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Today in Baseball History: Dodgers, Giants, given approval to move to California

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My friend Lou at Baseball and the Law tweeted today that, on this day in 1957, the National League gave the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers the OK to talk to West Coast cities about a possible move from New York to California.

That’s fairly well-trod ground in baseball history so we won’t go over in too much gory detail, but here’s the short version for those who aren’t well-versed.

The Dodgers and Giants each had successful clubs with large, loyal fan bases, but by the mid-1950s both teams found themselves playing in outdated ballparks. Ebbets Field had a pretty small capacity. The Polo Grounds was gigantic but was getting run down. The biggest issue, though, was the suburbanization of the country.

People were moving out of the city like crazy. If they wanted to come back and see a ballgame they mostly drove in and there wasn’t much in the way of parking at Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds. Not that there was a great desire on the part of those who fled the city for the burbs to drive in anyway. Many of them had moved out in the first place because they perceived New York an increasingly dangerous and declining city and didn’t want to risk coming in for games, especially at night. The Yankees could still draw because they were the class of baseball, but the Bums and the Giants were having trouble. It’s a pattern that would replicate itself all across the country, really, and which wold not reverse itself until a new batch of downtown ballparks began to be built in the early 1990s.

Dodgers Owner Walter O’Malley had been thinking about this stuff for several years and, as an initial gambit, proposed a domed stadium in Brooklyn. New York City Park Commissioner Robert Moses opposed the idea and advised O’Malley to build a stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens, where the Mets currently play. O’Malley didn’t want any part of that. Meanwhile, O’Malley had, for several years, been talking to people in Los Angeles about the possibility of relocating the team out there. Those talks ebbed and flowed. The important takeaway is that, while people tend to cast either O’Malley or Moses or someone else as a villain in the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, there were a lot of moving parts to all of this and a lot of people and historical currents responsible for the move.

Here’s one fun moving part that you tend not to hear too much about: while he was trying to figure out if he could make more money staying in Brooklyn or moving to Los Angeles, O’Malley had an idea that he’d make a lot of money via putting games on pay TV. Yes, pay TV, decades before cable became common. What’s more, his fascination with it had a big role in getting the Giants to agree to move to California, in fact.

O’Malley had it in his head that, if he couldn’t get people who moved to the suburbs to come back to Brooklyn to see Dodgers games, maybe he could get them to pay to watch Dodgers games on TV, and he had a business associate, a man named Matty Fox, who was going to help him do it. Here’s how the plan was described in John Helyar’s essential book on the history of the business of baseball, “Lords of the Realm”:

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 would turn out to not be workable 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 O’Malley began to consider Los Angeles more seriously, one of the many enticements was that there was no other televised baseball in southern California and that he, Fox, and Skiatron could put Dodgers games on pay TV in that “lush, virgin territory,” to use Heylar’s phrase.

Flash forward to early 1957. O’Malley had obtained the territorial rights to Los Angeles but had not yet been given approval by the National League to move. Before he could get the approval, the NL told him, he’d need to find another owner who also wanted to move to the west coast so that there wouldn’t be just one team way the heck out there, thereby creating some pretty annoying road trips. If the other NL teams could make a two-city west coast swing on the road, it’d be much easier.

O’Malley called up Giants owner Horace Stoneham who, as noted, was having issues of his own playing in the decrepit Polo Grounds. Stoneham was wanting to move to Minneapolis, actually. That’s where his successful Triple-A team, the Millers, had been playing, and he thought it’d be a good market for his Giants. O’Malley began to give Stoneham the treatment, however, and used the promise of pay TV to lure him and the Giants to San Francisco. Again, Helyar:

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.

Stoneham agreed that California was the place he oughta be, so they got themselves a meeting with a man named Warren G. Giles, that is. President. National League. That led to the this-day-in-history approval mentioned here:

That approval didn’t make the moves official. For much of the 1957 season the other NL owners tried to keep the teams in New York while the Dodgers and Giants haggled with Los Angeles and San Francisco about the details, but you know how that all turned out. The two teams moved after the 1957 season. Some people have still never forgiven them.

The pay TV part of it, though, wouldn’t come to pass. Skiatron went belly-up after movie theater operators saw the threat to their business and lobbied lawmakers to deny approval for pay TV in California. Eventually a statewide referendum put the final nail in that coffin. Later, Skiatron ran into SEC troubles as a result of promising more to investors than it could deliver. Cable TV was thus, effectively, put off a couple of decades.

Now, of course, the Dodgers are only available on pay TV and, until a month ago, most of L.A. couldn’t even see them as a result. I wonder how many people who got mad about that had any idea that, if Walter O’Malley had his way, pay TV would’ve been the only way to see the Dodgers from the moment they got to town?

Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

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NEW YORK (AP) Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost four of five following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.