For months the major leagues had argued the subject of expansion. Now, in the lobbies and dining halls of the squat Chase and towering Park Plaza hotels, which rise like Mutt and Jeff on the edge of Forest Park in St. Louis, the big leagues gathered last week to settle this problem for once and all. The most pressing matter was whether or not to admit the American League into Los Angeles. There were smiles of greeting between American and National League owners, who stretched forth one hand in a gesture of friendship while testing the blade edge behind their backs with the other.
Then they got down to business. The American League met in the Stockholm Room on the mezzanine of the Park Plaza, the National League in the Tiara Lounge on the 26th floor. In between, where he has been for 10 years, sat Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, in a suite on the 22nd floor.
Occasionally, someone—Nate Dolin of the Cleveland Indians, John Galbreath of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Dan Topping of the New York Yankees, Lou Perini of the Milwaukee Braves—would pop out of one room and race to the other, swiveling like a potbellied Joe Bellino past the clutches of newsmen seeking a hint of just what in the name of Abner Doubleday was going on. Occasionally, one of the self-appointed committees would stop off to visit Ford Frick, a nice gesture, everything considered, since Frick, despite his exalted title, was never the dominant figure here. That honor belonged to Walter Francis O'Malley of the Dodgers. O'Malley, who hides the shrewdest mind in baseball behind assorted chins and a black cigar, spoke softly, smiled pleasantly and stated his position simply: he wanted the American League to keep its cotton-pickin' hands off Los Angeles. For three days this gentle-seeming man repelled all advances as if he were personally responsible for defending the City of Angels against the Hun.
Eventually, however, placating words and genuflection prevailed, and O'Malley told the American League O.K., come ahead. The terms, in general, were that the new Los Angeles Angels, owned by a syndicate headed by ex-Stanford football hero, Bob Reynolds, and the singing cowboy, Gene Autry, could put a ball club in L.A. in 1961. The Angels must pay indemnities amounting to approximately $350,000 to O'Malley, although one could see that the mention of cash was repugnant to his Irish soul. The Angels may televise not more than 11 out-of-town games and none from L.A. They may not play in the huge Coliseum but must play in neat little Wrigley Field, which seats only slightly more than 20,000. And when O'Malley's new Chavez Ravine ball park is completed in time for the 1962 season, the Angels will move there for a minimum of four years at an undisclosed rental. There were also a few minor clauses. In all, it was an arrangement which made Reynolds and Autry very happy and is guaranteed to cost them several million dollars in the next few years.
When all was settled the owners asked Ford Frick to make the announcement. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the commissioner responded very well. "I want all of you to know," he told the assembled journalists, emotion quivering in his voice, "that without the complete cooperation of Mr. O'Malley, baseball would have been in one of the damndest messes ever seen."
It was not very clear how the commissioner appraised the monumental foulup just ended, during which major league baseball threatened to devour itself with an incredible display of stupidity and greed.
The trouble really began with the formation a year and a half ago of the Continental League, which concerned itself with the admirable project of putting a second team in New York, now that the Dodgers and Giants were gone, and extending the major leagues to other cities so far unblessed: Houston, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Toronto, Dallas, Fort Worth, Denver, Atlanta and Buffalo. The major leagues, talking fast out of both sides of their two mouths, put to death the Continental League in Chicago last August 2. "If you will go away and forget all about it," the Continental League was told by a major league expansion committee on that day, "then we will recommend that four of your cities be admitted to our sacred circle." This was good enough for the Continental League, which failed to read the small type, and that still-unborn body breathed a sigh of relief and expired.
So now the major leagues had made a promise, of sorts, and now they had to act, not so much because of the promise, which normally would influence big league baseball owners not a bit, but because of Senator Estes Kefauver and Congressman Emanuel Celler. Kefauver and Celler are the watchdogs of major league expansion, and although they have done little except talk, the words they use most frequently are "monopoly" and "restraint of trade." The very threat of congressional legislation is enough to make baseball club owners quiver like custard pudding. "All right," said Warren Giles, whose National League had voted against expansion a year before, to Joe Cronin, whose American League had indicated that it might give the matter serious thought some day. "Let's get together and expand." The American League agreed. So the National League scurried off and expanded, without bothering to invite the American League.
The cities selected by the National League were New York, quite naturally, and Houston, considered by many the ripest plum available for plucking by big league baseball. The official announcement that the two new teams would begin play in 1962 was made on October 17. "The National League," screamed headlines across the country, "has stolen a march." Frick was downcast. "I wish you boys had got together on this thing," he said.
