 24 consecutive victories stood as the best by a major league pitcher. But more important to the Giants’ cause in 1937, Hubbell went on to win 22 games and rookie Cliff Melton won 20 as the Giants hung on to beat the runner-up Cubs by 3 games. It was the second straight conquest for the Giants, but in World Series action they again fell to the Yankees, this time losing in five games.
For a last time in 1938, the Cubs used their magical three-year formula to land the NL pennant. In an epic campaign that saw Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher Johnny Vander Meer pitch two consecutive no-hit games, and the front-running Pirates blow a big lead, the Cubs mounted a remarkable September surge to overhaul and topple the Pirates by 2 games. In a decisive game played in late September’s gathering darkness at Wrigley Field, player-manager Gabby Hartnett hit his legendary “homer in the gloaming” as part of a three-game Cub sweep of the Pirates. Although the Cubs batted only .269 that year, the team’s pitching staff was the best in the league. Nevertheless, the well-armed Cubs were swept by the Yankees in the 1938 World Series.
|Johnny Vander Meer|
As the punchless Cubs sank to fourth place in 1939, manager Bill McKechnie drove the Cincinnati Reds to their first NL pennant since 1919. Since that victory, the Reds had been remembered primarily for pioneering night baseball and for Johnny Vander Meer’s double no-hit feat. But recently the club had come under the ownership of radio tycoon Powel Crosley, whose player purchases were strengthening the team. Included were a prize pair of pitchers: Paul Derringer, who was purchased from the Cardinals, and Bucky Walters, who came via the Phillies. In 1939 this duo combined for 52 victories and headed the league’s best pitching staff. Supported by sturdy hitting from outfielder Ival Goodman, first baseman Frank McCormick, and catcher Ernie Lombardi, the Reds held off the Cardinals to win by 4.5; games. However, the Reds suffered the same fate as did the 1938 Cubs when the Yankees swept them in World Series.
Regrouping after this defeat, the Reds repeated in 1940 as they downed the rebuilt Dodgers by 12 games. For the winning Reds, mediocre hitting was overcome by league-leading pitching and fielding. And in the 1940 World Series it was the Reds who outlasted the Tigers in a seven-game struggle.
In the NL’s last peacetime campaign before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Reds fell behind the rising Dodgers and the perennially contending Cardinals. In a close race the Dodgers held on to win by 2.5 games over the Cardinals. In rebuilding the Dodgers, general manager Larry MacPhail persuaded the club’s banker trustees to bankroll the purchases of players from the Phillies and Cardinals.
From the Cardinals came pitcher Curt Davis, and outfielders Medwick and young Pete Reiser. Snagging Reiser from the Cardinals’ farm system was a real coup as he led the league in batting with a .34m/dark. From the Phillies, MacPhail obtained pitcher Kirby Higbe and first baseman Dolph Camilli; and in 1941 Camilli’s 34 homers and 120 RBI led the league. With additional acquisitions, the 1941 Dodgers fielded few home-grown players. Indeed, player-manager Leo Durocher was a former Cardinal hand. But the Dodger assemblage of mercenaries led the NL in pitching and homers and tied with the Cardinals in hitting. During the frenzied campaign, the Dodgers attracted a million home fans, most of whom mourned their “Bums” heart-breaking loss to the Yankees in the 1941 World Series.
As wartime exigencies riddled NL teams of playing talent, the Cardinals retained enough players to land three consecutive pennants over the years 1942-1944. Although Rickey left the Cardinals in 1942 to join the Dodgers as that team’s general manager, his efficient farm system fueled the Cardinals. In dominating the NL, the Cardinals won 316 games in these years, each time leading the league in hitting and pitching. Managed by Billy Southworth, the 1942 Cardinals needed 106 wins to edge the Dodgers by 2 games. The following year 105 victories enabled the Cardinals to romp to an 18-game win over the runner-up Reds. And in 1944 another 105 victories easily carried the Redbirds to a 14.5-game win over the second-place Pirates. In World Series play the Cardinals split with the Yankees, winning in five games in 1942 and losing by the same count in 1943. And in 1944 the Cardinals thrashed the Browns in six games. In these years young outfielder Stan Musial emerged as a superstar with the Cardinals, winning the first of what would be seven NL batting titles with a .357 mark in 1943.
It was the loss of Musial to military service in 1945 which helped the Cubs end the Cardinals’ pennant monopoly. League-leading batting, fronted by first baseman Phil Cavarretta’s major-league-leading .355 batting, and league-leading pitching carried the Cubs to a 3-game victory over the Cardinals. But the victory was soured by defeat at the hands of the Tigers in the 1945 World Series. Worse still, Cub fans to this day are still looking for another NL pennant.
THE CRISIS OF WORLD WAR II
The major leagues were recovering from Depression-imposed austerities when the nation’s entry into World War Two posed a second major crisis. From 1942 until the Allied victory in 1945, the nation’s total war effort sapped baseball’s manpower and threatened to curtail the 1945 playing season. Among the 12 million Americans summoned to military service during the war years were some 500 major league players and 3,500 minor leaguers. This talent drain shrank the minor leagues to nine circuits at one point, while only President Roosevelt’s “green light” enabled the major leagues to continue playing throughout the war years.
World Series 1942
That the major leagues continued playing the game in the face of wartime austerities owed to the resilience of its promoters and the continuing support of the fans. Although annual attendance fell from 10 million in 1941 to 8.8 million in 1942 and to a low point of 7.7 million in 1943, the numbers rebounded to 9 million in 1944 and then soared to a record 11.1 million in 1945. Indeed, baseball’s continuing popularity won the support of political figures like J. Edgar Hoover and Senator A.B. Chandler, who were convinced that the game was serving the war effort by boosting morale, both on the homefront and among the troops abroad.Nevertheless, it was no easy task keeping the game of baseball afloat amidst a total war effort. In these years owners were hard-pressed to find ways of coping with a variety of shortages. Among them, a crunching transportation and hotel accommodation shortage forced promoters to cancel spring training programs in the southlands. And in 1945 the same problems forced the cancellation of that year’s All-Star Game. Meanwhile a rubber shortage forced the major leagues to go with a dead “balata” ball (with a hard plastic at the core) in 1943, and all during the war a shortage of wood affected the quality of bats. Early in the war the threat of submarine attacks on coastal shipping also curtailed night games in East Coast centers, but by 1944 the restriction was lifted. Indeed, night games came to be welcomed by government officials, who regarded them as good recreation for defense workers.
But the worst shortage of all was in manpower. Indeed, never before nor since did the major leagues face a talent shortage of such proportions as occurred then. As draft boards denuded team rosters of able players, club officials scoured the land for draft rejects and other ineligibles; at this time, overage and underaged players were welcomed along with aliens. In questing after talented alien players, scouts turned up a mother lode in Latin America. Cuba turned out to be especially rich in prospects and at this time some fifty Cuban players were recruited. Indeed, at one point a young minor league promoter Bill Veeck, proposed to buy the sickly NL Phillies franchise and stock it with black players from the Negro Leagues. Landis nixed the proposal.For their part, owners needed stout hearts and a love of the game to keep going in the face of financial losses. In 1943 the majors lost $240,000, with the Cardinals and Tigers faring better than most other clubs. Hardest hit were the owners of the NL Phillies, who declared bankruptcy. The franchise was sold to the NL for $50,000, and after one abortive sale attempt NL officials sold the club to one of the DuPont Company heirs. Thus in the affluent hands of Bob Carpenter, this chronically weak NL franchise was soon revitalized.
World Series 1943
At this time each owner was obliged to do his bit for the war effort. In response, clubs staged war bond sales, admitted servicemen free of charge to games, and allowed radio broadcasts of games to be transmitted free of charge to military bases. Although costly, such gestures paid off by increasing baseball’s popularity. By 1944 the worst of the financial reverses caused by the war ended, and when the 1945 season returned overall profits of $1.2 million, it was apparent that major league baseball was once again on the upswing.Such was not the case for the players who took a financial beating in each of these years. A government edict of 1943, which was part of a general effort to halt inflation by stabilizing wages, froze player salaries. The salary freezes came at a time when player salaries, which averaged $6,400 in 1942, were already at a low point. When the freeze on salaries continued through 1946, it stirred strong unionist sentiments among grousing players that erupted in the first postwar season.
Other changes unleashed by the war forced far-reaching changes on major league baseball. Fair employment policies adopted by the federal government and by some states now threatened major league baseball’s long- established practice of racial segregation. Sensing the new trend toward racial integration, Branch Rickey in 1945 signed black major leaguer Jackie Robinson to a Dodger farm system contract. Rickey also sent his scouts in search of other promising talent in the black majors. This was a timely move because Judge Landis’ death in 1944 had removed a major stumbling block to the integration of the major leagues.
When the war ended in 1945 with a complete victory over the Axis powers, the prospects for major league baseball looked bright. But that year also brought news of the sale of the Yankees to a triumvirate of owners who paid $2.8 million for the club. And as it turned out, the postwar era would usher in yet another phase of Yankee domination.
BASEBALL’S POSTWAR ERA: 1946-1960
Victory in World War Two unleashed a host of pent-up changes which altered American society. Among the most welcomed was a steadily expanding economy which increased jobs, wages, and consumer spending.
Bolstered by such growth industries as housing, television, and automobile production, the tide of economic prosperity transformed the nation into an affluent society of dynamic abundance. Moreover, most Americans shared in the fruits of this abundance. With plenty of discretionary income, Americans spent ever-increasing amounts for leisure and recreational purposes. From a total of $11 billion spent in 1946 on such pursuits, such spending topped $18 billion by 1960. By then, the most popular leisure activity was television viewing, with nearly 80 percent of American households of 1960 boasting at least one TV set. And the number of American households increased sharply along with the nation’s booming population. A postwar marriage boom fueled a fifteen-year-long baby boom to add to the nation’s population growth. And in this era, millions of Americans forsook older cities for new suburban homes, a trend that sped the growth of new urban regions.
But postwar America was also faced with disturbing and controversial changes. At home, long-festering opposition to racial discrimination and segregation now saw black Americans using political action movements to batter away at sources of inequality.
Similarly, increased union activity by organized workers was aimed at securing bigger shares of the fruits of abundance. And on the international front, the nation found itself thrust into a role as defender of the free world against Communist expansion. At this time a mounting arms race with the Soviet Union had America and the Russians stockpiling nuclear weapons and extending their rivalry into space exploration. This international ideological struggle translated at home into increased federal spending for defense and space programs, a continuation of the military draft, and a pervasive fear of Communism which spilled over into political campaigns.
At this time most of these forces and others impacted upon major league baseball. For openers, the rising national prosperity boosted attendance and revenues, but shifting population centers now tempted some club owners to abandon old sites for greener pastures elsewhere. By 1958 five such franchise shifts had occurred. In 1953 the NL Braves became the first breakaway franchise when they abandoned their traditional Boston haunts for Milwaukee; in 1954 the penurious AL Browns departed St. Louis for Baltimore, and the following year the equally penurious AL Athletics moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City. Such moves were controversial, for they destroyed a long-standing, fifty-year-old status quo in major league baseball. But the biggest public uproar echoed from Brooklyn and New York City, when fans of the NL Dodgers and Giants saw these teams move to the West Coast, respectively to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Following upon those moves, a rival major league, the Continental League, threatened to plant teams in some abandoned cities, but mostly in new population centers that now hungered for major league baseball. The urgent need to defuse the Continental League threat and the lesser need to assuage bereft New York fans prompted major league owners to expand the major leagues at the end of this era.
Meanwhile, these breakaway franchise movements, while increasing major league attendance and revenues, were weakening the minor leagues by pre-empting some of the strongest minor league territories. At the same time attendance at minor league games was being undermined by the increasing radio and television broadcasts of major league games. For the minor leagues, such blows were crushers. From an all-time peak in 1949, when the minors fielded 59 leagues with over 7,800 players and attracted 40 million fans, the number of minor leagues steadily dwindled. By the early 1960s, the number of minor leagues had shrunk to nineteen, with fewer than 2,500 players and total annual attendance of less than 20 million fans. By then, major league owners were learning that there was a piper to pay; for the decline of the minors confronted the major leagues with a chronic, persistent problem of talent scarcity. To cope with the knotty talent shortage problem, major league clubs engaged in costly bidding wars for the services of promising young players.
And in addition to bidding for “bonus babies,” major league clubs recruited black players both at home and in Latin America. Since such moves failed to solve the problem of talent scarcity, by the end of this era the majors were challenged to find ways of subsidizing the surviving minor leagues, to prevent these vital nurseries of playing talent from drying up.
But baseball’s talent scarcity problem was also aggravated by the television revolution. As television producers soon learned that other sports attracted viewers, they took to subsidizing rival team sports such as professional football and basketball. As these and other sports gained in popularity, young athletes turned to them in increasing numbers. Indeed, at many schools and colleges baseball now ranked as a minor sport. But television bestowed blessings as well as problems upon baseball. In 1950 baseball telecasting provided $2.3 million in new revenues and by 1960 such annual income topped $12 million. As television income enhanced the value of major league franchises, its potential now became a major consideration in the relocation of franchises. For now, as at the present time, owners clung to the policy of negotiating their own local television contracts. But owners of this era worried over television’s impact on live attendance at games. In 1946 a record 18.1 million fans attended major league games and in 1948 rising annual attendance peaked at 21.3 million. Thereafter annual attendance sagged, falling below the 20 million mark during the 1950s. For this turnabout, some owners blamed television for making a free show of the games. But aging parks, located in congested and declining center cities whose populations were shifting to suburban areas, also accounted for the decline. In other ways television altered the game. The steadily increasing number of night games now transformed major league baseball into a primarily nocturnal spectacle , except at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Baseball on TV!
Night baseball was a trend encouraged by the televising of games as producers found night games to be more profitable. And by making celebrities of players, television triggered a rise in player salaries which would reach astonishing proportions in later years. Moreover, by scooping newspapers on the coverage of the outcome of games, television forced baseball writers to adopt a new, more probing style of baseball coverage. But such mixed blessings failed to deter owners of this era from reaping revenues from local and national television contracts. However, it is unlikely that any owner of this era could have envisioned a coming time when television revenue would exceed that of ticket sales at games. Nor could many owners at the dawn of this era envision the revolutionary impact of the racial integration of baseball.
Nevertheless, in 1947 major league baseball became a major front in the ongoing battle for racial equality. That year Branch Rickey’s “great experiment” introduced Jackie Robinson as the first known black player in this century to play in the major leagues. Playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers that year, Robinson endured a trying ordeal of acceptance, but he passed the test magnificently. A .297 batting average sparked a championship season for the Dodgers and won Robinson the Rookie of the Year honors. More important, his success paved the way for other black stars to follow in his footsteps. By 1958 some hundred black Americans and some eighty black Hispanics played in the major leagues, mostly with NL teams, where their feats helped to exalt the NL over the AL. In Robinson’s footsteps there followed such future Hall of Famers as Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Ernie Banks, and Roberto Clemente. However, the opening of doors into the white major leagues doomed the black major leagues to extinction. By 1950 the era of the great black majors was over. As for the white majors, the recruitment of black players only temporarily alleviated the growing talent shortage.
Meanwhile, the postwar surge in labor union activity in the nation at large was exerting its influence on the major leagues. In 1946 a mounting number of grievances against owners prompted major league players to organize under the newly formed American Baseball Guild. Headed by Boston attorney Robert Murphy, this fourth unionizing attempt by major league players now had players forming chapters on each team, electing player representatives, and demanding higher salaries, fringe benefits, and a pension plan. A strike threat that year was defused when owners conceded a minimum salary of $5,000, some fringe benefits, and a pension plan to be funded by national radio and television income. The latter concession was portentous; not only were owners committed to the pension principle, but an important precedent was set by giving players a share in national media revenue. Such concessions undercut the Guild, which soon died out. But when the owners attempted to abolish the pension system in 1953, player representatives from the sixteen clubs hired New York attorney J. Norman Lewis to represent their cause. Out of this crisis came the Major League Players Association; under Lewis’ leadership, the Association fought a successful battle to retain the pension system. But the Association languished after this struggle and late in this era came under the leadership of Robert Cannon, who ran the Association as a company union until 1966. Then, under Marvin Miller’s efficient leadership, the Association became a formidable collective-bargaining agency for the players.
Meanwhile, the Mexican League crisis of 1946 added to the growing tensions between players and owners. That year Mexican League promoters enticed a handful of major league players to jump to Mexican League teams with offers of high salaries. When Commissioner A.B. Chandler blacklisted the jumpers, one of them, Danny Gardella, sued in the federal courts. When a Circuit Court of Appeals found for Gardella, the threat to baseball’s reserve clause was serious enough to persuade the owners to settle the case out of court. Subsequently, congressional investigations into baseball’s monopolistic practices also threatened the reserve clause, but no legislation followed the work of Congressman Emmanuel Celler’s probings.
Nevertheless, by creating the Major League Players Association and by linking pension payments to national television revenues, the militant players of this era laid the groundwork for massive salary breakthroughs to be reaped by a future generation of players. But for now the players had to content themselves with salaries which at least topped those of their forebears. During the 1950s, 75 percent of player salaries ranged from $10,000 to $25,000 a season. However, three superstars , Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial , received annual salaries of $100,000 a season.
But if organized players showed signs of gaining wealth and power, the powers of baseball commissioners were waning. Indeed, when Landis died in 1944, it soon became apparent that the owners would not abide another powerful commissioner. Thus Landis’ successor, Commissioner Chandler, was denied a second term in 1951. For his part, Chandler blamed his assertive stance on such issues as his support of the pension plan, his opposition to Sunday night ball, and his defense of the rights of minor league players, for his ouster. Be that as it may, the flamboyant Chandler was replaced by Ford Frick, who served for fourteen years as the compliant tool of the owners.
At this time the changing ranks of club owners included a new breed of wealthy businessmen who deferred to powerful owners like Walter O’Malley of the Dodgers and Dan Topping of the Yankees. By wielding influence on the owners’ powerful executive committee, their powers far exceeded those of the commissioner.
Among the playing rule changes of this era, the 1950 recodification narrowed the strike zone and a 1954 rule permanently restored the sacrifice fly rule. Of important future significance was a 1959 rule which reacted to the designs of new, publicly financed ballparks in Milwaukee, Kansas City, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and which anticipated the coming new park-building boom. This rule ordained that parks constructed after 1959 must conform to minimum distances of 325 feet from home plate to the right and left field fences.
On the playing fields, improved fielding was attributed to bigger, more flexible gloves. And the homer production of this era owed much to players wielding lighter, more tapered bats, to the required use of protective headgear, and to the frequent replacement of balls. A team now used as many as 12,000 balls in a season. Offensively such changes resulted in unprecedented homer barrages, with NL hitters averaging more than 1,100 homers a season during the 1950s. What’s more, NL hitters regularly also bested AL batters in batting averages and stolen bases. Credit for this turnabout went to the greater number of black stars in the NL. Robinson became the first black star to win a Most Valuable Player Award, and after Robinson received that award in 1949, seven black stars, including sluggers Roy Campanella, Ernie Banks, and Willie Mays, won NL MVP awards in the 1950s. But the most celebrated stars of this era were DiMaggio, Williams, and Musial. DiMaggio retired after the 1951 season with a .325 lifetime batting average, while Williams and Musial starred throughout this era. When he retired in 1960, Williams, despite years lost for service in World War Two and the Korean conflict, owned a .344 lifetime batting average, six AL batting titles, 521 homers, and a pair of Triple Crowns. And when Musial retired in 1963, his credentials showed a .331 lifetime batting average, seven NL batting titles, and an NL record of 3,630 lifetime hits, evenly divided at home and on the road.
For the battered pitchers these postwar years were nightmarish. ERAs hovered around 4.00 in the NL and just below that seasonal mark in the AL. To cope with their batting tormentors, pitchers now relied more upon sliders and some clandestinely employed illegal deliveries like the spitball. Managers responded by deploying relief pitchers. At this time “short relievers,” capable of dousing late-inning rallies, now became valued specialists whose exploits were measured by saves and honored late in the era with annual “Fireman of the Year” awards. Among the best of this era’s “firemen” were Joe Page of the Yankees, Jim Konstanty of the Phillies, Roy Face of the Pirates, and the much-traveled Hoyt Wilhelm. Indeed, the knuckleball-throwing Wilhelm lasted twenty-one seasons. When he retired in 1972, he had appeared in 1,070 games, with 227 saves and a lifetime ERA of 2.52. But able starters were by no means extinct at this time.
Among the very best, lefty Warren Spahn of the Braves went on to win 20 or more games in a dozen seasons, and retired with 363 lifetime victories. To honor the outstanding pitchers of each season, in 1956 the annual Cy Young Award was instituted. The first recipient was Don Newcombe, the black pitching ace of the Brooklyn Dodgers. From 1956 through the 1966 season, only one award was given annually in the major leagues, but thereafter the best pitcher of the year in each league received a Cy Young Award.
POSTWAR CAMPAIGNS: THE AL, 1946-1960
In this era the AL lagged behind the NL both in offensive performance and in annual attendance. For this reversal of fortunes, some observers faulted AL owners for taking a back seat to their NL counterparts in the signing of black stars and in the occupation of such choice sites as Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the AL’s biggest problem was the overwhelming superiority of its own New York Yankees. By winning eleven of fifteen postwar-era campaigns, the Yankees made a mockery of the concept of competitive balance. Moreover, by their perennial dominance, the New Yorkers attracted the lion’s share of AL attendance, to the detriment of their overmatched competitors. Indeed, such was the magnitude of the Yankee oppression that after 1948 no AL team but the Yankees won a World Series until 1966. For their part, the Yankees won nine world titles, thus singlehandedly maintaining the AL’s domination in the annual test of strength between the two majors. Nevertheless, by the end of this era, the growing strength of the NL was evidenced by their team’s victories in three of the last five World Series encounters and by victories in nine of this era’s seventeen All Star Games.
But when each of the first three AL postwar campaigns produced a new champion, prospects for competitive balance looked bright. In 1946 the Boston Red Sox won their first AL pennant since 1918 to help foster this illusion. League-leading hitting by Red Sox batters, fronted by Ted Williams’ .342-38-123 stickwork, and 45 wins posted by pitchers Dave “Boo” Ferriss and Tex Hughson, boosted the Red Sox to 104 wins and a 12-game romp over the defending Detroit Tigers.
But after the Red Sox lost a hard-fought seven-game World Series battle at the hands of the Cardinals, another two decades would pass by before this club won another AL pennant.
As the Red Sox faded to third in 1947, the Yankees rebounded from a third-place finish to notch their first postwar pennant. DiMaggio batted .315 with 20 homers and 97 RBI to lead the team’s .271 batting assault. Besides leading the league in homers and batting, the Yankees also fielded the league’s best pitching staff; Allie Reynolds, newly acquired from Cleveland, won 19, and rookies Specs Shea and Vic Raschi combined for 21 wins. Reliever Joe Page won 14 and tied for league leadership in saves with 17. It was enough to carry manager Bucky Harris’ charges to a 12-game win over the second-place Tigers. Then, for a second time, the Yankees downed the Dodgers in World Series play.
The following year the Yankees, Red Sox, and Indians hooked up in a furious pennant struggle that ended in a tie between the Indians and Red Sox. To settle this first seasonal deadlock in AL history, the two teams played a sudden-death playoff game in Boston. By downing the Red Sox 8-3 in that game, Cleveland won the 1948 AL pennant and went on to beat the Boston Braves in the World Series.
League-leading team batting (.282), homer production (155), pitching, and fielding powered the Indians, whose home attendance of more than 2 million fans was unsurpassed in this era. Player-manager Lou Boudreau led the Indians with a .355 average; outfielder Dale Mitchell batted .336, and outfielder Larry Doby, who joined the team in 1947 as the first black player in the AL, hit .301. Pitchers Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, and Gene Bearden accounted for 59 victories, but the pitching staff got an important boost when owner Bill Veeck acquired the legendary and aging Satchel Paige from the black majors. Paige contributed 6 victories and a save to the team’s winning cause.
At this point the resurging Yankees dashed all hopes of continuing the league’s pattern of competitive balance. Regrouping under manager Casey Stengel, the Yankees snatched ten of the next twelve AL pennants, including a record five in a row beginning with the 1949 conquest. In the torrid 1949 race, the injury-ridden Yankees edged the Red Sox by a game. Needing a pair of victories to overtake and conquer the Red Sox, the Yankees hosted the Bostonians in the closing days of the campaign and won both games. Key performances included relief pitcher Joe Page’s 27 saves and 13 victories, and a .346-14-67 offensive effort by the ailing DiMaggio. Though he was sidelined much of the season by injuries, the Yankee Clipper’s heroics helped to offset Williams’ tremendous performance for the Red Sox. Williams’ .343 batting average was barely edged out by George Kell, and his 43 homers and 159 RBI led all rivals.
Over the next three seasons, the Yankees prevailed in three close races, edging the Tigers by 3 games in 1950, the Indians by 5 games in 1951, and the Indians by 2 games in 1952. Nor did they stop there. In winning for a fifth straight season in 1953, the Yankees enjoyed their only comfortable edge in their record skein as they downed the perennial bridesmaid Indians by 8.5; games. In winning a record five consecutive AL pennants, the great Yankee pitching triumvirate of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and lefty Ed Lopat combined for a sparkling 255-117 won-loss record. That victory total included two no-hitters pitched by Reynolds in the 1951 campaign. In 1950, future Hall of Famer Ed “Whitey” Ford joined the Yankee staff; Ford’s 9-1 pitching performance was a decisive factor in the team’s winning stretch drive of that season. Offensively, manager Stengel relied on star performers like DiMaggio and catcher Yogi Berra and successfully platooned such able hitters as outfielders Hank Bauer and Gene Woodling.
When age tolled on the great DiMaggio, who retired after the 1951 season, or when the Korean War military draft snagged young stars like Ford and Billy Martin, general manager George Weiss summoned rising stars like Mickey Mantle and Gil McDougald from the Yankee farm system. Shrewd trades by Weiss also landed key performers like Johnny Mize, pitcher Ed Lopat, and relief pitcher Bob Kuzava. In World Series action, the relentless Yankees captured five classics in a row. Three times, in 1949, 1952, and 1953, they toppled the Dodgers. In 1950 they swept the “Whiz Kid” Phillies, and in 1951 they defeated the “Miracle Giants” in six games. In two of these encounters, Kuzava’s relief pitching was a deciding factor. And at the pinnacle of their success in 1953, the Yankees could boast of having won their last seven World Series encounters.
The following year, the Yankees won 103 games, their best record under Stengel’s leadership, but manager Al Lopez’s Cleveland Indians won the 1954 pennant with an AL record-breaking 111 victories. Second baseman Bobby Avila’s .341 hitting won the league’s batting title, and Larry Doby’s league-leading 32 homers and 126 RBI headed the team’s league-leading 156 homer barrage. With a 2.78 ERA the team’s pitching staff was unmatched; the starting trio of Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, and Mike Garcia accounted for 65 victories. But like the 1906 Chicago Cubs, who lost the World Series of that year after winning a major league record 116 games, the Indians fell to the New York Giants, who swept to victory in the 1954 World Series.
The 1954 victory was also Cleveland’s last AL pennant to this day. What followed was another assertion of Yankee tyranny. Regrouping in 1955, the Yankees went on to win a string of four consecutive AL pennants. By this time most of the heroes of the 1949-1953 Yankees were gone. To replace the great pitching trio of Reynolds, Raschi, and Lopat, Weiss traded for pitchers Bob Turley and Don Larsen and summoned catcher Elston Howard, the first black player to wear a Yankee uniform, from the farm system. In a close race the 1955 Yankees edged the Indians by 3 games, with Berra winning his third MVP award for his latest offensive performance. Berra batted a workmanlike .272, and his 27 homers drove in 108 runs. Outfielder Mantle batted .306, and his league-leading 37 homers were accompanied by 99 RBI. And Ford’s 18 wins led AL hurlers. But in World Series action the Dodgers finally turned on their Yankee tormentors as they won the fall classic in seven games.
