Baseball's New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998

Baseball's New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998

Baseball's New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998

Baseball's New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998


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When Major League Baseball first expanded in 1961 with the addition of the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators, it started a trend that saw the number of franchises almost double, from sixteen to thirty, while baseball attendance grew by 44 percent. The story behind this staggering growth, told for the first time in Baseball’s New Frontier, is full of twists and unexpected turns, intrigue, and, in some instances, treachery. From the desertion of New York by the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants to the ever-present threat of antitrust legislation, from the backroom deals and the political posturing to the impact of the upstart Continental League, the book takes readers behind the scenes and into baseball’s decision-making process.

Fran Zimniuch gives a lively team-by-team chronicle of how the franchises were awarded, how existing teams protected their players, and what the new teams’ winning (or losing) strategies were. With its account of great players, notable characters, and the changing fortunes of teams over the years, the book supplies a vital chapter in the history of Major League Baseball. 

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496210043
Publisher: Nebraska Paperback
Publication date: 08/01/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 232
File size: 735 KB

About the Author

Fran Zimniuch’s many books include Fireman: The Evolution of the Closer in Baseball; Going, Going, Gone! The Art of the Trade in Major League Baseball; and Crooked: A History of Cheating in Sports.

Read an Excerpt


Go West Young Men

In the 1950s there were no player agents, ballplayers didn't make the gargantuan bucks that even the most pedestrian players earn today, and they were very much part of the community. In that era, baseball players often lived in the same neighborhoods that their fans did and were active and well-known members of the community. Very few areas exemplified this as much as the borough of Brooklyn.

The players embraced Brooklyn and Brooklyn embraced the players.

"Free agency hadn't happened, and we were all on one-year contracts in those days," said former Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine. "You stayed on your team for at least a decade then. We lived in the same neighborhood as the fans. Our kids grew up together, we knew the barber, the guy in the deli, the baby sitters. We just blended in with the population. I lived in Bay Ridge. Pee Wee [Reese] lived close, as did Duke [Snider] and Preacher [Row]. I'd pitch a good game, and by the time I got home they'd have a street party for me. It was like a second home town."

That old home feeling explains part of the love affair that Brooklyn fans had for their Bums. The Dodgers were a good team that regularly reached the World Series. Successful decades that the Brooklyn players and fans enjoyed are rare in today's game.

"The Dodgers had one of its best stretches when I played there," said Erskine. "I was there for twelve seasons and I was in the World Series six times. That accounts for how we integrated so easily into the neighborhoods. But the bonding occurred because we were there for the community. We had some degree of celebrity being Dodger players, but the team was respectable and we were winning. We were there a long time and we won, but maybe we didn't win enough in the World Series."

The Dodgers were a strange combination of a successful team that was also the perennial bridesmaid. They were usually good, but with one glorious exception in 1955, not good enough to reach baseball heaven by beating the notorious crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees, in the World Series.

While the Bums were en route to their world title, Walter O'Malley fired the first of many shots across the bow of Brooklyn. On August 16 of that year, he announced that the Dodgers would play one exhibition game and seven regular season home games at Roosevelt Field in Jersey City in 1956 and seven more regular season games in 1957.

Robert Moses had shot down O'Malley's idea for a domed stadium, feeling that open space in Flushing Meadows, Queens, would be the best site for a new stadium for the Dodgers. Sound familiar? That turned out to be the future site of Shea Stadium and later, Citi Field.

"I grew up in Brooklyn," said Stan Hochman, a columnist and beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News since 1959. "I know that there was a lot of politics involved in the building of a new stadium for the Dodgers. Robert Moses was very influential and wanted them in Flushing. O'Malley wanted to pick the place, and he got such a good deal from Los Angeles. It was just unbelievable that New York would only have one club, the Yankees. I was shocked that they were abandoning New York, but once I heard the details of the deal I was not surprised. That left a vacuum in New York."

There was outrage and concern over the thought of the Dodgers playing home game anywhere other than in Brooklyn. But while Roosevelt Stadium was far from a perfect venue, it offered ten thousand parking spaces. In 1956 Brooklyn went 61 in Jersey City, but more importantly enjoyed a 40 percent increase in attendance, averaging 21,196 fans at those games, as opposed to the 15,217 average at Ebbets Field.