Now that the National League jumped the gun, making the American League look ridiculous, the American League struck back—and managed to look even more ridiculous. On October 26 it voted to move into Los Angeles, and all the righteous denials that followed failed to convince anyone that this wasn't partly in reprisal for the National League's proposed invasion of Yankee territory in New York. It voted to allow Calvin Griffith to move his Washington Senators to Minneapolis-St. Paul, cutting off altogether the old Continental League franchise seekers in the Twin Cities. It voted to "expand" back to Washington, a move absolutely necessary to placate Capitol Hill. And it voted to let these new clubs play not in 1962, as had the National League, but in 1961.
"This is not expansion," thundered Branch Rickey, whose Continental League had been ignored. "The dictionary definition of perfidy has now been confirmed."
"Sunflower seeds," said the American League. "We have lived up to our agreement." Not even Branch Rickey could disprove this, for all that the major league expansion committee had agreed to do at the Chicago meeting was "recommend" that Continental League cities be considered. "We considered them," said an American League executive, "and we didn't want them."
What the American League really wanted was plain to see. First, since Calvin Griffith had been begging for years to be allowed to move from Washington to Minneapolis-St. Paul and since it was apparent that the American League was finally going to go into that valuable territory, why not let one of the original club members get the gravy? Second, since it was unthinkable to leave Washington without a team, one of the new teams must be located there. And, finally, since the American League wanted to stake out a claim on some of the gold being mined by O'Malley and the National League in Los Angeles, the other new team must be located there. Ford Frick had been talking for some time about classifying New York and Los Angeles as "open" cities (that is, cities with metropolitan populations large enough to support two major league teams). Thus, the road was open. With the blessings of Co-owner Bill Veeck, Hank Greenberg prepared to sell his stock in the Chicago White Sox and, backed by San Diego's C. Arnholt Smith, got ready to march into L.A.
Rule of O'Malley
But while the American League was meeting in New York to award its new Washington franchise to a group led by General Elwood (Pete) Quesada and to consider the applications of Greenberg's group and others for Los Angeles (see box), Walter O'Malley was leafing through the rule book. Suddenly he held up a pudgy hand.
"You guys," he said, "can't come in here."
O'Malley had found a devilish little rule in Organized Baseball's constitution, the Blue Book. It wasn't exactly a new rule, since it had been there for years, nor was it very well hidden, since it happened to be the third paragraph of Rule 1, but the other owners apparently knew nothing about it. The reason the others knew nothing about it is because baseball owners are not very heavy readers, especially when it comes to hampering or constricting documents.
"...the circuit of either Major League," read Rule 1 (c), "shall not be changed to include any city in the circuit of the other Major League except by the unanimous consent of the clubs constituting both Major Leagues." Since all 16 major league club owners are constitutionally incapable of agreeing on even what day of the week it happens to be, O'Malley had them stopped. And certainly he was not going to agree. In order to build his new ball park at Chavez Ravine, O'Malley had already used up $8 million of his own money; recently, he borrowed $8 million more from Union Oil Co., the Dodgers radio and television sponsor, on a short-term loan, and despite his huge profits from baseball in the last two years, he was not about to let another ball club come to town and drain off some of the gold. When O'Malley screamed he found a sympathetic ear attached to the baseball commissioner.
"Frick has gone back on his word," howled Hank Greenberg of the Chicago White Sox. "He's been talking about Los Angeles as an open city for months and now when we try to move there he says no, we have to make O'Malley a 'fair and equitable' deal. What does Frick know about it? I've got everything I own invested in this business; we pay him a salary of $65,000 a year, and he invests nothing. Why should Frick tell us what we can do?"
The main concern of the American League was that Frick, who resembles Kenesaw Mountain Landis only in the fact that he has gray hair, was taking any kind of a stand at all. They hadn't hired him to take stands. They had hired him to...well, somewhere in the rules it says that baseball has to have a commissioner.
But the American League decided to deal with O'Malley, and sent Del Webb, co-owner of the Yankees, West to make an offer of $450,000 as indemnity to the Dodger owner. When Webb returned to New York reporting that O'Malley had turned him down, there were dark hints of collusion and skulduggery, for Webb, a chilly-eyed man who made his way from a job as a carpenter to a position of great power and wealth in the construction business, has long been known as a business associate and friend of O'Malley. O'Malley and Webb, wrote some columnists, have formed a dastardly pact. O'Malley has agreed to help Webb keep a National League team out of New York (Rule 1 (c) applies both ways) if Webb will help O'Malley keep the American League out of Los Angeles. The columnists were wrong; O'Malley would hardly talk to Webb. The two men have not been very friendly since Webb's bid to build the Chavez Ravine ball park was turned down by O'Malley. The two had hatched no plot. O'Malley just wasn't interested.
