SI Vault
Robert Creamer
December 17, 1956
The minor leagues are dying out. The only thing that can save them is major league help. And at long last it seems to be forthcoming
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December 17, 1956

The Sick Man Of Baseball

The minor leagues are dying out. The only thing that can save them is major league help. And at long last it seems to be forthcoming

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The day before he arrived at the convention, Trautman appeared in Washington before a House subcommittee on tax relief and asked that the federal tax on admissions to minor league games be repealed. Such tax relief, he stated, "might be the difference between survival and liquidation."

He testified that over 80% of the minor league clubs responding to a questionnaire reported losses last season, that the number of minor leagues had dropped from 59 in 1949 to 28 in 1956, the number of clubs from 448 to 213, and the paid attendance from 41,872,762 to 17,031,069.

"How do the minors stay in business?" a wondering member of the subcommittee asked Trautman. "How do they meet expenses?"

"Well," Trautman replied, "some clubs have to just go up the street and rap on doors."

That was the inner side of the captain. To his charges at the convention a more cheerful Trautman told of his testimony before the subcommittee but insisted: "The prospect is bright.... Baseball has had problems since its inception. In some way they have always been solved."

The basic problem today—and Trautman knows it better than anyone—is the terrible financial condition of the minor leagues. At best it is a shoestring operation. Occasionally a team makes money, but it's usually because the general manager went up the street and rapped on doors. A successful minor league operation depends to an extraordinary degree on the executive and promotional ability of its general manager. A good one, like Harold Cooper, who was lower minor league "Executive of the Year" with Hutchinson, Kansas in 1950, can mean the success or failure of a ball club. Cooper, an intense, broad-shouldered man, looks and sounds like the district sales manager of a highly progressive firm manufacturing something along the line of dishwashers or deep-freeze units. He happens to be in baseball—which is good for baseball if not for Cooper. Baseball is a gamble for him, because it gives him none of the security, none of the long-range benefits that a man of his caliber would have dangled before him by a large industrial concern interested in keeping bright and rising young men in its employ.

This lack of basic economic promise is one of the reasons why baseball is attracting so few capable young men into its business operation. There are some, but since 1949 there have been fewer and fewer, and some of those that come in for a year or two are obliged, for the sake of their own future, to get out and get into a more rewarding business.

"Baseball is an antiquated operation," the successful operator of a good minor league club said last week. "It's like driving a '33 car in a '57 economy. No wonder the young fellows drop out."

The president of a minor league in the South was more emphatic: "If business was run the way baseball is, there wouldn't be any business."

A Harold Cooper, by hard work, hard selling, extraordinary effort and pure zeal, can make a minor league club a success in any given year. But a Harold Cooper can also be immensely frustrated. The well-run Hutchinson club had to suspend after he left it, because the league it was in folded up. His attempt to promote the Columbus Jets was hampered—perhaps unavoidably—by the Kansas City Athletics, who called up his best player in mid-season. Last season, Cooper claimed, the Cincinnati Redlegs, broadcasting and telecasting of Redleg games into Columbus destroyed a vital part of the Jets' income. These were all things beyond Cooper's direct control.

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