I found the wages
of lesser players truly startling. Fritz Peterson, an ordinary lefthander,
earned $66,000 in Cleveland. His earned run average was 3.95. Bob Bailey, who
began as a wunderkind and grew up to be only a journeyman, earned $72,000 at
Montreal. The average salary for major league pitchers in 1975 was $51,000. The
average for players at other positions was $55,000.
If you follow a
basic law of economics—you can't pay what you don't have—these numbers indicate
overall fiscal soundness in the majors. Add broadcasting contracts worth $50.8
million this season and attendance that has been running about 10% ahead of the
previous best year, and big-league baseball assumes an emerald glow of
But travel to
Pittsfield through the rolling Berkshire hills, and you find yourself in the
country of the poor. Early this season, when the Berkshire Brewers,
Pittsfield's team, led the Double-A Eastern League, a night game drew only 110
fans. Later the management imported Bob Feller, Rapid Robert when nicknames
were in flower and the hardest thrower of his time. At 57, Feller has become a
fine showman, and he presented a splendid pregame pitching exhibition. The
attendance at Wahconah Park was 351.
Pat McKernan sits
up late analyzing what besets his minor league, but in Pittsfield one obvious
and unconquerable monster stands against the sky. It is the master antenna for
the local cable television company. On certain evenings when the Brewers are at
home, so is almost everyone else in Pittsfield. On one channel they can watch
the Yankees. A second brings them the Mets. A third carries New England's
summer demigods, the Boston Red Sox.
in western Massachusetts mixes low hills, 3,000-foot mountains, small farms,
upland meadows, swift-running brooks. It is most famous now for Tanglewood, the
Boston Symphony's summer retreat where a performance of Beethoven's Ninth draws
15,000 listeners. But while Tanglewood is relatively new, local baseball
tradition goes back almost to Beethoven's lifetime. One hundred fifty years ago
children played games similar to baseball in the Berkshire fields, and in 1859
Amherst and Williams played the first intercollegiate game at Pittsfield. The
curveball had not yet been invented. Amherst won 73-32.
In October 1969
McKernan bought an Eastern League franchise for $1,000, and in December he
concluded a working agreement with the Washington Senators. The Senators,
nobody's first choice, offered the only deal he could get.
Under a standard
Double-A working agreement, the major league club supplies uniforms, a minimum
of 19 players, a trainer and a manager. Double-A salaries run from roughly
$2,500 to $8,000 per season. The local owner pays $150 a month toward the
salaries of the 19 athletes. The big-league club makes up the difference and
pays the trainer and the manager in full. The parent club also selects the team
and shuttles players in and out at will.
"So you don't
control your product," McKernan said. "But I thought I had a chance. I
was a manager-type in college, and I did some sportswriting in Batavia, N.Y. I
figured that I knew baseball and I knew this town.
"I was not
only the president of the Pittsfield Ball Club. In the beginning I was the sole
employee. Then volunteers began to help. I started speaking. I sold some
tickets. I sold some ads for the next season's program. Renting a bus was a big
expense, so I went to a bank and borrowed money and bought a
1950-something-model bus that still ran well. The bank wasn't difficult. They
knew me. The bankers wanted baseball here. If anything went wrong, the bank had
"We have 70
home dates, and I tried to come up with 70 promotions. All kids in free. All
right. Some of them bring parents. The parents pay. Then once you've got people
inside, you're selling them franks and Cokes and beer.