Ford said it
"O'Malley never mentioned indemnities," said Greenberg. "Those were Frick's words. O'Malley simply does not want the American League in Los Angeles, period."
When the American League realized that it appeared to be shut out of Los Angeles it began to look elsewhere. Dan Topping invited Jack Kent Cooke to come down from Toronto on the chance that the American League might offer Cooke an invitation to head up a 10th team. Cooke is both a millionaire and a baseball man (he owns the Toronto Maple Leafs). He has a reputation as a sound, intelligent operator; he has ballplayers of his own good enough to have won the International League championship this year by 17 games. So Cooke, who has been seeking a major league franchise for a long time, flew down—and spent half a day pressing the seat of his pants against a couch in a New York hotel lobby.
"I sat there waiting," he said later, "for God to come out and tell me now it was my turn. And the more I thought about the plan the American League had drawn up to supply new teams with players, the less I cared for the idea. Those 28 players they were going to allow me to draft for $2,100,000 were, frankly, bums.
"I have a working agreement with Cleveland, and I just sold Jim King, one of my players, to Frank Lane for $15,000. Now, if I went in the league, they wanted to sell King back to me for $75,000. Isn't that absurd?"
Finally Cooke got tired of waiting—no one ever did officially ask him to join the league—and he left. The reason Cooke was not offered a franchise is that the American League hated to abandon Los Angeles if there was any possible solution. O'Malley had indicated that 1961 was the year he really objected to; that in 1962, after he had reaped another year of profits as the only big league club in Los Angeles, he might not try so hard to keep the invaders out. So the American League had to come up with some stopgap plan. They could not go back to eight teams; Griffith was now installed in Minneapolis-St. Paul, from where he was not about to budge, and it was unthinkable to bring down the wrath of Washington by asking that city to stay out of the league for a year. And they could not remain at nine teams, for a nine-team league is completely impractical so far as scheduling is concerned; every day there is an idle team. Baseball businessmen can show you charts indicating that an idle baseball team is almost as expensive as an idle wife. And if there is one thing the gallant sportsmen who control baseball hate to lose more than money, it's more money.
"We had climbed out on a limb," said Frank Lane, "and sawed it off right up against the tree trunk. John Fetzer of Detroit and I fought Griffith's move to Minneapolis—we should have put a new team in there—but we were outvoted. Del Webb is trying to run this league. Too many people are trying to run this league. The ones of us who aren't aligned with the Yankees—Bill Veeck at Chicago and Fetzer at Detroit and the Baltimore people—can't seem to work together. We're all too selfish, and all we can think of is pursuing our own ends. So the Yankees control it."
What the Yankees—and eventually, the others—proposed now was to play a nine-team interlocking schedule with the National League.
"We have nine teams," said Greenberg, who has been talking about interleague play for years, "and the National League has 10. If Houston could play in 1961, instead of waiting until '62, we could pull this thing off. We can supply one team in each league with good ballplayers for '61, then add New York and L.A. in '62, when each league would go to 10 teams and drop the interleague schedule."
In all the incredible confusion which enveloped baseball in those weeks this was the most perfect demonstration of how the big leagues operate; this is why they sometimes look like a pair of octopuses with appendicitis, writhing and twisting and threatening to throttle one another in anger and greed and pain.
Interleague play is one of the most progressive ideas in baseball, an idea which would allow fans in Washington and Boston to see Willie Mays, which would allow fans in San Francisco and Philadelphia to see Mickey Mantle, which would line baseball's pockets with money. But interleague play, to work properly, must be given a great deal of careful, intelligent, even scientific planning. Yet here, on the spur of the moment, to pull themselves out of a hole, the American Leaguers were ready to adopt a plan at which most of them previously had sneered, and do so without any real planning at all.
A few people were bewildered. "I don't know why Houston was selected instead of New York," said Pete Davis, one of the New York National League team owners. "As a matter of fact, I don't know that Houston has been selected. All I know is that no one ever asked us."
O'Malley, of course, was overjoyed with the nine-team proposal, and another National League executive could see his point. "It is just possible," said the club official, "that we might go along with this idea for O'Malley's sake. What people forget is that since Jake Ruppert built Yankee Stadium in 1923, Walter O'Malley is the first man to build a ball park with his own money. He has a terrific investment out there, and I don't think the National League can afford to let him get hurt."
