Day 13 of 2022 baseball books: How the A.L. found L.A. through little help of its brethren

“Stumbling Around the Bases: The American League’s Mismanagement in the Expansion Eras”

The author:
Andy McCue

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press
232 pages
$29.95
Released April 1, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com

“A Brand New Ballgame: Branch Rickey, Bill Veeck, Walter O’Malley and the Transformation of Baseball, 1945-1962”

The author:
G. Scott Thomas

The publishing info:
McFarland
326 pages
$39.95
Released Nov. 11, 2021

The links:
The publishers website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com

The reviews in 90 feet or less

The Dodgers revive a dog-related promotion this Saturday that has less to do with relishing the history of its former Farmer John-produced foot-long frank than it does celebrating the curious fact some are still willing to go to any extreme to be in the presence of their own wound-up wiener dog.

“Bark in the Park” is what they called it at first. Now it’s “Pups at the Park,” because, really, the only barking in baseball should be between a manager and umpire, and that isn’t even tolerated as it once was.

In 2010, L.A. Times writer Chris Erskine attended the very first promotion and wrote in his lede: “That was some party in the right-field pavilion Saturday night — some 500 dogs in attendance, a minor league stunt in a major league venue. In order to enter the stadium, the dogs had to have proof of vaccinations, a requirement so successful that Dodger brass might one day extend it to the fans themselves.”

It is an odd event where waivers must be signed releasing the Dodgers of any legal rights and liabilities, and the team must also remind everyone: Please be sure quantity of dog tickets and human tickets are accurate at checkout. Also: This is a live sporting event and loud noises may occur.

Erskine noted that fans had to pay $25 for a seat in the then-all-you-can-eat right field pavilion, as well as fork out $25 for a ticket to accommodate their dog. The next year, tickets went up to $30 each. In 2018, it was $46 for humans and $40 for dogs. Now, its $78 each for this Saturday’s game against Philadelphia. It’ll be a more modest $63 a ticket when the event happens again on Labor Day Monday, Sept. 5, vs. San Francisco.

Former media hustler Roy Firestone was prompted to post on Facebook:

The Dodgers, like many teams, can and will get away with this ticketing arrangement. Increased prices work with any and all promotional event.

Last year during COVID recall, the Dodgers didn’t have one of these events, but eight other teams did. They weren’t the first to come up with the idea – at least five other teams were doing it in 2005, five years before the Dodgers’ first one. The Padres (at Petco Park) and Diamondbacks have expanded to have “pet-friendly sections” at their stadiums since 2016, converting a patio area with “premium boxes” in left field that go for $100 a game – four fans, two dogs.

Mike Veeck, the son of Bill Veeck, a co-owner of several minor league and independent teams, including the Charleston RiverDogs, poses with a bronze of The Citadel’s mascot on campus in Charleston, S.C. (Associated Press)

Dog days seems to be an event that a team owner like Bill Veeck would have unleashed years ago. And who knows, maybe he thought of it first and never pulled it off.

A New York Times piece on the subject in 2005 notes: The Chicago White Sox, who have a long legacy of unusual promotions dating to the former owner and marketing maverick Bill Veeck, were the first major-league team to hold a dog day, in 1996. “It’s one of our most popular promotions, one of the few that fans call about immediately after tickets go on sale for the season,” said Katie Kirby, director of public relations for the team.

To get the real read on Veeck, whose ability to circumvent conventional wisdom in the name of baseball fun, there are more than 400 pages devoted to his life and times thanks to Paul Dickson’s 2012 book “Baseball’s Greatest Maverick.” We’d love to see the outtakes.

It is a far deeper dive beyond the classics Veeck wrote with Ed Linn, starting with “Veeck – As in Wreck: The Chaotic Career of Baseball’s Incorrigible Maverick,” which came out in 1962, and then the 1965 version of “The Hustler’s Handbook,” which attracted a cover story in Sports Illustrated. He said at the time “Handbook” is a “chronicle of the roughest 18 months baseball has been through in a long time. … I hope the book does well. The first one will put three of my kids through school. Now I have to worry about the next three.”

Veeck wasn’t just a bulldog owner, but one you imagine could have had more bite had he been surrounded by other breeds of creative canines working in the name of the National League (aka, the Senior Circuit) during the game’s transformative years. Instead, relegated to the American League, he must have felt as if he was herding cats trying to get anyone not associated with the New York Yankees to invest in the growth of what was cutely known as “The Junior Circuit” in the post-World War II era.

Veeck, navigating the AL as the majority owner of the Cleveland Indians (1946-’49), St. Louis Browns (1951-’53) and Chicago White Sox (1959-’61 and ’75-’80), made his mark with employing the league’s first African American player, signing a midget to a contract and having him draw a walk, and having a bunch of disco records burn on his home field. He was as American as the AL would allow.

But he loved to tell the story about how he wanted to buy the NL’s Philadelphia Phillies in 1943 – and how he was going to stock the roster with Negro League stars. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wasn’t going to have any of that, and found out the rest of the National League owners assumed ownership of the team even though Veeck agreed in principal to the deal from previous ownership. Dickson covered that in depth in his book about Veeck and the topic is still up for debate about its truthiness.

