Television is supposed to report, comment on and explain baseball, and in that role it has rendered signal service to the sports fan. Henceforth it will also own baseball—to the point of virtually controlling the American League.
This sorry situation came about last week when it was announced that the Columbia Broadcasting System had bought four-fifths of professional baseball's biggest property, the New York Yankees, for $11,200,000. The conspiracy was silently engineered and rapidly executed. Seven of the other nine American League owners, most of whom have long been subservient to the Yankees, approved the sale, apparently without any debate.
The commissioner of baseball, Ford Frick, who was on vacation, claimed he knew nothing of the deal; some hours later he issued his approval. By fascinating coincidence, Frick's tenure had been extended a few days before the announcement.
Uneasy fans joked wryly, wondered if Yogi Berra would have to put on greasepaint before going to the mound, or sighed: "Guess NBC will have to buy the Mets." But the cracks had a hollow sound.
Baseball, of course, has long been big business, but for millions of Americans it managed to remain a sport as well. Now that status is threatened. As of last week the American League had fallen into the clammy grip of show business—and mediocre show biz, at that.
Upon acquiring 80% of the Yankees, CBS Chairman William S. Paley said he considered this a constructive contribution to sport. Commissioner Ford Frick said the whole thing was news to him. League President Cronin said the details would have to come from the Yankees. Ford Frick said it was news to him. Bill Paley insisted that pay television was not a motivating consideration in the purchase. Frick said it was news to him.
EMPIRE BUILDER PALEY
The polling of the owners used less time than it takes to play a game. Joe Cronin phoned or wired them because, as Cronin told Minnesota's Cal Griffith, "That's what CBS asked me to do." Griffith needed only 15 minutes to decide, whereas Cleveland's Gabe Paul "gave it quite a bit of thought," about three hours. Lee MacPhail of Baltimore had "no reservations at all," while Washington's Jim Johnston considered CBS "a very responsible buyer." The other three owners who voted yes fled from sight, making themselves "unavailable for comment."