The Dodgers on pay-TV-only is the culmination of Walter O’Malley’s dream

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This year, for the first time ever, you will not be able to watch the Dodgers on television in the Los Angeles area with a set of rabbit ears on your TV. It’s cable or satellite only thanks to the launch of their new channel, SportsNetLA. I’ve seen some amount of consternation about this on the part of Dodgers fans, but really, this is how it was meant to be all along.

I say that because I am currently re-reading “Lords of the Realm,” John Helyar’s essential book about the business of baseball. And I do mean essential. It’s impossible to understand how baseball works as a business — how and why the owners, union, commissioner and TV networks do what they do and why — without understanding how baseball developed as a business over the past century or so. Most of what you read about these subjects from me and others is informed by the stuff in “Lords of the Realm,” but it is so much more entertaining and understandable when you take it all in in one book.

Heylar reminds us that one of Walter O’Malley’s ideas about how to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn was to capture revenues from fans who were moving out of the city and to the suburbs and were loathe to come back to Ebbets Field due to parking concerns and worries about crime and the like. How to do this? Pay TV. Pay TV in the 1950s, you ask? Oh yeah. People were talking about it. Specifically, O’Malley and a man named Matty Fox were talking about it:

O’Malley was also intrigued by pay TV. He’d met a fellow named Matty Fox, who was trying to make that embryonic technology a commercial reality. He and O’Malley hatched a plan in which Fox’s company, called Skiatron, would put Dodgers games on pay TV at a cost of one dollar a game for viewers. Skiatron would get two thirds of the gross, the Dodgers one third, and in this way the huge base of fans who couldn’t squeeze into Ebbets Field would be harvested.

This wouldn’t work in New York, however, because the Yankees and Giants each broadcast half their games for free and it was determined that the market just wouldn’t be there.  But the idea still intrigued O’Malley. Later, when he was considering Los Angeles, one of the many enticements was that there was no other televised baseball in southern California, and that he and Skiatron could put Dodgers games on pay TV in that “lush, virgin territory,” to use Heylar’s term.

More to the point, O’Malley used the promise of pay TV to lure the Giants to San Francisco along with him, which was key, because a move out west was far more feasible for two teams than just one. O’Malley had been working on Giants owner Horace Stoneham to go west too. Then:

O’Malley clinched it by bringing along Matty Fox for a meeting with Stoneham. Fox talked about Skiatron’s big plans in San Francisco, and Stoneham heard the sweet sounds of money. Ka-ching.

Eventually Skiatron went belly-up when movie theater operators ganged up on it when they saw the threat to their business. Approval for pay TV in California was shot down in a statewide referendum. Later, Skiatron ran into SEC troubles as a result of promising more than it could deliver. Cable was put off a couple of decades.

But the idea of putting the Dodgers on pay TV is certainly an old one. One that predates the team’s arrival in Los Angeles. And which, actually, helped move the team there in the first place.

Troy Tulowitzki held a workout for eleven clubs

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Yesterday free agent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki held a workout in California and representatives from at least eleven teams were on hand, reports Tim Brown of Yahoo. Among the clubs present: the Giants — who were said to have a “heavy presence,” including team president Farhan Zaidi and manager Bruce Bochy — the Angels, Red Sox, Cubs, Padres, White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Phillies, Tigers and Pirates.

Your first reaction to that may be “Um, really? For Tulowitzki?” But a moment’s reflection makes it seem more sensible. We’re so tied up in thinking of a player through the filter of their contract and, when we’ve done that with Tulowitzki over the past several years, it has made him seem like an albatross given the $20 million+ a year he was earning to either not play or play rather poorly due to injuries.

It was just the contract that was the albatross, though, right? An almost free Tulowitzki — which he will be given that the Blue Jays are paying him $38 million over the next two seasons — is a different matter. If you sign him it’ll be for almost no real money and he stands a chance to be an average or maybe better-than-average shortstop, which is pretty darn valuable. You might even get one quirky late career return-to-near-glory season from him, in which case you’ve hit the lottery. If, however, as seems more likely, he just can’t get it done at all, you’re not out anything and you can cut him with little or no pain.

Eleven teams think he’s at least a look-see. I bet one of them will offer him a major league deal. Maybe more than one. He’ll probably have his pick of non-roster invites to spring training. I can’t see the downside to at least doing that much.