For those who love to reconstruct baseball history, wonder what would have happened if some things fell differently, and why franchises ended up here, there and everywhere except when logic came in play, here are two more viable entries to pour through and try to reconnect the dippin’ dots of days gone by.

Veeck, enjoyably, is all over it in both editions.

In the introduction to “Stumbling Around the Bases,” McCue pulls a quote from Veeck that explains how the league known as “The Junior Circuit” operated from his point of view: “Planning is wholly out of keeping with the American League tradition of confronting all emergencies, head on, with Panic and Patchwork.”

The marvelous quote is one McCue, a SABR member since 1982 and organizational president from 2009-11, found from an unpublished manuscript called “Good Grief, They’ve Done It Again!” included in the Bill Veeck Papers at the Chicago Historical Society, attributed to Veeck and Linn and likely written in 1967, in what would have been the third in a Veeck-Linn trilogy.

In regards to how the Los Angeles Angels became an AL expansion team in 1961, it is far more valuable to rediscover all the context around previous AL threats to plant a beachhead in L.A.

== Donald Barnes and the St. Louis Browns, in the pre-Veeck ownership of the 1940s, had L.A. on its radar for the 1942 season. It had the funding, an agreement to buy the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League and move it to Long Beach as a farm team, worked with the airlines and train companies to figure out travel issues and scheduling. The other AL owners were aligned to approve it in a meeting on Dec. 8, 1941. Turns out, every AL owner voted it down – including the Browns. The day before, of course, was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. History changed, traveling restrictions took place domestically, and all plans were shelved. The St. Louis Browns, after more than 50 years in the Midwest, ended up becoming the Baltimore Orioles in ’54.

Imagine how things would be different today in L.A. baseball.

== Del Webb, the construction baron who made his mark in Las Vegas and his relationship with Bugsy Siegel, was part of the Yankees’ ownership group in the 1950s and ’60s that won 10 World Series. Webb tried to get the other AL owners to circle back and allow Veeck move his St. Louis Browns to Southern California for the 1954 season. It didn’t happen, because they couldn’t figure out Veeck’s angle. Webb, they knew — McCue points out that Webb had other motives, want to get stadium contracts in L.A. and Kansas City, motives that even Veeck pushed back on.

Webb, it turns out, got what he wanted, hired as the main contractor to build Anaheim Stadium for the Angels to open in 1966.

== The Philadelphia Athletics, part of the original AL in 1901, were ready to pick up and move to L.A. for the 1955 season. Team owner Arnold Johnson, a close pal of Webb (and Yankees owners Larry MacPhail and Dan Topping), ended up going to Kansas City. Johnson’s next move was reportedly to move the K.C. A’s to L.A. before the Dodgers arrived in ’58, but these A’s ended up getting sold to Charles Finley in 1960, and he eventually took them to Oakland. Finley had been rebuffed as ownership of an L.A. expansion franchise as well, with his plan to have Glendale’s own Casey Stengel as his manager, as noted in “A Brand New Game.”

== Cal Griffith and his Washington Senators also threatened to move to L.A. several times from 1955 to 1960. They ended up as the new Minnesota Twins in ’61, arriving with the Angels, and were replaced with an expansion Washington Senators – who’d later move to Arlington, Tex., in 1972.

== Consider the fact Veeck had one last plan to get into L.A., not a year after he settled in on buying the White Sox and watched them win the ’59 AL title and meet with Walter O’Malley’s newly transferred Dodgers in the World Series that featured all sorts of attendance records at the LA Coliseum.

Veeck, who would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 (a full 17 years before Walter O’Malley received the honor), teamed up with future Hall of Fame player Hank Greenberg for an L.A. A.L. expansion bid. Greenberg would have been the majority owner, with Veeck a minority partner. O’Malley wasn’t keen to having Veeck as a competitive neighbor, liable to pull his entertainment strings and draw fans away from the transplanted Dodgers trying to establish their own Hollywood roots. Greenberg gave up when O’Malley set up his terms of sharing regional rights.

Through all this, it seems it was almost an afterthought how cowboy actor and singer Gene Autry, building a media empire with radio station KMPC-AM in L.A., stumbled into taking over the Angels – and having the No. 26 retired by the team in his honor. Autry wasn’t happy that the Dodgers were no longer his flagship station team in the late ‘50s. He went into an owners meeting to raise heck. He ended up with ownership of this new Angels’ franchise with a pretty oppressive O’Malley deal.

The Angels had been trapped in deals to play at old L.A. Wrigley Field (in their first year) and then share space at Dodger Stadium (which the Angels people would call Chavez Ravine) for four seasons starting in 1962 as per part of O’Malley’s plan of controlling the area. O’Malley insisted any new AL team could not plant a stadium within 15 miles of his place.

“Five years was a long time to wait to being building your own identity,” McCue notes. “Sixty one years later, the Angels have never outdrawn the Dodgers” in attendance.

