Before the major league meetings in New York this week, the men who own baseball spent a week contemplating the minor league sessions in Houston, Tex. Faced with the bitter and pressing problem besetting baseball, they did just what Columnist Red Smith predicted they would do with the same bitter and pressing problem
at the major league meetings. They closed their eyes and hoped it would go away.
The problem, stated simply, is this: the minor leagues are dying. Some baseball men at Houston realized this, and for a small moment there was hope that they might try to do something about it. But in accepting the fact, they seemed to feel that they had solved the problem. "The minor leagues?"?these men said, with a figurative shrug of the shoulders?"the minor leagues are doomed." That taken care of, they went back to more important things, like studying the plywood bulletin board that carried among other things the official averages of the Pennsylvania-Ontario League.
J. Alvin Gardner, for 23 years president of the Texas League before his retirement last spring, said: "Everybody's making so much of the plight of the minors, but in all the years I've been in baseball I've never seen any big years except right after the war. It's always been a fight in the minors."
It's always been a fight, Mr. Gardner, but never like this. Before, it was a fight to get people interested in baseball, instead of in movies, bingo, picnics, necking or long drives in the country. Now, people are interested in baseball, but they stay home to watch it on television. This works fine in the major leagues, because the dollar lost at the gate when a fan stays home to watch the game comes back in the form of increased TV revenue. In the minors, the fan who stays home to watch baseball on television usually watches major league baseball, and the minors don't share in the loot. The parent club, counting its money, looks irritably at the minor league franchise with its books in the red and severs connections. Another minor league town dies, another league is crippled.
When enough towns die and enough leagues are crippled, minor league baseball as we know it will no longer exist. This is a matter of great importance to men who have money invested in minor league teams. (A small voice whispers that it might almost become a matter of great importance to men who have money invested in major league teams, too; with no minor leagues, where will the major league players come from?)
At Houston the minor leagues wrestled with the problem, took it in their teeth and worried it as a dog would a bone. Frank Lawrence, angry owner of the Portsmouth, Va. team in the Piedmont League, announced that the suit he had filed against the major leagues (which held that unrestricted broadcasting and telecasting of major league games had ruined the minors) would be carried through to the end. The minor league representatives passed a measure barring commercial broadcasting and telecasting of baseball games from stations outside a ball club's own home territory, which is anything within a 50-mile radius of the ball park. This could not become organized-baseball law unless the major leagues also approved it, which seemed highly unlikely, so the minors went a step?a very big step?farther and voted 19-14 to end the major-minor agreement, the backbone of organized baseball. Because such a step requires a three-fourths vote of approval, it failed to pass. This time.
The minor leaguers tried at Houston?like children trying desperately to make a tolerantly amused parent understand that the house really is on fire?but they accomplished nothing.
The major leaguers smiled and nodded, enjoyed the food and the drinks, cut up old touches, made a few major league trades, and studied the bulletin board.
Billiards: bad show
When the world is wrong, hardly to be endured," J. B. Priestley, the novelist, once wrote, "I shall return to Thurston's and there smoke a pipe among the connoisseurs of top and side." Mr. Priestley's reference was to Thurston's Academy in Leicester Square, a hallowed hall of billiards and snooker which is to British practitioners of these arts what Wimbledon is to tennis fans. Now the distressing news from London is that neither Mr. Priestley nor any other fugitive from an unendurable world may count on finding sanctuary at Thurston's much longer. For early in the new year, the academy will be torn down by the Automobile Association, which owns the land and needs more space for its own wretched business.