But by the time of the minor league meetings in Louisville the last week in November, National League sentiment was running hard against the interleague proposal.
"We have nothing to gain by going to nine teams next year," said General Manager Joe Brown of the Pirates. "We know Houston and New York can be ready by 1962, but I seriously doubt that they can be ready as early as next year. Our present plan is a good one, and we should stick to it.
"More than that, I think O'Malley is wrong. I don't see how a new American League team in Los Angeles is going to hurt the Dodgers. The Dodgers are a good ball club, and they're getting better; they've captured that town, and a losing team in the other league isn't going to take their fans away."
Even the Houston people, although flattered, were not sold on the idea, either. "If we have to play in '61," said Craig Cullinan, who owns oil wells, "we'll have to play in old Buff Stadium. In '62 we'll have our new 55,000-seat plastic-domed ball park. We want to do this thing right."
So now the American League appeared to be blocked again—but no. Up stepped Ford Frick.
"We have got to amend Rule 1 (c)," Ford Frick said, "so that unanimous consent of all 16 teams is not required, but merely the consent of each league. Then, if there is a deadlock, the commissioner can cast the deciding vote. After all, that is what the commissioner is for."
Reason for being
Having cleared up the reason for his existence, Frick went further. "The new rule," he said, "should spell out exactly the conditions under which one league can move into another league's territory, not only into Los Angeles in 1961 or 1962 but anywhere, anytime in the future. I'm not talking about indemnities alone. More important are the bona fides. By that I mean there must be assurances that the new league member will conduct operations in a fair and equitable manner—and to this moment, the American League has given me no assurance that it will. Certainly that first group that applied for a franchise didn't sound very stable. They sounded like some fly-by-night operation that might drain the territory in one year and then move off to San Diego or some place else."
Finally, it had begun to come out. Greenberg didn't approve of Frick; Frick didn't exactly approve of Greenberg. O'Malley didn't approve of C. Arnholt Smith, one of the owners of the San Diego Padres of the old Pacific Coast League, whose brother had violently opposed O'Malley's land grab in Chavez Ravine. There was, it seemed, more than baseball legality involved, more even than money. There were personalities.
The personalities began to gather at St. Louis—and they began to fight. It took a day and a half for the National League to convince the American League that it did not want to play an interlocking schedule next year. Both leagues, in executive session, wrestled with Frick's amendment to Rule 1 (c). And, finally, almost as if in defiance of the National League, the American League picked its owners for the new Los Angeles franchise which, so far, did not even exist. But those owners—Reynolds, Autry and their associates—were the key to the solution. O'Malley liked Reynolds and Autry, for they had been big Dodger fans. So, finally, he capitulated. Both major leagues passed the amendment to Rule 1 (c), unanimously, absolving Frick from the necessity of casting a tie-breaking vote. The new rule spelled out, sometimes laboriously, how one major league could go about moving into another's territory in a dignified, proper way. It was, at the end, a reasonable agreement—and Sir Walter emerged as the hero.
"Old Mad Dog O'Malley," he chuckled around his cigar, "wasn't really so bad after all. All I ever wanted was an orderly process. You don't want someone telling you they're going to move into your house and then start setting up their furniture in your living room. If they ask you and they're nice about it, that's different."
"Do you mean," someone asked, "that with some other group than Reynolds and Autry, you would have continued to be hard to deal with?"
"With one particular group," said O'Malley, "I would have been at least half a million dollars harder to deal with. But I was willing to make concessions to these people. These are people I can live with."
Home on the range
It is to be hoped that the sight of O'Malley and Reynolds and Autry and Champion and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer grazing peacefully together on the lush Los Angeles countryside will inspire all of baseball to learn to live with itself, for there are still problems to be solved. The former American Association franchise holders at Minneapolis, St. Paul and Houston must still be indemnified, and some better system must be found than the one already announced for stocking the new teams with adequate ballplayers.
Nor is this the end of expansion, for the old Continental League cities were serious in their quest to gain admission to the major leagues, and as the nation grows there will be more. It is not the job of Congress to see that expansion occurs; neither can it be left up to the rules, for rules say only how to expand, not when to expand.
What baseball needs is an attitude, one which says that this is a good game, or at least a good business, not a grubby one, and that its crises should be handled with dignity. Unfortunately, this is an attitude which baseball has seldom managed.