Frank Lane’s 1972 Take on Baseball

“I’ve been in baseball forty years and anybody who knows me knows I’m not forever harping back to the good old days. Still, when players used to get together years ago, they’d talk about winning ball games and getting base hits. Now when they get together all they generally talk about is money.”
~ “Trader Frank” Lane
November 18, 1972,

 

I ran into an interesting UPI article from 1972 about how football had taken over the public’s heart, discarding the more boring game of baseball to a back seat of athletes that seemed to care more about the money than the actual game they played. The article is anonymously written, but it is heavily reliant upon the directly quoted input of the old drifter GM the game of baseball once knew as Trader Frank Lane. As one who also remembers that time as a baseball fan, my memory is a little different. I remember the change that was well under way by 1972, but I also recall it as a time of change that had greased its wheels on the merger of the AFL and the NFL, the first Super Bowl of 1967, and the emergence of football all over the television screen as an apparent market result of this new harmony in the football world. This article seems to tie baseball’s decline also to the emergence of the player’s union and all of those fat new contracts that were suddenly appearing and whetting the players’ appetites for bigger pieces of the pie than they ever dreamed possible earlier. The funny thing is, when you read the quoted column here, that the big deals these baseball players were getting by 1972 read like total chump change in comparison to today’s reality.

A Shot in the Slightly Lighted Dark. The action appeal of the NFL probably draws fans more heavily from the same people that enjoy Duane Johnson movies, whereas, baseball is more likely to be attractive to movie fans of Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Just read the piece and leave a comment, if you are generously inclined to do so.

**********

The following is excerpted from the Camden (ARK.) News, Tuesday, November 18, 1972, Page 6:

FOOTBALL GAME OF EMOTION

HONOLULU (UPI) – The game with all the emotion today, the one that stirs the fans the most, unquestionably is football.

You don’t need any polls to tell you that.

There used to be a time when baseball was America’s leading emotional game. Not only from the standpoint of the fans who’d discussed the game by the hour, argue about it and live by it. But also from the standpoint of the players, who creating a rich history of their own, realized they were and delighted in it.

Today much of the emotion has disappeared from baseball. The motivation which used to be a trademark of such once-great organizations as the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees and New York Giants simply doesn’t exist to anywhere the degree it once did.

Certainly the baseball players of today don’t get half as emotional about their work as the football players do. To the great majority of baseball players, it’s merely a job and little more.

“I’ve always been called the ‘champion’ of the ballplayers, the only one who always defends them,” says Frank Lane, the Milwaukee Brewers Exec.

“They call me that, I suppose, because I honestly like ballplayers and make no secret of the fact. That doesn’t mean that I am blind to the change that has taken place in them. Baseball actually is an emotional game, highly emotional. It was, anyway, and to some extent that emotion is still there. But the fact is they’re prouder of their players’ association today than the clubs they work for. The fans? They come third with a good percentage of the ballplayers.

“I’ve been in baseball forty years and anybody who knows me knows I’m not forever harping back to the good old days. Still, when players used to get together years ago, they’d talk about winning ball games and getting base hits. Now when they get together all they generally talk about is money.”

There’s no question the players’ strike of last spring hurt baseball.  It hurt the players, the owners and the general image of the game.

Marvin Miller, the Head of the Players Association, is an extraordinarily capable man. He has done a remarkable job in the players’ public behalf, but even he’d admit the players’ public relations have been handled poorly.

The way it is now most people think the ballplayers are enormously greedy. They think every ball player is a millionaire when in fact only 22 out of 660 major leaguers earn as much as $100,000 per year and more than half the remainder receive less than $40,000 (per annum) and average less than five years at their occupation.

As matters now stand, the fans generally have an incorrect impression of ballplayers and the players have that same incorrect impression of club owners. The players peg most of their owners as cheapskates, and that makes a man like Frank Lane laugh.

“I remember signing Stan Musial for $90,000 one year when I was general manager with the Cardinals,” he said. “I had occasion to call up Gussie Busch (Cards’ owner) and after telling him what I did he said, ‘I’ve never had a $100,000 ballplayer. Do you mind making Stan’s salary $100,000 instead of $90,000?’ I told him I didn’t mind at all. It was his money.”

That was 16 years ago when there was more emotion in baseball. More among the owners, the players and the fans.

Frank Lane remembers another episode. This one took place last spring shortly before the players’ strike.

Jim Lonborg, Ken Sanders, Jim Colburn and Ellie Rodriquez of the Brewers were sitting around the clubhouse in Tempe, Ariz., talking with Lane about the profit and loss in baseball.

“You think there’s a lot of profit in running a major league ball club?” he asked the players.

“There certainly is,” they chorused.

“You think so,” Lane countered. “What would you say if I told you three clubs in the American League made any money at all last year?”

“We’d never buy that,” said one of the players.

“In other words, you think only owners make money.”

“Yup.”

“OK, I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said Lane. “I’ll make each of you this same proposition: I’ll give you each a $10,000 contract to start with and see to it that you each share proportionately in the club profits, assuming there are any at the end of the season. Say we make a million dollars. Each of you would get one 20th of that. In effect, each of you’d be a four per cent owner in the club. Whadd’ya say?”

“O, Jeeze, no,” the players all said.

It was an offer they could refuse easily, without any emotion at all.

**********

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

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3 Responses to “Frank Lane’s 1972 Take on Baseball”

  1. bobcopus Says:

    However, there is no game that affords one the opportunity to be present than baseball, despite the between inning activities.

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    I will always associate “Trader” Lane with the disastrous trade of the Indians’ Rocky Colavito to the Tigers for Harvey Kuenn.

  3. Larry Dierker Says:

    You mention 1972 & 1972. I say 1973 – the DH. Baseball was jealous of football’s incursion. It attempted to become more like football, with specialization and more hoopla. (Mascots) At that juncture it should have noticed that it was more similar to golf and gone that direction. Most sports are played on rectangles. Boring. Same theme. Baseball and golf have inspired the best art and literature because they are the most artful. Golf has maintained an elitist image. Not much emotion until the winning putt. I prefer businesslike players. Smart players. Jose Lima drove me nuts. But that’s just me. A lot of folks like football first and are glad baseball is trying to catch up.

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