“The People’s Pastime”

24 Feb

In 1911, The Chicago Tribune invited American League President Ban Johnson to write about the state of the game in the Twentieth Century.

Johnson said:

“I desire to state that I do not subscribe to the opinion entertained by a majority of the patrons, that the game’s progress in prestige and popularity in recent years is due solely to the improvement in individual and team work on the ballfield.”

Johnson

While Johnson said he did “not yield in admiration and appreciation,” for the players, he could not, “withhold recognition from other agencies” in putting “the people’s pastime on a higher plane.”

Johnson cited, “The splendid governmental system under which baseball has been operated since 1902,” enforcement of discipline, first class players, and providing patrons with superior accommodations as “potent factors “in the growth of the game.

“Skill and sportsmanship in the players, fairness and firmness in the umpires, well-kept fields of such dimensions that a fast runner may complete the circuit of the bases on a fair hit to their limits in any direction, skirted with mammoth fireproof stands crowded to their capacity with real enthusiasts from all walks of life, are from my viewpoint, essential elements in Twentieth Century baseball.”

Johnson said baseball had reached the “exacting requirements of the ideal game,” the previous season when every major league city had a “modern baseball plant,” and he said the “guarantee of the American League goes with the purchase of every ticket to one of its parks that the game will be decided on merit and will not be marred by rowdyism.”

The “best asset” of baseball was “public confidence,” and Johnson insisted that fans understand the “difference between a team in a championship race” and playing in exhibition games:

“At the close of the American League race last fall a team composed of (Ty) Cobb, the champion batsman of the year, (Ed) Walsh, (Tris) Speaker, (Doc) White, (Jake) Stahl, and the pick of the Washington club under Manager (Jimmy) McAleer’s direction, engaged in a series with the champion Athletics at Philadelphia during the week preceding the opening game of the World Series.

“The attendance, while remunerative, was not as large as that team of stars would have attracted had it represented Washington in the American League.

“Although the All-Stars demonstrated their class by repeatedly defeating (Connie) Mack’s champions, many admirers of the Athletics preferred reading the scores to seeing the contests. It was not lack of loyalty to the home team or appreciation for the visitors that was responsible for this apathy, but simply indifference toward baseball of a high quality unless it be vouched for by a league.”

The All-Stars, dubbed “the scintillating bunch” by Jim Nasium (Edgar Forrest Wolfe) of The Philadelphia Inquirer took the first four games, the Athletics won the final game.

Jim Nasium cartoon after game 3 of the All-Star–Athletic series

Johnson pointed out that “26,891 people saw the Athletics defeat the Cubs, and 24,597 came back the next day.”

The attendance at the first all-stars versus Athletics game in Shibe Park was announced as 5,000; there was no announcement of the attendance at the other three games in Philadelphia—game four was played in Washington D.C., and the crowd was reported as 1500.

Johnson said of the difference:

“No better ball was played in (the World Series) games, for which advanced admission rates were charged, than in the All-Star—Athletic series, but the World Series games were conducted under the auspices of the National Commission and the result of each figured in the winning of the game’s highest honors.”

The American League president vowed that everything was being done to ensure that there was not widespread ticket scalping “and kindred evils.” He said, “Nothing will do more to estrange patrons,” than the “treatment accorded” to fans in Chicago during 1908 World Series, when it was alleged that wide-spread scalping took place with the approval of Cubs management. Johnson said:

“It is a prudent and sensible club owner who does not have the dollar always in mind in the operation of his baseball property. The national game’s best asset is the public’s faith in its honesty. Destroy that confidence and baseball will decline rapidly as the nation’s sport.”

Johnson lauded the Athletics as an organization for whom “one of the main planks…has been clean ball.”

He said during the 1910 season he had not had to discipline a single member of the club.

“The enactment and enforcement of wholesome laws, the confidence of those who supplied the capital when investment was a speculation, as well as the conduct of those who have played and are playing baseball for a livelihood, are factors in giving the American people twentieth century ball.”

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