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.
Baseball now has thrown away whatever excuse it had to be exempted from the antitrust laws. That excuse, arrived at by pragmatic judicial diddling, was that the game was as much a sport as a business. The sale to CBS indicates that to baseball's owners themselves it is all business now.
The tragedy here is twofold. The Yankees, and with them virtual control of the whole American League, pass into the hands of the entertainment business, the hands of people who are on record (TIME, Aug. 21) as seeing no difference between Mickey Mantle and Jackie Gleason. And the Yankees now belong to a vast corporation, not an individual, which naturally regards the acquisition as an investment and has no reason to have any feeling about the sport. The distinction may seem subtle, but it is real. The Chicago Cubs, for instance, do not belong to Wrigley's Gum, but essentially to Mr. Philip Wrigley, a big-business man who is certainly not interested in losing money but who cares enough about baseball to sacrifice thousands of dollars every year because he thinks the game is best served by being played in the daytime.
The men now controlling the American League cannot be counted on to enhance the sport of baseball or protect its integrity if those considerations come in the way of making a buck. Below follows the first full report of how the owners talked themselves into disaster.
To most of the owners in the American League, the struggle over selling the Yankees to the Columbia Broadcasting System was as dramatic as fighting dandruff. They sat around a baize-covered table last week, looking like people who got lost on the way to the Queen for a Day show—or
The Price Is Right
. But this meeting, which was to be as stylized as a fairground clambake and a good deal less muscular, turned into one of the most cynical and significant gatherings in baseball history. Before it was over, it was clear that:
?The New York Yankees came very close to losing approval of the sale to CBS.
?The Yankees had completed another sale—this one involving Lehman Brothers, the New York investment bankers—before the CBS deal.
?The league was ready to let blood and take muscle out of some of its firmest guards against corruption and scandal in order to get CBS into the family.
The abattoir was the Coronet Room of the genteel old Hotel Somerset in Boston. There, shortly after 11 a.m. on Wednesday of last week, Dan Topping, the sleek, bronzed co-owner of the Yankees, arose to deny reports that the CBS deal had been two years in the making. It was the other deal—the one involving Lehman Brothers—that had been two years in the making. In fact, it was secretly completed on June 8, 1962 but never presented to the American League for approval. Topping and his partner, Del Webb, were awaiting approval from Washington of some of the tax angles. When 25 months passed without action by Washington, Lehman Brothers dropped out of the deal. On that day, July 17, 1964, Topping phoned William Paley, chairman of the board of CBS, and inquired whether he was interested in buying the Yankees. (Paley had made an earlier inquiry, but it was rejected because of the Lehman Brothers deal.) Paley was interested, Topping said, and the CBS deal developed.
At this point Arthur Allyn, owner of the Chicago White Sox, took the floor. Allyn is a direct, guileless man with a gray crew cut, swart eyebrows and a quasi-Roman nose. He had insisted on this meeting, and he had prepared for it: in his red-covered notebook were 140 pages of documents, questions and facts. He had done everything from sending messengers by plane to Joe Cronin in Boston—to make sure that Cronin got his messages—to preparing six different press releases based on what might happen at the meeting. Now he spoke for 29 minutes in a language that was alien to his listeners—one sprinkled with words like "ideals" and "morals" and "the punctilio of honor." Just before sitting down, he moved that the league seek independent counsel to explore the antitrust implications of the CBS acquisition of the Yankees. The man he had in mind: Dean Acheson, Secretary of State under President Truman and international troubleshooter for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, or S. Chesterfield Oppenheim, a distinguished professor at the University of Michigan and an expert in antitrust law who had headed a study of the subject for President Eisenhower.