The main thing to remember about the slow, steady fall of the minor leagues is the fact that it was not caused by a decline of interest in baseball. It was caused by a decline of interest in minor league baseball, and that was an inevitable result of an increase of interest in major league baseball.
For decades Americans who lived in the smaller cities and towns of the country, out of the orbit of the 10 major league cities that comprised the major leagues without change for half a century, sated their appetite for baseball by rooting for the local minor league team, or occasionally by watching local semiprofessional baseball. But in the last decade, radio broadcasts of major league games began to penetrate into these nonmajor-league towns, and then came television broadcasts. What happened?
The fan listened to major league ball on radio, watched it on television and just wasn't hungry enough to go out and watch the comparative humpty dumpties in the local park. Aggravate this situation by introducing Little League baseball (the term is used here to include all the baseball programs for youngsters currently common around the country) and you find that when the fan does go out to see baseball played in the flesh he wanders down to watch his son or nephew in the Little League, thus cutting down even further on his appetite for minor league ball.
A comparative study of sports pages illustrates the point. In 1938, say, in a fair-sized minor league town, the daily paper's sports page would include each day thorough coverage of the local minor league club. It would also have the major league standings and possibly a one-column roundup story of what happened the day before in the majors. Today's daily sports page in that minor league town not only carries the box score and at least a brief report on every major league game played the day before, but also wire-service photographs of major league play. An important series between the Braves and the Cardinals, say, will carry a banner headline and a long detailed wire-service report.
In view of this increased interest in major league ball and the colossal indifference of the major league clubs toward the deteriorating financial position of the minor leagues, it is really a tribute to the vitality of the game and to the tenacity and energy and ingenuity of the minor league executives that the minors have survived at all.
7 Expansion of the major leagues to 10 or 12 teams each is not just a matter of vote; it is a complex procedure that can come to pass only if baseball makes long-range plans now.
The Commissioner of Baseball has spoken glibly for some years now of a necessary expansion of the major leagues from two leagues to three or even four, and from 16 teams to 20 or 24 or even 32. Recently, he settled on two 12-team leagues, each divided into two six-team sections.
It's a splendid arrangement, one which would delight every baseball fan in the country if it were to become an accomplished fact. The trouble is, it won't become an accomplished fact, soon or ever, unless the commissioner or some other responsible party sees to it that hard practical planning is set down on paper now.
An existing major league franchise can be shifted from one city to another by a simple vote. But the creation of a completely new team involves a multitude of difficulties beyond mere voting. Will only one new team be added at a time, or should new teams be added only in pairs? Should any addition of teams to the majors be done only as part of a long-range development pattern, or is it all right if they come in haphazardly, as now seems likely? Should the American and National leagues work in concert on expansion, or should they engage in open and direct competition? What specific problems face a new owner? Should he be made to pay a franchise fee?
For example, a difficulty often cited as a deterrent to expansion is a supposed lack of enough players of major league quality. Baseball people favoring expansion insist that there are plenty of players. (And of course there are. It is competition between skilled teams of nearly equal strength rather than high skill alone that makes major league baseball successful.) But that is all they say. They do not take the time to recognize that the problem is not the number of players available but the distribution of them. A plan for sharing available players has got to be worked out now.