54 years ago today Major League Baseball owners and their general managers stared at the future of their game and blinked. As it turned out, more than a half century later, much of what they wrestled with would become the norm.
On Nov. 5, 1964, the baseball entourage met in Phoenix, AZ. The confab was held two days after President Lyndon B. Johnson won a landslide victory over GOP opponent Barry Goldwater. Presidential politics was not on their mind, however. Owners were more concerned with a ballot measure that failed by a nearly 3-to-1 margin in California.
Proposition 15 would have permitted “pay-TV” in the Golden State. Hollywood stars, Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews among them, campaigned for the measure that was resoundingly defeated. The initiative was mostly promoted by and entity known as “Subscription Television,” which already had more than 6,000 subscribers committed to the concept of paying to view their television.
Two investors in Subscription TV were the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. One of the reasons Walter O’Malley hightailed it out of Brooklyn was the potential of a lucrative pay-TV market in Southern California. It’s easier than a Sandy Koufax fastball to see where this issue was heading. If O’Malley and Giants owner Horace Stoneham were about to reap millions for their product, other owners – who were giving their product away for free on over-the-air television – wanted in. All of this came to a screeching halt, however, on Nov. 3, placing the owners back at first base on the concept of selling their games on television.
Of course, within a few years, games on cable TV would become the norm, with the Dodgers leading the way. In 2014, the club signed a controversial 25-year, $8.35 billion TV contract with Time-Warner.
MLB owners had other things on their mind at that meeting, among them the baseball schedule. Because of expansion in the early 60s, the season had gone from 154 to 162 games. Some owners thought it excessive. The 162-game season lives to this day.
Interleague play also dominated the agenda and of all clubs the New York Yankees were the leading proponent. Coming off their fifth consecutive American League championship, who would have thought the snobbish New York Yankees would be pursuing a regular season matchup against their crosstown rivals, the “lowly” New York Mets? Turns out, the Yanks were 30 years ahead of their time.
Who knew, more than a half century ago, owners would be meeting to discuss issues that are considered the norm in baseball today? Now if only they could do something about that 162-game schedule.