Baseball in Change
For the good or the bad as baseball crept into the nineteen-sixties it was forced to evolve and change in ways that twenty years prior would have proved sacrilegious. As the America came out of World War II and Korea, they needed a faster more corporate game. They needed something that involved skill, preparation, and a dedication like there had never been before. No longer could baseball be an owner’s side project, this sport had to become the entertainment empire that it has become and it had to do it as rapidly as possible. Several aspects f American culture changed, and baseball was on the frontier of each. From the age of mechanization, to the growing population across the country, even to integration, baseball incorporated all these aspects and with them became a new game. It should be accepted that the early nineteen sixties particularly 61’ was one of the most important years in baseballs development in part due to the acceptance of the two new teams into the league. What should be noted is the change from a low-level business into a world wide empire.
One of the most important changes to the game came in nineteen sixty-one with the introduction of two new teams the L.A. Angels, and the Washington Senators. They were inducted into the American league through a process that would be adopted by the national league the following year. This even signified not only the development of two new teams but the showed how baseball was expanding to accommodate a growing market. In order to create the two new teams each team in the majors was forced to put fifteen of there players on a trading block and to allow the two new teams the opportunity to take any player and add it to their team. One of the real questions is “Just how much if any did the A.L. teams weaken themselves while stocking the two new clubs?”(NYTimes5). With teams stocking almost 35 players on their active rosters, each team had ample room to hoard their better players leaving only veterans or untalented players on the block. In reality the MLB should have been more worried about how the new teams would fair without any tested all-stars. In fact “The American league moguls are worried about the scores” (NY 5) this was due in part to the chance that the National league would be adopting new teams the following year as well.
Obviously one of the most important aspects of change in baseball would be the desegregation of the sport. By 1961 every team in the major leagues was integrated to some degree. This was not the issue, the matter in fact had more to deal with how the teams traveled. One good example involves spring training, “First and Second Class hotels did not invite the patronage of teams” (Sp.News 10). Where the teams went to train for the months before the season were places that to that day had still not accepted desegregation as the new truth. Teams that would be staying in the same location for months at a time would be forced to stay in third class hotels that would be lucky to have proper food, and housing accommodations for all the teams. Also during spring training teams were now taking trips to play exhibition games, some teams playing up to 30 of these games with many of them against the same opponents again and again. On these long road stands, it would become next to impossible for a team to be racially integrated in all forms of travel, food, and accommodations. However still, for people from non-integrated places to watch some of the most respected men in the country working together despite race, all of the hardships they faced were well worth the good they were doing. In looking at the development of baseball as a whole, this new dedication to spring training opened markets in places that did not have their own major league clubs, as well as the opportunity to establish a strong base in places such as St. Petersburg, Florida, where they would spend every spring showing their dedication to the evolving sport.
Perhaps the most important developments in baseball came to the game itself. One has to wonder if the purists’ of the nineteen-twenties would agree with the new physical adaptations to the game. At the forefront of the changes would be the New York Yankees, who had already begun experimenting with new forms of technology in order to train. What is called the Mechanized age of baseball would begin in New York with the introduction of the Iron Mike, originally a pitching machine solely to allow players to practice bunting. It would soon be adapted to throw curves and sliders, so that it could be used to train batters as a whole. In a batting cage with a pitching machine, a team can spend an entire day in hitting and save many times the amount of time that would have been required had they not had the machine. In addition to saving time in between pitches, and allowing a hitter to take swings in a closed environment the machine in fact saved a pitchers arm from having to throw several hundred pitches a day. A baseball purist could say that this was a downfall in baseball since it no longer involved a pitcher trying to fool batters and learning how to pitch to real men, or batters learning how to hit from something unpredictable. The disagreement is easy to see in that instead of a pitcher having to use a variety of pitches to train a batter, he can spend the day working on a single new pitch. In the same regard the batter can spend more time on his stance, swing, and learning to hit a particular style of pitch again and again from the machine. On the same note the Yankees were also the first team to use a mortar like device to “Throw the baseball into space at any given speed, height, or trajectory” (SN 8). This development allowed catchers to get in more training on fly balls in a day then they could get in an entire spring-training season. These innovations may have taken out some of the more physical man to man aspects of baseball, however they symbolized the changing of the league from a sport to a competition to be the most successful at no cost or expense.
A symbol of baseballs changing into a much more organized nature can also be found in the new means of recruitment. With the development of the Minor leagues, as well as farm teams, each team was capable of filling their roster with younger talent much easier. What was called “’Structured Mutualism’ we mean the type of direct mutualism or cooperation that occurs among the teams within a league to the benefit of each. (Land 793)” This Mutualism was beneficial to people on different levels, first the major league teams who now had a means to discover and claim young talent through the games the minor leagues played throughout the entire summer. Secondly, the minor league clubs now had monetary support as well as a purpose. Fans would actually want to go see games in hopes of seeing the up and coming stars or the veterans recovering from injuries. For baseball this was a huge step, minor league teams were often in places like New York, or Florida, and gave the major leagues a good idea of how much a state might need a second team. If anything minor league teams became a precursor to a major league team by testing the waters to see how well a region could handle having a professional sports team.
The final important change in baseball is perhaps the most important to the sport. In looking at 1961 and the recent seasons before and after, one can see the change from “Gentlemen’s sport to the Commissioner system” (Voigt 0). For example, in going back to the addition of the two new ball clubs, you can see one of the most important decisions in baseball history. The commissioner and the owners were convinced that by adding teams, they would make the game better, by allowing greater diversity and more markets. In fact it would be beneficial to all parties in the long run. With more teams their could be more players in the league. With more teams, their could be a much wider distribution of talent and a range of diversity that was absent from the past. For players this was a greater incentive to play better, with more players the talent became more scattered and a good individual’s players value would increase. In 1961 alone, “The three highest paid pirates ranged from $40,000 to almost $50,000” (SP9) a huge sum of money in the sixties. With the introduction of two more teams in the NL the following year players could expect salaries to begin to creep up year by year. These financial developments are the foundation to the ways that the league is managed in this day and age where the best athletes are paid as though they are on par with no one but themselves.
Baseball is a sport that is nearly two hundred years old and has gone from being played by a few gentlemen in New England, to having multiple leagues with hundreds of players, back to having a dominating league with a Trillion dollar market. America’s sport has become more then a sport, it is a spectacle. These events, the mechanization, the integration, the addition of teams, has contributed to the development and showcasing of some of the greatest athletes the world has ever known. It has gone from a game where gentlemen played and then would go out to the bar after to celebrate, where men like Babe Ruth who categorically could be called out of shape have become legends. To a sport where the athletes are like Thorough Breeds’, so finely strained and tightly wound to play baseball to the highest level, that any deviation from said path can result in a career ending injury. In becoming one of the worlds most dominant markets it transformed itself from the average mans game to the game of the super athlete. With the invention of the pitching machine pitchers no longer had to throw 300 pitches a day, slowly as pitchers have gotten better their longevity has failed to a point where it is rare for a pitcher to exceed 120 pitches. However, these failures have created a precision in baseball that have made it possibly the most profitable and greatest entertainment venue in history. Were it not for the small changes that occurred over time the sport would never have become America’s favorite past time, synonymous with the fourth of July and the hot dog.