In the late 1940s and early 1950s, major league baseball was very different from what it is today. Then it was simple and fun.
- There were only 8 teams in the American League and the same number in the National League to follow.
- There were no major league teams west of St Louis.
- Teams traveled by train between cities.
- New York City had three teams the New York Yankees, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
- Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and St Louis each had two teams.
- The baseball season was only 154 games and lasted from mid April to late September.
- There were no playoffs unless at the end of regular season, there was a tie for first place in either league which would then be broken by a single game, tie-breaker playoff.
- The team with the best record in each league automatically advanced to the World Series which always was concluded by the first week in October.
- Although most stadiums had lights in the 40s and 50s, most major league games were played in the afternoon.
- Twilight doubleheaders were quite popular. These consisted of one game starting in the late afternoon (4 or 5PM) and a second game under the lights at about 8 PM. These double headers allowed fans work a full day and then see two games for the price of one admission ticket.
- Major league ballparks were old and sometime dilapidated with some notable exceptions like the original Yankee Stadium (built in 1923) which was dubbed “The House That Ruth Built”
- In Philadelphia, after the upper deck of the Phillies home ball park (Baker Bowl), collapsed in 1938, both the Phillies and A’s played their home games at Shibe Park (later named Connie Mack Park).
- We will never forget in 1950 watching Connie Mack (aka Cornelius McGillicudy) at age 87, dressed in a business suit, a white shirt with a starched collar and tie and in the summer sporting a white, straw skimmer hat, in the dugout managing his Philadelphia Athletics (A’s) for his 50th consecutive season. That year would be the A’s last season in Philadelphia and Mr. Mack’s last owning and managing the team.
- That same year, while the A’s lost 102 games and finished last in their league, Philadelphia was going wild over the successful national pennant drive by their Phillies, who were nicknamed the Whiz Kids because the players on that team for the most part were so young.
- Although in the 40s and 50s, many ballparks had electronic outfield scoreboards, others including Schibe Park in Philadelphia still had manually operated scoreboards. These were actually four or five story buildings with a black façade and numerous windows in which cards bearing team names and numbers could be hung for display. Behind the facade was an elaborate network of scaffolding and catwalks where a team of scorekeepers continually updated the progressive scores, at the end of each inning, of all major league games being played by hanging the appropriate numerical digit signs in the appropriate window. Each major league scoreboard had an “American League” section on one side and a “National League” section on the other. Underneath, the teams playing each other were listed alongside of which the running, inning by inning scores were displayed as each game progressed. Team batting orders (by player uniform number) and more detailed scoring information including a cumulative run, hit and error tabulation for each team and the ball/strike count for the current batter were displayed for the game being played at that park.
- Most ball parks were located in residential neighborhoods and were easily accessible by mass transit.
- Parking near the stadiums was almost none existent with what parking there was provided by local entrepreneurs who turned vacant lots (which in many cases they didn’t own or have permission to use) into pay parking lots.
- Fans who arrived early could often find on the street parking within walking distance of the ball park. Those fans who did park on the street were always solicited by local kids who would offer to “watch your car?” for small change. Those who chose not to pay the kids would likely return after the game to find a hood ornament, hub cap or in some cases a tire missing.
- The majority of the major league baseball teams’ revenues, through the early 50s came, from ticket sales.
- In 1950, the average price of a ticket to a major league game was $1.54 or about $11.50 in today’s dollars. In 2015 the average price of a MLB ticket ranges from $27.73 to $230.05 for premium or luxury tickets.
- Most ball clubs enrolled neighborhood kids, at no cost, in what they called the “Knot Hole Gang”. If a game did not sell out, the ushers would open the gates to the bleachers after the first inning and let the kids who wore their “Knot Hole Gang” buttons or tags into the game free. The name “Knot Hole Gang” was originally used, when many ballparks had wooden fences, to describe the kids and sometimes adults who would watch a game through a knot hole or a crack in the fence.
- The capacities of major league ball parks varied greatly in the 1940s and 1950s with some seating 20,000 or less while others like the old Yankee Stadium and Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium seated up to 70,000.
- Although major league baseball games had long been locally broadcast on the radio, it was 1950 before games were broadcast nationally.
- Live TV local coverage of major league baseball started in the late 40s, but this coverage was sparse and strictly local.
- Ball clubs at that time considered the radio and TV broadcasts of their games as a marketing tool to attract more paying fans to the ballpark and in most cases the announcers were employees of the teams and the teams’ pitchmen.