In 1956 Mantle’s Triple Crown performance (.353-52-130) and Ford’s 19 pitching victories paced the Yankees to an 8-game victory over the Indians. In the aftermath of that victory, the Yankees faced the Brooklyn Dodgers for a seventh and last subway World Series. The next time these two rivals met, the breakaway Dodgers would represent the West Coast city of Los Angeles. What followed was an epochal struggle which the Yankees won in seven games. But Larsen’s brilliant pitching in the fifth game stamped this World Series with the mark of immortality. With the Series tied at two games, Larsen pitched a perfect game; it was the first no-hitter in World Series history and the first perfect game pitched in the majors in over thirty years. But the stubborn Dodgers carried the Series another two games before succumbing.
|The Yanks – Champs Again|
Over the next two seasons the Yankees won two more AL pennants. In 1957 the Bronx Bombers wielded league-leading batting and pitching to down the runner-up White Sox by 8 games. Mantle’s .365-34-94 performance won the switch-hitting superstar another MVP Award. Rookie shortstop Tony Kubek’s .297 hitting won him Rookie of the Year honors, and rookie Tom Sturdivant’s 16 victories led the pitching staff. Nevertheless, the 1957 Yankees lost the World Series in seven games to the transplanted Milwaukee Braves. But the 1958 Yankees avenged that loss. Winning easily by 10 games over manager Al Lopez’s White Sox, the Yankees led the AL in team batting, homers, and pitching. Turley’s 21 victories led AL pitchers and Mantle’s 42 homers led the league’s sluggers. Then, in a rematch with the Braves, the gritty Yankees overcame a three-games-to-one deficit to win the 1958 World Series in seven games.
The following year slumping performances by Mantle and Turley contributed to the Yankee’s third-place finish. The collapse enabled perennial runner-up manager Al Lopez to drive his Chicago White Sox to a 5-game victory over the Indians. The White Sox batted a weak .250, but they led the league in stolen bases, fielding, and pitching. Veteran pitcher Early Wynn, a future Hall of Famer, notched 22 victories in his last great seasonal performance, and relievers Turk Lown and George Staley fronted the league’s best bullpen crew. But the White Sox lost the 1959 World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That fall the decision by AL owners to expand the league to ten teams in 1961 sounded the knell for the league’s hallowed eight-club format and 154-game seasons. As the postwar era ended with the 1960 campaign, the Yankees rebounded to win by 8 games over the Baltimore Orioles. Although soon to pass from the Yankee scene, general manager Weiss pulled off another canny deal by obtaining outfielder Roger Maris from the Kansas City Athletics. With Maris leading the league in RBI, and Mantle in homers, the well-armed Yankees faced the Pirates in the 1960 World Series. Yet despite a World Series record .338 team batting average, which produced three crushing victories over the Pirates, the Yankees lost the classic in seven games. Hard after this defeat, Weiss and manager Stengel were forced into retirement, although the pair soon surfaced in their familiar capacities with the NL’s expansion New York Mets.
Meanwhile, with the passing of the 1960 season, the AL prepared to enter the dawning era of expansion.
POSTWAR CAMPAIGNS: THE NL, 1946-1960
In this era much of the credit for boosting NL stock above that of the AL belonged to Branch Rickey and Walter O’Malley of the Dodgers. Dodger general manager Rickey built the superb farm system which fueled the Dodger dynasty, and it was Rickey too who successfully pulled off the coup of baseball’s racial integration. When Jackie Robinson made his successful debut in 1947, Rickey enjoyed a temporary corner on the market of black players whom his scouts recruited from the fading black majors and from Latin American countries. Moreover, when Dodger owner O’Malley engineered Rickey’s ouster in 1950, the aging genius joined the Pirates and laid the groundwork for that forlorn team’s rise to power. And as a final touch, it was Rickey’s presence among the would-be promoters of the rival Continental League movement in 1959 that goaded major league owners into expanding their circuit in order to deflect the threat.
But the 1957 West Coast move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants was O’Malley’s doing. Indeed, these moves stirred the Continental League movement. And it was O’Malley, the most powerful and influential owner of this era, who persuaded his colleagues to embark upon the expansionist course. Thus while Rickey and O’Malley plied different courses of action, these embattled rivals together forced major league baseball to adapt to a changing American society. But the rise of the Brooklyn Dodger dynasty in the NL of this era was mostly Rickey’s handiwork. And an effective piece of domination it was. Of the sixteen NL campaigns of this era, the Dodgers won seven and narrowly missed winning three others. And yet the Dodgers, who won only two world titles, were upstaged by an even greater Yankee dynasty. Nevertheless, the Dodgers lorded over other NL teams. In these years the Braves won three pennants and a World Series; the Giants won two pennants and a World Series; and the four one-time winners-the Cardinals, Phillies, Pirates, and Reds- accounted for two World Series victories. At least it made the NL a better- balanced circuit than the Yankee-dominated AL of this era.
As the NL’s postwar era unfolded, the outcomes of the first three campaigns produced an illusion of competitive balance similar to that in the AL. Here too the first three races produced three different winners. The 1946 race pitted the Dodgers against a Cardinal team which Rickey had assembled in his previous tenure at St. Louis. In a donnybrook race, the two teams finished the season in a dead heat.
To settle the issue of this first true deadlock in NL history, a best-of-three playoff series was set, which the Cardinals won by sweeping the first two games. Overall, the Cardinals used league- leading pitching, batting, and fielding to assert their superiority. Pitcher Howie Pollet’s league-leading 21 victories and 2.01 ERA led the pitching staff. And a pair of outfielders powered the Cardinal offensive: Musial’s .365 hitting won the league batting crown, and Enos Slaughter’s 130 RBI topped all others. In the World Series the Cardinals toppled the favored Red Sox in seven games.
As it turned out, St. Louis fans would have to wait another seventeen seasons before a Cardinal team again scaled the heights.
Meanwhile in 1947 attention of fans everywhere riveted upon the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson’s debut as the first black player of the century to play in the majors. When Commissioner Chandler suspended manager Leo Durocher, Burt Shotton took over the reins of the club and stationed Robinson at first base. Advised by Rickey to turn his cheek against racist slurs, which came mostly from the Cardinals and Phillies, Robinson responded stoically and successfully. His .297 batting that year won him NL Rookie of the Year honors, and his example opened the way for more black players to follow. With outfielders Pete Reiser and Dixie Walker topping the .300 mark at bat, and with pitcher Ralph Branca winning a league-leading 21 games and bullpen master Hugh Casey saving a league-leading 18 games, the Dodgers beat the Cardinals by 5 games. That year the Dodgers also had the satisfaction of seeing their hated rivals, the Giants, finish in fourth place despite a record 221-homer barrage. But in World Series play, another local rival, the Yankees, downed the Dodgers in a grueling seven-game struggle.
In 1948 the Dodgers slipped to third as ex-Cardinal manager Billy Southworth drove the Boston Braves to a 6.5;-game victory over his former Redbird team. It was Boston’s first NL pennant since 1914 and its last as a Beantown franchise. Boston’s pitching trio of Johnny Sain (whose 24 victories led all NL hurlers), Warren Spahn, and Vern Bickford fronted the NL’s most effective staff. And the team’s league-leading .275 batting attack was fronted by outfielder Tommy Holmes (.325), and by infielders Al Dark (.322) and Bob Elliott (100 RBI). But when the Braves met the Indians in World Series play, the Indians dispatched the Braves in five games. Landing the 1948 NL pennant was the last gasp of this faltering franchise, which five years later would move to more profitable pastures in Milwaukee.
As the Braves faded in 1949, the Dodgers asserted their dynastic power.
Over the next five seasons the Dodgers won three NL races and lost two others by heartbreakingly narrow margins. In 1949 Robinson’s league-leading .342 hitting helped the Dodgers eke a 1-game victory over the Cardinals. Joining the MVP Award-winning Robinson were black stars Roy Campanella, who batted .287, and pitcher Don Newcombe, whose 17 wins paced the staff. Outfielder Carl Furillo batted .322 and outfielder Duke Snider and first baseman Gil Hodges, who combined for 46 homers and 207 RBI, paced the team’s league- leading homer assault. But then, for a third time, the Dodgers bowed to the Yankees in the World Series.
In 1950 the Dodger “Boys of Summer” lost by 2 games to the Phillies’ “Whiz Kids.” Phillies’ ace Robin Roberts averted a possible deadlock by outpitching Newcombe on the final day of the season. With youngsters Roberts and Curt Simmons combining for 37 wins, and relief ace Jim Konstanty winning 16 and saving 22 for a Most Valuable Player Award performance, the Phillies boasted the league’s best pitching. At the plate the team was powered by Del Ennis, who drove in a league-leading 126 runs, and by young Richie Ashburn, who batted .303. But late in the season the team lost pitcher Simmons to the Korean War military draft. His absence tolled on the Phillies, who were swept by the Yankees in the World Series.
Over the winter of 1950, Dodger owner O’Malley forced Rickey out of his general manager post, but Rickey’s departure spared him the agonies of the Dodgers’ 1951 season. As the fateful campaign unfolded, the Dodgers soared to a 13.5;-game lead in early August. But in the September stretch, the “miracle” New York Giants rose to deadlock the Dodgers at the season’s end. In the unforgettable playoff series between these traditional rivals, the Giants rallied to win the decisive game on outfielder Bobby Thomson’s dramatic ninth-inning homer. In baseball folklore, Thomson’s winning blast is immortalized as “the shot heard round the world.” Indeed, it was a miraculous season as the Dodgers, paced by the hitting of Robinson and Campanella, led Giant hitters by 15 points. But black stars Monte Irvin (who batted .312-24-121) and rookie Willie Mays (who hit 20 homers) powered the Giants, who also got a .303 performance from team leader Al Dark and a .293 performance with 32 homers from the heroic Thomson. Moreover, Giant pitchers Sal Maglie and Larry Jansen each won 23 games, to pace the league-leading Giant pitching staff. However, the Giants’ celebrated “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” was tarnished by defeat at the hands of the Yankees in the 1951 World Series.
But at this point the snakebit Dodgers picked themselves up and went on to capture the next two NL pennants. In 1952 they outlasted the Giants by 4.5; games, and the following year they coasted to a 13-game win over the transplanted Milwaukee Braves.
In the hard-fought 1952 race the Giants suffered the loss of Mays to the military draft. It was a crushing blow for the Giants, but Dodger crushers led the league in homers. Snider, Hodges, and Campanella combined for 75, and this trio drove in nearly 300 runs. The pitching was shaky. Able starters Preacher Roe, Carl Erskine, and Billy Loes won 38 games, but reliever Joe Black made the difference. With a 15-4 record and 15 saves, Black enjoyed the best season of his brief career. The following year, Erskine picked up after the slumping Black and posted a 20-6 record to lead the staff. Behind him the mature Boys of Summer beat a hefty tattoo, leading the league in batting (.285) and homers (208). Rebounding from his previous year’s slump, Furillo batted .344 to lead the league, and Campanella’s .312-41-142 record won him another MVP Award. It added up to a two-year domination of the NL, but in World Series play the Dodger champs twice fell to their Yankee nemesis; in 1952 they lost the Series in seven games, and the following year they fell in six games.
|New York Giants, 1954|
Shortly after the 1953 Series loss, O’Malley picked the little-known Walter Alston to skipper the club. Although Alston would manage the team for twenty-three seasons, a longer skein than any of his managerial colleagues, his 1954 debut was inauspicious. That year the Dodgers lost to the Giants by 5 games. Offensively the Dodgers outbatted and outscored their rivals, but the Giants matched the Dodgers in homer production and fielded the league’s best pitching staff. Returning from military service, Willie Mays led the league in hitting with a .345 mark, and his 41 homers and 110 RBI firmly established his credentials as one of the leading stars of the decade.
That year also saw the ex-bonus baby Johnny Antonelli come into his own as a pitcher. His 21 victories and 2.30 ERA paced the Giant pitching staff, which was the league’s best. But the Giants were cast as underdogs in the World Series against the powerful Cleveland Indians. However, a sensational fielding play by outfielder Mays doused a promising Indian rally in the first game, and key pinch hits by “Dusty” Rhodes in each of the first three games triggered winning rallies. The result was a four-game sweep of the Indians.
But the Giant victory was also the team’s last as longtime residents of New York. Over the next two seasons, the battle-wise Dodgers rebounded to win another pair of back-to-back pennants. Each year it was the Braves who finished second; in 1955 the Dodgers lapped the Milwaukee Braves by 13.5; games, and the following year they held off their rivals by a single game. In 1955 outfielders Snider (.309-42- 136) and Furillo (.314), and catcher Campanella (.318-32-107) paced the offensive. For his heroics, Campanella won his third MVP Award of the decade. Newcombe’s 20 wins headed the dominant pitching staff. In the aftermath of the easy victory, the Dodgers also managed to defeat their Yankee tormentors for the first time as they won the 1955 World Series in seven games.
For the team’s fanatical followers, this was to be the first and only world title they would see flying over Ebbets Field. In 1956 the Dodgers repeated, but only by the narrowest margin. League-leading performances by pitcher Newcombe (27 wins) and Clem Labine (19 saves) and a league-leading 43 homers by Duke Snider were needed to atone for the team’s .258 batting. And in the aftermath of the grueling 1956 campaign, New York-area fans witnessed the last subway World Series matchup between the Yankees and Dodgers. Although the Dodgers won the first two games, they lost the Series in seven games. What’s more, this Dodger team became the victims of the first no-hit game in World Series history when Yankee hurler Don Larsen hurled his perfect game in the fifth game.
As owner O’Malley laid plans for his team’s postseasonal move to Los Angeles in 1957, his Dodger team fell to third. The following season, the team’s first in Los Angeles, they fell further, to seventh place. In these years there was no stopping the well-balanced Milwaukee Braves. As the first breakaway franchise to win a major league pennant in this century, the 1957 Braves attracted over 2 million home fans, who saw the team down the Cardinals by 8 games. Outfielder Hank Aaron’s 44 homers and 132 RBI led the league’s hitters, and veteran pitcher Spahn’s 21 wins led the league’s pitchers. Third baseman Ed Mathews supplied additional power with 32 homers and 94 RBI, and starting pitchers Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl combined for 35 victories. Then in World Series play the underdog Braves treated their fans to Milwaukee’s only world title to this date by downing the Yankees in seven games. The following year the Braves repeated, scoring an 8-game victory over the rising Pirates. Spahn’s 22 victories again led NL hurlers and Burdette added 20 victories. At the bat Aaron showed the way with .326-30-95 hitting, with Mathews adding 31 homers and first baseman Frank Torre batting .309. But in a World Series rematch with the Yankees, the Braves blew a commanding three-games-to-one lead, and the avenging Yankees won in seven games. To the Yankees went the honor of becoming the first team in over thirty years to rebound from such a deficit in World Series play.
As the decade of the fifties drew to a close, the transplanted Los Angeles Dodgers recovered from their seventh-place finish of 1958 to end the Braves’ two-year reign. In a brilliant September stretch drive, the Dodgers won thirteen of fourteen games to deadlock the Braves at the end of the campaign. And for a change the Dodgers won the playoff series by sweeping the Braves in two games to claim the NL pennant. The Braves outhit, outhomered, and outpitched the Dodgers, but the Dodgers led the league in fielding, and outfielders Duke Snider (.308-23-88) and Wally Moon (.302-19-74) supplied power enough, and the bullpen saved 26 games. In World Series action against the White Sox, the Dodgers won in six games. The Dodgers’ victories included a sweep of its three home games, which were played at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where a record 270,000 fans jammed the converted football stadium to witness the triumphs.
But the Dodgers fell to fourth in 1960 as the Pirates, a team constructed by Rickey, beat the Braves by 7 games. Manager Danny Murtaugh’s “Bucs” batted a league-leading .276; shortstop Dick Groat’s .325 batting led the NL hitters, and future Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente batted .314. Vern Law’s 20 pitching victories led the starters, but reliever Roy Face was the bellwether of the staff. Face appeared in a league-leading 68 games, won 10 and saved 24, and posted an ERA of 2.90. In World Series play the Pirates were thrice battered by the Yankees, but they won the 1960 classic in seven games. Second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s tenth-inning homer in the finale at Forbes Field secured Pittsburgh’s first world title in thirty-five years.
|World Series, 1959|
The AL had already expanded to ten teams in 1961, when the NL played its last season under the traditional eight-club format with its hallowed 154-game schedule. In a close race the 1961 Cincinnati Reds edged the Dodgers by 4 games. Stout pitching, paced by starters Joey Jay, whose 21 wins led NL pitchers, and Jim O’Toole (19 wins), and 40 saves by the relief corps headed by Jim Brosnan and Bill Henry, carried the team. At bat the Reds batted .270, with outfielders Frank Robinson (.323-37-124) and Vada Pinson (.343-16-87) powering the attack. But when the Reds met the Yankees in World Series play, they succumbed in five games.
THE EXPANSION ERA: 1961-1968
In this turbulent decade of American history, major league baseball’s tradition-breaking expansion ranked as one of the lesser social disturbances. A time of massive social unrest, the strident sixties saw most established institutions targeted by would-be reformers. Sparking the fires of unrest were the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, the great black civil rights leader. In the wake of these tragedies came storms of protest demonstrations supportive of increased freedom for individuals and for oppressed minorities. But as the decade wore on, the major focus of the protests centered on the nation’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
This country’s latest struggle against the spread of international Communism began in the mid-1960s and lasted until 1973. An unpopular war, the Vietnam involvement consumed over 50,000 American soldiers’ lives, polarized the nation into factions embattled over the morality of the war, and ended in a political and military defeat. Moreover, the violent protests against the war spilled over into other social institutions. Thus demonstrations and protest movements by black Americans aimed at securing civil rights and economic betterment erupted at times into urban riots. And among other discontented minorities, many women organized into protest movements and demanded economic and political equality. At this time the widespread consciousness-raising appealed to many Americans, who supported such slogans as “Freedom Now” and affected new lifestyles in social relations, speech, clothing, and hairstyles. And by the end of the decade such supporters included numbers of major league ballplayers, who sought relief from long-established paternal controls imposed upon them by baseball law and custom.
Meanwhile, other forces of change were reshaping the nation and its national game. In this decade the nation’s population soared past 200 million, with nearly half that number concentrated in some thirteen sprawling urban regions. Thus even as major league owners embarked upon an initial expansion course in 1960-1961, these new demographics portended further expansion of the two leagues along with the possible relocation of teams now situated in deteriorating urban areas.
Nevertheless, amidst all the disturbing changes the nation’s economy continued to prosper. Although they were sapped by continuing inflation, the average wages of all workers rose to an annual figure of $8,000 by the end of the decade. As a result, annual spending for recreation rose to $18 billion, with television viewing continuing to reign as the most popular leisure outlet.
The continuing popularity of televised sports programs, now shown in color with ever-improving visual effects, was a boon to professional sports. While baseball profited from this popular medium, so did half a dozen rival sports. Among these, professional football expanded rapidly under the impetus of hefty national TV contracts which clubowners shared equally. By occupying most of the major urban regions, pro football now threatened baseball’s pre-eminent position among the nation’s favorite team sports. Indeed, in 1967 professional football’s Super Bowl outscored the World Series in television ratings.
In stark contrast to pro football’s bold expansionist course was major league baseball’s limited expansion movement of these years.
Baseball’s initial expansion took place over the years 1961-1962 and was primarily an attempt to undercut the threat of the rival Continental League. Under this expansion, each major league added two teams and upped its seasonal playing schedule to 162. A significant departure, the addition of eight more games to playing schedules would drastically affect statistical comparisons of seasonal performances. Moreover, each new franchise owner paid $2 million, which was divided among the eight established clubs of each major league, and also participated in an expansion draft, which was used to enable the owners to stock their teams with players. But since established teams were permitted to withhold their best twenty-five players from the pool of eligibles, the new owners were forced to purchase unprotected cullings.
Under these procedures, the AL took the first expansion plunge in 1961. That year the AL added the Los Angeles Angels and a new edition of the Washington Senators. At the request of owner Cal Griffith, the original Senators relocated to Bloomington, Minnesota, where they became the Minnesota Twins. The furor evoked by that breakaway move forced AL owners to admit the new Washington Senators. It was an unwise move, as the franchise languished under weak ownership and poor attendance. In 1972 the Senators moved to Arlington, Texas, where they fared better as the Texas Rangers. Nor did the AL Angels fare well in Los Angeles, where they were upstaged by O’Malley’s Dodgers. However, this well-financed team found prosperity when it was moved to nearby Anaheim in 1965.
For its part the NL did better under its 1962 expansion. That year the NL occupied Houston, where the Colt .45s occupied temporary quarters while awaiting the construction of their new all-weather indoor Astrodome Stadium. When the Astrodome opened in 1965, this expansion team took on a new identity as the Houston Astros. Meanwhile, as part of a deal which allowed the AL to occupy the Los Angeles territory, the NL reoccupied the New York area by admitting the New York Mets. Although the Mets lost 120 games in their first season of play, the team was generously supported by suffering fans, who rejoiced in the return of NL baseball to the Gotham area. After playing its first two seasons in the old Polo Grounds, the Mets moved into newly built Shea Stadium, located in Queens.
Thus did the major leagues move into their first phase of expansion. But each passing season underscored the inadequacy of the ten-club format. Like the twelve-club NL of the 1890s, the ten-club array of the 1960s produced too many losers each season. Annual attendance was disappointing. By 1968, overall major league attendance topped that of 1960 by only 3 million admissions. And added to the problems of this phase of expansion were two controversial franchise shifts. In 1966 the NL’s Milwaukee Braves abandoned that city for Atlanta, and in 1968 the AL’s Athletics departed Kansas City for Oakland, California, where they poached upon the territory of the NL Giants. Each of these breakaway moves aroused protests from fans of the abandoned sites, and each prompted lawsuits which affected future expansion moves.
Meanwhile major league teams continued to face a growing shortage of playing talent. At most schools and colleges, where baseball now ranked as a minor sport, scouts complained that major sports like football and basketball were getting the best athletes. With the minor leagues shrinking alarmingly, major league owners in 1962 adopted a remedial Player Development Plan. Under this scheme, the minor leagues were reclassified, and each major league team agreed to subsidize at least five minor league teams. And to equitably distribute the limited supply of young prospects, the majors in 1965 adopted the radical plan of an annual free agent (rookie) draft. Under its provisions, each major league club in turn picked from a nationwide pool of high school and college prospects. Thus except for prospecting in foreign countries, the annual rookie draft ended the long and colorful era of free-enterprise scouting in America.
Along with the prevailing national mood of liberation for oppressed groups, the chronic player shortage helped to kindle reformist sentiments among this generation of major league players. More pampered and better trained, doctored, and defended than past generations of players, players of this decade demanded improved salaries, pensions, and working conditions. In these years player disdain for traditional authority was rife, and this was candidly spelled out in revelatory books, including bestsellers authored by pitchers Jim Brosnan and Jim Bouton. And in a precedent-shattering move in 1966, Dodger pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, acting on the advice of a lawyer, staged a successful joint holdout for hefty salary increases. That same year, player representatives strengthened the moribund Major League Players Association (MLPA) by successfully engineering the election of Marvin Miller, an experienced labor negotiator, to serve as the Association’s executive director. Landing Miller proved to be a master stroke for the players’ cause. By rallying the players and by invoking federal labor relations laws, Miller forced the clubowners to recognize and to bargain collectively with the MLPA. During his seventeen years as executive director, Miller negotiated five Basic Agreements, or labor contracts, which wrung from owners unprecedented concessions and benefits.
The Basic Agreements of 1966 and 1969 increased pension benefits and raised minimum salaries along with other gains. Thus by 1970 average player salaries, which totaled $17,000 in 1965, rose to $25,000. At the same time some twenty players were being paid annual salaries of at least $100,000 a year. But Miller’s greatest coup of this decade was to win the solid support of major league players behind the MLPA. And by the end of this decade, major league umpires also won recognition and bargaining rights under their newly formed Major League Umpires Association.
Among the deserving recipients of increasing salaries were the growing numbers of black players in major league uniforms. By the end of the sixties, well over a hundred black Americans and scores of Latin Americans were playing in the majors. What’s more, their offensive production made a reality of the prevailing Afro-American protest slogan that “black is beautiful.” In these years black hitters dominated major league offenses. In the NL, black stars won seven homer titles, as many MVP awards, and six batting titles. And in the AL, blacks won three batting titles and three MVP awards. Among the reigning black superstars, Willie Mays of the Giants was voted Player of the Decade by The Sporting News; indeed, Mays posted a remote threat to overtake Ruth’s lifetime homer mark. At the end of his career, Mays had powered 660 homers. But by the end of the decade more observers were touting Braves’ outfielder Hank Aaron’s chances of bettering Ruth. Meanwhile at this time, Frank Robinson became the first player to win an MVP Award in each major league, and outfielder Roberto Clemente of the Pirates won three NL batting titles.
Sparkling alongside such stars were white prodigies like Roger Maris, who blasted 61 homers in 162 games in 1961, to set a new seasonal mark for homer production; or Carl Yastrzemski, who won an AL Triple Crown; or Pete Rose, who broke in as a rookie in 1963 with the Cincinnati Reds and would later break Cobb’s lifetime total of 4,191 hits.
Indeed, such offensive performances occurred despite the hitting famine caused by the dominant pitchers of this era. Abetting the hitting famine was the rule that expanded the strike zone for the 1963 season. But improved coaching techniques, improved gloves and defensive strategies, and, above all, the astute deployment of specialized relief pitchers tolled on hitters of the era. As a result, pitching ERAs averaged 3.30 in this era, and in 1968, the notorious “year of the pitcher,” hurlers combined to produce an overall ERA of 2.98, which was the lowest earned run mark in nearly forty years. Not surprisingly, the impact of such virtuosity on hitting was traumatic. In 1967 major league hitters averaged .242, and in 1968 batting bottomed to a nadir of .237. It was that puny mark which prompted remedial action by the rules committee, whose members voted to narrow strike zones and lower pitching mounds for the 1969 season. Such medicine broke the hitting famine, but while it lasted star pitchers made the most of their skills. In 1968 Cardinal ace Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA and fanned a record 35 batters in three appearances in the World Series that fall. That same year, Denny McLain of the Tigers became the first hurler in over thirty years to break the 30-game victory barrier with a 31-6 performance; and Don Drysdale of the Dodgers posted a record 58 consecutive shutout innings. Moreover, in this decade fifteen pitchers would go on to join the ranks of the twenty all-time strikeout leaders.
However, many observers blamed the dominant pitching for lowering seasonal attendance marks in these years. From a record of 15 million in 1966, NL attendance slipped to 11.7 million in 1968, “the year of the pitcher.” Nevertheless, annual NL attendance consistently bettered that of the AL; overall NL attendance of this era topped that of the AL by 16 million admissions. But a major factor accounting for NL attendance strength was the greater number of new ballparks in the senior circuit. In this decade, seven of the ten newly constructed parks were occupied by NL teams. Of these, nine were publicly financed, but the privately financed Dodger Stadium now attracted the lion’s share of NL attendance.
But rising television revenues dispelled some of the anxieties over falling attendance. By 1967, revenues from local and national television contracts rose to $25 million, with no sign of abating. On the other hand, by urging more night games, by raising the value of major league franchises, by making celebrities of players, and by the presence of television entrepreneurs in the ranks of club owners, television was reshaping the game. To some alarmists, television’s influence was menacing. In 1964 the sale of the Yankees to the powerful CBS Network fed fears of excessive television influence. However, such fears were allayed by the declining fortunes of the Yankees under CBS management and by the 1973 resale of the team to private interests.
CAMPAIGNS OF THE ’60S: THE AL, 1961-1968
By first expanding to ten teams in 1961, the AL led the NL both in attendance and in hitting. But when the NL followed suit in 1962, the AL was annually worsted in both categories. And when the hitting famine ravaged the major leagues late in this era, except for their leadership in homer hitting, AL batters suffered more.
To add to AL woes, the Yankees continued to monopolize pennants and overall attendance. Four more victories over the years 1961-1964 extended the Yankees’ latest consecutive string of pennants to five, during which time the New Yorkers attracted 40 percent of the league’s attendance. However, the latest Yankee surge was marred by losses in their last two World Series appearances. And in the wake of their loss to the Cardinals in the 1964 World Series, the Yankees collapsed suddenly and ignominiously.
Thereafter, another twelve seasons would pass before a Yankee team again rose to the top of the league. But if rival clubs welcomed the tyrant’s fall, they also discovered the draining impact of a weakened Yankee club on AL attendance.
