From Presidents throwing out first pitches, to the seventh inning stretch being allegedly invented by President Taft by happenstance, politicos seem to love baseball. But how about the times baseball has shaped public policy?
With opening day on the horizon, let’s look at baseball’s history and see its impact on American politics.
1918 National Anthem
Today we take it for granted that the Star-Spangled Banner is to be played before any major sporting event. This was not always the case, and the tradition is due to a bit of World War I patriotism when the National Anthem was played during the 7th inning stretch of the 1918 World Series. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee liked this idea so much he started playing the anthem before Red Sox games the next season, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, it would take almost a century before playing the anthem before sporting events would take a partisan turn, when protesting NFL players began taking a knee during the anthem, causing politicians from both sides of the aisle to react, including President Trump.
1920s & 30s Blue Laws
If you are of a certain age you may not be familiar with the term blue laws. But there was a time when commerce as a rule was prohibited on Sundays out of respect for the Sabbath.
This prohibition included Major League Baseball games, where even Hall of Famer Cap Anson got arrested for playing ball on Sunday. Eventually, states with Major League teams, feeling pressure from fans, started to loosen their blue laws to accommodate the baseball schedule. When Massachusetts and Pennsylvania finally caved, it was the beginning of the end of blue laws in general and baseball helped to push that change forward.
Baseball perfectly captured America’s spirit of everyone doing their part to win WWII. Over 500 players switched from baseball uniforms to military garb during this period, including big-name players such as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, etc. Some players, such as Elmer Gedeon and Harry O’Neill, wouldn’t survive the war.
How politically important was baseball during the war years? So important that FDR after Pearl Harbor sent Major League Baseball the now famous “Green Light Letter,” recommending the baseball owners keep the games going to provide a pleasant diversion to what, we as a nation, were going to have to endure.
1947 Jackie Robinson Ends Segregation in Baseball
The implications on American politics are obvious and profound. If America’s national pastime can do it, there is no excuse for anyone else.
It is probably no coincidence that less than a year after Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, ending racial segregation in the U.S. Military. Without question, Robinson has been an inspiration for civil rights leaders ever since.
1958 Dodgers & Giants Move West
Horace Greely may have made the phrase, “Go west, young man,” popular in 1865, but it wasn’t until the 1950s, when the Dodgers and Giants fled New York for California, that Americans in mass took his advice. Until that time the furthest Western and Southern team was the St. Louis Cardinals.
Since the Dodgers/Giants move, mass migration from the northeast to the west and south continues at a rapid pace. The political fallout of this is staggering. In the 1950s, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts wielded a lot of political clout, with 109 electoral votes and congressional representatives, compared to California, Florida, and Texas which only had 66. Today the situation has been reversed, where California, Florida, and Texas have 120 electoral votes compared to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts which are down to 74.
Baseball may not be the reason behind this population shift, but the longstanding New York Giants and Brooklyn’s beloved Dodgers abandoning the East Coast for the West, sure made moving out of the Northeast in vogue.
1975 Catfish Hunter
People like Curt Flood and Marvin Miller should get the credit or blame, depending on your opinion, for challenging baseball’s reserve clause and starting free agency. However, on New Year’s Eve, when news broke that Catfish Hunter was signing with the Yankees for a, then, astonishing 5-year $3.75 million contract, it sunk in to the ordinary sports fan the impact of free agency and how it would change everything.
Despite laments that it would bankrupt baseball, a 5-year $3.75 million now seems like peanuts, and forty years later baseball has never been in better financial shape. The beginning of baseball free agency was a precursor to the election of Ronald Reagan a few years later and his cutting of the top marginal tax returns and embracing of free market capitalism. Catfish Hunter’s massive contract helped to symbolize that becoming rich in America was back in style.
Baseball was front and center to America’s healing after 9/11. It was Mike Piazza’s game winning home run on September 21st for the hometown Mets, in New York’s first sporting event since the attack, that made cheering acceptable again.
But when President Bush, with his sky-high approval ratings immediately following the attack, took to the mound at Yankee Stadium during the World Series at Yankee Stadium and threw a perfect strike with the first pitch to a roaring crowd, you could sense he would be the odds-on favorite for the 2004 Presidential election.
After Billy Bean and the Oakland A’s decided that data-driven algorithms could run a baseball team better than men could, baseball, and for that matter the world, would never be the same again.
Since, we have seen the rise of social media giants and workplace after workplace abandoning old management principles for algorithms. From worker displacement to privacy concerns that this change has brought, politicians are just starting to grapple with this profound revolution and what their role is, if any, in regulating it.
The Moneyball Principle now being applied to life and the workplace is something that legislators will be dealing with for decades.
Matthew Kastel is a 25-year veteran of working as an executive in the world of sports, including professional teams, organizations, and some of the largest vendors in the industry. Matt has also written two novels and teaches and lectures at universities on the business of sports. For more information you can visit his website at thirdstrikeproductions.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.