During the past month Joseph Edward Cronin, that normally happy handshaker who rose from the sandlots of San Francisco to the presidency of the American League, has been walking around with a face that is longer than Candy Spot's. There is anxiety in Mr. Cronin's league. There is confusion. There is, in fact, crisis. And the crisis is a result of nothing more complicated than an excess of Yankee success.
This is hardly a new problem in the American League, but never has Yankee domination been at one and the same time so obvious to the fans, in the esthetic sense, nor so damaging to the club owners of the league in dollars and cents. Last week the Yankees were gliding along, a dozen embarrassing games in front of their alleged opposition, with both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris resting on the bench. Yet the Yankees were the only team that could draw anything resembling a crowd at the gate, alone accounting for nearly 40% of the American League's total attendance for the month of August. Hardly anyone blames the Yankees for building themselves into such an attraction, for winning so often and so well. But a 10-team league that exists on the drawing power of one team, a league whose pennant race so quickly turns into a dreary farce, can hardly be expected to long endure. Last week evidence was everywhere that the situation in the American League had reached the danger point.
In Washington's 45,000-seat District of Columbia Stadium last Thursday 2,161 people sat in 80° temperatures to watch the Senators play the Minnesota Twins in a doubleheader. The roar of the crowd was reminiscent of the sound of moths stomping on glass. The Detroit Tigers, hottest team in the major leagues, averaged fewer than 8,500 people for five games even though the home-town hero, Al Kaline, was putting up a splendid fight to win the batting championship. Kaline, tied with Boston's Carl Yastrzemski at .323, said, "I hope I hit at least .330. If I don't I'd rather not win the batting title. If the batting champion wins with a .318 or .320 it makes the league look bad."
Kaline, of course, could never make a league look bad, but some of the towns he has been performing in are starting to look as if rigor mortis had set in. The Los Angeles Angels, ushered into the American League's expansion program just three years ago, are struggling to reach 800,000 in paid admissions, while their National League landlords, the Dodgers, will probably draw 2,500,000 in the same ball park. Cleveland, with the healthiest franchise in the majors 15 years ago when the Indians attracted 2,620,000, may not make 750,000 this season. The Senators themselves are filling their new $23 million stadium to only 20% of capacity, the same stadium that the Washington Redskins, for many years the doormats of the National Football League, will fill to 85% of capacity this fall. Everything, of course, is out of whack in Kansas City, and the bloom may be off the rose in Baltimore.
The Baltimore situation has not yet reached the state of true crisis but the signs are ominous. "It's not that we are having a poor race in the American League," said Oriole President Lee MacPhail last week. "The truth is that there is no race." Jack Dunn, MacPhail's administrative assistant, said in disgust, "I used to think that the league couldn't get along without the Yankees, but now I'm starting to think we'd be better off without them."
The Orioles' attendance last year slipped to 790,254, the lowest in the club's nine-year residence in Baltimore. This was a dismal seventh-place team, and MacPhail worked and traded hard during the winter to convert it into a contender. He built a solid infield and garnished his attraction with Luis Aparicio, one of the American League's most daring players. The Orioles got off to an excellent start, presenting their public with a team good enough to rise to first place and to stay there—for two weeks. But now the Orioles are struggling to finish a distant second, and a projection of their attendance figures through the end of the season indicates that they will be lucky to draw 820,000—a minuscule increase of 30,000 over 1962.
The trouble in Baltimore, in Kansas City, in Cleveland, in Los Angeles, in Washington is that there exists a feeling of apathy toward the American League itself. Of course, when the Yankees go to Kansas City they draw crowds like 31,000, and when they go to Los Angeles perhaps 42,000 may turn out. But when Washington goes to Kansas City, there is disaster. A holiday crowd of 15,000 is exceptional; the norm is more like 4,500. Even New York City is getting bored with Yankee success, particularly such absurdly easy success, and Yankee attendance this year will fall off, too, nearly 100,000 from 1962. There is growing resentment everywhere. This year, more than ever before, people are saying things like, "No one tries to beat the Yankees", "The American League is a married man's league", "How can a team lose Maris and Mantle and be better than it was in 1962?", "How come there are eight teams playing better than .500 ball in the National League and only four in the American League?"