After announcing the game in Jersey City, O'Malley assured his fans that almost all Dodger home games would be played at Ebbets Field. But he reiterated that his Dodgers would need a new stadium sooner rather than later.

As the defending world champions in 1956, a lot more than winning baseball games and the defense of that title was on the mind of Walter O'Malley and his fans. With the complete lack of any kind of plan for a new stadium on the horizon, rumors began to swirl. Would the Dodgers move to New Jersey? Would they relocate to another existing big league city? Or would they move somewhere else?

"We were young guys in our early to mid twenties," said Carl Erskine.

We could[n't] care less what was happening outside. We were trying to keep our jobs and stay on the team. You'd have a good year and go in to see Mr. [Branch] Rickey. You had a raise in mind but he'd just let you come back without a raise.

The players didn't have a clue what was happening. That wasn't shared with us. But we were just worried about winning the next game. I was player rep for eight years during that time period. Seldom would any owner ever call a player rep to talk about anything. We read the paper and knew what everyone else knew. The rumors would fly, but I don't think we expected to have all the information. We eventually believed that we'd be moving because it became evident that Mr. O'Malley wanted to get a new ballpark built. Then we played those games in Jersey City at Roosevelt Stadium. O'Malley said if he had to move thirty miles out of Brooklyn, he might as well move thirty thousand. I don't think that the players concerned themselves with it a whole lot. I knew we were going to do something. But we were employees who were not privy to front office information or discussions.

While maintaining a public façade that no decision had been made and that the Dodgers were still negotiating to keep the team in Brooklyn, the facts seem to indicate that Walter O'Malley was not being completely truthful.

"He said one thing, but his actions seemed like he didn't believe what he was saying," said Bob McGee, author of the book The Greatest Ballpark Ever: Ebbets Field and the Story of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Before spring training in 1956, when he and Phil Wrigley exchanged notes agreeing to swap the Los Angeles and Dallas — Ft. Worth Minor League franchises, the writing was on the wall. Wrigley had a home on Catalina Island in LA and he was interested in seeing baseball in Los Angeles. He was not about to move the Cubs out of Chicago.

For all of O'Malley's talk, the Dodgers were the most profitable team in baseball by virtue of advertising and TV revenues. After the 1956 World Series, while en route to an exhibition tour in Japan, O'Malley met with Kenneth Hahn [Los Angeles County supervisor] at the Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. O'Malley said something to the effect of although he would deny it to the press, he would move the team to LA if he got the deal he wanted.

So it is clear that Walter O'Malley was more than willing to entertain the possibility of moving the Dodgers to the West Coast fairly early in the process.

It is said that both good and bad things happen in sets of three. Following the 1956 baseball season, on Halloween, the last trolley cars in Brooklyn were retired. Then, on December 13, the great Jackie Robinson was traded to the Giants in exchange for left-handed pitcher Dick Littlefield and thirty thousand dollars. Was there any doubt that the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn would soon follow?

The draw of the West Coast was just too much to ignore. The Los Angeles and San Francisco areas had all their ducks in a row, able to make it next to impossible not to move out of New York.

"The population just boomed out here [in California] after the war," said Dick Beverage.

People settled here in droves. Citizens were clamoring for Major League Baseball, and the owners saw California as a fertile market that was untapped. If a team or teams were going to move, this was the logical place to do so.

I was living in New York at the time and didn't like it myself because I didn't want to see the Dodgers and Giants move out here. I still thought that the Pacific Coast League should be a third Major League. But when the news broke that the teams were moving there was a lot of excitement. Both teams drew well from the get go. It was tough to get a ticket in San Francisco. O'Malley just felt that he could not play in Ebbets Field any longer.

But Boston was able to salvage Fenway Park, so why couldn't they salvage Ebbets Field? Everyone thought it would be straightened out. I had a friend who would stand by the subway and hand out flyers to try to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. He'd do that every single day during the summer.

But despite such love and loyalty, which had been evident from their fans for decades, finally, on May 28, 1957, the National League approved the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles and New York Giants to San Francisco, unanimous support by the other National League clubs. While two groups of fans were in shock and mourning, two other groups of fans were ecstatic.

"We didn't care about Brooklyn fans," said Larry Colton.

