SI Vault
 
A SAD DAY FOR BASEBALL
William Barry Furlong
September 21, 1964
No one was astonished when the American League's club owners, full of ostentatious judiciousness, met last week in Boston and proceeded to coat with whitewash their previous hasty decision to sell out baseball to show business. It had been expected and predicted (SI, Sept. 7). In a thoroughly reckless mood of laissez-faire, eight of the American League's 10 club owners consented to the sale of the New York Yankees to the Columbia Broadcasting System. They took what Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick's lawyers advised him was a "calculated risk" that antitrust action would follow. Some calculating.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 21, 1964

A Sad Day For Baseball

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

It was five hours before this motion came to a vote. They were hours in which it began to appear—to the Yankees at least—that matters were not going quite as Topping and Webb desired. They were certain to win on this issue—that is, to defeat Allyn's motion—but the vote would be 7-3, and that indicated a significant defection from the solid pro-Yankee 8-2 lineup in the original poll to approve the sale. ( Chicago and Kansas City had voted no.) The defecting team was Baltimore. In fact, Baltimore had already told Arthur Allyn that it would abstain in a roll-call vote on the sale of the Yankees to CBS.("They offered it to me," said Allyn. "I didn't go out and seek any votes.")

The position of the Orioles was doubly significant. For one thing, Baltimore comes first in any American League roll call—it is taken alphabetically—and a shift by Baltimore might embolden other teams to defy the Yankees. More important, an abstention by Baltimore on approval of the sale meant that the deal would be rejected. The reason is that on the sale issue, by league rules, the Yankees needed approval of three-quarters of the entire membership of the league, not just those voting. With Baltimore abstaining, the Yankees would have only seven votes approving the sale, and they needed eight. "So an abstention." says Arthur Allyn, "was as good as a 'no' vote."

As the afternoon waned, the tyranny of these statistics so oppressed the Yankees that Dan Topping was forced into action. At 4:15 p.m. he suddenly called for a short recess and bolted from the meeting room like a man looking for a manhole, not a fight. With his attorneys trailing behind him, Topping rushed upstairs, presumably for a conference with Frank Stanton, president of CBS. The network already had taken the precaution of getting independent legal advice on whether the purchase of the Yankees might attract an antitrust action. ("All in the world I asked," says Allyn, "was that the league protect itself in the same way. But they refused to do it.") When Topping returned to the meeting room he insisted that the American League could not and should not seek such legal advice. The matter went to a vote, and the American League obediently disapproved Allyn's resolution 7-3, a simple majority vote being all that was required to carry or defeat Allyn's motion. Baltimore voted with Chicago and Kansas City and against the Yankees.

Now Allyn brought up the matter of conflict of interest—and the league reacted to it like quail to the sound of buckshot. The American League rules clearly and expressly forbid any member of the league—or a stockholder or employee of any club—from holding stock or a financial interest in any other club, directly or indirectly. If the sale were approved, anyone owning CBS stock would have a financial interest in the Yankees. Allyn owns CBS stock; so does Joseph A. W. Iglehart, chairman of the Baltimore Orioles, and so, presumably, do other owners in baseball. Allyn stated that he was ready to sell his CBS stock, but he was wondering what precautions CBS was taking to avoid conflicts of interest. The only definite answer Allyn got to his inquiries was an assertion by Stanton that CBS would not turn over a list of stockholders—though this also is required by league rules—so that the extent of conflict of interest could be determined. Joe Cronin, president of the league, who had been conferring with his lawyers, abruptly declared Allyn out of order, thus cutting off further discussion or a vote on this vital issue. It was an almost brutal assassination of rules instituted to keep the league free from any possible taint of corruption. "Absolutely unconscionable," said Allyn.

It was early evening now, and the rush-hour traffic was rumbling by on Commonwealth Avenue, just outside the meeting room. Tom Yawkey, owner of the Boston Red Sox, spoke up with a compromise that shattered the Yankees and CBS: he moved that the league okay the deal pending approval by the Department of Justice. ("That was a resolution I could have voted for in good conscience," says Allyn.) Yawkey's motion invited rigorous examination of the antitrust aspects of the deal by the Federal Government—something that CBS and the Yankee supporters want like they want a prefrontal lobotomy. So another recess was hastily called. Its purpose: to allow attorneys to write a bland clause that would satisfy Yawkey on the antitrust issue.

But other more important business was to be transacted during the recess. Various members of the league were working on Baltimore to abandon its abstention and vote with the Yankees. Baltimore had sent a four-man delegation to the meeting. One of the members, Iglehart, was disqualified from voting on instruction of Baltimore's board of directors. He had been an officer of CBS as well as of the Orioles and, though he resigned as director of CBS, he still held significant stock in both enterprises. Another member of the delegation was the president of the club, Lee MacPhail, whose brother, Bill, is director of sports for CBS; MacPhail already had voted for the deal in the inner councils of the ball club. Delegate Jack Dunn, an administrative assistant, stockholder and descendant of the family that owned and operated the Orioles in the past, also had voted for the sale in the inner councils. The other delegate was Zanvyl Krieger, Oriole treasurer, who had voted against the sale at a meeting of the Orioles' board.

The levers available for politicking—though nobody knows quite how many and varied they were—could have ranged from a consideration of who would get the stock if Iglehart were forced to sell his Baltimore holdings (to avoid a conflict of interest) to how rich the national TV revenues to Baltimore might be, should it vote with the Yankees, as compared to what they might be after a vote against the Yankees. While the maneuvering was going on, Allyn hardly stirred from his command post behind a fortress of notebooks at one corner of the table. "I will not politick on these matters," he said. "I believe we should decide whether they are good or bad on their merits. This may be naive as hell, but this is what I believe."

Not until Baltimore agreed to switch back to a pro-Yankee vote was the meeting resumed. Then, in moments, the resolution approving the sale was read and rushed through on an 8-2 vote, with only Chicago and Kansas City in opposition. The rush was so great that nobody really had moved to adopt the revision when Cronin called for a second to it.

Most of the members of the league left the meeting looking as if they were hot on the spoor of money. For if nothing else happened, perhaps the other networks might have to bid for American League ball clubs simply to reduce the edge that CBS now enjoys by sitting in the executive council meetings of the league. (In fact, Dan Topping, who will run the Yankees for CBS, also sits on the joint executive council meetings of the major leagues.)

By the end of the week, Arthur Allyn was calling for yet another meeting of the league to rescind the vote approving the sale. His grounds were that the members had not been allowed to weigh the advice of baseball's attorneys in Washington that there was "inherent danger" of antitrust action in the sale. Moreover, Allyn wanted the meeting to be held before September 30, because after that date, the league accepts changes in the rules that would permit the Yankees to claim they need only a majority vote to approve the sale. Thus, in the Byzantine maneuverings to force baseball into the entertainment business, there might be a third act—if somebody could get Joe Cronin's foot off the curtain.

1 2