A few years ago the argument that the National League was better than the American League was confined to a relatively small group of "insiders" but today the evidence of that superiority is almost overwhelming. Of the nine players traded from the American League to the National League in 1963 five have dropped in batting average, one was farmed out and another waived. A notable example is Pete Runnels, the two-time American League batting champion who hit .326 in Boston last year and is currently hitting .233 for the Houston Colt .45s. Dick Stuart, on the other hand, hit .228 and 16 home runs in 1962 for the National League Pirates. He is now hitting .260 for the Red Sox and leads the American League in homers with 35. This is all part of an established pattern that sends the performance figures of ex-American Leaguers tumbling upon exposure to the National League, and finds ex-National Leaguers reveling in unaccustomed success when given a chance to play in the American.
Bill Veeck is one of those who believe the Yankees themselves are to blame. "The greed of the Yankees," said Veeck last week, "has brought baseball to a dangerous position. They mesmerize the owners in the meetings, and their players do it on the field." Scoffing at the lack of competition, Veeck continued, "The American League is made up of four divisions. The Yankees by themselves are the first division. Chicago, Minnesota and Baltimore are the second division. Cleveland, Boston, Kansas City and Detroit are the third division. Los Angeles and Washington have the fourth division to themselves."
Los Angeles, a team that finished a surprising third last year, is no longer surprising, and the Angels are causing the American League real concern. By playing in Walter O'Malley's Dodger Stadium the Angels have no identity. The situation has deteriorated to the point where the Angels are beginning to wonder if they shouldn't move into that historic horror, the Los Angeles Coliseum. And then there is the one-team West Coast schedule problem. "That trip to Los Angeles is murder," says Cal Griffith, president of the Minnesota Twins. "There has to be another team in the state of California to build up a rivalry for the Angels in the American League like the Dodgers and the Giants have in the National. It costs too much to go to the Coast for one game."
Joe Cronin's office already has blocked out a tentative schedule for 1964 that includes Oakland in the American League. Cronin also has charted a schedule that would include inter-league play with the National League, but the National League wants no part of that.
Anywhere is better than here
The Kansas City Athletics want to go to Oakland. Well, the Athletics themselves don't really want to go to Oakland, but their owner, Charles O. Finley, does. In the past Charles O. Finley has wanted to go to Dallas and to Atlanta as well. This ambulatory urge stems from nothing more complicated than Finley's desire to find a bigger ball park in which to play the Yankees nine times a year (the KC ball park seats 32,500, while a new Oakland park would seat 55,000—and nine times 20,000 equals quite a few dollars). But the people of Kansas City have been antagonized repeatedly by Finley, and they do not sympathize with his problems at all. They point out that he has failed to promote the Athletics, and one year he even cut the Kansas City Star, the town's leading newspaper, off from any sources of information about his team.
The American League may be stepping on some important—and sensitive—toes if it allows the Athletics to forsake Kansas City. Three U.S. Senators—Stuart Symington and Edward Long of Missouri and James Pearson of Kansas—have been closely watching the situation. Their mailboxes overflow with irate letters from constituents who maintain that Finley is doing everything possible to sabotage the Kansas City franchise. Senator Long conducted a survey of the Kansas City baseball situation last year and deduced from that survey that Kansas City was supporting the Athletics quite well, thank you, considering that the A's had never finished higher than sixth. He also deduced that Owner Finley was remiss in dealing with the chambers of commerce in surrounding towns. Senator Long also just happens to be a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly. Congress has several times refused to buck a 1922 Supreme Court decision that baseball was a sport and not a business, but baseball's executives still lose sleep worrying about the possibility that the matter might one day come up again.
