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.

Cardinals move Luke Weaver to the bullpen

Luke Weaver
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Cardinals right-hander Luke Weaver has been reassigned to the bullpen, manager Mike Shildt announced Sunday. Fellow righty Daniel Poncedeleon will take his spot in the rotation for the time being, though it’s still unclear whether Weaver’s demotion is a permanent one or not.

Still, it’s not the most surprising of moves, especially as the club advances toward a potential playoff berth in October. Weaver, 24, has struggled to find his groove this season after putting up a 6-11 record in 24 starts and a 4.67 ERA, 3.2 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2018. During two of his last three outings in August, he was pulled before the fifth inning, citing mechanical issues with his delivery that may be impacting his fastball location and delivery and having an adverse effect on his results — and those of the team — as well.

Poncedeleon, on the other hand, appears primed to take on more responsibility following an impressive run with the Cardinals this summer. He maintained a sub-3.00 ERA through his first six appearances, issuing four runs, nine walks, and 10 strikeouts over 17 2/3 innings. While he hasn’t handled more than one start in the big leagues, his track record in the minors speaks to his ability to get consistent results on the mound: he went 9-3 in 17 starts at Triple-A Memphis with a 2.15 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 10.1 SO/9 across 92 innings. He’s scheduled to cover for Weaver on Tuesday against the Pirates and will presumably continue to pitch out of the rotation for the remaining six weeks of the season.