Television is supposed to report, comment on and explain baseball, and in that role it has rendered signal service to the sports fan. Henceforth it will also own baseball—to the point of virtually controlling the American League.
This sorry situation came about last week when it was announced that the Columbia Broadcasting System had bought four-fifths of professional baseball's biggest property, the New York Yankees, for $11,200,000. The conspiracy was silently engineered and rapidly executed. Seven of the other nine American League owners, most of whom have long been subservient to the Yankees, approved the sale, apparently without any debate.
The commissioner of baseball, Ford Frick, who was on vacation, claimed he knew nothing of the deal; some hours later he issued his approval. By fascinating coincidence, Frick's tenure had been extended a few days before the announcement.
Uneasy fans joked wryly, wondered if Yogi Berra would have to put on greasepaint before going to the mound, or sighed: "Guess NBC will have to buy the Mets." But the cracks had a hollow sound.
Baseball, of course, has long been big business, but for millions of Americans it managed to remain a sport as well. Now that status is threatened. As of last week the American League had fallen into the clammy grip of show business—and mediocre show biz, at that.
Upon acquiring 80% of the Yankees, CBS Chairman William S. Paley said he considered this a constructive contribution to sport. Commissioner Ford Frick said the whole thing was news to him. League President Cronin said the details would have to come from the Yankees. Ford Frick said it was news to him. Bill Paley insisted that pay television was not a motivating consideration in the purchase. Frick said it was news to him.
EMPIRE BUILDER PALEY
The polling of the owners used less time than it takes to play a game. Joe Cronin phoned or wired them because, as Cronin told Minnesota's Cal Griffith, "That's what CBS asked me to do." Griffith needed only 15 minutes to decide, whereas Cleveland's Gabe Paul "gave it quite a bit of thought," about three hours. Lee MacPhail of Baltimore had "no reservations at all," while Washington's Jim Johnston considered CBS "a very responsible buyer." The other three owners who voted yes fled from sight, making themselves "unavailable for comment."
LOS ANGELES' AUTRY
Arthur Allyn of Chicago and Charlie Finley of Kansas City stood alone against the other seven owners. "It's Just another perfect example of the shenanigans between Cronin and the Yankees," Finley roared. Allyn objected to the speed of the vote, later claimed it was illegal.
KANSAS CITY'S FINLEY
BUT CBS MAY HAVE BOUGHT A LOSER
Yogi Berra is worried, and rightly so. After all, CBS let Walter Cronkite out, and his team only finished second in a three-team league. Last week Manager Berra's Yankees were in third, the losers in Part I of the American League's August round robin among the three contenders. The Yankees had been on top when the showdown began, but quickly dipped behind Baltimore and Chicago. Berra's worries—"We picked a helluva time to go into a slump"—were legitimate. His big man, Mickey Mantle (left), led the slump in the first series and was injured twice, the second time after he had perked up with such feats as a 500-foot home run. But Yankee power? They were seventh in the league in HRs. And the pitching was inconsistent. Whitey Ford's mysterious hip ailment was no better. The Yanks' best pitching came from a kid named Mel Stottlemyre, who was hurry-upped from Richmond. He won his first two starts. If there was solace, it was in history: not since 1948 have the Yankees been so close to the top so late in the season and failed to win the pennant.
BALTIMORE HAS THAT WINNING LOOK
"Pennant Fever" the sign says, but if this thing in Baltimore is merely a fever, the plague was just a bug going around. To see—and believe—their first-place Orioles, 138,794 fans showed up at Memorial Stadium for three Yankee games, and not even the loss of two of them could dampen their spirits. Manager Hank Bauer (left) insisted that he was not thinking about the pennant yet, but no one took him seriously. Brooks Robinson, the most valuable player in the league this season, admitted: "I have these fantasies. I keep thinking, if we win this thing, I'll never want to win again. I'm sure I would want to win again, but that's the way I feel now." Robinson continued to lead the Orioles, hitting five home runs in six games, the biggest a three-run smash off Yankee Reliever Steve Hamilton (below). There was the difference—in the bullpens. Baltimore's fantastic 29-8 record in one-run games was largely due to its Three Musketeers—Harvey Haddix, Dick Hall and Stu Miller. For power, Robinson and Boog Powell were getting help from rookie Sam Bowens, Bowens was turning out to be the rare rookie who improves under pressure. His playing was a clear sign that the team, like the town, has the fever, too.