We got ours, too bad for you. It was you that let them go. They played the first couple of years in the Coliseum, which had over a hundred thousand seats. I'd go to a lot of games. It was great. Wally Moon and Sandy Koufax were just starting to hit strides. When the Dodgers came to town everybody listened to Vin Scully on their transistor radios. You read every possible thing you could read about the team. Don Drysdale was a hometown guy. In fact, when he pitched in high school, Robert Redford was the second baseman on Drysdale's team. It was a really exciting time.

Across the country in the borough of Brooklyn, there was no such happiness or excitement. It was as if there had been a death in the family. For many, the disappointment and hurt remain even today.

"You had a sense of how the borough was never the same after they left," said Bob McGee.

Something was lost that really was essential to people's identity as far as their identification with Brooklyn was concerned. Branch Rickey once said that a baseball team is a quasi-public institution. Take away the quasi.

People identified very closely with the Dodgers because they had been playing baseball in Brooklyn for well over a hundred years. In 1858 there were fifty amateur teams in Brooklyn. In a sense baseball in Brooklyn was bread in the bone. Brooklyn without the Dodgers was unthinkable.

Say what you want about O'Malley and his choices. The one thing he wouldn't do was offer the team for sale. I think the reason he elected to move that team was that he saw an opportunity to be given all this real estate and make all this money. The lack of leadership in baseball was such that instead of expanding systematically, owners would just move franchises. That lack of leadership at the top of the game is still something that exists today. The game is brought kicking and screaming into a new era as a result of its mistakes.

While Brooklyn fans reeled over the loss of the Dodgers, the players had to finish out the season. They certainly had no say in the move of the team, and finishing out that season in Ebbets Field must have been akin to playing baseball at a wake. The borough was in shock, hurt and angry.

"In '57 it was announced that we were going to move," said Carl Erskine. "The fans were disappointed and hurt. We had lousy crowds and we didn't play all that well. The Brooklyn fans were beautiful people but they didn't mind telling you if you played bad. They were very intense about their team. A lot of people point out attendance. If you could draw a million people in those days it was a real benchmark. We did that regularly but after the move was announced it dropped off pretty big."

While all of the evidence pointed to a Dodger and Giant move to the West Coast following the 1957 season, hope always springs eternal, and you can get them next year. But would that be even a long shot in Brooklyn?

Even though the move to California was approved in May, the dog days of August brought with them a pennant race. On August 5 the Dodgers were in third place, only three games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. To make matters even more interesting, they were scheduled to play seven games against the Giants over the following ten days.

Asked writer Henry D. Fetter, "Would even the most mercenary, avaricious, and unsentimental owner really pull a team out of its long-time home if they had just won the National League pennant — and, who knows, the World Series as well?"

There is little doubt that the move of both of New York's National League teams was a done deal by August 5, 1957. But against all odds, Brooklyn fans still hoped against hope. Perhaps the crucial next couple of weeks could save their beloved Bums after all.

But their hope was short lived as the Dodgers lost three of four home games to the Giants, split a four-game set in Pittsburgh against the Pirates and then lost two of three to their crosstown rivals at the Polo Grounds. By August 15, Brooklyn was eight and a half games behind the suddenly red-hot Milwaukee Braves. They finished the season eleven games off the pace, in front of paltry crowds who realized that it was finally over.

At the same time the Dodgers began losing crucial contests that ended their pennant hopes, Horace Stoneham announced that his Giants were moving to San Francisco. There was no chance they'd be moving out west alone. On October 8, 1957, the Dodgers officially announced that they were moving to Los Angeles.

The cold, harsh reality was a smack in the face to Brooklyn fans. But it was also a difficult adjustment for the players, even for a native Californian like the late Don Drysdale. In his book Once a Bum, Always a Dodger, Drysdale wrote of his mixed feelings upon learning that the Dodgers were moving to Los Angeles.

"Well, I was speechless," he wrote.

I used to read the papers pretty regularly and I remembered some stories about the problems Walter O'Malley was having in getting a new stadium built for the Dodgers in Brooklyn. He wanted a ballpark downtown, but the borough officials said he couldn't have it there because it was right in the middle of everything. Right in the produce center and by the railroad station. So, there were some troubles between the management of the ballclub and Brooklyn's civic leaders. But if there was ever a real threat that the Dodgers were actually contemplating a move to Los Angeles, I had missed it. At the time I heard it, I thought to myself that this had to be the best-kept secret since Pearl Harbor.

