By now you must know that all baseball is divided into three major leagues: the National, the American and the one that was born in the upper room of Toots Shor's establishment one gray afternoon last week. Actually, it began a year ago, shortly after the Dodgers and Giants cleared town. New York City, its mayor belatedly decided, needed a second baseball team. Good for business, good for the citizens, good for the mayor. Naturally, a committee was formed, a committee including such successful businessmen as Bernard F. Gimbel and James Farley. It was their purpose to get New York that second baseball team. That was a year ago.
Last week the committee made an announcement to the press. They had tried, they said, to lure a National League team to New York. No go. Then they had tried to interest National League officials in expansion to 10 teams. League President Warren Giles had yawned and muttered something about no sentiment for expansion at the moment. Baseball's monopoly was beginning to show. Now the committee was left with what seemed to them to be the only alternative: promotion of a third major league which would naturally include New York as one of its franchises. Attorney William Shea, the committee's spokesman, talked excitedly, if vaguely, of assurances from an unnamed National League club official that the operation of a third major league was entirely feasible. He spoke of cities such as Houston, Fort Worth-Dallas, Atlanta and others as clamoring for major league status. In all of these cities, he said, there were responsible parties ready to offer healthy financial backing. He then announced solemnly that he and his associates hoped the whole thing could be carried off within the bounds of Organized Baseball. If not, they would go it alone. Did he mean a real honest-to-goodness outlaw league complete with raids on existing major league talent? He did.
The response the following day was varied and heated. Commissioner Ford Frick decreed that baseball would not be sledge-hammered. Giles said, that's right, we won't be sledge-hammered. Larry MacPhail called the idea screwy; Del Webb said it was ridiculous.
The committee did have its backers—men like Branch Rickey, Phil Wrigley, Jack Kent Cooke of Toronto and Congressman Emanuel Celler—but each made the qualification that he was in favor of a third league only within baseball's framework. Even Bill Shea backed off a bit the next day, saying it was always the committee's intention to work within the present structure of baseball.
November 24, 1958
As the hubbub continued, there were still some unanswered questions. Who were those responsible parties with whom Shea had been in touch? Earl Mann of Atlanta, George Kirksey of Houston, Tom Vandergriff of Fort Worth-Dallas and Gerald Moore of Minneapolis, all responsible parties and all active in the promotion of major league baseball for their respective cities, reported interest but little or no knowledge of the committee's doings.
Were Bill Shea and the committee simply bluffing? Perhaps. But they have dramatized Organized Baseball's true position at the moment: baseball has turned its swallow-tailed back on New York—and rightfully indignant New Yorkers have set the swallowtails on fire.
Before the baseball fathers renew their case in Congress this winter, to be declared a benevolent legal monopoly, they may need more than one fire extinguisher.