In the AL’s first expansion campaign, the 1961 Yankees powered their way to an 8-game win over the Tigers. With Roger Maris bashing a new seasonal record of 61 homers and Mantle poling 54, the Yankees unleashed a record seasonal team barrage of 240 homers. Maris also led the league in RBI with 142, and Mantle knocked in 128. Ace pitcher Whitey Ford’s 25 victories led the league’s hurlers and reliever Luis Arroyo’s 29 saves was tops in the league. While some observers blamed the Yankee power explosion on the expansion draft, which supposedly weakened pitching staffs around the league, the Yankees had no trouble downing the NL champion Reds in six games in the 1961 World Series.
In 1962 the Yankees won again, beating the Twins by 5 games.
League-leading .267 batting and pitcher Ralph Terry’s league-leading 23 victories spearheaded the attack. The switch-hitting Mantle’s .321 batting topped the team, but this time around the Maris-Mantle slugging combination tailed off to a more modest 63 homers and 189 RBI. Then, in a seven-game struggle that was drawn out by unprecedented rain delays, the Yankees defeated the Giants in the 1962 World Series. In the dramatic final game, Terry pitched a 1-0 shutout, but second baseman Bobby Richardson gloved a screaming liner by Giant slugger Willie McCovey to save the Yankee victory. In retrospect the Yankee glory years ended with the 1962 victory. With Mantle sidelined much of the 1963 season, the Yankees batted only .252, but still romped to an easy 10.5-game victory over the hard-hitting Twins. Superb pitching by Ford (whose 24 wins led the league) and by Bouton (who won 21 games) sparked the drive. But in World Series play the Yankees were swept by the Dodgers. Still, the Yankees mounted one last winning effort in 1964. Rallying from six games back in the late going, the team overtook the White Sox and Orioles to win by 1 game over the White Sox. Mantle’s last great batting effort (.303-35-111) powered the team, and Ford, Bouton, and Al Downing combined for 48 pitching victories. But it took a nine-game winning streak in September, highlighted by the pitching of rookie Mel Stottlemyre, to turn the trick. However, the Yankees again fell in World Series play, this time losing to the Cardinals in seven games.
In the wake of that loss, like the wonderful one-hoss shay, the aging Yankees collapsed “all at once and nothing first.” In 1965 the team sank to sixth place and in 1966 they finished last. The suddenness of the team’s collapse was reflected in AL attendance figures; in 1965 AL attendance lagged 5 million behind that of the NL. Into the breach left by the faltering Yankees rushed other contenders, but no team held the heights for more than a single season. First to reach the top were the Minnesota Twins, who won the 1965 race by 7 games over the White Sox. Outfielder Tony Oliva topped all hitters with .321 batting and paced the team’s league-leading .254 hitting. Aging slugger and future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew hit 25 homers. Pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant’s 21 wins led all pitchers; Jim Kaat won 18, and reliever Al Worthington won 10 and saved 21. But for a third consecutive time the NL prevailed in World Series action, as the Twins lost to the Dodgers in seven games.
The AL ended its string of World Series losses in 1966, and with this victory the league’s teams weaned themselves of Yankee dependence.
Indeed, over the preceding eighteen seasons no AL team but the Yankees had won a world title. In exorcising that bugaboo, the Baltimore Orioles began by dispatching the Twins by 9 games. Outfielder Frank Robinson keyed the team’s .258 batting assault with league-leading .316-49-122 hitting. The performance won Robinson a Triple Crown and placed him in the records as the first player ever to win an MVP Award in both major leagues. Infielders Brooks Robinson and John “Boog” Powell combined to drive in 209 runs, and the Oriole bullpen corps saved 51 games to make life easier for the young starting pitchers. But in the 1966 World Series three of these pitching prodigies, Jim Palmer, Wally Bunker, and Steve Barber, hurled consecutive shutouts as the Orioles swept the favored Dodgers.
The rising Orioles were destined to become the AL’s winningest team of the next 20 years, but in 1967 they slumped to sixth place, which opened the door of opportunity to yet another contender. In a close race the Boston Red Sox won their first pennant since 1946 by edging the Tigers by a game. In winning the Red Sox overcame the loss of promising young outfielder Tony Conigliaro, who suffered a career-threatening beaning; at the time of his accident, Conigliaro had 20 homers and 67 RBI. But future Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski won a Triple Crown on .326-44-121 batting to front the team’s league leadership in batting (.255) and homers (158). Pitcher Jim Lonborg’s 22 wins led the league and reliever John Wyatt saved 20 games. But like their forebears of 1946, the 1967 Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series encounter.
In the last year of the ten-club format, the AL race produced the weakest seasonal hitting of this century. As the Red Sox faded, the Detroit Tigers won by 12 games over the reviving Orioles. Although batting a mere .235 as a team, the Tigers led the league in homers, paced by outfielder Willie Horton, who slugged 36. And considering that the best hitting team in the league that year, the Oakland Athletics, batted .240, the Tigers’ offensive was proportionately respectable. Moreover, the Tigers boasted pitcher Denny McLain, who won 31 games and lost 6 with a 1.96 ERA. Matched against the Cardinals in the 1968 World Series, the Tigers lost three of the first four games. But pitcher Mickey Lolich won two of the next three, to spark the Tigers to a dramatic comeback victory. It was Detroit’s first world title since the war year of 1945.
As the year of 1968 ended, the owners voted to join with the NL in expanding the circuit to twelve teams beginning in 1969. Mercifully for beleaguered batters, the owners also accepted a rules committee proposal to penalize pitchers. Thenceforth in both major leagues the strike zone would be narrowed and pitching mounds would be lowered.
CAMPAIGNS OF THE ’60S: 1961-1968
Although the NL expanded a year after the AL took the first step, the senior circuit was quick to reassert its offensive superiority. In its brief seven-season span as a ten-team circuit, the NL won four of the seven World Series encounters and seven of eight All-Star Games. Moreover, in six of the seven seasons NL batters topped AL batters in hitting and in stolen bases. And although the AL was better-balanced competitively in this era, as the Dodgers and Cardinals were monopolizing six of the seven NL races, attendance at NL games far surpassed AL attendance.
In 1962 the NL opened its first season as an expanded circuit, with most teams drained of their reserve strength by the expansion draft. In the ensuing campaign, the Dodgers and Giants staged a torrid race.
But a late September losing streak by the Dodgers enabled the Giants to draw even at the close of the playing season. To settle the issue, the fourth postseason playoff in NL history was scheduled, with the Dodgers astonishingly involved in all of them. And when Dodger relief pitchers blew a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning of the decisive third game, the Dodgers lost a playoff for the third time. For their part, the Dodgers were led that season by pitcher Don Drysdale, whose 25 wins led all pitchers, and by outfielder Tommy Davis, whose .346 batting and 153 RBI led all NL hitters. But the hard-hitting Giants led the league in batting (.278) and in homers (204). Superstar Willie Mays led the Giant attack with .304 batting, 141 RBI, and a league-leading 49 homers. Fellow outfielders Felipe Alou and Harvey Kuenn topped the .300 mark, and first baseman Orlando Cepeda weighed in with .306 batting, 35 homers, and 114 RBI. Pitcher Jack Sanford won 24 games, and Juan Marichal and Billy O’Dell combined for 37, while reliever Stu Miller saved 19. However, the Giants lost a seven-game World Series duel to the Yankees.
Thereafter the Dodgers and Cardinals divided the remaining six NL championships of this era. In 1963 the Dodgers won by 6 games over the Cardinals. The team batted a modest .251, but Tommy Davis batted .326 to notch his second straight NL batting title, and shortstop Maury Wills batted .302 and led the league in stolen bases with 40. What really counted was the pitching, as the staff’s 2.85 ERA was the league’s best. That year lefty Sandy Koufax began a four-year skein of mastery that would propel him into the Hall of Fame. The ace’s 25 wins and 1.88 ERA topped all hurlers, and reliever Ron Perranoski’s 21 saves was the league’s second best mark. In the 1963 World Series, the team’s dominant pitching limited Yankee batters to a .171 batting average as the Dodgers swept to victory.
Dodger pitching again topped the league in 1964, with Koufax winning 19 and leading all hurlers with a 1.74 ERA, but poor hitting consigned Alston’s men to sixth place. In a hotly contested five-team race, the Phillies led the pack by 6.5 games with 12 games remaining on the schedule. But ten consecutive losses dropped the Phillies into a second-place tie with the Reds. The Phillies’ swoon opened the gate for the Cardinals, who won 28 of their last 30 games. This brilliant stretch drive enabled the Redbirds to eke a one-game victory over the Phillies and Reds. The Cardinals’ league-leading .272 batting made the difference. Infielders Bill White and Ken Boyer combined for 45 homers and 221 RBI, and outfielder Curt Flood batted .311. But the timely acquisition of outfielder Lou Brock from the Cubs was decisive.
Brock batted .348 in 103 games for the Cardinals and his 43 stolen bases ranked just behind Wills’ total. And starting pitchers Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki, and Curt Simmons combined to win 57 games. Yet so unexpected was the Cardinal victory that team manager Johnny Keane had signed a midseason pact to manage the Yankees the following year. The situation raised eyebrows when the Cardinals squared off against the Yankees in the 1964 World Series, but lame-duck Keane led the Cardinals to a seven-game victory over the Yankees.
In the wake of Keane’s departure, the 1965 Cardinals dropped to seventh place. Into the power vacuum rushed the Dodgers, who gained the high ground and held it for two seasons against determined opposition from the Giants. Each Dodger victory was a near thing; in 1965 the Dodgers edged the Giants by 2 games, and the following year by 1.5. In winning the 1965 pennant, the Dodgers batted a skimpy .245, with nary a .300 hitter in the regular lineup. But once again the Dodger pitching was superb; lefty Koufax won 26 on a 2.04 ERA, to top all NL hurlers, and Don Drysdale added 23 wins. And it was Koufax’s shutout pitching in the seventh game of the World Series which led the team to victory over the Twins.
Over the winter Koufax and Drysdale staged an unprecedented joint holdout for salaries that were commensurate with their worth to the team. The two aces won salaries in the $100,000 range although these were grudgingly granted by owner O’Malley. But with Dodger home attendance topping the 2 million mark for the past eight seasons, such salaries were affordable. And in the case of Koufax, it was money well spent. In the close race of 1966 the lefty won 27 games with a 1.73 ERA, both league-leading figures. Drysdale slipped to 13-16, but reliever Phil “the Vulture” Regan saved 21 games. Such heroics were needed as the team batted only .256 with only Tommy Davis, in limited duty, topping the .300 mark. And in the 1966 World Series, the team’s poor batting tolled as they were swept by the Orioles.
At the close of the 1966 campaign, the chronic arthritis in Koufax’s pitching arm forced the ace to retire at the peak of his career. Thus disarmed, the weak-hitting Dodgers fell from contention. Not so the Cardinals, who perched atop the NL for the next two seasons as they twice drubbed the perennial bridesmaid Giants. In 1967 the Cardinals won by 10.5 games, and in 1968 they won by 9. With Gibson sidelined for much of the 1967 season, the Cardinal bullpen responded by leading the league in saves. At bat the Cardinals hit .263, with Flood batting .335 and first baseman Orlando Cepeda batting .325 and driving in a league-leading 111 runs. Outfielder Lou Brock weighed in with .299 batting, and his 52 stolen bases led the league. In the 1967 World Series, Brock’s .414 batting and seven stolen bases, and Gibson’s three pitching wins and 26 strikeouts, highlighted the Cardinals’ victory in the seven-game struggle with the Red Sox.
The following year a healthy Gibson won 22 games with a league-leading ERA of 1.12. In support of the black ace, pitchers Nelson Briles, Steve Carlton, and Ray Washburn combined to pitch 46 victories. Offensively, Brock’s 62 steals led the league and Flood batted .301. As a team the Cardinals batted only .249, but in this “year of the pitcher,” when overall NL batting stood at .243, it was enough. In the 1968 World Series, Gibson fanned a record 35 batters, but Flood’s misjudging of Jim Northrup’s fly ball in the seventh game allowed the Tigers to break through and complete their memorable come-from-behind victory.
As the curtain descended on the 1968 season, the major league owners now embarked on a second phase of expansion that would usher in a rich era of cash and glory for the major league game.
THE EXPANDING MAJORS: 1969-1980
As the stormy sixties drew to a close, the nation united in applauding the successful moon landing by American astronauts in the summer of 1969. And if the strident countercultural protests lingered into the new decade, they lost their steam when the Vietnam War ended in 1973. The nation still had to weather a major political storm in 1974, when the Watergate scandal forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon, but the passing of that crisis marked the ending of the era of social turbulence. By then, a conservative reaction was ascendant and was marked by such themes as religious and patriotic revival and continuing fears of Communist expansionism.
In retrospect, mounting economic problems turned public attention from social protests to the harsh realities of earning a living. In 1973-1974 the nation suffered its worst economic recession since the thirties. A frightening accompaniment to the recession was mounting “stagflation”, a combination of inflation and rising unemployment. Indeed, by the end of the seventies an estimated 24 million Americans were living at or near the poverty level. To cope with the problem, millions of wives and mothers entered the labor force. As a result, the nation’s birthrate declined sharply over the years 1973-1979. Nevertheless, abetted by the falling death rate, the population continued to grow; from a level of 204 million in 1970, the population reached 226 million by 1980.
The trend toward dual-income families in this era translated into rising incomes (albeit, inflated dollars) for most Americans. Nor did rising prices for consumer goods dampen the people’s ardor for leisure and recreational pursuits. By the end of the decade, annual spending for recreation reached $40 billion. And because watching televised sports maintained its status as one of the most favored leisure outlets, the popularity of major team sports like baseball increased. For major league club owners of this era, this translated into heftier profits from television sources and surging attendance at the turnstiles.
Happily for major league baseball interests, such increasing prosperity followed hard after its latest expansion movement. In 1968 major league owners voted to add two teams to each league, thus increasing the 1969 major league membership to twenty-four teams. Under the new format, which imitated professional football’s earlier and successful experiment, each league was realigned into six-team Eastern and Western Divisions. The 162-game seasonal schedule was retained, with each team playing its intradivisional opponents eighteen times and outsiders twelve times. At the close of a season, the new format called for the two divisional winners in each league to meet in a best-of-five-game playoff series to determine the league championship. Afterward, the champions of each league would meet in the usual World Series competition to determine the ultimate winner.
Supporters of this revolutionary new format touted its successful precedent in pro football and its competitive advantage over the recent ten-team system. Proponents also counted on the lure of each season’s divisional races to sustain public interest; after all, such races would return four winners each season instead of two. Furthermore, a divisional winning team got to fly a pennant even if it subsequently lost out in the league championship playoffs. Finally, with six teams competing in each division, the worst any team might do was finish a season in sixth place. It was nice sleight-of-hand logic, and it worked.
Events speedily demonstrated the wisdom of such logic. For their part, baseball fans welcomed the new format once they got used to the new teams with their strange-sounding totems, including the presence of a Canadian team, the Montreal Expos, in the major league ranks. In the NL, the Expos joined the Eastern Division along with the Cardinals, Cubs, Mets, Phillies, and Pirates; in the NL’s Western Division, the San Diego Padres were grouped with the Astros, Braves, Dodgers, Giants, and Reds. For its part, the AL installed its two new teams in its Western Division. There the newcoming Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots vied with the Angels, Athletics, Twins, and White Sox. However, this made for a perennially stronger Eastern Division, where the established Indians, Orioles, Red Sox, Senators, Tigers, and Yankees were now arrayed.
For the privilege of obtaining one of the new franchises, each newly admitted NL owner paid $10 million and each new AL owner paid $5.6 million; these initiation fees were divided as a windfall among the established clubs of each league. To stock the new teams with players, another expansion draft was held in each league. The latest draft allowed the new owners to purchase unprotected cullings from the rosters of established teams. And like the first expansion draft, this latest one placed the newcomers at a competitive disadvantage.
In the NL the Expos and Padres long languished in their divisional cellars, and neither entry won a divisional pennant in this era. But such was not the case with the AL’s newcoming Kansas City Royals club. In their first campaign the Royals finished fourth, and over the years 1975-1980 the Royals won four divisional races and a league championship. But on the other hand, the AL’s new Seattle Pilots turned out to be a financial disaster. After finishing last in the AL West in 1969, the bankrupt club was sold to Milwaukee interests.
There the Brewers prospered, but the relocation had the AL pulling NL chestnuts out of a legal fire. For having earlier allowed the Braves to abandon Milwaukee, the NL faced a menacing lawsuit (State of Wisconsin v. Milwaukee Braves), which was quashed by the AL’s decision to relocate the Pilots. But in abandoning Seattle, the AL soon incurred a lawsuit by Seattle interests, a threat that the AL deflected by admitting a new Seattle team, the Mariners, in 1977.
That year the AL’s unilateral expansion move added two new teams, which raised the league’s membership to fourteen clubs while that of the NL remained the same. In addition to the newly admitted Mariners, who joined the Western Division, the AL then added the Toronto Blue Jays to its Eastern Division. This precipitous move resulted in an unbalanced major league format which exists to this day; moreover, since 1977 AL teams have annually played a skewed 162-game schedule.
However, this mini-expansion ploy and another bold move of this era enabled the AL to gain parity with its NL rival. Indeed, drastic measures were needed to restore the AL’s attendance deficit, which, over the years 1970-1976, lagged some 24 million admissions behind that of the NL. In an early effort to regain parity, AL owners in 1972 allowed the moribund Washington Senators to move to Arlington, Texas, where they played as the Texas Rangers in the league’s Western Division. And to balance that move, the Milwaukee Brewers were relocated in the Eastern Division.
But the most controversial of all AL parity measures was the league’s 1973 unilateral adoption of the designated hitter rule. An experiment that was successfully pioneered in the minors, the rule allowed a designated hitter to bat in place of a pitcher in a team’s lineup. It must be admitted that the designated hitter rule helped to remedy the AL’s chronic problem of weak hitting. Only the year before, overall AL batting had averaged an anemic .239. In 1973, with AL teams playing designated hitters, the seasonal batting average rose to .259. Thenceforth AL batting averages always surpassed seasonal NL figures. But the NL stubbornly resisted the innovation, and over the years 1973-1985 the use of designated hitters in World Series competition was limited to alternate years.
Meanwhile, the AL quest for parity was aided by a spate of new ballparks.
Early in this era the NL opened five new parks. Belatedly, the AL followed suit, with four new parks and a major refuRBIhing of Yankee Stadium completed over the years 1972-1977. A new feature of some of the new parks, which affected fielding and batting, was the use of artificial playing surfaces. At the present time, ten major league parks are equipped with artificial playing surfaces. In the NL, where the Houston Astros pioneered in artificial surfacing in 1965, the Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Expos, and Reds now use artificial surfacing. In the AL, the Mariners, Royals, Twins, and Blue Jays now play home games on synthetic turfs.
Along with new parks, other innovations such as promotional giveaways and expanded concession sales and in-park entertainments contributed to soaring attendance at major league games in this era. After holding at 30 million admissions annually over the years 1973-1975, annual attendance at major league games soared to 43 million by 1980. But if rising attendance stimulated rising revenues, so did television. By 1980 income from national and local TV contracts accounted for 30 percent of baseball’s $500 million in revenues of that year. Indeed, throughout the decade baseball’s income from national network TV (which all clubs shared) increased steadily. From $17.5 million in 1971, such contracts returned $27.5 million in 1980. In 1980 this translated into a $1.8 million annual windfall for each team. And considering that such contracts covered only World Series games, league championship playoff games, the annual All-Star Game, and selected weekly and weekend games, such figures were impressive.
Indeed, major league owners might have wrung much more money from network TV sources had they not hewed to the policy of allowing clubs to contract individually with local TV stations. In 1975 local TV revenue totaled $31 million, and by 1980 this figure had nearly doubled. However, local TV income was unevenly distributed, which tended to favor some clubs over others. Thus clubs situated in more lucrative local television markets got the lion’s share of this source of revenue. Still, at the close of this era local TV markets represented the fastest-growing segment of the television industry.
Nor was television income an unalloyed blessing. In this era some critics charged baseball owners with selling out to television interests when they permitted nocturnal broadcasts of World Series games. But the popularity of such games was evinced when an estimated 75 million TV fans witnessed the dramatic seventh game of the 1975 World Series. But if this demonstration of the game’s popularity silenced some critics, others inveighed against the medium’s impact on other areas of the game. Among such criticisms was the charge that TV was transforming ballplayers into highly paid and pampered celebrity entertainers.
Certainly player salaries in this decade soared to heights undreamed of by past generations of players. Even allowing for the bugaboo of inflation, the spiraling salary trend was dazzling. At the outset of this era, both a $100,000 salaried player and a $1 million total player payroll were exceptional. In 1971 player salaries averaged $34,000. But thereafter the average rose to $52,000 in 1976, to $90,000 in 1978, to $100,000 in 1979, and to an astonishing $185,000 in 1980. By 1980, indeed, payrolls of $10 million were common and were defended by director Marvin Miller of the Players Association, who noted salaries amounted to less than 20 percent of revenues.
Truth to tell, much of the credit for enriching players of this era belonged to Miller. By threatening to lead his united players in a strike in 1969, Miller was able to negotiate a second Basic Agreement, which raised the minimum salary, increased the pension fund, and won for players the right to use agents in bargaining for salaries with owners. Then when this contract expired and negotiations for a new Basic Agreement bogged down in 1972, the Players Association staged a thirteen-day strike which shortened that season’s playing schedule by forcing the cancellation of games. In the aftermath of that strike, Miller negotiated a third Basic Agreement, which won for players the right to arbitrate their salary disputes. In retrospect it was this important concession that really fueled the spiraling salary trend.
In 1975 the players scored another major coup, when the Messersmith- McNally case was decided in their favor. That year Dodger pitcher Andy Messersmith refused to sign his 1975 contract and, after playing the season under his former contract, claimed his right to free agency under the existing reserve-clause procedure. Messersmith’s appeal (along with that of pitcher Dave McNally, who chose to retire after the 1975 season) went to a three-member arbitration panel which upheld the players’ claim by a 2-1 vote. Professional arbiter Peter Seitz joined with Miller in supporting Messersmith’s appeal against the negative vote cast by owners’ representative John Gaherin. Certainly the implications of this “Seitz decision” were far-reaching. The decision effectively circumvented the long- established reserve clause which had recently been tested by player Curt Flood (Flood v. Kuhn) before the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the time, in 1972, the court rejected Flood’s appeal by a 5-3 vote, but the court’s ruling suggested that the players might overturn the reserve clause by means of collective bargaining or by legislation. The Messersmith decision was the outcome of collective bargaining. And when the owners failed to overturn the Seitz decision on a legal appeal, they staged a lockout of spring training camps in 1976, claiming that the latest Basic Agreement had expired with no new labor contract in place. However, a compromise reached by the embattled players and owners allowed the 1976 playing season to open on time. And over the following summer, negotiations produced a fourth Basic Agreement, which conceded free agency to six-year veterans. The latest Agreement instituted an annual re-entry draft procedure which enabled qualifying players to auction their services anew. As compensation for losing a veteran player in one of the re-entry drafts, an owner received an extra choice in the annual rookie draft. Thus over the years 1976-1980, some owners bid high prices for the services of veteran free agents. And in turn the gains scored by players in these annual drafts helped to boost the salaries granted by players who opted for salary arbitration procedures.
The combination of re-entry draft bids and salary arbitration awards resulted in spiraling salaries and produced a new breed of player plutocrats. In the first re-entry draft of 1976, outfielder Reggie Jackson received a five-year contract worth $2.93 million from Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. In 1979 the Houston Astros plucked pitcher Nolan Ryan from the re-entry draft by giving the hurler a $1 million annual contract. That same year outfielder Dave Parker wrung a five-year pact worth $900,000 annually from his Pittsburgh owners to dissuade him from entering the re-entry draft.
Thus it was hardly surprising that when the fourth Basic Agreement expired in 1980 the owners determined to halt the salary spiral. Among their demands, owners wanted a veteran player in compensation for a player lost via the re-entry draft. And when negotiations broke down, the threat of another player strike darkened the 1980 season. But in the nick of time a compromise between the embattled groups postponed the debacle for a season.
Meanwhile, the plutocratic players basked in a sunshine of cash and glory. As television celebrities, players of this era stood as a breed apart from those of past generations. More glamorized by television exposure, far more wealthy, and more pampered, some players now indulged in illegal drugs to the point of self-abuse. At this time baseball’s growing problem of drug abuse mirrored a national epidemic of drug abuse which was one of the unhappier legacies from that decade of self-involvement, the embattled sixties.
Yet another survival from that feverish era was the hirsute appearance of many players of this decade. In addition to wearing gaudier uniforms, many players now sported long hair, mustaches, and beards in the fashion of nineteenth-century players. Formerly a symbol of social protest in the sixties, such hirsute appearances now became a widespread affectation of American males. Although some clubs opposed the trend, owner Charles Finley of the Oakland Athletics encouraged it by paying his players $300 apiece to grow faciat hair. Once established, the trend spread widely among players and continues to this day. But appearances aside, this breed of players was more pampered, better doctored and trained, and more ably defended than any of their forebears. Indeed, lesser-paid managers were now hard pressed to discipline their charges.
Continuing the trend of the last two decades, blacks and Hispanics predominated among the splendid performers of these years. In 1974 the number of black major league players peaked at 26 percent, but the figure leveled off at 20 percent by 1979. By then, Hispanic players comprised 10 percent of the major league players. As before, blacks and Hispanics continued to lead the majors in stolen bases, with superstar Lou Brock of the Cardinals setting a new seasonal mark of 118 thefts while en route to shattering Ty Cobb’s lifetime total of 892 bases stolen. In 1974, Hank Aaron broke Ruth’s lifetime homer mark and went on to set a new lifetime mark of 755 clouts. But in toppling the Babe’s record, Aaron went to bat 3,965 more times than the great Yankee slugger. Moreover, players of the seventies were less easily replaced. In this era the total number of minor leaguers competing for big league jobs averaged about 3,000 in any season. And when Willie Mays retired in 1973, his lifetime total of 660 homers ranked third on the all-time slugging list; behind Mays in the fourth position was Frank Robinson, who retired with 586. And in this decade, Aaron, Al Kaline, Mays, Brock, and Roberto Clemente joined the 3,000 hit club, while Rod Carew captured seven AL batting titles, including four in a row over the years 1972-1975. Moreover, in these years twelve black and Hispanic stars won MVP Awards, and pitchers Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal hurled their ways into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Finally, it was fitting that the leading player celebrity of this era was Reggie Jackson, a slugging outfielder of mixed black and Hispanic parentage. Widely acclaimed for his homer clouting, Jackson’s seven homers in two World Series appearances with the Yankees won him the sobriquet of “Mr. October” and a short-lived “Reggie” candy bar was named for him.
Although they were justly rewarded and celebrated for their feats on the playing fields, black players still faced lingering forms of discrimination. At this time studies showed that black players had to be better-than-average players to make it into the majors. Thus there were few marginal black players on team rosters; moreover, teams were fearful of playing too many black players in a game lest it affect attendance. And retired black players seldom found jobs in baseball as field managers or in top administrative posts. However, Frank Robinson became the first black manager to be hired (and fired), hired by the Cleveland Indians in 1975, fired in 1977, and a few token black umpires also debuted in this era.
At the end of this era, The Sporting News chose the versatile white star Pete Rose as the recipient of its Player of the Decade Award. It was well deserved. In this era, Rose won a pair of NL batting titles and led the league in total hits four times. In 1978 the Cincinnati infielder, who was dubbed “Charlie Hustle,” tied the NL’s consecutive-game hitting record by batting safely in 44 consecutive games. That same year Rose joined the 3,000-hit club and continued his relentless drive to topple Ty Cobb’s lifetime record of 4,191 hits.
White stars also predominated among pitchers of this era. In these years, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, and Steve Carlton hurled themselves to ultimate memberships in the exclusive 300-victory club. Carlton, Seaver, Perry, Sutton, and Nolan Ryan also were compiling strikeout totals that would later eclipse Walter Johnson’s all-time mark. But with pitching ERAs now hovering above the 3.50 mark each season, managers continued to rely on specialized relief pitchers to bail out starters. Most prized were rally-busting short relievers like Mike Marshall of the Dodgers. In 1974 Marshall appeared in a record 106 games; by winning 15 and saving 21, Marshall won both the NL’s Cy Young and Fireman of the Year awards for his efforts. Other acclaimed short relievers included Rollie Fingers of the Athletics, who won three Fireman of the Year awards, while saving 244 games. Fireballing Goose Gossage thrice led the AL in saves, and in 1978 he fanned 122 batters in his role as Yankee fireman. Sparky Lyle, who pitched for four different clubs in this era, saved 230 games. And late in this era, Bruce Sutter saved 133 games in five seasons with the Cubs.
