Ring Lardner wrote some pretty funny stories once about baseball players, good stories that have taken a permanent place in the gallery of American letters and which are still widely read. Unhappily, too many people who read them forget that they were written 40 years ago. Times have changed, baseball has changed and the baseball player has changed, but Lardner's raw, ignorant busher is still, for a surprising number of people, the prime source of their mental image of the modern major leaguer.
Several years ago a series of stories about Yogi Berra began to make the rounds. Most were exaggerated and many were pure fiction. Berra was made out to be a clown, stupid, ignorant, a hapless Malaprop. People, delighted with the stories, howled with laughter and only occasionally doubted the truth of them. Try to tell them that Berra, though poorly educated, awkward at expressing himself and rather shy and retiring with people he doesn't know, is nevertheless a shrewd man with sharp perception and a very keen sense of humor, and they look at you with disbelief and repeat the latest Yogi story.
This is so unfair. There are among the 400 men who play in the majors each year a few dull, unimaginative clods. There are also men of the high intelligence and character of Herb Score and Jerry Coleman and Joe Black. Most major leaguers, however, are surprisingly normal in appearance and personality. The average ballplayer has about the same degree of intelligence, education and awareness of the world about him as the average bank teller. Like the teller, he dresses neatly and talks pleasantly. He is different in that he probably knows more about baseball than the teller does about banking, and in that he has more money to spend and has traveled more. He resembles the athlete in that he is a big man, with a strong competitive instinct (ballplayers love to play cards or anything where one man wins and another loses) and possesses a handshake that could crush a stone.
5 Television, rather than the bane of baseball, is the strongest factor in baseball's present and future strength.
This is an obvious fact, too, but you will still hear baseball men argue that television is ruining the game. (They mean, of course, that it is ruining the business, but they're wrong there, too.)
Baseball is entertainment, and television is the greatest broadcaster of entertainment in the history of the world. Remember that the word broadcast is an old word, meaning to cast in all directions, the way a farmer scattered seed as he sowed a field. The field that television is sowing is still in its infancy, so far as monetary return is concerned. Pay television is inevitable; current television production costs are so high that a greater return has got to be realized. When one or another (or two together, or several) of the forms of pay television now in the experimental stage are finally accepted, adapted and installed, baseball will fly to the moon.
Just consider World Series coverage alone. The World Series is the greatest and most appealing of American sports events. It transcends baseball. Everyone, in a manner of speaking, wants to watch the World Series. It is not at all wild-eyed to imagine 20 million television sets tuned in to the World Series. At 50¢ a set the gross income would be $10 million per game. Allow baseball only 35% of that gross; $3½ million per game, or more for each game from television alone than the gate receipts, radio fee and television fee accrued by the Yankees and the Braves last fall for all seven games. And, of course, there would still be the gate receipts.
Presently, television income from the All-Star Game and the World Series is the primary source of the huge funds supporting the major league's player pension plan. Television revenue from local telecasting or from Game of the Week telecasting fees is an important part of the income received by most major league clubs. The Chicago Cubs reported a net profit on the 1957 season of $357, and revealed that television income of $100,000 was responsible for wiping out what otherwise would have been a deficit.
The minor leagues have lost all hope of independent survival because of the telecasting of major league games, but their only hope of any kind of survival—which would be by major league subsidy—also resides in television. Money is, naturally, professional baseball's lifeblood, and television is a huge blood bank.
6 The decline of the minor leagues is not a symptom of sickness in baseball, but evidence of the game's growing popularity.