My first consideration was that I was going to my first home, California. But beyond that, I thought about Brooklyn. What about all those people who lived and died with the Dodgers? How were they going to feel about this? And all those friends I'd made in Brooklyn. I might never see them again. It was a very emotional time for me. It was an emotional time for all of us. But I don't think is really sunk in until the next year when we didn't go back to Brooklyn. Maybe I didn't want it to sink in. Maybe that's what it was.

Not only was the move of the Dodgers a move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, but in many ways the move also ushered in a changing of the guard. The veteran players who had played so well for so long at Ebbets Field were getting older. Walter O'Malley would wait no longer to build his stadium in Brooklyn. At the same time, Father Time began to have his way with the Brooklyn players.

But even though the players had strong feelings for Brooklyn, the star-studded Los Angeles area was an exciting new place in which to play. Say good-bye to the neighborhoods of the borough and say hello to Hollywood.

"I was always pleased to have been a transition player who played in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles," said Carl Erskine.

If you asked Don Newcombe or any player who was in the group of The Boys of Summer, we had all pretty much passed our peak. But if you ask young Don Drysdale, who was going back home to California, or Sandy Koufax or Johnny Podres, those guys looked at it differently than we did. We felt, the older guys, that we had to go out there and prove ourselves and show these people all the things they had been reading about us.

All the preseason banquets that led up to Opening Day were really enthusiastic. It was Hollywood. And at the same time there were people protesting O'Malley being sold the land. People were picketing and everything. There was a welcoming at City Hall and they had to haul the protestors away. But the fans were happy they had a team. On Opening Day we had around eighty thousand fans in the Coliseum, but the crowd couldn't make as much noise as Ebbets Field with ten thousand fans. It was funny: half of my teammates would be looking behind the field into the stands to see what movie stars were there instead of watching the game. Vin Scully's broadcasting really sold the Dodgers to Southern California. He made people want to see the Dodgers.

I got to pitch the first game and beat the Giants in LA. We had eighty thousand fans come into the ballpark that day. I pitched eight innings and got the win. Clem Labine came in and got the save.

While 1958 was not a successful season on the playing field for the Dodgers, they took off midway through the 1959 season when young players such as Roger Craig, Larry Sherry, Norm Sherry, and Frank Howard began to become prime-time players. Their World Series victory in the team's second season in Los Angeles was a final slap in the face to Brooklyn fans who saw but one title in all those years.


Excerpted from "Baseball's New Frontier"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Fran Zimniuch.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 1

1 Go "West Young Men 15

2 The Continental League 27

3 The First Expansion-1961: The Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators 40

4 The First Expansion Part Deux-1962: The Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets 55

5 The Second "Wave-1969: The Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots, San Diego Padres, and Montreal Expos 75

6 The Pendulum of Power Swings to the Players 100

7 North by Northwest-1977: The Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners 115

8 Thin Air and Immediate Success-1993: The Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins 124

9 Baseball's Final Expansion?-1998: The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 136

10 Expanding on Expansion 150

11 Bottom Feeding: Taking Advantage of the New Kids in Town 168

12 The Characters of Expansion Who Have Brightened the Game 181

13 Baseball's Brave New World: Where We've Been and What the Future Holds 196

Sources 207

What People are Saying About This

Mike Schmidt

“Fran Zimniuch is a wonderful baseball historian. This account of the expansion of Major League Baseball over the years will be of interest to all baseball fans.”—Mike Schmidt, Hall of Fame third baseman who hit 548 home runs during his eighteen-year career with the Philadelphia Phillies

Ross Newhan

“The expansion of baseball—with a wrong turn here and there—raised the prosperity and popularity of the industry to record heights, and Fran Zimniuch captures it all in this comprehensive book. Can Tokyo, Havana, or Mexico City be next?”—Ross Newhan, recipient of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000

Jerrold Casway

“The expansion of baseball has been a barometer of the sport’s cultural impact. Fran Zimniuch provides his readers with an understanding of the circumstances affecting baseball’s growth. He relates how the game’s expansion impacted its popularity and influence. Once this dispersal was accepted, baseball evolved into a truly national sport.”—Jerrold Casway, baseball historian and author of Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball

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