With pitchers now penalized by a narrower strike zone and lowered mounds, such heroics were needed to cope with the batting resurgence. Offensively teams plied the big-bang tactic with gusto. At this time AL teams regained their power advantage and outhomered their NL rivals in eleven of the twelve seasons. Of course, the AL’s 1977 mini-expansion made this a foregone conclusion. In the first year of that expansion, AL sluggers hammered a record 2,013 homers. By then, hitters in both leagues were swinging at cowhide-covered balls instead of the traditional horsehide-covered spheres. But this necessary innovation failed to produce the overall batting surge forecast by alarmed pundits.
Except for the AL’s unilateral adoption of the designated hitter rule, there were no significant rule changes in these years; most rule changes addressed statistical compilations. And at this time the major league policy of subsidizing the minor leagues was working. With each team spending at least $1.5 million a year to finance up to five minor league teams, by 1977 the minor leagues were stabilized at 17 leagues and 121 teams.
Internally the major leagues were mightily affected by the shift in the balance of power toward players and umpires. The powerful Players Association upset the power balance, as did the Major League Umpires Association. Indeed, umpires had long endured poor pay and job insecurity. But umpires of the 1970s had come a long way since the single-umpire system of the nineteenth century. Not until 1911 did both major leagues adopt a dual-umpire system for every game and the 1930s first saw both major leagues employ three-man crews to work regular season games. By the 1969-1980 era, four-man crews worked each seasonal game and crews for postseasonal games numbered six.
More important, the Major League Umpires Association (MLUA) now became a powerful bargaining agency. After winning collective- bargaining rights in 1970, the MLUA waged a successful strike in 1979, a walkout that lasted until mid-May. When the strike ended, the umpires could celebrate a major victory. Among the concessions they wrung from owners was a maximum salary of $50,000 for twenty- year veteran umps, hefty increases in expense allowances, safeguards against arbitrary dismissals, guaranteed pay for forty-five days in the event of a player strike, and, wonder of wonders, a two-week paid vacation. How the late Bill Klem, who earlier in this century worked each game behind the plate for sixteen seasons, would have welcomed that concession! What’s more, umpire Ron Luciano became a minor celebrity and, in company with others, became the author of books.
Against such power blocs, the owners now deployed their power committees and hired negotiators. As for Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, he continued to occupy what by now was largely a ceremonial post, one mainly responsive to the wishes of the owners. In 1979 Walter O’Malley’s death removed a powerful figure from the owners’ camp. In passing, O’Malley left his enormously profitable franchise as his chief legacy; by 1977 the Dodgers were valued at $50 million, twice the value of most franchises. Thus as the decade of the 1980s dawned, baseball owners were challenged to find a new leader of O’Malley’s stripe and new tactics to restore the balance of power in their favor.
CAMPAIGNS OF THE SEVENTIES: THE AL, 1969-1980
Upstaged by the NL in the first two expansion moves, the AL was forced to take drastic measures to gain parity with the NL in attendance and offensive performances. To this end such measures as new park construction and franchise shifts contributed, but most decisive were two bold unilateral moves whereby the AL adopted the designated hitter rule in 1973 and undertook its mini-expansion in 1977. By these strokes the AL ensured its perennial domination, both at bat and at the turnstiles.
But if AL leaders expected the new divisional format of the 1969 expansion move to produce competitive balance, they were disillusioned.
Indeed, throughout this era pennant monopoly was the rule in both AL divisions. Over the twelve campaigns of 1969-1980, the Orioles and Yankees dominated the Eastern Division, while the Athletics and Royals ruled the West. By winning six Eastern Division races and finishing second four times, the Orioles now reigned as the winningest team in the majors. For their part, the reviving Yankees won four Eastern races, which left but two for outsiders to divide. In the AL West, it was much the same story. There the Oakland Athletics won five races, the Kansas City Royals won four, and the Minnesota Twins won two, leaving only one for an outsider to claim.
In the first expansion season of 1969, the Baltimore Orioles asserted their balanced power, which made them the most victorious major league team of this era. Under sophomore manager Earl Weaver, the Orioles stormed the Eastern Division, their 109 victories lapping the runner-up Tigers by 19 games. It was the first of three consecutive Eastern titles for the Birds, with top-ranked pitching the key to each success.
In 1969 the Oriole staff was the league’s best, with Mike Cuellar (23-11) and Dave McNally (20-7) setting the pace. At bat the Orioles were powered by first baseman Boog Powell (.304-37-121) and outfielder Frank Robinson (.308-32-100). In the West, meanwhile, the Twins were winning the first of two consecutive titles. Victors by 9 games over the Athletics that year, the Twins led the league in batting and relief pitching. Offensive standouts included Rod Carew, whose .332 hitting topped the league, and Harmon Killebrew, whose league-leading 49 homers and 140 RBI won the veteran slugger the MVP Award. But when the divisional titlists squared off in the first American League Championship Series, the Orioles brushed the Twins aside in three games. The sweep gave the Orioles a fourteen-game winning streak to take to the World Series. But after winning the opening game against the New York Mets, the Orioles surprisingly lost the next four.
In 1970 the crestfallen Orioles came back nearly as strong and downed the Yankees by 15 games to repeat as Eastern champs. Once again manager Earl Weaver’s pitching corps was the league’s best. Starters Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally each won 24 and Jim Palmer won 20. At the plate the Orioles batted .257, with outfielder Merv Rettenmund’s .322 leading the team batting, and Powell (35-114) and Frank Robinson (25-78) supplying the power. In the West, the Twins also repeated, again topping the Athletics by 9 games and again leading the league in hitting and relief pitching. This time the team batted .262, but Killebrew (41-113) again powered the club. An injury to Carew limited his play, but even so the infielder batted .366.
Taking up the slack this year were outfielders Tony Oliva (.325-23-107) and Cesar Tovar, who hit .300. However, when the Twins met the Orioles in LCS play, they were again swept. And this time the Orioles went on to score an avenging victory in World Series play. In crushing the Reds in five games, the Orioles blasted fifty hits; the star Oriole performer was future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, who batted .429 and dazzled the Reds with his brilliant fielding at third base.
It was a glorious victory for the Orioles, but astonishingly this well-armed team would not win another world title in this era. In 1971 the Orioles captured a third straight Eastern title by thrashing the Tigers by 12 games. It was a vintage season for Baltimore, which could boast league-leading hitting and pitching, including a quartet of 20-game winning pitchers in Cuellar, McNally, Palmer, and Pat Dobson.
Offensively, outfielder Rettenmund (.318) fronted the team’s .261 batting attack, and Powell, Frank Robinson, and Brooks Robinson powered the assault with a combined 70 homers and 283 RBI. In the West, the fading Twins now yielded to the surging Oakland Athletics, who notched the first of five consecutive Western titles in 1971. In matching the Orioles’ victory total of 101 games, the Athletics crushed the expansion Kansas City Royals by 16 games. For the A’s, rookie pitcher Vida Blue won 24 games with a league-leading 1.82 ERA, and Jim “Catfish” Hunter won 21. Hunter’s nickname was hung on the hurler by the team’s flamboyant owner, Charley Finley, who also tried unsuccessfully to get Blue to change his first name to “True.” Offensively, the A’s lacked a .300 hitter, but third baseman Sal Bando (24-94) and outfielder Reggie Jackson (32-80) provided power aplenty. But when the Athletics met the Orioles in LCS play, they were swept by the Orioles. It was the third consecutive LCS sweep by the Orioles. However, the Orioles lost a seven-game World Series struggle to the Pittsburgh Pirates, led by MVP Roberto Clemente.
In the wake of that loss, the Orioles fell from the top, and the balance of power now shifted to the West, where the volatile Athletics won the first of three consecutive AL championships. In the strike-shortened season of 1972, the A’s won the Western title by 5.5 games over the Chicago White Sox. Left fielder Joe Rudi batted .305, and first baseman Mike Epstein and outfielder Reggie Jackson combined for 51 homers as the A’s rolled up 93 wins to head the AL. Moreover, the pitching staff was the league’s best; Hunter and Ken Holtzman combined for 40 victories, and reliever Rollie Fingers won 11 and saved 21 games. In the East the strike-shortened schedule enabled the Tigers to eke a half-game victory over the runner-up Red Sox by dint of playing and winning one more game than the Bostonians. Manager Billy Martin’s Tigers batted a mere .237, with no .300 hitter among the regulars, but lefty Mickey Lolich’s 22 wins fronted the league’s second-best pitching corps. In LCS play the weak-hitting Tigers held out for five games before succumbing to the A’s, who went on to defeat the Reds in a seven-game World Series struggle. With slugger Jackson sidelined by an injury, unheralded catcher Gene Tenace took up the offensive slack. Tenace batted .348 and won three World Series games with timely hits.
Over the next two seasons, the Athletics continued their winning ways, twice downing the Orioles in LCS play and twice defeating NL contenders in World Series action. In 1973 the garishly clad A’s defeated the Royals by 6 games in the West. Jackson’s league-leading 32 homers and 117 RBI powered the team, which also got superb pitching from Hunter (21-5), Holtzman (21-13), Blue (20-9), and reliever Fingers, who saved 22 games with a 1.92 ERA. That year the Orioles returned to the top in the East by downing the Red Sox by 8 games. In this first season under the designated hitter rule, the Orioles were paced by DH Tommy Davis, who batted .306 and drove in 89 runs. Palmer headed the pitching staff, which was the league’s best, with a 22-9 mark;
Cuellar won 18; and McNally and young Doyle Alexander combined for 29 wins. In the aftermath the Orioles battled the A’s in a tense LCS matchup which went the full five games before Hunter’s shutout pitching decided the issue. Then, in World Series action against the New York Mets, the Athletics rallied from a 3-2 deficit to land a second world title. Home runs by Reggie Jackson and Bert Campaneris settled the issue in Game Seven.
In 1974 the Athletics won a third consecutive World Series banner, a feat thus far unmatched under the major leagues’ divisional format. In winning the Western race by 5 games over the Texas Rangers, the light-hitting (.247) A’s were backed by the best pitching corps in the majors. Hunter’s league-leading 25 wins and 2.49 ERA led the staff, who also got 19 wins from Holtzman, 17 wins from Blue, and 18 saves from the redoubtable Fingers. Although lacking a .300 hitter, the team was powered by Bando (22-103), Jackson (29-93), and outfielder Joe Rudi (.293-22-99). In the East, the Orioles won a fifth divisional flag by 2 games over the Yankees. League-leading fielding and sturdy pitching from Cuellar (22-10), McNally (16-10), and Ross Grimsley (18-13) carried the Orioles. In LCS competition the A’s lost the opening game, but swept the next three to claim the league pennant. Pitted against the Dodgers in the World Series, the bickering Athletics, who squabbled among themselves and with their owner, nevertheless downed the Dodgers in five games. It was the A’s third straight World Series victory, and astonishingly the team’s bullpen saved or won all twelve of the games won by the Athletics in their remarkable three-season skein.
But the 1974 league championship was the last by an Athletic team until 1988. Years of bickering between the players and owner Charley Finley wore on the team, and the loss of pitcher Hunter to the Yankees was a crushing blow. Hunter’s loss was Finley’s fault; after Finley reneged on the terms of Hunter’s contract, Hunter sought arbitration, and the ruling allowed the pitcher to become a free agent. Nevertheless, in 1975 the A’s won the Western title for a fifth straight year as they outlasted the Royals by 7 games. Despite the loss of Hunter, the team’s pitching was the league’s second best.
Blue won 22 games, Holtzman 18, and Fingers won 10 and saved 24. Offensively, outfielder Claudell Washington led the team with .308 batting, and Jackson drove in 104 runs and hit a league- leading 36 homers. However, the league’s power balance now shifted eastward, where the next five AL champions would be crowned. First of the Eastern powers to emerge were the 1975 Red Sox, who defeated the Orioles by 4.5 games. The team’s pitching was mediocre, but hefty .275 batting bolstered the assault. Rookie outfielder Fred Lynn’s .331-21-105 hitting won him both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors, but outfielder Jim Rice (.309-22-102) came close to matching Lynn’s production, while DH Cecil Cooper and catcher Carlton Fisk each topped the .300 mark. In the LCS faceoff, the Red Sox ended Oakland’s domination with a three-game sweep. But in World Series action, the Red Sox lost an epochal seven-game struggle to the Cincinnati Reds.
Boston slipped to third in 1976, as another power rose in the AL East.
After a twelve-year hiatus, the Yankees regained the heights and held the high ground for the next three seasons. For the Yankee renaissance much of the credit belonged to the team’s wealthy and erratic owner, George Steinbrenner. After purchasing the team from the CBS Network in 1973, Steinbrenner boldly promised Yankee fans a pennant within three years. And in 1976, his words rang true.
Moreover, the timing was propitious. In 1976 the team returned to its newly refuRBIhed Yankee Stadium after spending two seasons at Shea Stadium in Queens. Under equally brash manager Billy Martin, whom Steinbrenner would fire and rehire five times, the Yankees romped over the runner-up Orioles by 10.5 games. League- leading pitching, including 53 wins from starters Hunter, Dock Ellis, and Ed Figueroa, and a league-leading 23 saves from reliever Sparky Lyle eased the way. The team’s .269 batting effort was led by outfielder Mickey Rivers, who batted .312, catcher Thurman Munson’s .302 and 105 RBI, and third baseman Graig Nettles’ league- leading 32 homers. Meanwhile, the surging Kansas City Royals were breaking Oakland’s stranglehold in the West. In downing owner Finley’s decimated A’s by 2.5 games, the Royals matched the .269 batting mark of the Yankees. Third baseman George Brett’s .333 topped the league’s hitters, but DH Hal McRae was only a point behind at .332, and his 73 RBI bettered Brett’s total. The 1976 victory was the first of three straight Western titles by the Royals, who became the first of the AL’s 1969 expansion teams to win a divisional pennant. In LCS play the Royals and Yanks battled for five games before first baseman Chris Chambliss won the pennant for the Yankees with a ninth-inning homer in the final game at Yankee Stadium. However, the Yankees were no match for Cincinnati’s powerful “Big Red Machine,” which swept to a four-game victory in the World Series.
Over the winter Steinbrenner strengthened his team by acquiring slugger Reggie Jackson in the re-entry draft. Jackson responded by batting .286 with 32 homers and 110 RBI as the Yankees edged the Orioles by 2.5 games in the 1977 Eastern race. Overall the team batted .281, with Rivers’ .326 batting leading the team, Munson weighing in with .308-18-100 stickwork, and Nettles driving in 107 runs on 37 homers. Young Ron Guidry (16-7) led the starting pitchers, with Figueroa winning 16, newly acquired Don Gullett winning 14, and reliever Lyle saving 26. In the West, meanwhile, the Royals repeated as they downed the Texas Rangers by 8 games. The Royals batted .277, with outfielder Al Cowens (.312-23- 112) leading the team, Brett batting .312, and McRae adding 21 homers and 92 RBI. The Royal pitching staff was the league’s best; Dennis Leonard won 20 games to lead the league, Paul Splittorff won 16, and the bullpen posted a league-leading 42 saves. In another LCS donnybrook, the Yankees edged the Royals in five games to land a second consecutive AL pennant. And in World Series action the Yankees trounced the Dodgers in six games. For the Yankees, the highlight came in the final game at the Stadium, when Jackson slugged three homers. In the afterglow of the victory, a candy bar was named for Jackson, who also wore the sobriquet of “Mr. October” for the remainder of his colorful career.
In an unforgettable encore performance, the Yankees repeated in 1978 after staging one of the most storied comebacks in baseball history. During much of the turbulent campaign, the Yankees trailed the slugging Red Sox. Midway in the campaign Steinbrenner sacked the volatile Martin for insubordination and replaced him with Bob Lemon. Under Lemon, the Yankees recuperated from a spate of injuries and crushed the Red Sox in two series to gain a tie by the season’s end. In the sudden-death playoff game for the Eastern title, pitchers Ron Guidry and Goose Gossage held off the Red Sox, while homers by Jackson and shortstop Bucky Dent capped a 5-4 victory at Fenway Park. That year the Yankee pitchers posted a league-leading 3.10 ERA;
Guidry’s 25 wins (he lost only 3) and 1.74 ERA were the league’s best, and Gossage won 10 and saved 27 games. Outfielder Lou Piniella’s .314 batting led the team, which was powered by Jackson (27- 97), Nettles (27-93), and Chambliss (who drove in 90 runs). Meanwhile, the upstaged Royals were winning a third consecutive Western title, this time by 5 games over the California Angels. With no .300 hitter in the regular lineup, the Royals batted .268; outfielder Amos Otis led the hitters with .298-22-96 batting. Starting pitchers Leonard and Splittorff combined for 40 victories, and reliever Al Hrabosky saved 20 as the Royals compiled the league’s second-best pitching record. But the Yankees toppled the Royals in four games in LCS play. When World Series play began, the Yankees lost the first two games to the Dodgers, but then swept the next four games to cap a legendary campaign with a second straight world title.
Although Steinbrenner continued to spend heavily on free agents, the 1979 Yankees fell to fourth place in the Eastern Division. By winning 102 games, manager Earl Weaver led the Orioles to an 8-game win over the second-place Milwaukee Brewers. League- leading pitching, paced by Mike Flanagan’s 23-9 effort, led the Orioles, whose offense was powered by first baseman Eddie Murray (.295-25-99) and outfielder Ken Singleton (.295-35-111). While the Orioles winged to the top in the AL East, the California Angels ended the Royals’ Western reign by scoring a 3-game victory. The Angels’ victory ended years of frustration for owner Gene Autry, who had spent $15 million on playing talent since 1961. In 1978 two of Autry’s recent acquisitions paid off as Rod Carew batted .318 and Don Baylor won the MVP Award for his .296-36-139 production. But the Angels’ pitching corps compiled a vulnerable 4.34 ERA, and in LCS play the Orioles dispatched the Angels in four games. But the Orioles now faced their old Pirate tormentors in the World Series. In an eerie repeat of their 1971 matchup, after leading by three games to one in this 1979 encounter, the Orioles lost to the Pirates in seven games.
As the era ended, the Yankees rebounded to edge the Orioles by 3 games in the East. In the close race, Steinbrenner’s latest re-entry draft acquisitions, infielder Bob Watson and pitcher Rudy May, made the difference. May won 15 games, and his 2.47 ERA led the league; Tommy John won 22, Guidry won 17, and the fireballing Gossage saved 33 games in relief. Watson’s .307 batting led the hitters, but Jackson batted .300 and his 111 RBI came with a league-leading 41 homers. This year, however, the Yankees were outmatched by the Royals. Rebounding to win the Western Division by 14 games over the Athletics, the Royals batted a league-leading .286. Brett’s .390 batting, which included 24 homers and 118 RBI, was the best batting mark in the majors since 1941. Outfielder Willie Wilson batted .326 and catcher-outfielder John Wathan batted .305. Pitcher Leonard won 20, and a Yankee castoff, lefty Larry Gura, won 18, with relief ace Dan Quisenberry saving 33 games to tie Gossage for the league lead. In LCS play the Royals, who had feasted on the Yankees during the season, swept the New Yorkers. In the wake of that loss, owner Steinbrenner sacked manager Dick Howser, despite the 103 victories the Yankees had compiled under Howser’s leadership. By then, the Royals had lost to the Phillies in six games in the 1980 World Series.
Thus the era ended with the NL boasting two straight World Series triumphs which the senior circuit would extend to four in the early 1980s.
CAMPAIGNS OF THE SEVENTIES: THE NL, 1969-1980
In this era the NL also failed to achieve the competitive balance envisioned by its 1969 expansion. Over the twelve NL campaigns of these years, both divisions were ruled by powerful dynasties. In the East, the Pirates won six races, the Phillies four, and the Mets two. In the West, the Reds won six races, the Dodgers three, with the Braves, Giants, and Astros as single-season winners.
Yet it was one of the league’s lesser powers, the New York Mets, who made a rousing success of the first NL campaign under the new divisional format. Like the moonwalking American astronauts of that summer, the Mets also realized an “impossible dream,” and their unlikely triumph became the sports story of that memorable year in the nation’s history. In a baseball version of Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches yarns, the forlorn Mets shook off the effects of their horrendous 394-737 won-loss record, which the team had painfully compiled over seven zany seasons of NL play, and won the 1969 Eastern Division race by 8 games over a cocky Chicago Cub team.
What’s more, the Mets turned the trick by winning 38 of their last 49 games, mostly due to good pitching. Young Tom Seaver’s league-leading 25 victories and Jerry Koosman’s 17 headed a pitching staff whose 2.99 ERA ranked second in the league. However, a puny .242 team batting average, fronted by outfielder Cleon Jones’ .340-12-75, afforded little hope against the Western champion Atlanta Braves, winners by 3 games over the Giants. For the Braves, who led the NL in fielding, Hank Aaron’s .300-44-97 batting, and Rico Carty’s .342-16-58 effort in limited action, excelled. Pitcher Phil Niekro won 23 and Ron Reed won 18 as the staff turned in a 3.53 ERA. But in the NL’s first League Championship Series, the impotent Mets turned tartars; scoring 27 runs in three games, they swept the favored Braves. However, the Mets appeared to be ludicrously mismatched against the versatile Orioles in the following World Series. But after losing the opening game, the Mets swept the Orioles in the next four games to realize their “impossible dream.” In the afterglow, an outpouring of “Metomania” swept the country, and a dozen hastily written books celebrating the team’s victory were churned out.
|The New York Mets, 1969|
The following year the powerful Pittsburgh Pirates ruthlessly banished any hopes of a continuing competitive balance in the NL East. Over the next six seasons, the Pirates captured five Eastern pennants, including three in a row over the years 1970-1972. In 1970 the Pirates baptized their newly occupied Three Rivers Stadium by downing the Cubs by 5 games and raising their first divisional flag.
The Pirates batted .270, with Roberto Clemente hitting .352 and catcher Manny Sanguillen batting .325. With a 3.70 ERA, their pitching was shaky, but reliever Dave Giusti saved 26 games. Coincident with the Pirates’ rise, another power moved to the top in the West as the Cincinnati Reds, now ensconced in their new Riverfront Stadium, scored a crushing 14-game win over the runner-up Dodgers. At the plate the Reds matched the Pirates’ batting, while leading the league in homers with 191. Catcher Johnny Bench’s 45 homers and 148 RBI led all sluggers and won him MVP honors. Infielders Pete Rose (.316) and Tony Perez (.317-40-129), and outfielder Bob Tolan (.316) added to the hit parade which was needed to bolster the pitching staff. The team’s starting pitchers completed only 32 games, which inspired the bullpen to compile a league-leading 60 saves. And yet the staff’s 3.71 ERA was only a point above that of the Pirates. In the LCS that year, the Reds swept the Pirates, but then the Reds fell to the avenging Orioles in the 1970 World Series.
The following year manager Danny Murtaugh led his Pirates to a 7-game win over the Cardinals in the NL East. At the plate the Pirates upped their batting to .274 as Clemente (.341) and Sanguillen (.319) maintained their pace, while outfielder Willie Stargell’s league-leading 48 homers powered the team’s league-leading 154-homer assault. In the West, poor pitching consigned the Reds to fourth place, leaving the field to the Giants and Dodgers. After leading most of the way, the Giants faltered in the stretch, but hung on to win by a game over the Dodgers. League-leading fielding buoyed the Giants, who batted only .247. Outfielder Bobby Bonds’ .288-33-102 was the best effort by a regular. Future Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry combined for 34 victories as the staff’s 3.33 ERA came close to matching the Pirates’ mark of 3.31. In LCS play the Pirates lost the opening game, but swept to victory. And when matched against the Orioles in the World Series, the Pirates lost the first two games, but then rebounded to win in seven.
The Pirate victory triggered a spate of destructive riots in Pittsburgh, but any fears by city fathers of future riots to come were banished by the shortcomings of the Pirate teams.
Although the 1972 Pirates romped to an 11-game victory over the Cubs in the East, another six seasons would pass before the Bucs won another NL pennant. Future Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente batted .312 and notched his 3,000th career hit as the Pirates matched their .274 batting mark of 1971. Outfielder Al Oliver batted .312 and infielder Richie Hebner batted .300, while Stargell powered the attack with 33 homers and 112 RBI. Led by starting pitcher Steve Blass (198) and reliever Giusti (22 saves), the pitching staff posted a 2.81 ERA. In the West, meanwhile, the Reds rebounded to win by 10 games over the Houston Astros.
The acquisition of infielder Joe Morgan strengthened the Reds, who also got another MVP performance from Bench. The catcher’s 40 homers and 125 RBI led the league, and infielder Rose batted .307. But the pitching staff completed only 25 games. The best effort by a starter was Gary Nolan’s 155 mark, but the bullpen, led by Clay Carroll’s league-leading 37 saves, saved 60 games. In LCS action the Reds rallied from a 21 deficit to win the league pennant in five games. In the decisive game, played in Cincinnati, the Reds won 43. In the ninth inning of that game, Pirate reliever Bob Moose wild-pitched the winning run home. But when the Reds faced a 31 deficit in the World Series, their rally fell short as the Athletics hung on to win the world title in seven games.
Over the winter, Clemente’s tragic death while on a mercy mission to Nicaragua was a crushing blow to the Pirate cause. Even so, the 1973 Pirates hung close, finishing third in a weak Eastern Division.
On the strength of a lackluster 82-79 record, the Mets edged the Cardinals by 1 game. Offensively the Mets batted a meager .246 with only 85 homers, but Seaver’s 1910 pitching and league-leading 2.08 ERA and reliever Tug McGraw’s 25 saves compensated. In the West the Reds outlasted the Dodgers by 3 games to win the divisional pennant. Led by Rose’s league-leading .338 hitting, the Reds batted .254 and hit 137 homers. Perez batted .314-27-101, Morgan batted .290-26-82, and Bench drove in 104 runs. The Reds also led the league in stolen bases and fielding, and the pitching staff ranked fourth, just behind the Mets. Not surprisingly, the Reds were touted as LCS favorites, but the Mets edged them in five games to emerge as the NL’s standard bearer in the World Series. Astonishingly the Mets took a 3-2 lead in the first five Series games against the Athletics. Had they hung on to win with their puny seasonal record, it would have gone into the record books as a quirky record. But the A’s quashed this prospect by snagging the final two games to win the 1973 World Series.
As the impotent Mets faded in 1974, the Pirates rose again to win the next two Eastern races before yielding to the rising Phillies. Unsurpassed .274 team batting boosted the Pirates to a thin 1-game win over the Cardinals in the East. Outfielders Richie Zisk (.313-17-100), Al Oliver (.321 and 85 RBI), and Stargell (.301-25-96) powered the team, whose pitching staff posted a 3.49 ERA. But the league’s balance of power was shifting westward, where the Dodgers and Reds would monopolize the next five NL pennants. In the 1974 Western Division race, the Dodgers defeated the Reds by 4 games.
Backed by the most durable infield in baseball history, in Steve Garvey, Dave Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey, the 1974 Dodgers batted .272. First baseman Garvey, who would set an NL record in consecutive games played, led the assault that year with a .312-21-111 performance which won him MVP honors. Outfielder Jim Wynn added 32 homers and 108 RBI. Pitchers Andy Messersmith and Don Sutton combined for 39 wins to head the league’s top-ranked pitching staff, but reliever Mike Marshall won the pitching honors with his 15 victories and 21 saves. What’s more, fireman Marshall appeared in a record 106 games. In the LCS playoff the Dodgers dispatched the Pirates in four games, but the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Athletics in five games.
It was the third consecutive Series victory for the Athletics, but the powerful Cincinnati Reds reversed the trend in 1975-1976. Dubbed “the Big Red Machine,” the perennially pitching-poor Reds got only 22 complete games from their starters in 1975, but the team’s crushing offense buried the runner-up Dodgers by 20 games. Heading the team’s .271 batting offensive was second baseman Joe Morgan, who won MVP honors for his .327 batting and 94 RBI. Third baseman Rose and outfielders Ken Griffey and George Foster topped .300 at bat, and first baseman Tony Perez and catcher Bench drove in a combined 219 runs. In the East the Pirates beat the Phils by 6 games to win a second straight divisional title. The Pirates batted .263 and led the league in homers. Outfielder Dave Parker (.308-25-101) and first baseman Stargell (.295-22-90) powered the team, and catcher Manny Sanguillen batted .328. And the pitching staff’s 3.02 ERA bettered the Reds. But the Reds swept the Pirates in LCS play and went on to beat the Red Sox in a tense seven-game World Series classic. In the final game at Boston the Reds overcame a 30 Boston lead. Morgan’s single in the ninth inning provided the margin of victory as the Reds won 43. The victory was the Reds’ first World Series triumph since 1940.
