What if the U.S. General Elections were like Baseball’s Word Series? (Perhaps you could role play this with a few of your red-hatted friends?)
Imagine it’s the year 1901 and the Pittsburgh Pirates (National League champs) just beat the Chicago White Stockings (American League champs) 4 games to 3 in the World Series. (Disclaimer — these teams had the best records in their respective leagues, but no postseason was played that year. This author has taken poetic license in several places below to illustrate various points. For example, Ban Johnson wasn’t nearly as bad as he is characterized here.)
Games 1, 3, and 5 of the Series were blowout wins for the Pirates, while games 2, 4, and 6 were comfortable wins for White Stockings. Game 7 was a nail-biter. The winning play was a bases-loaded squeeze bunt in the bottom of the 9th inning for the Pirates.
Honus Wagner (the most beloved man in baseball before Babe Ruth) slid into home and kicked up a bit of dust so it was difficult for the fans in the right-field bleachers to see whether he was safe or out. Home plate umpire, “Honest John” Gaffney saw the play clearly and called him safe. His colleagues along the two baselines agreed. George Eastman of Rochester, NY was sitting behind the visitor’s dugout and he snapped an iconic photo of Wagner sliding untouched, under the tag of White Stockings’ catcher Billy Sullivan. The eyewitnesses and the photographic evidence were in agreement. The game was close, but Pittsburgh won it fair and square.
But trouble was brewing in Mudville. White Stockings manager Clark (The Old Fox) Griffith ran out to the pitcher’s mound and made a huge stink visibly and verbally about the call at home plate. “We’ve been robbed!”, he yelled. “Everyone in the stadium could see that Sullivan tagged him a full second before he crossed the plate! This is the biggest crime in baseball history!” And the people in the right-field bleachers believed him.
Back in the home team’s locker room, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis held an emergency meeting with both league presidents and the chief umpire. NL President Nicholas Young was a former umpire himself and he was inclined to let the play stand, but AL President Ban Johnson (a baseball upstart who had recruited 8 new team owners to kickoff the newly founded American League just one year prior) took the side of his field manager, Griffith. “We just don’t know whether he was safe or out!”, Johnson said. “We must not award the trophy until the fans are satisfied that the umpire’s call was reasonable!”
Landis had heard enough. The overwhelming evidence was on the side of the Pirates and the only obstacles were a rogue manager, an opportunistic league president, and a few hundred rowdy fans in the bleachers. As Landis began to walk onto the field to present the trophy to the Pirates player-manager Fred Clarke (who had been rounding second base when he saw Sullivan miss the tag on Wagner), more than a thousand Chicago fans poured onto the field to protest the game and the series. They began to chant, “Wagner is a cheat! Wagner is a cheat!” Stunned Pirate fans didn’t know what to do when they saw throngs of white-hatted hooligans punching players and swinging bats at the umpires. Landis retreated to the Pirates’ locker room where he quietly awarded the trophy to the Pirates with only a few reporters and players in attendance.
But that was not the end of it. Yes, the Pirates were able to claim the World Champion mantle, but during the off-season, Griffith and Johnson began giving magazine and radio interviews about their plan to reform Major League Baseball. In their mind, the game was too susceptible to “cheating” and the rules badly needed reform. They didn’t get any support from the Commissioner’s Office or from the National League owners, so they made their case directly to the fans in the AL cities.
“The only way you can prevent another sham World Series is to speak with your pocketbook,” they said. “Tell your team owner you aren’t going to buy any more tickets until they institute new Ballpark Rules!”
The owners heard them loud and clear. Pretty soon they saw a new rule at Orioles park — no fans allowed if you they were wearing the clothing or emblems of NL teams. Then the Athletics took a turn — ticket prices were tripled unless you could prove you were a local. The Tigers set aside special seats (behind the stadium’s structural columns) for out-of-state attendees. The Blues capped off all the water fountains behind the visitor’s dugout so their fans would have to wait in long lines to buy beverages and would miss important plays. The Brewers hired extra police to eject any fan that cheered loudly for the visiting team.
However, the worst new Ballpark Rules were implemented by the White Stockings — and they were so popular, all the other AL team owners soon adopted them too. In the White Stockings ballpark, umpires would no longer be allowed to be impartial.
“Since umpires are paid by the owners, it is only right that they should to give 100% of their loyalty to the owners”, Johnson claimed. “How else can the fans be sure their team is getting a fair break.”
“If Honus Wagner can cheat the White Stockings out of a World Series crown, we’ll make sure Honus Wagner never gets another hit in our ballpark”, Griffith said with derision.
NL owners tried to coax their AL counterparts of the need to dump these radical, anti-American rules, but the AL ballparks were miniature principalities that were ruled by local lords who were supported by most of the local serfs.
Young and Clarke encouraged Commissioner Landis to intervene, but he said “Stadium Rights are guaranteed by Baseball’s charter. It would be humiliating to the AL owners if I tried to impose uniform standards on umpires in their ballparks.”
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