Skyscrapers, condominiums, billboards, hospitals; one obstacle after another. I walk and barely catch a glimpse of horizons, frontiers, and distance and when there is some, it comes between garages and is splintered by fences and gone as fast as my feet shuffle.
Makes me think of The Bowery Boys and looking for trouble; nose to the grindstone in back alleys. Makes me think of Willie May’s in photographs playing ball with New York City kids; a broom handle among crowded tenement housing.
No wonder the first 60 years of major league baseball barely stretched beyond the Mississippi river. Who could see beyond the corner store? I cringe when I say “thank you Branch Rickey.” He was a St. Louis Cardinal after all. He took advantage of being situated in the middle of the country. He knew there was baseball played up and down the Pacific Coast, beside the swamp lands of Arkansas, the Black Mountains of Tennessee, the Pacific Northwest, along the Texas/Mexican border……
It’s a good thing Rickey’s playing and managerial career was cut short because it was in the front office of the St. Louis Cardinals where Rickey’s vision resulted in the Cardinal teams of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
He looked east, west, north and south and found players; turned them into Cardinals and nine National League championships and six World Series between 1926-1946. The Cardinal legacy began with Rickey. And then he was off to Brooklyn where he made more legend.
He refused to be dwarfed by rivals around him like the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs. He grew tired of teams buying up players from independent teams so he one upped them all and bought entire teams and transformed them into Cardinal farm affiliates.
The number of teams under Cardinal control reached staggering numbers; 40 in the 1940’s. Hundreds of players traveled up and down the Cardinal’s talent laden ladder, pumping stars to the major league level; Dizzy and Paul Dean, Joe Medwich, Enos Slaughter, Stan Musial. It continues today.
Rickey’s farm system was met with resistance by then Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. At one point, over 70 players were released from Cardinal control by baseball’s tsar of the time. He feared Rickey would destroy the MLB by destroying minor league teams. But Rickey was on a mission and wouldn’t be stopped. The Yankees soon followed in his farm system footsteps and launched a dynasty of their own.
The wild west free for all that Rickey took advantage of was just that; wild and free. Anyone could play. Rickey simply seized an opportunity. He got to the goods first and like buying up property in dilapidated neighborhoods, he got them relatively cheap. Everyone eventually followed. And today, the farm system is as much a part of baseball as spring training. Rickey turned the pre-season ritual into an organized system as well. He also promoted the Continental League as a catalyst towards expansion.
All of these innovations in some way leveled the playing field. That was Rickey’s bread and butter; his Christian faith. It’s what motivated him in part to take a stand against Jim Crow baseball. Yeh, the wild west and free for all eventually favored teams with more money just like free agency does today, just like ideally situated media markets and merchandise and ticket sales do and yeh, the Yankees, sit in the cockpit of capitalism.
But wait a second, where are the Yankees? And where are the Dodgers and Angels. Where are all their World Series rings over the past 35 years? The Yankees have won 5 since 1980, the Red Sox and Cardinals 3 and the Phillies, Dodgers, Giants, Marlins, Blue Jays and Twins two each. Throw in 10 other winners and that makes 19 different winners in 33 seasons minus 1994-no World Series. Of the 19, there are five expansion teams if we include the Mets, Royals, and Angels. Sounds like competitive balance to me.
I pay someone to do my taxes, so take my logic with a grain of infield dirt, but baseball features both ecomonic isms; social and capital, thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between payers and owners. The agreement is in constant flux and strives to provide a competitive edge through an annual amateur draft, luxury tax and soon there will be even stricter regulations concerning international amateur free agents. It’s not just rhetoric. Changes in the CBA play a role in different emblems on WS rings.
And even if the Yankees five championships seems like too many and even if you think they have too much money, don’t they make the perfect Vader with their legends and shmaltzy tradition, ditto for the Red Sox, Walt Disney Angels and rags to riches Hollywood Magic Johnson Dodgers?
The perfect Vader because they are not invincible giants. They can be toppled and they are. Their presence and supposed unfair advantage inspire visions like that of Branch Rickey and more recently Billy Beane.
There’s bound to be a Spider Man among us; always climbing, always seeing beyond the obstacles of today, fully committed to their vision. To be continued.