Nor did they stop there. The following year, as the NL celebrated its hundredth anniversary, the all-conquering Reds downed the Dodgers by 10 games in the West on the strength of league leadership in batting, homers, RBI, stolen bases, and fielding. Morgan’s .320-27-111 batting won the infielder a second straight MVP Award, Rose batted .323, and the outfield of Griffey (.336), Cesar Geronimo (.307), and George Foster (.306) all topped the .300 mark. Foster’s 121 RBI led the league, and the bullpen fronted by Rawly Eastwick led the league in saves. In the East it was the Phillies’ misfortune to have to face this wrecking crew in LCS play. That year the Phillies finally won an Eastern title, the first of three consecutive victories, all coming at the expense of the Pirates. In 1976 the Phillies trounced the Pirates by 9 games. Slugging third baseman Mike Schmidt led the league in homers with 38 and drove in 107 runs, and the outfield of Jay Johnstone, Garry Maddox, and Greg Luzinski all topped the .300 mark, with Luzinski batting in 95 runs. Steve Carlton (207) headed a pitching staff that bettered the mediocre Reds’ staff, but otherwise needed the 36 saves posted by the relief corps of Ron Reed, Tug McGraw, and Gene Garber. The LCS matchup between the Reds and the Phillies was a foregone conclusion which the Reds decided with a sweep. The Reds then went on to sweep the Yankees in the World Series to become the first NL team since 1922 to win back-to-back world titles.
But the Big Red Machine blew a gasket in 1977. The loss of ace pitcher Don Gullett to the re-entry draft (and the Yankees) and a dubious trade which sent first baseman Perez to the Expos created weaknesses that not even the midseason acquisition of pitcher Tom Seaver from the Mets could assuage. Nor could Foster’s herculean batting, which produced a league-leading 52 homers and 149 RBI together with a .320 batting average. As the pitching-poor Reds faltered, the Dodgers brushed them aside to win the Western title by 10 games. League leadership in homers (191) and pitching buoyed the Dodgers. A successful arm operation gave a new life to lefty Tommy John, whose 20 victories led the pitching staff. Offensively, outfielder Reggie Smith’s .302-32-87 led the attack, with outfielder Dusty Baker and infielders Garvey and Ron Cey each topping the 30 mark in homers. Meanwhile, the Phillies repeated in the East, their 101 victories leading the league and topping the runner-up Pirates by 5 games. The Phillies led the league in batting at .279. Outfielder Luzinski’s .309-30-130 was his best effort, and Schmidt again powered 38 homers while driving in 101 runs. Carlton led the pitchers with 23 victories, and Larry Christenson’s 196 mark was his best in the majors; moreover, the bullpen’s 43 saves topped the league. Still, the Dodgers defeated the Phillies in four games in the LCS. However, the Dodgers got their comeuppance from the Yankees, who won the 1977 World Series in six games.
Although the victory margin for both teams was skimpier, the 1978 divisional races repeated the scenario of the previous year. In the West the Dodgers repeated by edging the Reds by 2 «games. Once again the pitching staff was the league’s best (3.12 ERA). Starters Burt Hooton, Tommy John, Don Sutton, and Doug Rau won 66 games, and reliever Terry Forster saved 22. Garvey headed the team’s .264 batting attack with .316-21-113 stickwork; and Cey, Reggie Smith, and Rick Monday combined for 71 homers to head the team’s league-leading homer barrage. In the East the Phillies won for a third straight year, but by a skimpy 1-game margin over the Pirates. Luzinski’s 35 homers and 101 RBI paced a weak .258 batting assault; and Carlton (with 16 wins) and Dick Ruthven (with 13 wins), and relievers Ron Reed and McGraw led the Phils’ pitching staff, which was the best in the Eastern Division, but a far cry from the Dodgers’ mark of 1978. In LCS play the Dodgers again trounced the Phillies in four games, but again the Dodgers fell to their old Yankee nemesis in six games.
As the decade waned, the Pirates returned to power in the East by edging the runner-up Expos by 2 games. It was the sixth Eastern title of this era for the Pirates, who batted a lusty .272 but whose mediocre pitching staff depended heavily on its superb bullpen headed by Kent Tekulve, who appeared in 94 games and saved 31. Third baseman Bill Madlock’s .328 batting led the team along with Parker (.310-25-94) and Stargell, whose 32 homers helped drive in 82 runs. At the same time in the West, the Reds also won their sixth divisional title of the era, beating the Astros by 1 «games. With Rose gone by way of the re-entry draft, his replacement Ray Knight batted .318 and, along with outfielders Griffey (.316) and Foster (.302-30-98), paced the team’s .264 batting. Seaver’s 16 victories led the team’s mediocre pitching staff. The two rival dynasties met for a last time to date in LCS play with the Pirates sweeping the Reds. In World Series action the Pirates fell behind the Orioles three games to one, but swept the last three games for a stunning victory.
In 1980 the Phillies ended a thirty-year drought by winning an NL pennant. Goaded by manager Dallas Green, the Phillies won 21 of their last 28 games to eke a 1-game victory over the Expos in the East. An MVP performance by slugger Schmidt, who hit 48 homers and drove in 121 runs, powered the Phils, who also got .309 batting from outfielder Bake McBride, and .282 batting and inspired leadership from the transplanted Pete Rose. Lefty Carlton’s 24 wins led the league and won him the Cy Young Award, and Dick Ruthven won 17, while bullpen stalwart Tug McGraw saved 20 games. In the West the Dodgers and Astros finished in a dead heat as the front-running Astros lost their last three games to the visiting Dodgers. But in a sudden-death playoff for the Western Division title, Joe Niekro pitched the Astros to a 71 victory over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. The Astros got .309 hitting from outfielder Cesar Cedeno, and the team batted .261, but the punchless offense produced only 75 homers. But the Astros’ pitching staff was the league’s best. Joe Niekro won 20 games, Nolan Ryan won 11, and Vern Ruhle won 12. Ruhle’s pitching compensated for the loss of power pitcher J.R. Richard, who had compiled a 104, 1.89 record when he sustained a career- ending stroke. In LCS play the Phils and Astros battled through five games, with the rebounding Phillies scoring two extra-inning victories in Houston to land the pennant. Thus emboldened, the Phillies went on to beat the Royals in a six-game World Series tussle. It was the Phillies’ first world championship in the club’s ninety-seven-year history as an NL team.
But in the season after Philadelphia’s momentous victory, which saw the local police deploying mounted troopers and guard dogs to restrain the delirious Philadelphia fans, the major leagues were staggered by a crippling player strike.
EMBATTLED DECADE CAMPAIGNS: 1981-1990
The conservative mood that gripped the nation in the late 1970s also held sway during these years and helped to catapult Ronald Reagan to landslide victories in the presidential elections of 1980 and 1984. Indeed, ex-movie actor Reagan was no stranger to baseball fans, many of whom saw him play the role of ex- pitching great Grover Cleveland Alexander on the silver screen. And now, as an avowed conservative, President Reagan sought to divert the nation’s economy toward a free-enterprise course by such tactics as cutting federal taxes and reducing federal domestic spending programs. At the same time Reagan advocated a powerful national defense posture aimed at combating the spread of international communism.
But Reagan’s first term was darkened by an economic recession which contributed to high unemployment. Especially hard hit by unemployment were minorities and blue-collar workers in declining industries. Among the declining industries were such former bellwether industries as steel and mining, whose sagging production was attributed to foreign competition. However, the American economy in the main continued to shift from its former heavy-industrial base to its present emphasis on high technology and information and services production.
Nevertheless, before Reagan’s first term ended, such factors as federal tax cuts and falling inflation and interest rates spurred an economic recovery which continued into 1987. The boomlet reduced unemployment, but for most workers wage increases were small, and some 20 million Americans still remained at or near the poverty level in 1987. Indeed, some critics faulted Reagan’s economic policies for favoring the well-to-do, whose ranks by 1987 included a million millionaires and a score of billionaires among a population of 240 million.
But prospects for continuing affluence dimmed as the year 1987 closed amidst fears of an impending recession. In October the nation’s burgeoning national debt (estimated at $2.6 trillion) and a chronic foreign-trade imbalance triggered financial panics in domestic and foreign stock markets. Aggravated by the festering Iran-Contra scandal and the naval confrontation with Iran in the Persian Gulf, the economic crisis boded ill for the Reagan Administration and for the nation’s future.
Moreover, other menacing problems clouded the nation’s future. Among them was the epidemic of drug abuse which defied efforts at punitive control. According to a 1985 estimate, the multibillion- dollar illegal drug industry was being supported by 20 million American consumers. Included were scores of professional athletes who confronted their officials with the knotty problem of disciplining abusers without violating their civil rights.
And yet for all the sobering national problems, most Americans of these years enjoyed moderately prosperous lifestyles. For this accomplishment, the two-paycheck family trend was largely responsible. By 1987 working women, whose ranks included most wives, accounted for more than half of the American labor force.
Buoyed by the additional income, most Americans continued to spend lavishly on leisure and recreational activities. According to one report, Americans in 1987 were spending well over $50 billion a year on gambling, sports betting, and physical activities alone. And among the host of available leisure activities, television viewing, especially televised sports programs, maintained a leading position.
Certainly America’s continuing infatuation with major sports was a blessing for baseball as revenues from live attendance and television continued to grow at a record-setting pace. At the same time, however, spiraling player salaries pitted players against owners in a series of pitched battles on the labor front.
Indeed, embattled relations between players and owners was a leitmotif of this era. In 1981 the failure of owners and players to agree on a new labor contract triggered a crippling baseball strike-the worst in the history of major league baseball since the 1890 debacle. A major bone of contention was the owners’ demand that a club receive a veteran player as compensation for losing a player in one of the annual re-entry drafts. When the deadline for an agreement expired with no compromise, the players struck on June 11, 1981. Once the strike began, it lasted some fifty days and wiped out a third of the season’s playing schedule. The strike cost the united players at least $30 million in lost salaries, and the owners lost an estimated $116 million in revenues. However, the owners were partly compensated by $50 million in strike insurance. On the last day of July, a compromise ended the great player strike.
The owners won their point on the player compensation issue, but they had to settle for an indirect approach. Thus when a team lost a player in a re-entry draft, the team got to choose a veteran player from a pool of surplus players provided by all major league teams. For their part, the players also successfully fended off the owners’ demand for a ceiling on salaries. Agreement on these and lesser issues produced a fifth Basic Agreement, which ran through the season of 1984. The eleventh-hour agreement saved what was left of the 1981 season, but the salvage format devised by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn drew much criticism. Kuhn’s plan called for a split-season campaign, a format which had been tried and discarded as unsatisfactory in 1892.
Under Kuhn’s scheme, the first-half winners were those teams which led their divisions at the time of the June 11 player walkout. The second-half winners would be the teams that led the divisions at the close of the campaign after the resumption of play in August. By ruling first-half winners ineligible to repeat as champions, Kuhn’s plan of scheduling a round of playoffs to decide the divisional championships in each league was assured. Thus a separate best-of-five playoff series was scheduled to settle first the matter of the 1981 divisional championships. Thereafter, the winners engaged in the usual best-of-five game series to determine the champions of each league. Although the format worked as planned, it was faulted for producing lackadaisical play on the part of three of the four first-half winners and for reducing attendance in the second half of what writer Red Smith called “the dishonest season.
Nor did the great strike of 1981 end the tensions between the embattled players and owners. When the fifth Basic Agreement expired at the end of 1984 with no agreement in place, a new strike threat loomed in 1985. With salaries continuing their upward spiral, averaging $363,000 in 1984 with 36 players paid at least a million dollars that year, the owners determined to arrest the trend.
Correctly zeroing in on salary arbitration as the cause of runaway salaries, the owners demanded that a player wait more than the current two-year period before becoming eligible for salary arbitration. In addition, the owners renewed their demand for a ceiling on salaries. Naturally the players resisted, and when no agreement was reached, the players struck on August 6, 1985. But this time the walkout lasted only two days; obviously neither side wanted a repeat of the 1981 ordeal. Following the resumption of negotiations, a sixth Basic Agreement was promulgated. The new contract compromised on the major issues. For their part, the owners failed to get a salary ceiling, but the players agreed to wait three years instead of two to become eligible for salary arbitration.
The players won increased pension benefits, which now would pay a retired veteran with ten years of major league service an annual pension of $91,000! And the owners also won their demand to increase the popular League Championship Series playoffs to a best-of-seven-games format beginning with the 1985 season.
Still, the new four-year Basic Agreement failed to end the hostilities between players and owners. As salaries continued to soar, the owners unilaterally cut team player rosters to twenty-four men and proceeded to boycott the re-entry drafts of 1985-1987. Despite the presence of veteran stars on the auction blocks in those years, there were no bidders. In retaliation, the Players Association charged collusion and filed separate grievances for each of the two boycotted drafts. In September 1987 arbiter Thomas Roberts ruled in favor of the players in the first of those suits, that of 1985. Shortly thereafter, arbiter George Nicolau ruled against the owners in the 1986 and 1987 cases of alleged grievances. The rulings awarded damages of $280 million to the players involved. As a result the chastened owners engaged in open bidding in the re-entry markets of 1988 and 1989. But the Players Association insisted on further collusion protection, which became part of the seventh Basic Agreement that was negotiated after the 1990 lockout. A proviso in that agreement imposed triple damages for any repetition of owner collusion in the signing of free agents.
Still, whatever the outcome of this impending struggle, the players of this era were obvious winners on the salary front. In 1982, the year after the great strike, salaries averaged $250,000. Two years later the average salary climbed to $330,000, almost the same as that of the highest-paid manager, Tom Lasorda of the Dodgers. Then in 1986 the average salary peaked at $412,000 before falling slightly to $410,000 in 1987.
The decrease was due in part to teams releasing veteran players and calling up minor leaguers, some of whom could be paid the minimum salary of $62,500. But the decrease was a minor one as annual payrolls for major league clubs in 1987 topped $295 million. Of course, payrolls varied from team to team; in 1987 the Yankee payroll of $18.5 million topped all others, while the $5.6 million payroll of the Seattle Mariners was the lowest of the twenty- six teams.
Average figures also failed to tell the full story of player gains of this era. Boosting average salary figures were the growing number of million-dollar-a-year players. In 1984 there were twenty; in 1985, thirty-six; in 1986, fifty-eight; and in 1987, fifty-seven.
Among these plutocrats were a number of $2-million-a-year men, including slugger Mike Schmidt of the Phillies. In signing a two-year contract late in 1987, Schmidt successfully bucked the rumored attempt by owners to hold salaries at $2 million. In Schmidt’s words, “I wanted the salary to read $2.25 million probably more for negotiating reasons for my fellow players. . . . I want my fellow players to know that’s what top dollar is now.’ Small wonder then that salaries of baseball players now exceeded those of any rival team sports in America.
In defense of these astronomical player salaries, one could cite major league baseball’s continuing prosperity. In this era, annual attendance at major league games repeatedly set new records. After the jarring strike of 1981 limited attendance to 22 million, attendance rebounded to a record 45 million the following year. And despite the national recession, that record fell in 1983. And, after falling by a mere 800,000 in 1984, attendance continued upward. In 1986 annual attendance totaled 47,500,000 and in 1987 it topped 52 million. As in every year since its mini- expansion in 1977, the AL led in attendance, and in 1987 the AL outdrew the NL by 2.5 million.
But as always, attendance was unevenly distributed among the clubs. Until 1987 only the Dodgers had topped the 3 million mark in annual attendance, which they did on several occasions, but that year the NL Mets and Cardinals also cracked that barrier. Meanwhile, no AL team had broken the 3 million attendance barrier, but in 1987 the Toronto Blue Jays neared the mark, and in 1988 the Twins surpassed it. Moreover, the attendance picture was brightening for teams located in older cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, where demographic reports showed a reversal of population losses.
However, revenues from soaring attendance alone could not have supported the astonishing salaries of this era. What made the difference was television revenue, which some critics blamed for stimulating the trend by casting ballplayers in the company of highly paid TV celebrities. Be that as it may, in 1983 major league officials negotiated a $1.1 billion, six-year network television contract. When the contract took effect in 1984, revenues from network and local TV sources exceeded those of ticket sales. Although revenues from local TV contracts tended to favor teams that were located in the more lucrative local TV markets, the network TV contract in its final year of 1989 promised a hefty $230 million for all clubs to divide.
Nevertheless, it was too soon to write finis to the old adage that “at the gate is baseball’s fate.’ In 1985 a reported decline in network TV advertising sales raised the specter that the overexposure of televised sports programs would reverse the trend. Should ratings of televised sports programs decline further, the amount of revenue from network TV would be further reduced.
At this time critics blamed drug abuse by players for lessening the popularity of major sports. But surprisingly baseball’s popularity was little affected by revelations of drug abuse by players of this era. In 1980 director Ken Moffett of the Players Association admitted that as many as 40 percent of major league players might be drug abusers. In 1983 the problem reached serious proportions when three Kansas City Royals players were sentenced to jail terms as convicted users. That same year a Dodger pitcher was suspended, and in 1985 a San Diego Padres player was traded for similar offenses. And in 1985 baseball’s public image was further tarnished by revelations coming from two Pittsburgh court trials of drug sellers. The testimony named seventeen players as drug users. Although these revelations had no discernible impact on the game’s popularity, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth chose to treat the matter as a major scandal.
But the commissioner’s attempt to force all players to submit to periodic drug tests ran afoul of the Players Association, which insisted that the issue be addressed through collective- bargaining procedures. Still, Ueberroth suspended the accused players and, as a condition for reinstatement, forced each player to donate up to 10 percent of his salary to charities and to engage in antidrug campaigns.
After ruling on this matter, Ueberroth announced at the opening of the 1986 season that the drug problem in baseball was solved. But this face-saving claim ignored the reality of the national epidemic of drug abuse and was mocked by the failure of President Reagan’s vaunted 1986 antidrug crusade. Indeed, it is most unlikely that the game has been purged of drug abuse, and the problem of devising a punitive policy continued to be an unresolved issue facing the game as it entered the decade of the 1990s.
That major league baseball’s popularity was so little troubled by drug scandals, strikes, soaring salaries, or even the economic recession owed much to the dazzling style of play. Indeed, fans of this era witnessed the apotheosis of the big-bang offensives. In the AL, where sluggers consistently outhomered NL swingers by wide margins, homer records fell like sheaves. Over this seven-year span AL sluggers averaged 2,000 homers a year, with record- breaking seasons succeeding each other over the years 1985-1987. In 1985 AL sluggers bashed 2,178; in 1986, 2,240; and in 1987, a gargantuan 2,634 homers were struck. What’s more, NL sluggers in 1987 weighed in with 1,824 homers to break their league’s 1970 record.
Major league baseball’s 1987 cannonade saw twenty-eight players hit 30 or more homers, including twenty American leaguers. Rookie Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics led the AL with 49–an all-time seasonal mark by a yearling, the feat won McGwire a unanimous vote for Rookie of the Year honors. Meanwhile, Andre Dawson of the Cubs matched McGwire’s output and won the NL MVP Award despite his team’s last-place finish in the NL East. Among the most consistent sluggers of this era, Mike Schmidt of the Phillies led NL sluggers four times, while Dale Murphy of the Braves twice topped the league. By the end of the 1988 season, Schmidt’s total of 542 homers ranked him with the all-time leading clouters and following his retirement early in the 1989 season, Schmidt was named Player of the Decade by The Sporting News. And at the end of the 1987 season, Reggie Jackson retired from the AL wars with a lifetime total of 563 homers. Jackson’s passing from the game left a lonesome gap in AL power circles which young Goliaths like McGwire, Pete Incaviglia, Jose Canseco, George Bell, and Jesse Barfield seemed destined to fill.
But if this era’s homer production was unprecedented, seasonal batting achievements were ordinary. Thanks to its designated hitter rule, AL batters annually surpassed NL hitters, with seasonal AL averages topping .260 while those of the NL hovered around the .255 mark. In the NL, black stars continued their batting leadership. Black stars won all of the NL batting titles of this era, with veteran Bill Madlock of the Pirates capturing a pair and young Tony Gwynn of the Padres winning three. It was otherwise in the AL, where a single dominating hitter, third baseman Wade Boggs of the Red Sox, captured four batting titles. An ideal leadoff hitter, the lefty-swinging Boggs batted .349 as a rookie in 1982. Over the next five seasons Boggs averaged a Cobbian .368. Moreover, in 1987 Boggs belted 24 homers to triple his best seasonal homer output thus far. In 1989, he became the first AL player to post seven consecutive 200-hit seasons.
Among the memorable batting feats of this era, Pete Rose gained immortality on September 4, 1985, when the Cincinnati player- manager’s single off pitcher Eric Show of the Padres broke Cobb’s lifetime record of 4,191 hits. To be sure, Rose needed 2,300 more at bats than Cobb did to turn the trick, but the forty-four- year-old sparkplug put his feat into proper perspective when he said, “I might not be the best player, but I got the most hits.’ Indeed, and when Rose retired from active play at the end of the 1986 season, he had extended the total hit record to 4,256. While nothing touched Rose’s accomplishment, the explosive 1987 season saw Don Mattingly of the Yankees match Dale Long’s feat of homering in eight consecutive games, while Paul Molitor of the Brewers hit safely in 39 consecutive games, and rookie catcher Benito Santiago of the Padres hit safely in 34. Santiago’s feat won for him NL Rookie of the Year honors.
In the offensive category of stolen bases, NL speedsters perennially topped their AL counterparts. At this time the newly crowned prince of thieves was outfielder Vince Coleman of the Cardinals. In 1985 Coleman set a rookie record with 110 steals, and at the end of the 1987 season he became the first player ever to swipe 100 or more bases in three consecutive seasons. However, Coleman had yet to top the latest seasonal record of 130 thefts, set by outfielder Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics in 1982.
Indeed, in 1990 Henderson broke Ty Cobb’s AL record for the most steals, zipped by the mark of Sliding Billy Hamilton, and zeroed in on Lou Brock’s major league record.
Not surprisingly the offensive pyrotechnics of these years had pundits wondering whatever had happened to pitching. Indeed, seasonal ERAs skyrocketed in both leagues, with the AL average well above 4.00 and that of the NL above 3.70. Of course this meant that the always volatile pitching-batting equilibrium was again out of whack. For the latest imbalance, observers proffered such explanations as livelier balls, narrowed strike zones, pitchers’ fears of retaliation if they threw inside to batters, pitchers relying too much on breaking pitches, and managers relying more on their bullpen and demanding too little of their starters. Indeed, the numbers of complete games pitched by starting pitchers declined as managers relied more on specialized relief pitchers. Among the bullpen specialists, the most celebrated continued to be the firemen who were counted to come on late in a game to save a victory. Among the best were Dan Quisenberry, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Todd Worrell, Dave Righetti, Gene Garber (who notched his 200th career save in 1987), and Lee Smith, who set a record by recording 30 or more saves in three consecutive seasons.
Still, it seemed evident that more than yeomanlike relief work was needed to restore pitching to a proper balance with hitting. For now, managers complained of poorly trained pitchers, while pitchers blamed prevailing rules for favoring batters. Nor was it surprising that some pitchers were smuggling in illegal scuffed-ball and spitball deliveries.
However, good pitchers were by no means extinct. In this era Nolan Ryan hurled a record-setting fifth no-hitter in 1981. And at the end of the 1988 season, the forty-one-year-old fireballer, who had lost little of his earlier velocity, extended his all-time leading strikeout total to 4,775 whiffs. Indeed, in 1987 Ryan’s 270 strikeouts led the NL, and his 2.76 ERA hardly justified his 816 won-loss record. In 1989, the forty-two-year-old Ryan fanned 301 batters and topped the 5000 mark in In strikeouts. 1990 the venerable fireballer hurled a sixth no-hitter to break his earlier record of five, and in 1991 he hurled his seventh.
Among the promising younger pitchers, Dwight Gooden of the Mets blazed his way to a 244, 1.53 ERA, with 268 strikeouts in 1985. And the following year Roger Clemens of the Red Sox also went 244 to become the first starting pitcher in fifteen years to win the AL MVP Award. Naturally Clemens also won the Cy Young Award that year, and when the ace went 209 in 1987, despite early-season ineffectiveness caused by his salary holdout, Clemens won a second Cy Young Award. By winning two straight, Clemens joined the select company of Sandy Koufax, Denny McLain, and Jim Palmer as the only pitchers to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards. And in 1988 Orel Hershiser’s performance from August through October was unprecedented.
RECENT CAMPAIGNS: THE AL, 1981-1990
The long unrealized dream of an era of competitive balance now became something of a reality in the AL, as each of the first seven campaigns produced a new league champion. Moreover, eleven different teams won divisional titles in these years. However, in the West the Oakland Athletics won three divisional championships and captured consecutive league championships in 1988-1989. And the Tigers, Royals, Red Sox, and Angels each won a pair of divisional pennants in this era. The AL’s free-for-all pattern began with the singular campaign of 1981.When the long player strike gutted the middle of that season, a split-season format was adopted in hopes of renewing fan support for the arrested campaign. Under this format, the first half of the season ended when the players walked out on June 11, and the second half ran from the resumption of play in mid-August to the end of the regular playing schedule. Because the June 11 strike date had the Yankees leading the Orioles by 2 games in the East, and the Athletics leading the Rangers by 1.5 games in the West, these teams were declared the first-half winners of their divisions. But when the split-season plan barred first-half winners from repeating as divisional champs, the Yankees dawdled to a sixth-place finish in the East’s second-half race. Thus the Milwaukee Brewers won the second-half Eastern race by 1.5 games over the Red Sox. In the West, the Athletics lost the second half to the Royals by 1 game.
At this point, the split-season script called for a best-of-five-games playoff series to determine the divisional championships. In the East the series went the full five games before the Yankees defeated the Brewers, but in the West the scrappy Athletics swept the Royals. Then in the ensuing League Championship Series the Yankees swept the Athletics. Although the Yankees won the 1981 AL pennant, their overall record was bettered by two other teams. The Yankee victory owed to its pitching staff, whose 2.90 ERA led the league; starters Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti combined for 19 wins, and reliever Goose Gossage saved 20 games. As for the Athletics, whose overall record was the AL’s best, they led the league in homers. The Athletics were led by outfielder Rickey Henderson, who batted .319 and led the league in stolen bases, and pitcher Steve McCatty, whose 14 wins and 2.32 ERA led the league. As for the Yankees, their comeuppance came in the World Series. Matched against the resilient Dodgers, the Yankees took the first two games, but then were ignominiously swept. And by losing three games in relief, Yankee pitcher George Frazier added his name to the annals of World Series goats.
In the dog-eat-dog competition of the next six AL seasons, the Yankees failed to win another divisional title. In 1982 the Brewers squeaked to a 1-game win over the Orioles in the East. In winning, the Brewers batted .279 and the team’s 216 homers topped the majors, with shortstop Robin Yount winning MVP honors for his .331-29-114 batting exploits. Outfielder Gorman Thomas led the league with 39 homers and drove in 112 runs. And infielders Cecil Cooper (.331-32-121) and Paul Molitor (.302-19-71) complemented Yount’s stickwork. But the pitching was shaky, except for starters Pete Vuckovich and Mike Caldwell, who combined for 35 victories. Veteran reliever Rollie Fingers saved 29 games, so the late-season injury that sidelined this mustachioed ace was a crusher. In the West, the California Angels won a close race by 3 games over the Royals. A good hitting team, the Angels finished right behind the Brewers in hitting and homers, and their pitching bettered the Brewers. Starter Geoff Zahn’s 18 wins led the staff. Offensively, a quartet of expensive recent acquisitions paced the attack, including infielders Rod Carew (.319) and Doug DeCinces (.301-30-97), and outfielders Fred Lynn (.299) and Reggie Jackson (39 homers and 102 RBI). Jackson’s 39 homers tied Thomas for the league leadership, and the veteran drove in 101 runs. When these two well-matched teams met in LCS play, for a time it seemed likely that Angel manager Gene Mauch might win his first pennant. The Angels took the first two games at home, but were swept by the Brewers in Milwaukee. Thus the Brewers became the first major league team to win an LCS after losing the first two games. But in World Series play it was the Cardinals who rebounded from a 32 deficit to defeat the Brewers. This latest loss was the fourth in a row by an AL entry.
