For months the major leagues had argued the subject of expansion. Now, in the lobbies and dining halls of the squat Chase and towering Park Plaza hotels, which rise like Mutt and Jeff on the edge of Forest Park in St. Louis, the big leagues gathered last week to settle this problem for once and all. The most pressing matter was whether or not to admit the American League into Los Angeles. There were smiles of greeting between American and National League owners, who stretched forth one hand in a gesture of friendship while testing the blade edge behind their backs with the other.
Then they got down to business. The American League met in the Stockholm Room on the mezzanine of the Park Plaza, the National League in the Tiara Lounge on the 26th floor. In between, where he has been for 10 years, sat Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, in a suite on the 22nd floor.
Occasionally, someone—Nate Dolin of the Cleveland Indians, John Galbreath of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Dan Topping of the New York Yankees, Lou Perini of the Milwaukee Braves—would pop out of one room and race to the other, swiveling like a potbellied Joe Bellino past the clutches of newsmen seeking a hint of just what in the name of Abner Doubleday was going on. Occasionally, one of the self-appointed committees would stop off to visit Ford Frick, a nice gesture, everything considered, since Frick, despite his exalted title, was never the dominant figure here. That honor belonged to Walter Francis O'Malley of the Dodgers. O'Malley, who hides the shrewdest mind in baseball behind assorted chins and a black cigar, spoke softly, smiled pleasantly and stated his position simply: he wanted the American League to keep its cotton-pickin' hands off Los Angeles. For three days this gentle-seeming man repelled all advances as if he were personally responsible for defending the City of Angels against the Hun.
Eventually, however, placating words and genuflection prevailed, and O'Malley told the American League O.K., come ahead. The terms, in general, were that the new Los Angeles Angels, owned by a syndicate headed by ex-Stanford football hero, Bob Reynolds, and the singing cowboy, Gene Autry, could put a ball club in L.A. in 1961. The Angels must pay indemnities amounting to approximately $350,000 to O'Malley, although one could see that the mention of cash was repugnant to his Irish soul. The Angels may televise not more than 11 out-of-town games and none from L.A. They may not play in the huge Coliseum but must play in neat little Wrigley Field, which seats only slightly more than 20,000. And when O'Malley's new Chavez Ravine ball park is completed in time for the 1962 season, the Angels will move there for a minimum of four years at an undisclosed rental. There were also a few minor clauses. In all, it was an arrangement which made Reynolds and Autry very happy and is guaranteed to cost them several million dollars in the next few years.
When all was settled the owners asked Ford Frick to make the announcement. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the commissioner responded very well. "I want all of you to know," he told the assembled journalists, emotion quivering in his voice, "that without the complete cooperation of Mr. O'Malley, baseball would have been in one of the damndest messes ever seen."
It was not very clear how the commissioner appraised the monumental foulup just ended, during which major league baseball threatened to devour itself with an incredible display of stupidity and greed.
The trouble really began with the formation a year and a half ago of the Continental League, which concerned itself with the admirable project of putting a second team in New York, now that the Dodgers and Giants were gone, and extending the major leagues to other cities so far unblessed: Houston, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Toronto, Dallas, Fort Worth, Denver, Atlanta and Buffalo. The major leagues, talking fast out of both sides of their two mouths, put to death the Continental League in Chicago last August 2. "If you will go away and forget all about it," the Continental League was told by a major league expansion committee on that day, "then we will recommend that four of your cities be admitted to our sacred circle." This was good enough for the Continental League, which failed to read the small type, and that still-unborn body breathed a sigh of relief and expired.
So now the major leagues had made a promise, of sorts, and now they had to act, not so much because of the promise, which normally would influence big league baseball owners not a bit, but because of Senator Estes Kefauver and Congressman Emanuel Celler. Kefauver and Celler are the watchdogs of major league expansion, and although they have done little except talk, the words they use most frequently are "monopoly" and "restraint of trade." The very threat of congressional legislation is enough to make baseball club owners quiver like custard pudding. "All right," said Warren Giles, whose National League had voted against expansion a year before, to Joe Cronin, whose American League had indicated that it might give the matter serious thought some day. "Let's get together and expand." The American League agreed. So the National League scurried off and expanded, without bothering to invite the American League.
The cities selected by the National League were New York, quite naturally, and Houston, considered by many the ripest plum available for plucking by big league baseball. The official announcement that the two new teams would begin play in 1962 was made on October 17. "The National League," screamed headlines across the country, "has stolen a march." Frick was downcast. "I wish you boys had got together on this thing," he said.
Now that the National League jumped the gun, making the American League look ridiculous, the American League struck back—and managed to look even more ridiculous. On October 26 it voted to move into Los Angeles, and all the righteous denials that followed failed to convince anyone that this wasn't partly in reprisal for the National League's proposed invasion of Yankee territory in New York. It voted to allow Calvin Griffith to move his Washington Senators to Minneapolis-St. Paul, cutting off altogether the old Continental League franchise seekers in the Twin Cities. It voted to "expand" back to Washington, a move absolutely necessary to placate Capitol Hill. And it voted to let these new clubs play not in 1962, as had the National League, but in 1961.