“We are beginning to have a Very Active Doubt as to the Value of Professional Baseball in American Life”

29 Aug

Coming on the heels of the fallout from the Black Sox scandal, The Chicago Tribune announced a change in editorial policy three weeks after “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Oscar “Happy” Felsch., Claude “Lefty” Williams, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, George “Buck” Weaver, Fred McMullin, and Charles “Swede” Risberg were acquitted of conspiring to fix the 1919 World Series.

Buck Weaver and Swede Risberg during the trial

Buck Weaver and Swede Risberg during the trial

The paper said:

The Tribune has begun to use the compressor on professional baseball stories. The baseball reporters write them well, but we are getting a little tired of the subject. We are beginning to have a very active doubt as to the value of professional baseball in American life.”

The paper said baseball received a “black eye which jury verdicts did not whiten.”

The Tribune said they would place a greater emphasis on coverage of amateur sports which “produce sound citizenry.”  Professional baseball was also making Americans soft:

“The majority of spectators get only eye and mouth exercise.  We have conceded that the professional game stimulated the youngsters and that they played with more earnestness on the lots because they admired Babe Ruth.  We still admit that professional baseball is a stimulus to boys, but journalism has overfed it with space.  The Tribune is down to about a half column now for games in which the home teams play, which is justified parochialism, and to a bare statement of vital statistics regarding the other clubs.  That is enough.”

Other newspapers applauded the policy; surprisingly most didn’t cite corruption in baseball as the reason, but the rather, as The Baltimore Sun said because professional sports only provide “vicarious exercise.”  The Louisville Courier-Journal said watching baseball was even a threat to manhood:

“Two hours of inactivity in the grand stand or bleachers is not productive of muscle or sinew.  The same amount of time spent in tennis, golf, swimming or any number of games would be infinitely better for American manhood.”

Others found the new policy foolish.  The Portland Oregonian said:

The Chicago Tribune, which is regarded by its management, and doubtless by many of its readers, as the world’s greatest newspaper, has decided to blue-pencil professional baseball…The theory on which the sport page is built is that the public is entitled to what it wants…Telling the readers of sports that they should want something else, and will be given that something, is a decided innovation.”

The Duluth News-Tribune said facetiously:

“The fact that both teams (the Cubs and White Sox) are near tail-enders may not have anything to do with it.”

Then there was The Idaho Statesman which said The Tribune’s policy was a “meritorious undertaking,” but didn’t go far enough:

“There are a world of other professional sports not half as white as the Black Sox, that might come under the publicity axe with resulting good to the public…Horseracing is professional and it has produced a fine crop of crooks—more than baseball in its blackest days could possibly yield.  Our own so-called wild west sports have been placed in the professional class and everybody knows they are largely fake.  Wrestling hasn’t the whitest record in the world and prize fighting is anything but a Sunday school game.  Nobody ever got very much exercise out of any of these sports, except the participants and we are not sure that our citizenship is any sounder for having witnessed them.  The Tribune isn’t through with its job as we view the situation.”

The most prescient response was from The Montgomery (AL) Advertiser:

“We expect to see The Tribune gradually slipping back to its old ways.”

Ten days after the original policy was announced The Tribune declared victory, and revealed their real motive:

“An encouraging sign is the changing attitude of the press toward highly commercialized sport. The papers are coming to the conclusion they have been giving away millions of dollars’ worth of advertising to boost box office receipts for promoters who have no special regard for the public.”

But within weeks the “The World’s Greatest Newspaper” had, as The Advertiser predicted, begun “slipping back” to the way baseball had previously been covered.  By the beginning of the 1922 season, notwithstanding the lingering effects of the game’s greatest scandal, or no indication that Americans were getting any more exercise, baseball stories in The Tribune looked no different than stories that appeared before August of 1921.

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7 Responses to ““We are beginning to have a Very Active Doubt as to the Value of Professional Baseball in American Life””

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