But over the next three seasons, three different AL teams ended the NL streak by winning world titles. In 1983 the Orioles drove to a 6-game victory over the runner-up Tigers in the Eastern Division. Pitchers Scott McGregor (187), Mike Boddicker (168), Storm Davis (137), and reliever Tippy Martinez (with 21 saves) headed the league’s second-best pitching staff. At bat the Orioles hit .269, and the team’s 168 homers led the majors. Shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr.’s .318-27-102 batting won him MVP honors, while first baseman Eddie Murray weighed in with .306-33-111 clouting. Meanwhile, in the West the long-dormant Chicago White Sox stormed to a 20-game victory over the Royals. In landing their first divisional title, the White Sox drew 2 million fans, who saw young Ron Kittle win Rookie of the Year honors with his 35 homers and 100 RBI. Although lacking a .300 hitter, the White Sox got plentiful power from outfielder Harold Baines (20-99), catcher Carlton Fisk (26-86), and DH Greg Luzinski (32-95). What’s more, the White Sox boasted a pair of 20-game winners in Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt (2410) and Rich Dotson (227). Behind Hoyt, the White Sox won the first LCS game, but the Orioles swept the next three games to win the pennant. The Orioles then dropped the opening game of the 1983 World Series at home, but then swept the Phillies to end the AL’s humiliating losing streak.The following year another new champion surfaced in the AL East, which was now being touted as the strongest division in the majors. Riding the momentum of a 35-5 breakaway gait, the Detroit Tigers went on to win 104 games, enough to lap the Toronto Blue Jays by 15 games. It was indeed a vintage year for manager Sparky Anderson’s all-conquering Tigers. Offensively the Tigers led the league in hitting (.271) and homers (187). Shortstop Alan Trammell batted .314, and outfielder Kirk Gibson and catcher Lance Parrish combined to produce 60 homers and 189 RBI. To top it off, the Tigers also fielded the league’s best pitching staff. Starters Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox turned in 54 victories and reliever Willie Hernandez, a recent acquisition from the Phillies, saved 32 games.
In 32 of his 33 game-saving situations, Hernandez met the test, an achievement that won him both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Meanwhile, in the weaker Western Division the Royals eked a 3-game win over the Angels and Twins, but the Royals won only six more games than they lost. The Royals batted .268, with outfielder Willie Wilson and DH Hal McRae topping the .300 mark. But the pitching was mediocre and the staff depended heavily on reliever Dan Quisenberry, who saved 44 games. When the Tigers and Royals faced off in LCS play, the Tigers won the 1984 AL pennant by dispatching the Royals in three games. And in World Series action, the Tigers easily defeated the San Diego Padres in five games. By skippering the Tigers to victory, Sparky Anderson became the first manager to win World Series titles in both the American and National leagues.
But the Tigers’ view from the top was a brief one. In 1985 they fell 15 games off the pace, leaving the Eastern field to the Blue Jays and Yankees. And at the close of the season, the Blue Jays topped the Yankees by 2 games, to win their first divisional title since joining the AL in the mini-expansion of 1977. The rise of the Blue Jays owed much to general manager Pat Gillick, who, by dint of shrewd trades and canny selections in annual surplus-player drafts, swiftly assembled a pennant contender. In 1985 the Blue Jays’ pitching staff led the league, and outfielder Jesse Barfield (.289-27-84) powered an offense that produced a .269 team batting average and 158 homers. Pitcher Dave Stieb’s 2.48 ERA led the league’s pitchers, although his 14-13 record was disappointing. Starters Doyle Alexander and Jimmy Key combined for 31 victories, and Dennis Lamp posted an 11-0 record in relief. In the lightly regarded Western Division, meanwhile, the Royals became the only AL team of this brief era to repeat as divisional champs. In winning by a single game over the Angels, the Royals batted only .252, but powered 154 homers. Third baseman George Brett’s .335-30-112 led the hitters, and first baseman Steve Balboni drove in 88 runs and hit 36 homers. The pitching was good. Young Bret Saberhagen’s 20-6, 2.87 ERA won him the Cy Young Award, Charlie Leibrandt’s 17 wins came on the league’s second-best ERA, and reliever Dan Quisenberry saved 37 games. When the Blue Jays and Royals squared off in the newly extended seven-game LCS, the Blue Jays took a 3-1 lead, but the gritty Royals came on to win in seven games, beating the Blue Jays in their home roost the last two games. In the World Series, the resilient Royals staged yet another memorable comeback against the favored Cardinals. After losing the first two games at home, the Royals fell behind 31, but rallied to win the next three games. This latest World Series victory extended the AL’s winning streak to three.
In another topsy-turvy campaign, the 1986 Red Sox dethroned the Blue Jays in the East. The Red Sox took the lead in June and hung on to win the division pennant by 5.5 games over the Yankees. A .271 team batting assault was fronted by batting champ Wade Boggs (.357-8-71) and outfielder Jim Rice (.324-20-110). Boston’s overall pitching was mediocre, but starter Roger Clemens led all pitchers with a 244, 2.48 effort that won the big righthander both the MVP and Cy Young awards. While the Red Sox were winning in the East, the Royals faded in the West as arm miseries tolled on young Saberhagen. Thus the Angels won the division by 5 games over the Texas Rangers. Rookie first baseman Wally Joyner, who replaced the great Carew, batted .299-22-100 to head the Angels’ weak .255 batting. But Angel pitching ranked second in the AL, with Mike Witt winning 18 on a sparkling 2.84 ERA, Kirk McCaskill and veteran Don Sutton combining for 32 wins, and reliever Donnie Moore saving 21 games. When the Angels took a 3-1 lead over the Red Sox in LCS play, it now appeared as if manager Gene Mauch might win his first pennant in twenty-five years at the helm of major league teams. Indeed, in the fifth game Mauch’s Angels were one pitch away from a league title, but the Red Sox rallied to win the game on heroics by Dave Henderson. The Red Sox then took the next two games at home to land the 1986 AL pennant. In the World Series the Red Sox jumped to a 3-2 lead over the Mets and appeared on the verge of winning their first world title since 1918, but the Mets crushed the dream by winning the last two games at Shea Stadium.As a climax to the eighty-six-year history of the AL, the 1987 season provided a storied campaign. In a frenetic season which saw AL sluggers set yet another homer mark and attendance climb to new heights, both divisional races were fiercely contested. In the East waged an epic struggle that ended in a 2-game victory by the Tigers. With seven games to play, the Blue Jays led by 3.5 games, but incredibly they lost all seven, including three vital games to the Tigers in Detroit. Hefty .272 batting and a major-league-leading 225 homer barrage powered the Tigers, whose shaky pitching staff was bolstered by the September acquisition of veteran Doyle Alexander from the Braves. By posting a 50 record with the Tigers, Alexander was named Pitcher of the Month by The Sporting News. Among the offensive standouts, shortstop Alan Trammell batted .343-28-105, young catcher Matt Nokes, who replaced the departed Parrish, batted .289-32-87, and forty-year-old first baseman Darrell Evans hit 34 homers and drove in 99 runs. With Anderson’s Tigers posting the best record in the majors, scant hope was afforded the Western-winning Minnesota Twins, who defeated the Royals by 2 games to win their first divisional title. Indeed, the Twins surrendered more runs (806) than they scored (786). But the Twins batted .261 and poled 196 homers; outfielder Kirby Puckett (.332-28-99) led the hitters, with outfielder Tom Brunansky and infielders Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti combining for 97 homers and 284 RBI. On the other hand, Twins’ pitchers allowed a horrendous 4.63 ERA. But the staff’s most respectable member, Frank Viola, stood out as the winningest left-handed pitcher in the majors over the past four seasons. In 1986 Viola posted a 1710, 2.90 ERA, and veteran Bert Blyleven recorded a 1512 mark.
Matched against the Tigers in LCS play, the Twins were scorned as hometown dependents whose outstanding home record owed to the vagaries of their much-maligned domed stadium. But the Twins thrashed the Tigers in five games to win their first AL pennant in twenty-two years. Moreover, they went on to beat the crippled Cardinals in a seven-game World Series struggle by scoring all of their victories in their cozy “homer dome’ before capacity crowds of screaming, hankie-waving fans. Thus the 1987 World Series stood out as the first where all victories were won on home fields. And the Twins were indeed fortunate to have hosted four of the games in their favorite bailiwick.
In 1988 a timely rule change which redefined the strike zone helped to quell the raging homer epidemic. In an anticlimactic season that saw batting and power hitting tail off, the well-balanced Oakland Athletics dominated the AL West from the start. The A’s 104 victories topped the majors and lapped the runner-up Minnesota Twins by 13 games. League-leading pitching, paced by Dave Stewart’s 21 wins and reliever Dennis Eckersley’s 45 saves, carried the A’s who were powered by young outfielder Jose Canseco’s .307-42-124 batting. Canseco also stole 40 bases to become the first player to notch at least 40 homers and as many stolen bases. Meanwhile the AL East saw the only hotly contested divisional race in the majors, as the Boston Red Sox edged the Detroit Tigers by a single game; only 3.5 games separated the Red Sox from the sixth place Yankees. Barely playing .500 ball at the All-Star break, the Red Sox changed managers, from John McNamara to Joe Morgan, and staged an extended winning streak that carried them to the top. Despite a late-season slump, they hung on to win. Leading the Boston attack, perennial batting champ Wade Boggs batted .366 to lead the majors and outfielder Mike Greenwell weighed in with a .325-22-119 performance. Ace pitchers Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst each won 18 games and newly acquired reliever Lee Smith saved 29; still, the Red Sox needed the timely pitching of Mike Boddicker, who joined the staff from the Orioles late in the season and won seven games for Boston. However, the Red Sox were mismatched against the A’s, who stormed to a sweeping victory in LCS play on the strength of Canseco’s 3 homers and Eckersley’s four saves in relief of the starters. In the World Series the A’s were held in check by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitchers, notably Orel Hershiser, whose three hits in Game 2 exceeded the Series total of Canseco and Mark McGwire combined.But the resilient A’s came back with a vengeance in 1989. Newcomers included outfielder Rickey Henderson, acquired from the Yankees, and veteran pitcher Mike Moore, picked up in the re-entry draft. Moore signed for $1.9 million, which he repaid by winning 19 games with a nifty 2.61 ERA. Moore buttressed a pitching staff headed by Dave Stewart, whose 21 victories marked the third consecutive year he matched or topped 20 wins. Bob Welch added 17 victories and reliever Dennis Eckersley saved 33 games. Offensively, Henderson led the league in stolen bases (72) and tied for the lead in runs scored (113). Henderson’s production offset the loss of slugger Canseco, who missed 88 games because of an injury. Returning to action, Canseco hit 17 homers to augment the 33 hit by McGwire, who drove in 95 runs. Manager Tony LaRussa’s team batted .261 with 127 homers. Meanwhile in the AL East, Manager Frank Robinson took over the helm of the hapless Orioles, who won but 54 games in 1988, and drove them to within two games of the divisional championship. For this achievement Robinson was voted AL Manager of the Year, thus becoming the first black manager to win the award in both major leagues. But the AL East championship went to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were skippered by Cito Gaston. In 1989 Gaston took over a 12-24 team and drove them to a 2-game victory over the Orioles, thus becoming the first black manager to land a divisional title. Toronto’s pitching staff was the best in the East, but ranked only fourth in the AL. Dave Stieb’s 178 pitching led the hurlers, while six Blue Jay sluggers, led by AL homer champ Fred McGriff’s 36 blows, reached double figures in homer production. But when the Blue Jays faced the A’s in LCS play, the A’s crushed them in five games. And matched against the NL Giants in the earthquake-ravaged Bay Area World Series, the A’s swept to victory. For pitching two of the four victories, Stewart was named the Series MVP.
Early in the year 1990 continuing animosity stalled the latest negotiations between owners and players for a new Basic Agreement. With tensions inflamed by revelations of owner collusion against free agent players over the years 1985-1987, negotiations broke down. Coming as it did on the centennial anniversary of the great player strike of 1890, this latest confrontation evoked a ghostly sense of deja vu. Thus when the sixth Basic Agreement expired with no new one in place, the owners locked the players out of spring training camps.
The owners aimed at imposing revenue sharing and pay-for-performance plans. For their part, the players rejected these and demanded: a return to the two-year requirement for salary arbitration eligibility; the restoration of twenty-five man playing rosters; protection from owner collusion; and increases in the minimum salary and pension plan funding. With the battle lines drawn, the lockout lasted thirty-two days, affected spring training conditioning, and delayed the opening of the championship season. When a settlement was reached on March 19, the new agreement compromised on the salary arbitration issue, hiked the minimum salary to $100,000, increased the owners’ contribution to the pension fund, and provided for punitive damages to be paid in the event of any future conspiracies by owners against free agent players. The owners dropped their revenue-sharing and pay-for-performance proposals, and the players approved the expansion of the NL to fourteen clubs in 1993. Following the settlement, an attenuated spring training program began March 20 and the opening of the playing season was delayed a week. But the 162-game schedule was preserved by extending the regular season three days to make up the cancelled early games. This seventh Basic Agreement promised four years of peace, but lingering animosity between players and owners indicated that the struggle would be resumed once this latest pact expired.
With baseball hostilities returning to their natural habitat of the playing fields, fails were treated to a season of unpredictable events and performances. For one, the 1990 season saw a record nine no-hitters tossed by major league pitchers, a total that matched the number produced in some entire decades of this century. Among these, ageless Nolan Ryan’s latest masterpiece extended his record total to six. The veteran also boosted his all-time strikeout mark by fanning another 232 batters. And among relief pitchers, Bobby Thigpen of the White Sox posted a new seasonal mark with 57 saves.
In the AL such pitching pyrotechnics reduced the number of .300 batters to six, but slugger Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers, who had played in Japan during the 1989 season, wallopped 51 homers to become the first to top the 50 mark since 1977. In 1990, too, perennial league batting champs Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn faltered, allowing veterans George Brett and Willie McGee to claim titles. On another note, the season saw Commissioner Fay Vincent bar owner George Steinbrenner from running the New York Yankees. The Yanks finished last in the AL East with the worst record in the AL. The New Yorkers also suffered the ignominy of being swept in their 12 encounters with the Oakland A’s.
Indeed, in 1990 the talent-rich Oakland A’s were heavy favorites to repeat as World Champions. With star pitchers Bob Welch and Dave Stewart winning 27 and 22 games and reliever Dennis Eckersley saving 48, the A’s overcame a mediocre .254 team batting average to win 103 games, the best mark in the majors. But the A’s were dogged by the Chicago White Sox who, though finishing 9 games back in the division, attracted over 3 million fans while playing their last season in old Comiskey Park.
In the weaker AL East the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays staged the closest race in any major league division, a struggle that ended with Boston on top by two games. The Red Sox were led by pitcher Roger Clemens’ 21-6 effort that included a major league leading 1.93 ERA. In LCS play Boston’s vulnerable bullpen, the worst in the majors, faltered. In sweeping the Red Sox the A’s won a third consecutive pennant. Although heavily favored to win the World Series for a second straight time, the A’s were swept by the NL champion Cincinnati Reds.
EMBATTLED DECADE CAMPAIGNS: THE NL, 1981-1990
Although less competitively balanced than the AL, the NL campaigns of this era were hotly contested. Each one of the twelve teams won a divisional title in these years. But the Dodgers won four Western titles and captured two league pennants and two world titles, and in the East the Cardinals won three divisional races and three league championships, yet won only one World Series. Dual divisional titles were won by the Mets, Giants, and Cubs, and singletons were won by the Expos, Padres, Phillies, Braves, Astros, Pirates, and Reds.
When the long players’ strike of 1981 gutted team playing schedules by an average of 55 games, the split-season format was unveiled upon resumption of play in August in hopes of salvaging the campaign. By dint of their 1.5-game lead over the Cardinals on the June 11 strike day, the Phillies were declared first-half winners in the East; and by virtue of a mere half-game lead over the Reds on that fatal date, the Dodgers became the first-half winners in the West. These were close calls to be sure, but no closer than the results of the second-half races. In the NL East, the Montreal Expos finished a half-game up on the luckless Cardinals, while the Houston Astros edged the snakebit Reds by 1.5 games in the West.
As frustrated runners-up in two close calls, the Cardinals and Reds with the best overall record in the NL received no recognition. However, the defiant Reds later raised their own homemade pennant as a symbol of protest. In the playoffs for the divisional titles, the Expos beat the Phillies in five games to win in the East, and the Dodgers rallied from a 2-1 deficit in games to beat the Astros in the West.
The division-winning Expos and Dodgers then met in the usual League Championship Series, which the Dodgers won. Once again rallying from a 2-1 deficit, manager Lasorda’s men edged the Expos. In winning the NL’s forlorn 1981 championship, the Dodgers batted .262, led the league in homers with 82, and fielded the league’s second-ranked pitching staff. Rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela won his first eight games and finished with a 13-7 mark to pace the staff, while outfielders Pedro Guerrero (.300-12-48) and Dusty Baker (.320-9-49) led the batting attack.
In World Series play, the Dodgers once again dug themselves a hole by losing the first two games. But once again they rebounded, this time sweeping their old Yankee tormentors to win the 1981 world title.
With the game’s image blighted by the “dishonest season” of 1981, the NL sorely needed a dramatic flourish to regain its credibility. Mercifully this was supplied by the extremely close divisional races of 1982. In the NL East a four-team struggle ended with the Cardinals topping the Phillies by 3 games. At bat the Cardinals hit .264, but with scant power (67 homers). Outfielder Lonnie Smith was the only regular to top the .300 mark, but first baseman Keith Hernandez batted .299 and drove in 94 runs, and outfielder George Hendrick powered the team with his .282-19-104 hitting. By way of compensation, the Cardinals led the league in fielding and stolen bases, and owned the league’s second-best mound corps. Starters Joaquin Andujar and Bob Forsch each won 15 games, and ace reliever Bruce Sutter won 9 and saved a league-leading 36 games.
In the West, meanwhile, the Braves won their first 13 games and hung on for dear life thereafter to edge the Dodgers by a game. Offensively, the Braves batted only .256, but led the league in homers with 146. Outfielder Dale Murphy’s 36 homers generated a league-leading 109 RBI, and third baseman Bob Horner hit 32 homers and drove in 97 runs. Veteran knuckleball hurler Phil Niekro’s 17-4 effort headed the pitching staff, which needed every one of reliever Gene Garber’s 30 saves. In LCS play the Braves’ mediocre pitching tolled as the Cardinals swept to victory. In ensuing World Series play, the Cardinals fell behind the heavy-hitting Brewers 3-2, but rallied to win the final two games at home. This latest World Series victory was the fourth straight for NL contenders.
When the Cardinals succumbed to poor pitching in 1983, the Phillies snatched the Eastern title by 6 games over the Pirates. The Phillies did it with a brilliant stretch drive, winning twenty-one of their last twenty-five games. Offensively, the aging Phillies batted only .249, but third baseman Mike Schmidt’s 40 homers led the league, and his 109 RBI led the team. A sound pitching staff, fronted by John Denny’s Cy Young Award-winning 19-6 effort and reliever Al Holland’s 25 saves was a decisive factor in the victory.
Meanwhile, in the West the Dodgers also mounted a September stretch drive to topple the Braves by 3 games. Like the Phillies, the Dodgers’ .250 hitting was lackluster, but the team led the league in homers (146); outfielder Guerrero’s 32 homers and 103 RBI headed the assault. A major factor was the team’s pitching staff, whose 3.10 ERA was the league’s best. Valenzuela and Bob Welch combined for 30 victories, and reliever Steve Howe saved 18. In LCS play, veteran hurler Steve Carlton’s two victories paced the Phillies to victory in four games. However, the Philadelphia “Wheeze Kids” fell to the Orioles in five games in the 1983 World Series.
As the Phillies sank to fourth place in 1984, the long-suffering Chicago Cubs notched their first pennant of any sort since 1945. In downing the Mets by 6.5 games in the East, the Cubs staged a second-half rally, fronted by ex-Phillie infielder Ryne Sandberg’s MVP-winning .314 batting. Dodger castoff Ron Cey contributed 25 homers and 97 RBI, and young first baseman Leon “Bull” Durham weighed in with 23 homers and 96 RBI. And the pitching staff was bolstered by yet another recent acquisition, Rick Sutcliffe, whose 16-1 record won him the Cy Young Award. Starter Steve Trout chipped in with 13 victories, and reliever Lee Smith won 9 games and saved 33.
While the Cubs were winning in the East, another newcomer, the San Diego Padres, easily won the Western title by 12 games over the runner-up Braves. The Padres batted .259, with young outfielder Tony Gwynn leading the league with his .351 batting. The team’s modest total of 109 homers was augmented by third baseman Graig Nettles and outfielder Kevin McReynolds, each of whom poled 20. More distinguished was the pitching staff, whose 3.48 ERA ranked third in the league. Able starters Eric Show, Ed Whitson, and Mark Thurmond combined for 43 victories, and veteran reliever Goose Gossage won 10 and saved 25 games.
In LCS play the Cubs pounded out a pair of early victories at Wrigley Field, but the surprising Padres swept the next three games at home to become the first NL team ever to win an LCS after losing the first two games. Sad to say, however, the Padres’ world title hopes went aglimmering as the Tigers trounced them in five games in the 1984 World Series.
The following year the Cardinals won another NL pennant. In fending off the rising New York Mets by 3 games in the East, the Cardinals relied on league-leading batting and base stealing. Outfielder Willie McGee’s league-leading .353 batting won him the MVP Award, and outfielder Vince Coleman won Rookie of the Year honors by stealing 110 bases-a new record for a rookie. Among other stalwarts, second baseman Tom Herr batted .302; first baseman Jack Clark, recently acquired from the Giants, hit 22 homers and drove in 87 runs; and shortstop Ozzie Smith, who won the league’s Gold Glove Award for a sixth straight year, batted .276. What’s more, Cardinal pitching ranked second in the league, with ex-Pirate John Tudor leading the hurlers with a 21-8, 1.93 ERA performance. Starters Andujar (21 wins) and Danny Cox (18 wins) lent sturdy support, as did relievers Jeff Lahti and Ken Dayley. The pair’s 30 saves compensated for the loss of free agent Sutter.
As the Cardinals were winning in the East, the Dodgers went on to win the Western title by 5.5 games over the Reds. Offensively, the Dodgers’ .261 hitting was led by outfielder Guerrero’s .320-33-87 hitting. Better still, the Dodger pitching corps led the majors with a 2.96 ERA. The starting quartet of Orel Hershiser, Bob Welch, Jerry Reuss, and Fernando Valenzuela produced 64 wins, and the bullpen saved 31 games.
In LCS play, the well-armed Dodgers took the first two games of the newly established seven-game format, but the Cardinals swept the next four to win the NL pennant. Pitted against the underdog Royals in the 1985 World Series, the Cardinals won three of the first four games, including the first two in the Royals’ home lair. But the Royals won the fifth game at St. Louis and the final two games back home. The sixth game was marred by a disputed call at first base that gave the Royals a life of which they took Full advantage. The Royals then won the final game in an 11-0 laugher, and their victory extended the recent AL World Series winning streak to three years.
The following year the New York Mets ended the AL’s victory flurry with a dramatic win. In dominating the NL East, the 1986 Mets won 108 games to lap the runner-up Phillies by 21.5 games. Offensively, the versatile Mets led the league in hitting (.263), poled 148 homers, and stole 118 bases. First baseman Keith Hernandez (.310-13-83) headed the charge, with outfielder Darryl Strawberry and catcher Gary Carter powering a combined 51 homers and 198 RBI. As icing on their victory cake, the Mets fielded the best pitching staff in the majors. Starters Bob Ojeda (18-5), Dwight Gooden (17-6), Sid Fernandez (16-6) and Ron Darling (15-6) were formidable, as was the bullpen duo of Roger McDowell (14 wins, 22 saves) and Jesse Orosco (8 wins, 21 saves).
While the Mets were compiling the best record in the majors, the Houston Astros were winning the Western Division by 10 games over the Reds. Offensively, the Astros batted .255 with 125 homers. Outfielder Kevin Bass batted .311-20-79 to head the hitters, while first baseman Glenn Davis powered 31 homers and drove in 101 runs. Backing the Hitters was the league’s second-best pitching staff, fronted by Mike Scott’s 18-10 hurling, which was accompanied by a league-leading 2.22 ERA.
While the outcome of the LCS appeared to be a foregone conclusion, the Astros hung tough before losing in six games to the Mets. The Red Sox also fell to the Mets in World Series play, but not before throwing a scare into manager Davey Johnson’s crew. Indeed, the Red Sox took a 3-2 lead in games before the Mets rallied to win the final two games at Shea Stadium.
The following year most observers picked the swaggering Mets to repeat, but the resilient Cardinals took the 1987 Eastern title by 3 games. Although outhit by the league-leading Met batters, the Cardinals mustered .263 hitting, which they backed by stout relief pitching to pull off their victory. Offensively, the Cardinals’ 94 homers were the fewest by any major league team this season, but first baseman Jack Clark bashed 35 and drove in 106 runs. Third baseman Terry Pendleton drove in 96 runs, while shortstop Ozzie Smith drove home 75 runs with nary a homer to his credit. But the Cardinals atoned with a sprightly running game led by outfielder Vince Coleman, who topped 100 seasonal steals for the third straight season. Likewise the shaky pitching staff that completed only ten games was backed by a redoubtable relief crew whose ace, Todd Worrell, saved 33 games.
Meanwhile in the NL West, the Giants won over the bridesmaid Reds by 6 games. The Giant victory was a dramatic turnabout for a team that in 1985 had finished last in their division with 100 losses. A fine balance of hitting and pitching made the difference in 1987. At the plate the Giants batted .260 with 205 homers and were led by first baseman Will Clark’s .308-35-91 pyrotechnics. Moreover, the pitching staff boasted the league’s best ERA, even if the Giant starters completed only 28 games. What mattered was that relievers Scott Garrelts and Jeff Robinson combined for 22 wins and 31 saves.
When the Giants met the Cardinals in LCS play, injuries to Jack Clark and Pendleton cast the Cardinals as underdogs. But the Cardinals won their third NL title of the era by overcoming a 3-2 deficit in games with a pair of home-field victories. In World Series play, it was the crippled Cardinals who were favored over the unheralded Twins, but the American Leaguers won four games, all of them in their cozy domed stadium, to edge the Cardinals in seven games.
The pitching rule modification that stemmed the homer tide in 1988 wreaked havoc with NL batters in 1988 as only five regulars attained the .300 mark. Although no New York Met batter joined this circle, Darryl Strawberry boomed a league-leading 39 homers and drove in 101 runs and outfield mate Kevin McReynolds produced a .288-27-99; they powered the Mets to 100 victories and an easy 15-game victory over the Pirates in the NL East. With a 2.91 ERA, the Mets also boasted the best pitching staff in the majors. David Cone led the starters at 20-3 and Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling combined for 35 wins. Relievers Randy Myers and Roger McDowell saved 42 games.
In the West, meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers took the lead in July and hung on to win by 7 games over the Cincinnati Reds who along the way got a rare perfect-game pitching performance from Tom Browning. But the Dodgers held claim to the best individual pitching performance of the year when their ace, Orel Hershiser, finished the regular season with a new record of 59 scoreless innings. In addition to a 23-8 record Hershiser led all NL pitchers in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts. Offensively the modest Dodger attack was powered by newly acquired free agent Kirk Gibson (.290-25-76) and veteran outfielder Mike Marshall (.277-20-82).
The lightly regarded Dodgers were afforded little chance against the Mets in LCS play. But the Dodgers prevailed in seven games with Hershiser starting three games and relieving in another. And then they upset the Oakland Athletics in the World Series, despite crippling injuries to Gibson, pitcher John Tudor, and catcher Mike Scioscia.
But there was no encore to such heroics, and the 1989 Dodgers fell to fourth place in the NL West. An impotent .240 batting average that included only 89 homers sabotaged the pitching staffs major league-leading 2.95 ERA. Hershiser again led the league in innings pitched and finished second in ERA, but was held to a 15-15 performance. And the workload took its toll on the Dodger ace, who was sidelined by a crippling shoulder injury at the outset of the 1990 season.