At the end of Chapter 5 titled “The First Expansion,” McCue goes back to Veeck from the “Good Grief” manuscript for a quote, noting how the NL had “gobbled up such gold mines as Milwaukee, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Houston, while the American League was moving into Baltimore, Kansas City, Minneapolis and an inferior situation in Los Angeles.”

Later, the NL would take in Montreal (to become Washington DC again) and San Diego, then Miami, Phoenix and Denver. The AL would get the consolation prizes of Toronto and circle back to another ventures in Seattle, another in Kansas City and then add Tampa Bay. Expansion back into Montreal, as well as Nashville, are topics on the table these days.

McCue explains the genesis of this “Stumbling” book came from research on his previous University of Nebraska Press biography on O’Malley, “Mover and Shaker,” a 488-page heavy-lifter in 2014 that is all about the sport’s westward expansion. It won the 2015 SABR Seymour Medal, which honors the best book of baseball history or biography published during the preceding calendar year.

Meanwhile, in “Brand New Ballgame,” where Veeck shares a title billing with O’Malley and Rickey, author Thomas not only uses that McCue book to help frame many of his stories about what happened during both the NL and AL movement and expansion. But McCue’s SABR piece with Eric Thompson titled “Mis-management 101: The American League Expansion for 1961,” a story for the magazine National Pastime in 2011, also lays out how the “path to expansion for both leagues was a combination of new markets and old politics” and it “wasn’t until December of 1958 that the owners formed the Major League Baseball Expansion Committee, and it was here that the American League’s stumbles began.”

Scott, who has a degree in American history from Washington and Lee University, has authored 14 books and writes “Baseball’s Best (and Worst)” on substack.com, quotes Veeck again in Chapter 29 about how baseball’s expansion worked out in the 1960s:

“My modest little plan was to slip my own friends into two new franchise, Washington and Los Angeles, and there being little to gain by halfway measures, also to put a friend into the Kansas City franchise,” Scott notes the quote, taking from “Veeck – As in Wreck.”

Instead, Scott notes that all fell apart in late 1960, and Autry accepted whatever pressure O’Malley put on him — $200,000 in annual rent ($1.7 million in 2020 dollars), giving up all parking and concession revenue to him and covering 50 percent of the ballpark expenses.

“O’Malley was charging us for half the water and half the toilet paper,” Scott quotes Autry from his 1978 book, “Back in the Saddle Again,” with Mickey Herskowitz. And from a December  1960 Sports Illustrated piece by Roy Terrell called “The Damndest Mess Baesball Has Ever Seen,

Scott pulls the quote from the Dodgers owner lauding his own beneficence in allowing the AL to come to L.A.: “ ‘Old Mad Dog O’Malley wasn’t really so bad after all,’ he chuckled, cigar in hand.”

Mad Dog O’Malley, eh?

By all accounts and ASPCA vaccination records, O’Malley and his predecessors (which included his son Peter) clearly marked their territory and perhaps made a baseball a damned mess to some in the process. You’re in the pee stains 60 years later. And if you are dogged enough to bring your pooch into the “Heaven on Earth” ballpark O’Malley built on the land of displaced home owners, see how far you get if you don’t have two entry passes.

How it goes in the scorebook

If we adjust our compass for more encompassing MLB movement in the future, will it learn from its past? Well, the past is really back in the past if you look at how things have changed in the last 20 years.

A turning point in baseball’s direction came, from all people, Bud Selig, who originally benefitted from the “stumbling” nature of American League expansion when he got ahold of the destabilized Seattle Pilots after their one-and-only 1969 season of existence and brought him to his hometown of Milwaukee to become the Brewers. That was also the name of a minor-league team Veeck once owned before getting into his run of AL ownership.

As McCue says in his “Stumbling” intro, the NL and AL long ago “governed themselves separately, cooperated when it suited them and compromised only when forced.” But in 2000, Selig forced the issue, consolidating the leagues under an “MLB” moniker, eliminating AL and NL offices and presidencies and  making all umpires the same for both places (as well as how they called balls and strikes). This came just a couple years after he orchestrated a way for his Brewers to move from the AL to the NL for reasons of self-interest as much as self survival.

He then allowed the MLB to move the Expos to D.C., pushed the Astros from the NL to the AL so there would be 15 teams in each league, and continues to water down whatever NL and AL designations could mean in the future as some try to curate provocative speculation on how it could all be just a far more regionally focused enterprise.

As McCue writes in the very last chapter of his book:

MLB was baseball fully revealed as an organized cartel, with a process for settling long-term priorities and a staff to help the owners and prod them toward reasoned decisions … The infrastructure that governed baseball in the 1950s had outlived its usefulness even then. Now, it was gone, replaced by a centralized bureaucracy with its focus on the baseball industry rather than one of its units.”

We can almost hear the pain in those sentences.

You can look it up: More places to go

== Among the several other books done on the O’Malley dynasty: Michael D’Antonio’s 2009 “Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner,” and Neil J. Sullivan’s 1987 “The Dodgers Move West.”




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