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For more than half a century, big league baseball has been the exclusive property of a select few cities scattered across the face of the United States. Its structure—eight teams called the National League and eight teams called the American League—has stood firm in the face of criticism and open warfare, unchanged, unwavering, unconcerned. Occasionally a franchise has been moved, but this has happened only with the express consent of the club owners. Those men with more courage than wisdom, more daring than dollars, who have dared to buck the system have always been humbled and routed in shattering defeat. In 1914 the Federal League was formed, in 1946 the Mexican League. Both were outlaw organizations and neither survived.
Today a brawny, fast-talking Irishman from New York named Bill Shea is ready to try again. Some time within the next month he will sit down with seven representatives of Organized Baseball and talk about a third major league, this one hopefully to be formed as part of the present structure. And although the nation has been inundated for months with talk and headlines roaring "Third League," this will be the first time that the 16 club owners and their representatives—the presidents of the two leagues and Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick—will really know what Shea and his followers want. For the first time they will learn of his offers and demands—and even now, it will be not because they want to, but because they feel they must. How they react will, in one way or another, change baseball.
If they say yes to a majority of Shea's proposals, then big league baseball will spread across the land, and people in cities like Houston and Toronto and Minneapolis, in Denver and Dallas and Atlanta—people who have never seen Don Drysdale and Herb Score throw a fast ball or Henry Aaron and Mickey Mantle swing a bat—will find themselves going to big league ball games. For a few years they may not see many Drysdales or Scores or Aarons or Mantles, but eventually they will have their own great stars, too.
If Organized Baseball says no, and Bill Shea is not at all sure it won't, the impact may be even greater.
"We have had to battle for everything we have got so far," he says. "They don't want us, they're out to block us in any way. Now we're going to have a meeting, and if it turns out that they still don't want us we'll have to go get legislation to help."
An ex-Dodger fan, Shea was originally charged with a much less spectacular task, that of heading a committee which would bring another big league team back to New York. Now the possibility exists that he may succeed where the Federal League failed. If he does it will be due to three factors: the growth of the nation in the last 45 years; recognition of a few simple words like altruism and cooperation; and the firm backing of such congressional leaders as Senator Estes Kefauver, chairman of the Senate antitrust committee, and Congressman Emanuel Celler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who is, like Shea, a Brooklyn Democrat.
In 1914 there was really no demand for expanded major league baseball. Today, with cities like Houston, Denver, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Dallas booming into sprawling giants, there is a hunger for major league ball. These cities and the vast trade areas which surround them have become major league in size.
And where the old Federal League was frankly out to make money, in open competition with the National and American Leagues, the new third league is backed by a horde of extremely wealthy individuals who, according to Shea, have no desire at all to get any richer from the proceeds of baseball. They see expansion as a civic duty, an outlet for their love of the game. Most important of all, they do not intend to wage open war with Organized Baseball, but instead become a part of it. They want some help in the beginning, it is true; at the same time they feel that their contribution to the game, in expanding it and bringing it to additional millions of people, will far outweigh the sacrifices which they are asking the present 16 owners to make.