As the struggling Dodgers fell from grace, the Giants and the Padres battled for the 1989 Western title. The talent-laden Reds straggled in fifth, as the investigation of their manager, Pete Rose, culminated in his expulsion from the game. San Diego’s reliever Mark Davis saved a league-leading 44 games for the Padres. Offensively, Tony Gwynn’s league-leading .336 batting and 203 hits and Jack Clark’s 26 homers, 94 RBI, and a major-league-leading 132 walks fronted a Padre attack that fell three games short of their goal. The victory went to manager Roger Craig’s Giants, whose pitching staff, headed by Scott Garrelts’ league-leading 14-5 winning percentage and 2.28 ERA, ranked third in the league. At bat, out-fielder-third baseman Kevin Mitchell won MVP honors by blasting a matchless 47 homers and 125 RBI. First baseman Will Clark weighed in with a .333 batting mark and scored 104 runs to lead the league. That the Giants’ .250 team batting average ranked fourth in the league underscored the NL’s impotent batting, which averaged .246 and produced only five .300-plus batters.
While the Giants eked out a narrow victory in the West, manager Don Zimmer’s Chicago Cubs coasted to a six-game victory over the much-touted, but underachieving Mets in the East. A league-leading .261 batting attack, paced by first baseman Mark Grace’s .314 hitting and second baseman Ryne Sandberg’s .290 batting, compensated for the pitching staff’s sixth-place ranking in the league.
In LCS play the Giants downed the Chicagoans in five games, but then were victimized by the Oakland A’s, who swept to victory in the World Series of 1989.
If the status quo was the rule in the AL in 1990, it was otherwise in the NL as the teams resumed play after the lockout-delayed start of the season. When the smoke of battle lifted, the reigning divisional winners of 1989 were dethroned by a pair of fifth-place finishers of the previous year. In gaining the heights in the NL East, the Pittsburgh Pirates won by 4 games over the underachieving New York Mets. Outfielder Barry Bonds batted .301-33-114 and stole 52 bases, and first baseman Bobby Bonilla added 32 homers and 120 RBI to propel the Pirates. A 22-game winner, Doug Drabek, led the staff, which received a 6-2 boost from Zane Smith, acquired from the Montreal Expos in August.
In the NL West the Cincinnati Reds won four fewer games than did the Pirates, but the team’s 91-70 log topped the Los Angeles Dodgers by 5 games. In winning the Western title, the Reds took over on day one and after winning their first seven games, they clung to the top all the way to become the first NL team to accomplish this feat since the inauguration of the 162-game schedule in 1962.
Starters Jose Rijo and Tom Browning combined for 29 wins, but the Reds’ bullpen crew, the self-styled “nasty boys” Ron Dibble and Randy Myers, saved 42 games. Among the hitters, rookie Hal Morris played in 107 games and batted .340 and regulars Barry Larkin and Mariano Duncan batted .300. Chris Sabo and Eric Davis combined for 49 homers. Manager Lou Piniella, one of many Steinbrenner managerial castoffs, replaced Pete Rose, who watched the Reds’ fall exploits from his prison vantage point.
When the Pirates and Reds clashed in LCS play, the Pirates won the opener but fell to the Reds in six games. Given little chance against the Oakland A’s, the NL champion Reds opened the World Series by shutting out their rivals 7-0 behind Jose Rijo. Then with Rijo adding another victory and Hatcher smacking 9 hits in 12 at bats for a new World Series batting mark, the Reds swept the A’s! This unexpected victory, reminiscent of the 1914 sweep of the Philadelphia A’s by the lowly Boston Braves, brightened a season that appeared to be ill-starred at its outset by the bitter labor struggle.
RECENT SEASONS: DIVISIONAL REALIGNMENT
Under the new scheme devised by the owners and accepted by the Players Association, the fourteen teams in each major league were realigned into three divisions, an Eastern, Central, and Western branch within each league. In the American League the East housed Toronto, New York, Baltimore, Detroit, and Boston; the Central, Chicago, Kansas City, Cleveland, Minnesota, and Milwaukee; the West, Texas, Seattle, California, and Oakland. In the National League the East contains Atlanta, Philadelphia, Montreal, Florida, and New York; the Central, St. Louis, Houston, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh; the West, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Colorado, and San Diego. Each league’s playing schedule provides a balanced 162-game format.
In each league the three-way alignment added another divisional winner and required another tier of playoff competition. This third playoff round pits the three divisional winners of each league plus a “wild card” team (the runner-up team with the best record) in two best-of-five-game tussles, with the winners moving into the second round. That round, of course, is the familiar LCS which will determine the league champion and lead to the World Series.
In theory the new scheme opened the door for a nonwinner to go all the way and possibly win a league title and a world championship. A derivation from pro football’s successful scheme, the revolutionary plan evoked immediate lamentations from purists who should, however, remember that the two divisional systems of 1969 marked a similar departure from tradition.
This latest landscape change was a product of the network television deal which the owners concluded with NBC and ABC in May 1993. The previous four-year $1 billion-plus pact with CBS expired after the 1993 World Series, with CBS claiming losses of $500 million.
When CBS offered to renew the contract at $129 million a year, chastened owners, who faced a revenue shortfall of $145 million a year, voted overwhelmingly to accept the new pact with ABC and NBC. The new pact called for regionalized telecasts of seasonal games, primetime telecasts of postseasonal play, and revenue-sharing between the major league teams and the networks. What’s more, the pact requires that the major leagues and the networks create a company, The Baseball Network, to help sell advertising and baseball sponsorship.
A radical departure from the past, the new scheme by no means guaranteed the sure windfall that clubs received under the old CBS pact. Indeed, there was no guaranteed up front money.
These revolutionary developments affected the course of negotiations when the Players Association and the owners met to hammer out a new Basic Agreement in 1994. Among other issues debated, was the matter of continuing arbitration of player salaries, the question of players participating in a revenue sharing plan, and possible salary caps.
All the while, however. the price of franchises continued to soar. In August 1993 the Orioles fetched a team sports record of $173 million when offered for sale at auction. A group headed by Baltimore lawyer Pete Angelos attracted a flock of willing celebrity investors including film directors Barry Levinson, pro tennis star Pam Shriver, and novelist Tom Clancy.
On another bright note, attendance at 1993 major league games topped 70 million, a whopping rise over 1993. And with Texas and Cleveland occuping new parks in 1994, fan interest in these cities rose.
But baseball still had its divisive problems. In 1993 the game was conducted without a Commissioner, but few fans mourned the omission. When the owners’ search committee finally comes up with a new leader, it seems likely that his role will be that of the game’s ceremonial representative and perhaps that of final arbiter in interleague disputes. One such dispute is the American League’s continuing, successful unilateral deployment of designated hitters. Indeed, 1993 marked the twentieth anniversary of the rule that still incites impassioned debate.
|Ken Griffey, Jr.|
The 1994 strike disrupted trends toward higher MLB attendance, soured many fans on the game, and crashed the Baseball Network. Baseball quickly moved to replace the Baseball Network a new agreement with the Fox Network, a rapidly emerging power in sports programming, but rebuilding fan support and affection will unfortunately prove to be a longer and more arduous process.
And another problem, no less awesome for its inevitability, appeared to be finding replacements for departing superstars. It was thought major league baseball would be hard put to find new heroes to replace the likes of three 1993 retirees Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Carlton Fisk.
But the passing of this trio only momentarily darkened the baseball firmament. New stars such as Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, Jeff Bagwell, Albert Belle, Edgar Martinez, Mo Vaughn, and Bobby Bonds have already moved to fill that void.
While it lasted the great strike of 1994-95 canceled a World Series for the first time since 1904 and also forced teams to play an attenuated 144-game schedule in l995. Overall each player lost 75 days of service time before a federal judge’s ruling forced an armistice that had the antagonists resuming play under the terms of the expired labor pact. With both sides hanging tough negotiations for a new Basic Agreement dragged through the l996 season.
Popular disapproval of the strike eroded attendance and TV ratings for l995, but the new year saw an upturn. Although the fact was little noted, the l996 season marked the 125th anniversary of major league baseball. The prospect for a renewal was opportune because the l996 campaign would feature the first full schedule of games in three years and also the first real test of fans reaction to the leagues’ divisional realignment. If so, measured by attendance figures, fans liked the restructuring. Total attendance for l996 topped 60 million for the fourth highest mark in history, and average attendance per game topped 27,000 in the NL and 26,000 in the AL. On a positive note, Atlanta’s 38,000 average home game attendance came despite competition from the Olympic games which also provided the Braves with a new ballpark for l997. On a negative note, flagging attendance at Chicago’s AL park and at Cincinnati was attributed to fans’ resentment of their clubowners.
Helping to lure strike-alienated fans back to their folds was the “big bang of 1996.” Indeed, homers flew at a record rate of 2.20 a game, an unprecedented barrage totaling 4,962. The clouting produced a new seasonal record for the AL (2,742) and for the NL (2,220). The fallout also saw a new seasonal record (257 by the Orioles) and a record 82 players who hit 20 or more that included a record 14 who hit 40 or more. Explanations for the latest eruption focused mainly on the shrunken strike zone, the presence of bigger and stronger players, or the hitter-friendly new parks.
The shrunken strike zone theory laid the onus on umpires who had other troubles in l996. At Cincinnati’s opening day game, Umpire John McSherry collapsed and died of a heart attack. The victim’s weight (370 pounds) struck fear into other overweight arbiters, including Eric Gregg who shed 55 pounds to crest at 325. And just before the regular season ended Oriole infielder Roberto Alomar punctuated an argument with umpire John Hirschbeck by spitting in the arbiter’s face. A similar incident some 80 years earlier prompted AL president Ban Johnson to fire umpire Tim Hurst for doing the same to Eddie Collins, but in l996 the AL president drew fiery protests when he levied only a five game suspension to be implemented in l997. While demanding an immediate suspension, organized umpires threatened to boycott the divisional playoffs, but were dissuaded by court injunction.
Such controversial byplay and the explosive hitting accompanied hotly contested divisional races in l996 that ended with two newly crowned champions in each league.
RECENT CAMPAIGNS: THE AL, 1991-THE PRESENT
While AL teams arrayed themselves for the 1991 campaign, the crushing World Series setback preyed on the minds of many players and officials. The AL East had supplied only one league pennant over the past six seasons, and seemed chronically weak. In 1991 Toronto won by seven games over the Tigers and Red Sox, who tied for second with identical 84-78 records, while all others in the East posted losing records.
In landing their third divisional pennant since 1985, the Blue Jays attracted a record 4 million fans to their all-weather SkyDome stadium. Combined with record throngs at Chicago’s new Comiskey Park, such crowds enabled the AL to set an all-time pro sports attendance mark for 1991 (over 32 million). What Toronto fans saw was a redoubtable pitching staff of solid starters backed by a bullpen that posted the most saves (60) in the league. Offensively Toronto ranked seventh in batting and eighth in homers, but young second baseman Roberto Alomar switch-hit for .259-9-69 and outfielder Joe Carter, like Alomar newly acquired in a trade with San Diego, powered the team with 33 homers and 108 RBI.
AL prospects for a World Series title were brighter in the strong Western Division where every team played .500 ball, and where fans were treated to such exploits as Rickey Henderson setting a new lifetime stolen base record and Nolan Ryan pitching his record seventh no-hitter. Heavily favored to repeat as division champs were the Oakland A’s, but manager Tony La Russa’s shellshocked team fell to fourth place, 11 games off the pace. Into this power vacuum rushed the Minnesota Twins, who matched their Atlanta Braves counterparts of the NL West by moving from worst to first in a single season, an unprecedented tandem.
The revitalization of the Twins followed canny moves by GM Andy MacPhail (a grandson of the innovative Larry MacPhail) in the free agent market. Among these moves MacPhail landed the aging free agent pitcher Jack Morris, who signed an incentive-laden contract which earned him $3.8 million for the season, and he also enlisted free agent third baseman Mike Pagliarulo. Both moves paid handsomely as Pagliarulo batted .279 in 121 games while Morris pitched 247 innings and posted and 18-12 record.
Backing Morris was sophomore Scott Erickson (20-8) and Mets’ castoff Kevin Tapani (16-9) while another ex-Met, Rick Aguilera, emerged as the team’s ace reliever (42 saves). Offensively, the Twins batted a league-leading .280 and poled 140 homers. Outfielder Kirby Puckett (.319-15-89) keyed the attack with rookie-of-the-year second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, playing his first season out of Texas A&M, batting .281. The Twins outlasted a challenge from the Chicago White Sox to win by eight games.
In the LCS the Twins shook off an early loss to the Blue Jays to score a convincing victory in five games behind Puckett’s .492-2-6 batting onslaught. The victory set the stage for one of the most dramatic World Series clashes in recent memory. Playing at home in their enclosed Metrodome, the Twins won the first two games, but lost the next three games in the Braves’ lair. Returning home, the Twins tied the Series with a 4-3 victory and nailed down the world title the next night on Series MVP Jack Morris’ gritty ten-inning 1-0 victory.
The 1992 season began with the Twins giving every indication of repeating their success. Grabbing an early lead in the AL West, they went on to lead the majors in batting (.277), with Puckett’s .329 hitting ranking second in the AL. But in late July the resurgent Oakland A’s swept the Twins at the Metrodome and grabbed a lead which they never relinquished. At season’s end the A’s owned a 96-66 record with the Twins six games back, followed by the White Sox in third place.
Oakland’s return to the top was sparked by first baseman Mark McGwire’s reversion to form; the big slugger hit 42 homers and led the league in slugging. As a team the A’s batted only .258 with 142 homers, but more decisive support came from the pitching staff, which ranked fourth in the league with a 3.73 ERA. Mike Moore (17-12), Dave Stewart (12-10), and Ron Darling (15-10) headed the staff, but the club’s greatest asset was their nonpareil relief ace Dennis Eckersley (51 saves, a 1.91 ERA, and the Cy Young Award).
While the A’s were upsetting the status quo in the AL West, no eastern team could nudge the Toronto Blue Jays from the top spot. Once again home fans backed their team in numbers above 4 million.
And in landing his third AL East title since assuming his post in 1989, manager Cito Gaston saw his men match Oakland’s 96-66 winning clip while eking out a four game win over the rising Milwaukee Brewers. Saddling themselves with the third highest payroll in the majors, the Blue Jays signed free agents DH Dave Winfield and pitcher Jack Morris, the hero on the 1990 Twins. Morris emerged as the AL’s winningest pitcher at 21-6. Juan Guzman recovered from an injury to go 16-5-2.64, and Todd Stottlemyre won 12 games.
Like the A’s, the Blue Jays relied heavily on their bullpen with reliever Tom Henke saving 34 games. On offense the fortyish Winfield batted .290-26-108 and outfielder Joe Carter added 34 homers and 119 RBI. But more help was needed and the Blue Jays landed ace pitcher Dave Cone in a late season trade with the Mets; in the September stretch drive Cone contributed four vital wins.
In LCS play, the Blue Jays shrugged off a first-game loss at the hands of the AL West champion Oakland A’s and went on to thrash their rivals by winning four of the next five games. The victory cast the Toronto Blue Jays as the first foreign team ever to win a major league championship and Gaston as the first black manager ever to land a big league pennant.
Capacity crowds packed the SkyDome when the Blue Jays came home after splitting the first two games played in Atlanta. By single-run margins the Blue Jays then won the next two games to take a 3-1 lead in the Series. But the Braves pounded Morris, a loser in all four of his post-season appearances, to win the breakaway game and send the Series back to Atlanta. And there, in an 11-inning 4-3 victory with Winfield driving in the winning runs on a double, the Blue Jays became the first foreign-based team to win a World Series.
The 1993 season began with all American League team lineups affected by the National League’s expansion to fourteen teams. For the first time, teams in both majors shared the windfall ($190 million) paid by the National League’s two newly enrolled teams while also surrendering players in the expansion draft held to staff the tyros with players. As a result all established major league teams lost promising players. Combined with brisk activity in the free agent marketplace, the upheaval had some 250 major league players changing teams, which was the largest single season turnover in major league history.
The diffusion of talent tolled on pitching staffs and contributed to a batting explosion that surpassed that of 1987 and had sn pundits drawing comparisons with such explosive seasons as the 1930 campaign or the dimly remembered 1893 season. Certainly pitchers experienced a reign of terror in 1993 as ERAs in both leagues topped 4.00 (up from 3.74 in 1992) and shutouts declined by more than 100.
Especially hard hit were the Cleveland Indians, who lost two pitchers in a preseason boating accident. For batters, however, it was a feast as overall batting averages in the majors climbed to .266 (up 10 points over 1992); sixteen sluggers ripped 30 or more homers with another five banging 40 or more. Nearly thirty players drove in 100 or more runs–a feat not matched since the 1930 campaign. That American League hitters once again surpassed the National League in batting and homer production owed to the maturation of such rising young stars as Ken Griffey, Jr. of Seattle, Juan Gonzalez of Texas, Travis Fryman of Detroit, John Olerud and Roberto Alomar of Toronto, Carlos Baerga of Cleveland, and Frank Thomas of Chicago.
The 1993 season tested the mettle of the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays, winners of three of the past four American League titles. Free agency denuded the team of outfielder Dave Winfield, who notched his 3,000th hit with the Minnesota Twins, Candy Maldonado, and pitchers Tom Henke and Jimmy Key.
To plug these gaps the Blue Jays signed a pair of veteran free agents, acquiring Paul Molitor from the Brewers as DH and veteran pitcher Dave Stewart from the Athletics. For additional help, early in the race shortstop Tony Fernandez was obtained from the Mets and during the stretch drive Rickey Henderson was acquired from the Athletics. With young first baseman John Olerud batting .400 through August and eventually leading the league with a .363 mark, with Molitor batting .332 and leading the league in hits, and with second baseman Roberto Alomar batting .326, the Blue Jays boasted the league’s three top hitters. It was a feat no major league team had accomplished since 1893.
The Blue Jay offense produced a .278 team average with 159 homers, but the team’s shaky pitching made the division outcome a near thing. The loss of lefty Jimmy Key to the Yankees and Jack Morris’ ineffectiveness hurt. Notwithstanding reliever Duane Ward’s 45 saves and young Pat Hentgen’s 19 victories, it was not until September that the pitching staff fully asserted itself.
From early May to early July the Jays trailed the Tigers. Thereafter they held the heights, but the revived New York Yankees, whose owner returned from exile in 1993, as well as the Baltimore Orioles, clung close until mid-September. Indeed, on eight occasions the hard-hitting Yankees (.279 batting with 178 homers) drew even with the Jays, yet never once wrested sole possession of the spot.
Unreliable pitching doomed the Yankees who, for the last time, drew even with Toronto in early September. But the rallying Jays shook off a six-game losing streak and won eight straight games while the Yankees and Orioles collapsed. The late-season surge enabled the Canadians to lap the Yankees by seven games and present manager Cito Gaston with his fourth American League East title in five years.
As Toronto continued its dynastic sway in the East, in the West Oakland’s monopoly of three of the past four titles came a cropper. A combination of cost-cutting practices, injuries, and aging contributed to the Athletics’ last place finish in the West; the team’s batting and pitching performances were the worst in the league. And Oakland’s collapse opened the way for the pennant-starved White Sox and Texas Rangers to battle for the title.
With no league pennant since 1959 and only one divisional title (1983), the White Sox, now ensconced in their new Comiskey Park, had been rebuilding since 1990 under General Manager Ron Schueler. In 1992 the team finished with 86 wins under rookie manager Gene Lamont and this year the Sox deployed the best pitching staff in the league (3.70). The starting corps was headed by young “Black Jack” McDowell, the league’s only 20-game winner with his 22-10, 3.40 ERA.
Behind him, Alex Fernandez went 18-9, Wilson Alvarez 14-8, and rookie Jason Bere 11-5; his mark included six straight wins after August 18. Reliever Roberto Hernandez saved 38 games. Backing the staff was the good fielding catcher Ron Karkovice, who took over after the great Carlton Fisk was unceremoniously dismissed after setting the all-time record for games caught.
Offensively the team batted .265 with 162 homers and was powered by young first baseman Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas who batted .317 with 41 homers and 128 RBI. Infielder Robin Ventura’s 27 homers and 94 RBI augmented the attack as did outfielder Lance Johnson’s .311 hitting and 15 steals, and Tim Raines’ .306-16-54 effort. Incredibly, the once-promising Bo Jackson, the unfortunate victim of a pro football injury that left him with an artificial hip, made the team as a DH; in 85 games Jackson smote 16 homers and knocked in 45 runs.
During most of the season the Sox were dogged by the Texas Rangers, a club still looking for its first divisional title. A hard-hitting team, the Rangers hit 181 homers to lead the league. Fronting the attack, the twenty-three-year-old Juan “Igor” Gonzales batted .310, bashed 46 homers to repeat as the league leader, and drove in 118 runs. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro weighed in with .295-37-106 figures, but the team suffered the loss of the injury-plagued Jose Canseco. Likewise the pitching staff suffered when Nolan Ryan succumbed to injuries that ended his great career. Ryan’s twenty-seven years in the majors was matched only by the great “Pop” Anson.
In the end pitching doomed the Rangers; although free agent Tom Henke saved 40 games, the staff’s 4.28 ERA was overly generous. A September surge carried the White Sox to an eight-game victory. The 1993 ALCS divisional matchup pitted the White Sox against the Blue Jays, with the latter’s 95-67 mark topping the Chicagoans by only a single game. This year’s ALCS tussle went six games before the issue was decided. The Blue Jays won the first two games in Chicago, but the White Sox evened the match by taking the next two in Toronto’s SkyDome. But Chicago’s hopes were dashed when they lost the next two games, including the decisive loss at home.
For the White Sox, their quirky, season-long tendency of losing home games was their undoing.
Ironically, Toronto’s suspect pitching staff carried the day with Guzman and Stewart each winning two games (the veteran Stewart extended his undefeated record in postseason divisional play to 8 victories). Thus, for a second straight season the champion Blue Jays represented the American League in the World Series.
The 1994 season was to have been known as the season in which baseball’s controversial “wild card” playoff system debuted. Instead, it is known as the season of “The Strike.”
|Cal Ripken, Jr.|
When the season prematurely ended on August 12, 1994 the AL’s three divisions were captured by BBWAA AL Manager of the Year Buck Showalter’s New York Yankees (AL-East), Gene Lamont’s Chicago White Sox (AL-Central) and Kevin Kennedy’s Texas Rangers (AL-West). Qualifying for the wild card berth on that date were the Cleveland Indians (enjoying their new ballpark, Jacobs Field), just a half-game behind Chicago.
The Yankees (70-43, .619) were paced by veterans Wade Boggs (.342), Don Mattingly (.304), Jimmy Key (17-4), and surprisingly newcomer Paul O’Neill (a league-leading .359). The White Sox (67-46, .593) featured a balanced pitching staff of Wilson Alvarez (12-8), Jason Bere (12-2), Alex Fernandez (11-7), and Jack McDowell (10-9), but the big story as usual was the “Big Hurt” Frank Thomas with 38 homers, 101 RBI, a .353 average, and a .701 slugging percentage. Those numbers (.701 was the highest slugging pact. since Ted Williams in 1957) carried Thomas to a second straight AL MVP Award. As the season ended, however, the Indians (66-47, .584) were closing in quickly and had play continued many believed the Tribe, led by Kenny Lofton (.349) and the controversial Albert Belle (36 HR, 101 RBI, .357) would have captured the new division.
The AL West-leading Texas Rangers could boast of the AL’s other spectacular new stadium, The Ballpark in Arlington (TBIA), but little else as they paced their laughable division with a 52-62 (.456) mark. Kenny Rogers (11-8), Will Clark (.327), Rafael Palmeiro (.319) and Jose Canseco (31 HR, 90 RBI) starred for Texas as they finished a game ahead of Tony La Russa’s almost-equally mediocre A’s. Rogers distinguished himself on July 28 by pitching the first perfect game by an AL lefthander. Best hitter in the division was Seattle’s Ken Griffey, Jr. with a league-leading 40 homers.
The Strike not only stunted what might have been several stupendous offensive seasons, but canceled all postseason play.
The 1995 season started late, again handicapping the AL’s top batters as they approached record numbers. Nonetheless, baseball began the recovery process from The Strike, furnishing much exciting play in the bargain.
AL Division winners for 1995 were Mike Hargrove’s powerhouse Cleveland Indians (AL Central), Kevin Kennedy’s Boston Red Sox (AL East), and AL Manager of the Year Lou Piniella’s Seattle Mariners (AL West). Buck Showalter’s New York Yankees captured the wild card berth.
Cleveland (100-44, .694) seized their division by a record 30 games over the Kansas City Royals, reviving memories of the city’s great 1954 club. Orel Hershiser (16-6), Jose Mesa (46 saves), Albert Belle (50 HR, 126 RBI, .317), Eddie Murray (.323), Manny Ramirez (31 HR, 107 RBI, .308), Jim Thome (.314), Carlos Baerga (.314), and Kenny Lofton (.310, 54 SB) paced the Indians to their first pennant since 1954. Murray achieved a personal milestone by reaching the 3,000-hit plateau on June 30.
AL MVP Mo Vaughn (39 HR, 126 RBI, .300) led the Red Sox (86-58, .597) to the AL East title but was assisted by Jose Canseco (24 HR, .301), John Valentin (27 HR, 102 RBI, .298), Tim Nahring (.307), Erik Hanson (15-5), knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (16-8), and Rick Aguilera (20 saves after arriving from the Twins).
The Red Sox captured their division by seven games, but the Seattle Mariners (79-66, .545) had to battle all year to catch the faltering California Angels (who squandered an eleven-game lead). When the season ended the two teams were in flat-footed tie for first place. Behind AL Cy Young Award winner Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson (18-2, 2.48, 294 strikeouts) Seattle beat California 9-1 in a one-game playoff to finally nail down the AL West.
Seattle, enjoying its first division championship, had other stars besides the 6’10” Johnson: DH Edgar Martinez (.356, 29 HR, 113 RBI), Tino Martinez (31 HR, 111 RBI), the injured Ken Griffey, Jr. (17 HR, 42 RBI, .258, and bald-headed Jay Buhner (40 HR, 121 RBI).
The Yankees (79-65, .549)?second in the AL East, claimed the wild card slot. Bronx standouts included Wade Boggs (.342), Paul O’Neill (22 HR, 96 RBI, .300), Bernie Williams (.307), David Cone (18-8), and Jack McDowell (15-10).
The Indians demolished the Red Sox in three straight games in the new AL Division Series (as Vaughn and Canseco faltered), but the Yankees and Mariners battled through five games in one of baseball’s finest postseason series. Seattle triumphed but found their already thin pitching staff further weakened when they had to face Cleveland. The Mariners took Game One behind surprise starter, rookie Bob Walcott, but lost to Cleveland in five games as Hershiser posted two victories and a 1.29 ERA
The great AL story of 1995, however, had nothing to do with pennant races or strikes, it had to do with Cal Ripken, Jr. and the shattering of Lou Gehrig’s supposedly “unbreakable” consecutive games playing streak. On September 6 the Orioles shortstop played in his 2,131th straight contest. Baseball fans applauded not only his on-field efforts but also his decency and honor.
The AL’s 1996 divisional struggles produced two new Eastern powers as the Yankees (92-70, .568) edged the wild card winning Orioles (88-74, .543) in a rousing battle that left the 1995 champion Red Sox languishing in third place. In the central division the reigning champion Indians (99-62, .6l6) again posted the best record in the majors as they left the runner-up White Sox (85-77, .528) 14 1/2 games behind. And in the West the Texas Rangers (90-72, .566) won their very first post season title by fending off the stubborn Mariners (86-76, .528) whose ace pitcher Randy Johnson went down with back miseries.
In winning their first divisional title since l981, new manager Joe Torre’s Yankees triumphed despite the loss of ace pitcher David Cone who was on the DL most of the season. However, a reconstructed pitching staff, led by sophomore Andy Pettitte (21-8, 3.87) and able relievers Mariano Rivera (8-3, 2.09) and closer John Wetteland (32 saves), managed a fifth best ERA effort. Meanwhile Yankee hitters batted .288 (second only to Cleveland) and polled l62 homers with Bernie Williams (.305-29-l02), Paul O’Neill (.302-19-97), Tino Martinez (.292-25-117), and rookie Derek Jeter (.314-10-78) showing the way.
