Winter 1997: Looking Back

100 years ago: An early media contract: NL awards Western Union exclusive telegraph rights to its games in return for $300 of free telegrams per club. The 1897 Reach Guide reports that of the 240 players who appeared in at least 15 major league games eight years before, 16 have already died. The dead include two Hall of Famers, Mike "King" Kelly and Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn.

75 years ago: Babe Ruth and teammates Bob Meusel and Bill Piercy suspended for first month of the 1922 season and fined their 1921 World Series shares for violating a new rule which bars World Series participants from postseason barnstorming. The April 27, 1922 Sporting News laments the coming of radio: "Newspapers in various sections of the country are announcing the 'broadcasting' of results of ball games as a feature of their news service. To start with it is only results, sent out at an hour when all the scores have come into the newspaper office. Next, we presume, it will be play-by-play that is sent out into the ether and to those who merely care for what happens rather than seeing how it happens, the radio will foot the bill.

"This new radio craze is already crimping attendance at anything where the feast is for the ear rather than the eye, and seriously affecting spectacular entertainment because the family stays home to hear the concert or lecture or story telling in preference to going out to see the things pictured on the screen.

"And next we will have the whole works shot to pieces because instead of mere sound, the radio will be producing in every home that has a ten dollar equipment the picture of the play. Yep, that is the possibility. When Ruth hits a homer or Sisler slides into the plate, a film will catch him in the act, wireless will carry it a thousand miles broadcast and the family sitting in the darkened living room at home will see the scene reproduced instantaneously on the wall. No more impossible than what we now have seemed ten years ago.

"Then what will become of baseball? Nobody will actually see Ruth and Sisler in action except the bored operators of the wireless picture producing machine who have to be out as part of that job. The magnates won't have to worry about taking care of their crowds; their concrete grand stands will be torn down and the business of baseball will be collecting a fee for supplying the action that is reproduced on the parlor wall instead of counting the gate." [Reprinted with permission of the Sporting News.]

50 years ago: Jackie Robinson breaks the 20th-century color line. Bonus rule takes effect: any player signed by a major league team for more than $6,000 can't be optioned to the minors, nor assigned outright to a minor-league club without passing through waivers.

25 years ago: Supreme Court reaffirms baseball's unique antitrust exemption in Flood v. Kuhn. First in-season player strike, over pension benefits, forces the cancellation of 86 games. NBC pays $18 million to telecast a Saturday Game of the Week, the All-Star Game, playoffs and World Series.

Copyright © 1997 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Winter 1997 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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