- Sometimes away games were not broadcast live, but rather the game was locally
recreated and broadcast from minute by minute teletype reports. In the 40s and 50s, the play by play activity for all major league games was sent by teletype machines to newsrooms all around the country where it was continually printed out. Local announcers would often sit in a local studio and recreate the games by reading the teletype, filling in the blanks by making up running commentary. Typically the teletype would print out “Smith at bat — count 3 and 2. — pitch = fast ball, inside, miss, strike 3”. Typically the broadcaster would embellish the printout by announcing it as follows:
“Smith is still at bat. The count is 3 and 2. Smith is 1 hit for 3 at bats in today’s game. In his last at bat, he flyed out to left field to complete the sixth inning. Here we go, Jones (the opposing pitcher) steps to the mound, he stares down the runner at first, here is the wind up — and the pitch.—- Fast ball, low and inside, Smith swings and misses and the Phillies are retired in the eight with one hit, no runs and leaving one man on base. The the Phillies are down 2 to 1 after 7 1/2 innings. We’ll be right back.”
- President Ronald Reagan’s first job out of college was recreating and broadcasting teletyped accounts of Chicago Cubs games over radio station WHO in Davenport, Iowa.
- In the 40s and early 50s, when you walked through a neighborhood you could keep up with the progress of baseball games virtually nonstop by listening to the radio broadcast of the game that could be heard through the open windows of almost every home or business establishment. If the game reached a critical juncture or the crowd noise at the ballpark indicated something important was happening, you simply sat down on a strangers front steps and continued listening for as long as you wanted.
- All major league players’ contracts had so called “reserve clauses” that prevented players from moving from team to team without the contract holder’s permission. As a result there was no player “Free Agency” in the 40s and 50s. A player stayed with the team that held his contract until the team traded him by selling his contract to another team.
- In 1950, the average annual salary for a major league baseball player was $13,300 about $99,000 in today’s dollars with the highest salaried player (Ted Williams) earning $45,000 or in today’s dollars about $199,000.
- Because there was no free agency in the 40s and 50s, players often stayed with one team for many years and personally developed many loyal, local fans. Many of these fans banded together and formed so-called Fan Clubs for specific players. These clubs had membership cards, sometimes published newsletters, and attended games as a group. When they did, their attendance was always acknowledged by the broadcasters and by a scoreboard notice. Pat and her friend Jeannie McLaughlin, in 1950, the year that the so called Phillies’ Whiz Kids were engaged in a tight pennant race which they eventually won, organized a Fan Club for outfielder Dick Sisler. Pat fondly remembers the time when they attended one Phillies game in 1950 and Sisler invited them into the dugout before the game. She was thrilled when he introduced them personally to the entire National League Championship team including Pat’s handsome hero Richie Ashburn. That would never happen today.
- In the 40s and 50s, the US had a military draft and all able-bodied males had a military obligation. Ballplayers were no exception. During World War II, although major league baseball teams’ roosters were decimated by the number of players volunteering and being drafted into the military service, President Roosevelt ordered that, as a morale booster, major league play should continue. Over 500 major league players (many of whom were at the height of their careers) served in the Armed Forces during WW II including some of the game’s biggest stars including Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Hank Greenberg and the game’s highest paid player TedWilliams . Williams (on the right) , a Marine reservist, also flew combat fighter missions while on active duty during the Korean war. In 1950, Curt Simmons was the number two starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies as they successfully pursued the National League Pennant. However, in September of that year Simmons’ Pennsylvania National Guard unit was activated and he had to abandon baseball to serve his country. Many people attributed Simmons not being available for and not pitching in the World Series as the cause for the Yankees sweeping the Phillies in four games.
- Although we never saw the greatest of all time, Babe Ruth, play we did have the privilege of seeing some of baseball’s greatest players in action including Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Hank Greenberg, Bobby Feller, Lou Boudreaux, Richie Ashburn, Schoolboy Roe, Johnny Mize, Jackie Robinson, Ralph Kiner, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle to name just a few.
(Someday, perhaps we’ll sit down and to compile a list of the great player who we saw play but aren’t listed above. There were many!)
In 1950 the two leagues consisted of the following teams:
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
St Louis Browns*
Philadelphia Athletics (A’s) **
* The St Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954 and were renamed the Baltimore Orioles
** The Philadelphia A’s moved to Kansas City in 1955 and then to Oakland, CA in 1968. The Athletics (A’s) name was maintained in both of these locations.
Brooklyn Dodgers *
New York Giants **
Boston Braves ***
St Louis Cardinals
* The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1957 maintaining the Dodgers name
** The New York Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957 maintaining their Giants name
*** The Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee in1953 and then from there to Atlanta in 1965in both cases maintaining the Braves name