The situation in Cleveland is confusing, and some say the apathy in that city is caused by the fact that the Indians have had a recent history of jumping off to a good start and then collapsing. But the favorite argument of baseball executives is that the city of Cleveland itself has had a mad march to exurbia and that it is too difficult to stay in town to see a game. On August 17, however, baseball's argument was swamped under a shower of dollar bills when 83,000 people appeared in Municipal Stadium on a bleak, rainy Saturday to see a professional football doubleheader—and an exhibition doubleheader at that. Obviously, the people of Cleveland still support an attraction and, if they are presented with one, they will push the barbecue routines aside and come to town.
Beneath the sore surface of American League franchise trouble another infection has begun to gnaw. At the next major league meeting, Griffith and Tom Yawkey, the president of the Boston Red Sox, will come out strongly against the share of money going to the New York Yankees from CBS-TV's Baseball Game of the Week. These broadcasts, seen on Saturdays and Sundays except in blacked-out major league cities, put an added $500,000 into the Yankee bank account on top of the $1.2 million that the Yankees already draw from their local sponsors. CBS-TV has a contract with the Yankees for all their Saturday and Sunday home games, and the network can use them whenever it wishes. The other American League teams are invited to appear hardly at all.
Of the 47 games scheduled by CBS this year, 31 are American League games and 24 of these involve Yankee home appearances. Visiting teams do not draw a dime from these telecasts. Bill MacPhail, vice-president of CBS Television Sports and the brother of Lee, says steadfastly, "We use the Yankees most of the time because they are the biggest draw. We get a lot of letters saying that the name of the show should be The Yankee Game of the Week, but the Yankees are the draw. This year NBC-TV had a Yankee game one weekend and, although they usually aren't too close to us in the ratings, they popped way up on that game. The Yankees are the team that people want to see and anyway it is up to the American League to do something about distributing the money. That certainly isn't my business. I'm buying a product—the Yankees—and I shall keep buying them as long as they are the big draw."
When you consider that the Senators get roughly only $300,000 for local TV rights to their games, it is not hard to imagine what an extra $500,000 does for the Yankees. It does things like getting a Tom Tresh, a Jim Bouton, an Al Downing, a Joe Pepitone.
The time has now arrived when the other American League teams must take steps to obtain their own share of the Treshes, the Boutons, the Downings and the Pepitones—and the answer is to build themselves up to the Yankees rather than tear the Yankees down. The first gesture, however, may have to come from the Yankees themselves, a gesture that would involve carving up that extra $500,000 television pie. In the long run this would be to the Yankees' advantage, of course, since they must present something of a contest in order to attract even TV fans.
The next step for the American League is to formulate and execute a plan that would give the bottom teams a distinct advantage in the selection of young player personnel, a plan based perhaps on the draft systems used by the professional football and basketball leagues. These involve only college athletes, but baseball is fast approaching a related dependence upon colleges for its young players. Now that the major leagues are trying so hard to discourage large bonus payments, the campus may soon be the primary source.
Finally, Joe Cronin should assemble his most compelling arguments and go hat-in-hand to the National League to beg for interleague play. There is nothing really wrong with the American League that Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Henry Aaron, Warren Spahn, Maury Wills and Don Drysdale can't cure.
As with any crisis, there are only two ways out: recovery or death. It is time that the American League began to shake things up. And fast.
AS NATIONAL LEAGUE ATTENDANCE CLIMBS, THE AMERICAN LEAGUE WILTS
Graph below compares American League attendance since 1955 to that of the National League. Once ahead by more than a million, the American League has seen its crowds steadily dwindle. Expansion in 1961, in which two new teams and a total of 194 more home games were added, offered only temporary relief. The National League's original eight teams have consistently outdrawn their American League counterparts and, since 1962, when the National League expanded, too, the trend has become even more marked.