If you work for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit you can join a yacht club or a slingshot team. Employees of Texas Instruments have a 50-acre rod-and-gun club and 60 acres of lakefront for boating and fishing. North American Aviation workers put on horseback-riding exhibitions. Tennessee Eastman's hiking club maintains 112 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and General Dynamics has an astronomy association. Flick-Reedy, a Bensenville, Ill. manufacturer of hydraulic and air cylinders, employs only 500 people, but all 500 are within a long cylinder length of a heated indoor swimming pool.
These phenomena do not prove that dire Marxist predictions are coming true and that capitalism is going soft in spirit or in the head. Rather, they signify that the so-called captains of American industry are among the world's strongest subscribers to the adage, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy." (Also industrial tycoons suspect that work without play may make Jack a malingering, absentee, job-switching boy who will not love old Amalgamated Sponge Incorporated as much as Amspo Inc. feels it should be loved.)
This attitude has made American industry the world's greatest patron of fun and games. Currently, about $1.5 billion a year is being spent on employee recreation. Some 125 golf courses are owned by industrial concerns, and industrial sponsors are probably the biggest users of bowling lanes, ping-pong tables and Chinese-checker boards in the universe. Industry buys more sport gear than all U.S. schools and colleges put together—at least, so say the representatives of sporting-goods manufacturers, who are very, very high on industrial recreation.
American corporations got into the business of recreation about a century ago, when the first big intra-industry baseball game was played by the teams of two New York insurance companies. (The Equitable Lifers nosed out the Metropolitans 42-18.) The idea caught on, and by 1913 more than half the companies studied in a Department of Labor survey had some sort of games for employees.
Between the two world wars industrial recreation had a tendency to go big time. This was the heyday of what industrial-recreation directors now refer to a little contemptuously as "varsity sports." Many companies, as a method of advertising their products as well as entertaining their employees, recruited top-flight athletes to play in what amounted to professional industrial leagues. In the '20s and '30s a tramp athlete could make a good thing out of industrial competition. Varsity industrial players were given cushy jobs (assistant timekeeper was a favorite sinecure), time off for practice and travel and, occasionally, room and board. The industrial leagues were fast ones. Baseball teams often had a pitcher or slugger just passing through on his way to or from the majors. Both the Chicago Bears (A. E. Staley Manufacturing Company) and Green Bay Packers (Acme Packing Company) evolved from tough industrial football leagues.
There are still today some strong industrial basketball teams. Occasionally the sponsoring company is able to offer "job benefits" that lure a hot collegiate prospect away from the NBA, and some of the teams, notably the Goodyear Wingfoots and the Phillips 66ers, have contributed players to the U.S. Olympic squad. Another curious sponsor of varsity sports has been the FBI, not exactly an industry but still an employer. For years an FBI baseball team composed of hotshot college players on summer vacation mopped up amateur opposition around Washington, D.C. While these summer G-men might have had trouble distinguishing Frankie Carbo from Bernard Baruch, they could steal a mean base.
With a few exceptions, however, varsity sports are now a negligible factor in industrial recreation. Television robbed big-time plant football and baseball teams of their spectators until the expense of maintaining teams as legitimate employee entertainment devices could no longer be justified. In addition, the large corporations that are now the chief supporters of industrial recreation have very little to gain from using varsity teams as an advertising medium. Presumably the old Acme Packers may have helped push some Acme knockwurst, but even with Bo Belinsky pitching for them an IBM baseball team could hardly be expected to sell a 1401 computer. Finally, personnel men, recreation directors and industrial psychologists came to the conclusion (long before it seems to have occurred to their counterparts in, say, universities) that a participant gets a lot more of value, or what industry regards as value, out of a game than a spectator does. Thus participation has become the end-all of industrial sports programs, while crowd appeal, athletic excellence and expertise are definitely of secondary interest to management.
Illustrative of this attitude is the evolution of recreation at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank, Calif. At one time a major feature of the Lockheed program was the Lockheed Flyers, a good varsity-type basketball team made up principally of stars who had graduated from UCLA and USC. The Flyers were disbanded 15 years ago, to the apparent regret of no one except the players.
"It was not a hard decision to make," says Frank Davis, Lockheed's recreation manager and the current president of the National Industrial Recreation Association. "The Flyers did not attract crowds, and for what it cost to sponsor the team we can now run an entire employee basketball league. If our people want to see good basketball we can get them tickets to the Lakers' games, just as we can for golf tournaments, art shows, concerts, Disneyland and the like, at less than box-office prices."
None of the teams in the current Lockheed basketball league would give the old Flyers much of a game. Once in a while an ex-collegian or a graduate of an upper-bracket military ball club shows up, but for the most part the caliber of play is equivalent to that of a good church league. The only spectators are a handful of girl friends, wives and children who cheer on their heroes and after the games join them for dinner at the neighborhood pizza parlor.