Matched against manager Dave Johnson’s resurging Orioles, the Yankees dominated the birds in seasonal play. Nevertheless, the resilient Orioles hung tough by batting .273 and swatting a record 257 homers that compensated for their pitchers’ generous 5.14 ERA. Indeed, the Orioles boasted seven starters each with 20 or more homers. Heading the assault was Brady Anderson (.297-50-110), Cal Ripken, Jr. (.278-26-102), and B.J. Surhoff (.292-21-82).
In the Central Division the lordly Indians led the majors in hitting (.293) and the AL in pitching (4.53 ERA). The tribe also smote 218 homers with most of the firepower supplied by Albert Belle (.311-48-148), Jim Thome (.311-38-ll6) and Manny Ramirez (.309-38-ll2). Backing the big hitters was Ken Lofton (.3l7 and a league high 75 stolen bases), Kevin Seitzer (.306-13-78) and Julio Franco (.322-14-76). Such pyrotechnics boosted Cleveland’s able pitching staff that was fronted by starters Charles Nagy (17-5, 3.41) and Orel Hershiser (15-9, 4.24) and reliever Jose Mesa (39 saves, 3.73).
While Cleveland coasted, the Western Division, like the East, saw a close race as the Rangers fought off a September surge by the Mariners. But the tough Texans prevailed on the strength of .284 team batting, 221 homers, and a 4.65 pitching ERA that matched the Yankee staff’s effort. Powering the offense was “Igor” Gonzalez (.314-47-l44), Dean Palmer (.280-38-107), Rusty Greer (.332-18-l00), and the rejuvenated Kevin Elster (24 homers, 99 RBI). Ace Ken Hill (16-10, 3.63), Darren Oliver (14-6, 4.66), and Bobby Witt (16-12, 5.41) led starting pitchers who got shaky relief from Mike Henneman (31 saves, with a combustible 5.79 ERA).
Forecasters were baffled over the results of the l996 AL Divisional playoffs that saw the underdog Yankees and Orioles topple the Rangers and the defending champion Indians by identical 3 games to l counts. Paired against the Texas Rangers who were making their first postseason appearance, the Yankees were given little chance against a team that had humbled them all season long. But after losing the first game at home, the next three games saw Yankee relievers, who were paced by Rivera and Wetteland, allow no Ranger scoring after the fifth inning of any game while compiling a 0.46 ERA over l9 2/3 innings. Such brilliant protection enabled Yankee hitters to stage winning rallies in each game fronted by the batting of Williams (.467; 3 HR; 5 RBI), Jeter (.412 batting) and Fielder (.364 batting). For the Texans who had gone so far as to print World Series tickets it was a crushing blow.
Far more shocking was the Orioles’ conquest of the defending champion Cleveland Indians, a team that sported the winningest record in the majors and who led the AL in batting and pitching. What’s more, the Orioles bore the stigma of the Alomar spitting incident that nearly led to a protest strike by aggrieved AL umpires. While most pundits were predicting an eventual reprise of the l995 World Series matchup, the host Orioles grabbed a 2-0 lead by battering the Indians 10-4 and 7-4, the latter victory aided by a disputed call at first base. Playing at home the besieged Indians took the third game 9-4 on Belle’s grand slam, but lost a 12-inning nail biter on a homer by the much vilified Alomar. Prior to that winning blow seven Cleveland pitchers had struck out a record 23 Orioles in the game, but that effort masked a dismal overall 5.84 ERA by Indian hurlers. In winning the series, the Orioles’ .269 batting and 9 homers eclipsed the Tribe’s .245 and 4 effort.
After trampling the Rangers, the Yankees march to the American League pennant was barred by the wild card Baltimore Orioles who stunned forecasters by ambushing the Cleveland Indians in their divisional matchup. But if the Orioles were primed for revenge against their regular season tormentors, fortune rode with the Yankees. In the first game at Yankee Stadium 12-year old Jeff Maier won baseball immortality as an activist fan when he reached out with his glove and deflected Jeter’s long fly ball into the right field stands for what became a controversial homer. The blow enabled the Yanks to draw even and they later won the game in the eleventh inning. Shaking off that blow, the Orioles won the next game, but when action shifted to the Orioles’ roost, the Yankees swept the next three games. The Yankee’s .273 batting assault was powered by 10 homers (one more than their record setting rivals), by Fielder’s eight RBI’s, and by .400+ batting by Williams, Jeter and Strawberry. It was the Yankees’ first AL pennant triumph since l981.
As they hosted the cocky NL Braves at the start of the World Series, the Yankees looked like overmatched minor leaguers in losing the first two games. But the resilient feat of having won five consecutive road victories during the AL playoffs sustained the Yankees during the Atlanta games. By winning all three away games on scores of 5-2, 8-6 and 1-0, the Yankees snatched the lead and then scalped the Braves with a 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium. For saving all four Yankee victories, reliever John Wetteland won the Series MVP award. And New York fans ecstatically celebrated their pin stripers’ first World Series title in l8 years.
New Comiskey Park
RECENT CAMPAIGNS: THE NL, 1991-THE PRESENT
In the decade just past, each NL team managed to win at least one divisional race. But this unprecedented state of affairs came apart in the NL East when the 1991 Pirates coasted to an easy 14 game victory over the runner-up Cardinals while no other Eastern contender played winning baseball.
Bobby Bonilla’s .302-18-100 and Barry Bonds’ .292-25-116 heroics, coupled with lefty John Smiley’s 20-8 hurling, handed the Pirates an opportunity to avenge their loss to the Reds in the 1990 LCS struggle.
While preseason pundits picked the World Champion Reds to repeat in the NL West, key players like Davis and Rijo went down with injuries, fielding lapses consigned the team’s defense to eighth place in the league, and the pitching staff also ranked eighth in effectiveness. As a result the Reds finished with a losing record. With the Reds out of contention, the Western race became a dog fight between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the surprising Atlanta Braves. Offensively the Dodgers were bolstered by the acquisition of free agent outfielders Darryl Strawberry and Brett Butler. Thus fortified, the Dodgers battled into the last week of the season before losing by one game to the Braves.
A last place finisher in the 1990 NL West fray, the Braves’ metamorphosis from worst to first was buoyed by the acquisition of free agent third baseman Terry Pendleton, who led NL batters with a .319 average. Pendleton’s 22 homers and 86 RBI were augmented by lusty hitting from outfielders Ron Gant and Dave Justice. What’s more, the Braves’ pitching staff, headed by Tom Glavine (20-8), young Steve Avery (18-8), and John Smoltz (14-13), turned in the league’s third best ERA (3.49). In holding off the Dodgers, the Braves overcame the loss of outfielder Otis Nixon, who was suspended for drug usage, and an injury to second baseman Jeff Treadway. In plugging these gaps, outfielder Lonnie Smith and infielder Mark Lemke performed ably during the September struggles.
In the hard fought struggle for the NL championship, lefty Avery emerged as the MVP by notching two victories while Smoltz blanked the Pirates 1-0 in the climactic seventh game played at Pittsburgh.
Matched against the Minnesota Twins in the World Series, the Braves won all three games in their home park and were sparked by Lemke’s timely hitting. At these games Atlanta fans incurred the enmity of organized Native American protesters by their ritualized “tomahawk chop” gestures and their orchestrated war whoops. However, the Braves lost all four games at the Minnesota Metrodome, including the final game as Smith’s mental error on the basepaths cast him as the Series goat in his team’s 1-0 loss.
As the NL team girded for action in 1992, soothsayers eyed the Dodgers and Mets as likely division winners. Each spent lavishly in the free agent marketplace and the two boasted the highest payrolls in the majors at $40-plus million. For their part the Dodgers acquired ailing outfielder Eric Davis in a trade with the Reds and paid him a salary of $3.6 million, and for nearly $4 million they signed free agent Tom Candiotti, a knuckleball pitcher who played with the 1991 Blue Jays.
Meanwhile the Mets dealt three key players to the Royals to acquire star hurler Bret Saberhagen and infielder Bill Pecota. And the Mets also snagged free agent Bobby Bonilla, the versatile star of the Pirates, for a five-year contract calling for more than $5 million a season. For added insurance the New Yorkers picked up free agent first baseman Eddie Murray for a two-year contract worth $7.5 million. But when the dust settled at the end of the 1992 campaign, the Mets and the Dodgers were horrendous losers. Both teams were bested by the low-payroll Astros, who were forced to play the longest road trip in decades because of the pre-empting presence of the Republican National Convention in Houston. In their 26-game, 28-day jaunt the Astros went 12-14 and finished the season at .500.
By contrast the affluent Dodgers finished 63-99 for the majors’ worst record while the Mets edged the Phillies by only two games in escaping the NL East cellar. Injuries to Davis and Strawberry, who combined for a mere 10 homers and 57 RBI, hobbled the Dodgers while Saberhagen’s injury racked the Mets.
As these plutocrats faded from contention the end result was status quo ante bellum in both NL divisions. In the East the Pirates shook off Bonilla’s loss to snatch an early lead and mount a balanced attack that carried them to 96 victories, enough to stave off a September challenges by Montreal, which finished 9 games behind. In repeating as division champs, the Pirates ranked third in both pitching and batting, led in the latter department by catcher Don Slaught (.345-4-37 in limited duty), and able outfielders Andy Van Slyke (.324-14-89) and Barry Bonds (.311-34-103). Van Slyke ranked second among league hitters and Bonds, a demon hitter in the stretch drive, ranked second in homers and also stole 39 bases. Moreover, both outfielders were Gold Glove winning fielders.
In the West meanwhile, Atlanta posted a 98-64 record, the best in the majors. In recording their second straight Western victory, the Braves relied upon the best pitching staff in the league (3.14 ERA). At bat the Braves led the league in homers (138). Third baseman Pendleton (.311-21-105) and outfielder Otis Nixon (.294-2-22, with 41 stolen bases) headed the hitters. Part-time outfielder Deion Sanders (.304-8-28), who doubled in brass as a star defensive back with the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, emerged as a rising star, but his double duty as a pro athlete raised questions about his future. Indeed, it was a football injury the previous year that ended the career of another promising star, Bo Jackson.
In a hard fought reprise of their 1991 duel for the NL championship, the Braves took a 3-1 lead in games, but then had to fend off a spirited Pirate charge. In the final game at Atlanta, the Braves, down 2-0 in the ninth inning, mounted a historic rally. The winning hit came off the bat of rookie pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera, who in the regular season had batted only ten times. His single with two out in the ninth scored the tying and winning runs and gave the Braves another shot at the World Series crown.
Playing at home, the Braves won the opener, but lost the next night and then dropped the first two games played in Toronto. Those last two losses extended the Braves’ skein of indoor World Series losses to six. Down 3 games to 1, the Braves stayed alive as Lonnie Smith, the 1991 Series goat, smashed a grand-slam homer to key a 7-2 victory. That domed stadium victory sent the Braves back to their Atlanta longhouse where “tomahawk-chop” cheering fans tried vainly to inspire a comeback victory. But after staging a ninth-inning rally to stay alive in the sixth game, the Braves lost by a single run in 11 innings, thus becoming the first team to lose consecutive World Series matches since 1978. And for a second straight time, Native Americans were smiling over the result.
For the expanded National League, now fourteen teams strong, the 1993 season was a smashing attendance success. Both newcomers, the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies, drew well, with the Rockies setting an all-time major league attendance record by playing before 4,483,350 at their Mile High Stadium in Denver. What’s more, both tyros performed better than expected. The Marlins’ 64-98 record in the National League East topped the last-place, dissolute New York Mets by five games, while the Western-based Rockies eclipsed the cellar-dwelling, penurious Padres by six games.
The fledgling Rockies also contributed to the National League’s batting eruption when first baseman Andres Galarraga batted .370, the best mark in the majors. Galarraga’s title was the first ever by a Venezuelan player. Some attributed Colorado’s .273 average, third best in the league, to the thin air at Mile High Stadium. If so, visitors were also benefited, as the Rockies’ hurlers suffered the worst ERA in the majors.
Elsewhere National League sluggers contributed lustily to the latest big-bang offensive. Although American League bombers smote 2,074 homers to the National League’s 1,956, the National League output topped their 1992 figure by nearly 700 while American League homer production (unaided by two extra teams) was up fewer than 300 over 1992. San Francisco outfielder Bobby Bonds’ 46 “dingers” led National League homerics and tied for the major league lead. Atlanta’s David Justice hit 40 and four others, including the Dodgers’ rookie catcher Mike Piazza, each hit at least 35.
In mid-September, in the second game of a twin bill with Cincinnati, outfielder Mark Whiten of the Cardinals hit four homers to become only the twelfth player to turn the trick. But none of the forebears matched Whiten’s feat of driving in 12 runs in addition to his four blows. A few weeks earlier, in a six-game outburst, Phil Plantier of the Padres hit five homers and drove in 18 runs. One of Plantier’s blasts, a three-run shot, helped San Diego set a modern record by scoring 13 runs in a first-inning outburst.
Yet another highlight came in early April when big Lee Smith, the aging relief pitcher of the Cardinals, notched his 385th save to set a new all-time record.
The 1993 season also featured one of the most dramatic races in National League history in the Western Division. The race matched the two winningest teams in the majors, each with over 100 victories, as the Braves battled the surging San Francisco Giants down to the final game of the season. Not since 1942, when the Cardinals and Dodgers staged a similar showdown, had there been anything like it.
Each of these evenly matched contenders had been strengthened by free agent acquisitions. Gunning for a third straight pennant, the Atlanta Braves added Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux to a starting corps that was already the best in the majors. But the Giants snared outfielder Barry Bonds, a two-time Most Valuable Player, from the Pirates to add to their formidable attack.
The highest-paid player in the majors, Bonds surpassed his 1992 credentials by batting .336 and leading in homers (46) and RBI (123). Inspired by Bonds’ presence, third baseman Matt Williams rebounded to bat .294-38-110, and second baseman Robby Thompson hit .312-19-65. Given such backing, starting pitchers John Burkett and Bill Swift won 43 games and lost 15 to head an otherwise shaky starting staff, bolstered by reliever Rod Beck’s 48 saves. Pitching problems notwithstanding, the Giants took command in the West on May 11 and held the high ground for 123 days. Indeed, as late as July 22 the Giants led by 10 games and the team played at a 30-22 gait after the All Star Game break.
Outclassed for most of the season, the Braves staged a memorable counterattack by going 41-14 after the All Star break. Leading the way was the pitching corps. Except for John Smoltz, who fell to 15-11, the Braves’ superb starters lived up to their billing. Maddux went 20-10 with a 2.36 ERA to win his second straight Cy Young Award, while Glavine went 22-6 and Avery 18-8.
Offensively the Braves’ surge was sparked by the acquisition of first baseman Fred McGriff from the Padres on July 20. McGriff’s .291-37-101 hitting augmented that of slugging outfielders David Justice (40-120) and Ron Gant (36-117), and third baseman Terry Pendleton (17-84), while speedy center fielder Otis Nixon stole 47 bases.
On September 12 the Braves took the lead, but the Giants twice rebounded to draw even. The two teams were deadlocked on the last day of the season when the Braves defeated the Rockies at home while the visiting Giants lost to the Dodgers. By winning all thirteen games from the Rockies, the Braves became the first National League team in this century to sweep a season series from an opponent. In eking out a one-game victory, they won 104 games; for the Giants it was small consolation to know that no other team in the majors topped their 103 victories.
As the Giants and Braves staged their donnybrook in the West, the Philadelphia Phillies rebounded from a last-place finish in 1992 to take command in the East. A team of castoffs, the Phillies were put together by General Manager Lee Thomas and guided by manager Jim Fregosi, an adroit platooner. Over the winter the Phillies used the free agent route to sign low-priced players like outfielders Jim Eisenreich, Pete Incaviglia, and Milt Thompson, along with pitcher Danny Jackson. Such additions, and the team’s solid morale, provided the necessary ingredients for its upsurge.
Grabbing an early lead, the team was never headed. In July the Cardinals threatened, but by August 20 the Phillies led by 14.5 games. But when Felipe Alou’s young Montreal Expos won 18 of 20 games to cut the lead to five, the specter of the Phillies’ 1964 collapse rose to haunt the 1993 team. Strong pitching by the Expos’ rookie Kirk Ruether, and by Denny Martinez, Ken Hill, and Jeff Fassero, led the assault, but the Phillies hung on to win 97 games for a three-game victory.
The Phillies batted .274, the second best mark in the league. Heading the attack was outfielder Lenny Dykstra, who batted .305 and led the league in hits (194), runs scored (143), and walks (129), and first baseman John Kruk (.316-7-54). Catcher Darren Daulton’s 24 homers produced 100 RBI, third baseman Dave Hollins batted .273-18-93, and young shortstop Kevin Stocker batted .324 after a midseason call-up.
The obvious weakness of the Phillies was its pitching staff whose 3.95 ERA ranked behind the Braves, Giants and Expos. Starters Tom Greene (16-4), Curt Schilling (16-7), Terry Mulholland (12-9), and Jackson (12-11) were backed by a shaky bullpen. Indeed, the staff’s closer, Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, saved 43 games with a 3.34 ERA, but teammates and fans viewed the lefty’s every appearance as a nail-biting adventure.
As the NLCS play began, the lordly Braves were picked as heavy favorites to brush aside the hungry Phillies, whose last hurrah harked back to 1983 when they won the pennant. Playing at home, the Phillies took the opener by a single run, but the Braves retaliated and crushed the Phillies in the next two games. Up two games to one, the Braves were looking to wrap up the series before their home fans, who persisted in using their raucous tomahawk-chop cheer. But the Phillies proceeded to win the next two games, each by a single run. In the second of these victories, Phillies hurler Curt Schilling, who pitched brilliantly in both his starts, nursed a 3-0 lead going into the ninth. At that point the Braves rallied to tie the game against reliever “Wild Thing” Williams. But in the tenth the resilient Phillies won the game on “Dude” Dykstra’s homer and a dramatic closing strikeout performance by aging reliever Larry Andersen.
Up three games to two, the homebound Phillies delighted their 62,000 partisans by nailing down the pennant with a 6-3 victory. The Phillies’ unprecedented achievement marked the first time in major league history that two teams, each with over 100 seasonal wins, failed to win a pennant. And for the shell-shocked Braves it marked the third straight year that their elephantine labors produced a stillborn result.
The 1994 season was to have been known as the season in which baseball unveiled its controversial “wild card” playoff system. Instead, 1994 shall be forever remembered for “The Strike”
When the season prematurely ended on August 12, 1994 the NL’s three divisions were captured by NL Manager of the Year Felipe Alou’s Montreal Expos (NL-East), Davey Johnson’s Cincinnati Reds (NL-Central), and Tommy Lasorda’s Los Angeles Dodgers (NL-West). The wild card berth (for what it was worth) would have gone to Bobby Cox’s defending NL champs, the Atlanta Braves.
Once again the Expos (74-40, .649),who have never captured an NL flag, were cheated by a labor stoppage. Leading Montreal batters were Moises Alou (.339), Larry Walker (.322). The Expos staff boasted a circuit-best 3.56 ERA and featured standouts Ken Hill (16-5; with a league-leading 16 wins), Jeff Fassero (2.99 ERA), Pedro Martinez (11-5) and John Wetteland (25 saves).
When play halted in the NL Central Cincinnati (66-48, .579) were just a half game ahead of Houston. The Reds posted a league-leading .286 average. Top Cincy batters included Hal Morris (.335), Bret Boone (.320), and Kevin Mitchell (30 HR, .326). Jose Rijo (9-6, 3.08) led the Reds staff.
The mediocre Dodgers (58-45, .509) edged the Giants in the weak NL West. Rookie of the Year Raul Mondesi (.306), Brett Butler (.311, 27 SB), Mike Piazza (.319, 24 HR), and Ramon Martinez (12-7) helped put Los Angeles over the top.
The Atlanta Braves (68-46, .596) could only qualify for a hypothetical wild card berth in 1994 as Greg Maddux (16-6) earned his third straight Cy Young Award and Fred McGriff (34 HR, 94 RBI, .318) paced team hitters.
The 1995 season, shortened to 144 games, did manage to produce a postseason. The NL’s three divisions were captured by Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves(NL-East), Davey Johnson’s Cincinnati Reds (NL-Central), and Tommy Lasorda’s Los Angeles Dodgers (NL-West). The wild card berth would have gone to NL Manager of the Year Don Baylor’s hard-hitting Colorado Rockies.
The Braves (90-54, .625) won by 21 games over the Mets and Phillies as Greg Maddux (19-2, 1.63 ERA) captured his fourth straight Cy Young Award. Atlanta’s league-best 3.44 ERA was also aided by Tom Glavine (16-7, 3.05), John Smoltz (12-7, 3.18), and Mark Wohlers (25 saves, 2.09). Javier Lopez (.315), Ryan Klesko (.310), Fred McGriff (27 HR, 93 RBI) and promising rookie Chipper Jones (23 HR, 86 RBI) led Atlanta batters.
NL MVP shortstop Barry Larkin (15 HR, 66 RBI, 51 SB, .319) paced the Reds, but had help from Mets cast-off Pete Schourek (18-7, 3.22), Reggie Sanders (.306, 99 RBI, 36 SB), John Smiley (12-5, 3.46), and Jeff Brantley (28 saves). Despite the Reds’ pennant, at season’s end, manager Davey Johnson was replaced by Ray Knight.
The Dodgers and Rockies battled for domination of the NL West, with the Dodgers (78-66, .542) finally edging Colorado by a single game. Creating most of the exciting in Dodger Stadium was NL Rookie of the Year Hideo Nomo (13-6, 2.54) who paced the league with 236 strikeouts and started the 1995 All Star Game. Other standouts included Ramon Martinez (17-7), Ismael Valdes (13-11), Mike Piazza (32 HR, .346), and Eric Karros (.298,105 RBI).
The Rockies inaugurated Coors Field in 1995 and Colorado batters celebrated by leading the NL in homers (200), average (.282), and runs scored (785). Particularly pleased to play in thin air were Dante Bichette (.340, a league-leading 40 HR and 128 RBI), Andres Galarraga (31 HR, 106 RBI), Vinny Castilla (.309, 32 HR, 90), and Larry Walker (.306, 36 RBI, 101 RBI). When the three-year old Rockies cinched the NL wild card slot they became the first expansion club to reach the postseason in so short a span of time.
Both NL division series were hum-drum affairs, with Cincinnati humiliated Los Angeles in three games (and outscoring them 22-7, and Atlanta needing just four contests to dispose of Colorado.
The NLCS between Atlanta and Cincinnati was equally anticlimactic. Despite extra inning contests in Games One and Two the Braves rolled over the Reds in four games, the first NLCS sweep since 1982. Game Three remained scoreless until the sixth, when catcher Charlie O’Brien delivered a three-run homer. Game Four witnessed a 6-0 Atlanta win on Steve Avery’s four-hitter.
Resuscitated after the hiatus of 1994, the World Series of 1995 matched the hard-hitting Indians against the NL’s strong-armed Atlanta Braves. Stymied by Atlanta’s superb pitching staff, the Indians poled only a single hit in the final contest, and the Indians fell to the Braves four games.
The NL’s 1996 divisional races ended with Atlanta winning another Eastern title while the surprising St. Louis Cardinals won in the Central and the San Diego Padres upset the wild card winning Dodgers in the West.
The Braves (96-66, .593) won by eight games over the Expos as ace hurler John Smoltz (24-8, 2.94, and also a league-high 276 strikeouts) won the Cy Young award. The Braves’ 3.52 ERA ranked second to the Dodgers’ staff and the team’s .269 batting and l97 homers was bettered only by the hard hitting, but pitching-poor Colorado Rockies. Veteran flingers Tom Glavine (15-10, 2.98), Gregg Maddux (15-11, 2.72), and reliever Mark Wohlers (39 saves) fronted the pitching staff while Fred McGriff (.295-28-107), Chipper Jones (.309-30-100) and Javier Lopez (.282-23-69) paced the hitters. When Dave Justice was lost to injuries, a pair of rookies, Jermaine Dye and 19-year old Andrew Jones, plugged the gap.
In the Central division race, new skipper Tony La Russa astonished observers by reviving the St. Louis Cardinals and driving them to an 88-74, .543 finish, six games ahead of the under-achieving Houston Astros, and seven better than the defending champion Cincinnati Reds (81-81, .500). A .266 batting barrage, third best in the NL, and 142 homers atoned for a 3.97 pitching ERA. Cardinal hurlers were led by Andy Benes (18-6, 3.83), Todd Stottlemyre (14-11, 3.87), Donovan Osborne (13-9, 3.53) and Benes’ younger brother Alan (13-10, 4.90). Backing the starters was 42-year old Dennis Eckersley (30 saves) and the veteran setup man Rick Honeycutt (6l appearances, 2.85 ERA).
In the West the resuscitated San Diego Padres (91–71, .562) eked out a one game victory over the wild card winning Dodgers by sweeping their final three games at Dodger Stadium. The Padres’ .265 team batting and 147 homers ranked sixth in the NL, but the pitching staff (3.72 ERA) ranked third. Joey Hamilton (15-9, 4.17), the much traveled Fernando Valenzuela (13-8, 3.62) and Andy Ashby (9-5, 3.23) led the starters who were supported by reliever Trevor Hoffman (42 saves, 2.25). Leading Padre batters included veteran Tony Gwynn whose .353 clubbing won him a seventh NL batting crown, Ken Community (.326-40-130) and Charley Finley (.298-30-95).
The under achieving Dodgers, whose pitching staff (3.46 ERA) topped the majors, also batted .252 and smacked 150 homers. Starting pitcher Hideo Nomo (18-11, 3.l9), Ismail Valdes (15-7, 3.32) and Ramon Martinez (15-6, 3.42) along with reliever Todd Worrell (44 saves) led the mound crew. Mike Piazza (.336-38-l05), Raul Mondesi (.297-24-88), Eric Karros (.260-34-111) and rookie Todd Hollandsworth powered the attack.
There was an odd symmetry to the outcome of the NL’s 1995 Divisional playoffs as both winners dispatched their rivals in three relatively low scoring games. In the matchup between the Central champion Cardinals and the Western champion Padres the host Cardinals won the opener 3-1 and the next outing 5-4 on sturdy relief pitching by Honeycutt and Eckersley. In saving all three games veteran stopper Eckersley allowed no runs and his mates applied the clincher at San Diego as the Cardinals mounted a two run ninth inning rally to close out the series with a 7-5 victory.
Meanwhile runs were even scarcer in the faceoff between the Eastern champion Atlanta Braves and the wild card Los Angeles Dodgers. That duel between the majors’ two best pitching staffs saw Dodger flingers allowing only 10 runs, but the Braves’ hurlers trumped that effort by yielding only three earned runs. Catcher Javier Lopez’s tenth inning homer helped Smoltz win the opener at LA by a 2-1 score. And after Maddux won the next game 3-2, Chipper Jones’ two run homer off Hideo Nomo at Atlanta carried the Dodgers to a 5-2 win that completed the sweep. Overall the Braves batted .l80 and the Dodgers hit .l47. For the Dodgers theirs was the ignominy of having been swept away in two consecutive post season appearances.
With each contender coming off first round 3-0 sweeps over divisional rivals, the Cardinals and Braves squared off in a best of seven game tussle for the NL championship. Hostilities opened at Atlanta where the Braves took the opener 4-2 behind Smoltz but they lost the next outing 9-3 as the visiting Cardinals roughed up Maddux. Atlanta fortunes then worsened as play shifted to Busch Stadium where the host Cardinals won the next two games to take a 3 games to l lead. But the fact that no NL playoff team had recovered from such a deficit was lost on the beleaguered Braves who reacted by detonating an unprecedented explosion of runs. In sweeping the next three games by scores of 14-0, 3-1, and 15-0 behind a 46-hit barrage, the Braves seized the NL championship.
Still swinging explosive bats, the Braves invaded Yankee Stadium and opened the l996 World Series by pummeling the AL champion Yankees by scores of 12-1 and 4-0. But then came the fall as this self-styled “team of the nineties” proceeded to drop the next four games, including the last three to be played at Atlanta Stadium. Sadly, as the Braves moved to their new stadium in 1997 (the former Olympic venue) they lugged with them the heavy burden of having lost three of their four World Series appearances since l991.