SI Vault
February 16, 1959
Antitrust, But Not Very
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February 16, 1959

Events & Discoveries

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Antitrust, But Not Very

Officially the attitude was one of cautious "no comment," but in the higher echelons of Organized Baseball and pro football a tentative whimpering was plainly audible, as though the businessmen of big-time sport were not sure whether they were going to be spanked or not. On the one hand a Democratic Congress—in the person of Senator Estes Kefauver, who publicly fought a few entertaining no-decision rounds with some shadowy racketeers—was once again threatening to treat them just like other businessmen with no thought for the fact that they were all in the game just for the fun of it. (Why, even the Supreme Court had not dared wag an antitrust finger at the national pastime!) On the other hand the bomb labeled Senate Bill 886 that Senator Kefauver pitched into the legislative hopper might yet turn out to be little worse than a bad cold.

"A baseball-badgering bill!" roared Senator Kenneth B. Keating, who last year tried to get all major sports placed legislatively beyond the reach of such crass considerations as monopoly laws, but the Kefauver bill seemed on examination less intent on badgering than on placating. What his bill proposes to do, stated simply, is to bring big league baseball and football under the antitrust laws (because they are a business) and then grant them broad exemptions (because they are a game).

The main provisions of S. 886 include a paring of the control of big league operators over potential players. Baseball teams such as the Yankees (which now control some 200 players in their farm systems) and the Milwaukee Braves (which control some 250) would be limited to contracts with not more than 80 players each. The football draft system would be made dependent on the written consent of the players to be drafted.

Kefauver is also willing to guarantee a degree of monopoly to any team within the limits of a circle of 35 miles radius—provided no city within the circle is over 2 million in population—big enough, in other words, to support a couple of teams. Thus, according to the trustbusting Keef, little Milwaukee, little Pittsburgh, little Cleveland et al. can continue as monopoly towns, but the Yankees cannot have big New York all to themselves, and the White Sox can't kick the Cubs out of big Chicago or vice versa.

As for TV rights, which many consider the heart of the matter, the Senator seems content to leave all that up to the Federal Communications Commission, which "is in better position to strike a balance" than the Congress of the U.S.

Hearings? Yes, there'll be hearings. The word is, though, that the Senate has already heard all it can translate from Casey Stengel (SI, July 21), and will concentrate on the worried business types of Organized Baseball and pro football. Until the hearings, let's leave the Congress story right there.

Philosophy of Babe Pinelli

Once upon a time there was a big league umpire who had a heart. Last week, speaking cautiously behind the padded protection of retirement, Ralph (Babe) Pinelli, late of the National League staff, supplied a little proof. It was of such heady stuff that real fairy tales are made. "In my case, I was willing to take the situation into consideration," reflected Mr. Pinelli. "If a kid was in the ninth inning trying for a no-hitter, I might call a close corner-cutter a strike. He deserved it."

What gave Pinelli's philosophy a haunting interest for baseball fans was that, as they well remembered, it was Babe Pinelli who was standing behind home plate that day in October 1956 when Pitcher Don Larsen of the New York Yankees, with the count two and one on Brooklyn's Dale Mitchell, threw that last one in. Mitchell watched it go by, clearly of the opinion it had missed one corner. "Stri-i-i-ke three!" yelled Babe Pinelli, and Don Larsen had a perfect game that could make him happy forever after.

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