I never wanted to be an astronaut, but life on other planets left me wondering when NASA and Major League Baseball would join forces. Would the Houston Astros get first dibs and set up a training facility on Mars? Air lift a being back to earth and insert him, her or it into a game?
It wouldn’t be the first time the MLB dabbled with discovery missions.
In 1888, Albert G. Spalding organized baseball all-stars and set sail from San Francisco to promote baseball. They made stops in Hawaii, Australia, crossed the Indian Ocean, Egypt through the Suez Canal, roamed Europe playing games against cricket teams in England, Scotland and Ireland.
Then in 1913, Charles Comiskey sponsored his own Chicago White Sox and John McGraw’s New York Giants on a four continent world tour; from Japan to China, the Philippines, Australia, Sri Lanka, Egypt and finally Europe, where they played in Italy, France, and England.
Amazing to see players climbing a sphinx, but hypocritical in that this was the same Charles Comiskey who shafted his own players out of so much money that they earned the dubious nickname “Black Sox”-no money to wash their socks. No wonder they gambled on games in the 1919 World Series.
I guess empire building considers overseas expansion more important than soaps and suds. Nowadays, MLB relies on The World Baseball Classic as its primary marketing tool and it seems to be working. Leagues are popping up in places typically prone to soccer worship.
The MLB learned how to divide and conquer from historic challenges made to their monopoly.
The early origins of baseball were filled with many rival leagues fighting the National League’s supremacy. The American Association from 1882-1891 with its cheap ticket prices, alcohol, and Sunday Sabbath Games challenged the pure and proper National League in the first version of the World Series.
Then there was The Player’s League. It grew from the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players and as the name suggests, it was a union to combat the inequality between owners and players. The League only lasted one season-1890, but it stole players and fans from the American Association, ultimately spelling its doom. It’s legacy is the Polo Grounds in New York.
Ban Johnson bought The Western Minor Leagues in 1894.. He looked like Herman Munster and apparently scared the National League silly, outsmarted them and declared his Western League as a new major league in 1901-The American. The two leagues are the same ones that compete for the World series trophy today.
Baseball became three leagues again in 1914 and 15 when the Federal League joined. It was known as the Outlaw League for not honoring the reserve clause that kept players chained and bound to owners for life. Teams wooed many well know players and managers to jump and join this third league, but The American and National joined forces and purchased half the Federal teams. Wrigley Field was originally built as a home for the Federal League’s Chicago Whales.
There’s also the Pacific Coast League (PCL); the only minor league to receive the “open” status meaning above the AAA level. This limited the rights of teams to draft its players and almost resulted in a third major league yet again.
There was no baseball west of St. Louis for the first half of the 20th century and the PCL filled that void beginning in 1903. The San Francisco Seals played 230 games in 1905. It’s still the most games ever played in one season.
In 1945, the league tried to become a major league. The new threat was quickly shot down, but the PCL continued to offer players a competitive enough salary to keep some for life. Frank Shellenback is probably the most well-known PCL lifer. His primary pitch-the spit ball was banned after the 1919 season and so Shellenback spent 19 seasons in the PCl becoming the league’s all time leader with 295 wins. Either PCL life was good enough or Shellenback never bothered to learn a secondary pitch.
It’s a good thing the MLB ruled baseball because Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio, Tony Lazerri, Paul Waner, Bobby Doerr, Joe Gordon-all Hall of Famers once earned a PCL wage.
Many PCL teams were relocated when the Dodgers and Giants moved out west. The League’s open classification status was removed in 1952 and the PCL reverted to a mere mortal AAA team. It still exists today but as affiliated farm teams to the parent clubs.
The only other attempt to rival the American and National was by the Continental League in 1960. Another failure, but it opened dialogue to baseball expansion. Good thing too. The 1960’s welcomed eight new teams to the MLB.
Assuming extra terrestrials will one day visit planet earth, this story will be continued.