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April 30, 2012


How to Give the Game Back to Its Fans

by Larry Granillo

In 1957, Cleveland Press sportswriter Franklin Lewis was disillusioned with how the game of baseball was changing. It was getting too modern, too far from its roots, too corporate. Major League Baseball was losing its fans. Night games? Television? Ballplayers hocking cigarettes? Night games?!?! Games that were played in the dark?! That just wasn't how baseball should be, thought Franklin Lewis (who was born in 1904).

In response, Lewis penned a 21-point plan that appeared in Baseball Digest called "How to Give the Game Back to Its Fans". It was, in all honesty, full of terrible ideas. Here's a brief look at Lewis' list:

  • Cut down the number of night games.
  • Slash the roster of all teams to 20 men. This would save payroll and "perhaps doing away with the ridiculous left-handed, right-handed switches that bore the stuffing out of the customers."
  • "Reduce overhead" by eliminating $100,000 in front-office salaries.
  • Prohibit the pitcher/catcher from rubbing a ball down that an ump has already rubbed down. This will help save time, obviously.
  • Insist that a batter stay in the box. ("This is guaranteed to save ten minutes a game.")
  • Schedule night games on Fridays and Saturdays only.
  • Reduce umpire groups to three.
  • Hire cops to patrol the stands and remove "pests, drunks, molesters, beer-spillers, and swearers".
  • Reduce the public address system to baseball. Apparently there were too many calls for "guys named Horace, Mrs. Livernkopf from Lorain, and time for departure for baseball special trains" back in 1957.
  • Ban pictures of players hocking beer and cigarettes. The venerable Judge Landis "never would permit major leaguers to endorse anything he believed contrary to the betterment of youth." Baseball definitely shouldn't do anything that Judge Landis thought was bad!
  • Design new uniforms that include safety factors and streamline the outfits.
  • No time outs for players to wait for batboys to retrieve their forgotten sunglasses.
  • Go back to 3pm games. That would allow office workers to "get in most of a day's work".
  • Eliminate reserve seats on all days except Sundays and holidays.
  • Ban "fireworks, automobile giveaways, bank nights, orchids, nylons, men's nights and other synthetic gimmicks." Thankfully, ladies night and tickets for school children would still be allowed.
  • Eliminate the bonus rule. Clearly, by not paying players the money they're worth, it would "recreate somehow the desire in a young man to play baseball for love of the game instead of for love of a buck for signing a contract."
  • Unless tied or delayed by weather, put a curfew on all games. "Say three hours after the start." Those three hour games are killer.
  • Minimize the importance of front offices.
  • Confine television to road games. "How in the world can you give away your product" on television while also selling it in the stands?
  • Rekindle the interest of kids with national campaigns and boys' leagues. "Spend more money on keeping baseball alive."
  • "Find the old fans again. New fans are getting tougher and tougher to train."

There you have the, Lewis's grand plan. Please ignore how the list is self-contradictory (seriously, look at those last two points) and clearly ignorant of basic business principles. Not that Lewis was alone in that ignorance in the 1950s (or even now), as I'm pretty sure most people are still too blinded by nostalgia to recognize the sanity of, say, offering your product at a time when people aren't at work.

And, yes, that's right, there were three separate entries for having more day games and fewer night games. It is funny to note that Lewis, while spending 14% of his 21-point plan on having more day games, also says that "older patrons who work a five-day week" need some time to sleep. I suppose it's a good thing that those patrons who are at work five-days-a-week would have all those day games to not go to.

The real question is, how many newspapers or other outlets would print this article word-for-word if it were submitted today? The answer to that terrifies me.

8 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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"Insist that a batter stay in the box."

Even a blind pig can find an acorn.

Apr 30, 2012 07:00 AM
rating: 1

I pretty much certain that "Franklin Lewis" is actually some kind of ageless X-Files-type monster and that at some point in the '60s he shed his skin and became Murray Chass.

Apr 30, 2012 07:40 AM
rating: 6
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Or a Highlander figure. I wouldn't doubt it.

(Sadly, in truth, Lewis died of a heart attack during spring training in 1958, less than a year later.)

Apr 30, 2012 13:37 PM

I think having security (not police) patrolling the stands to throw out "pests, drunks, molesters, beer-spillers, and swearers" is a damn fine idea.

Apr 30, 2012 11:18 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Oh certainly. And I'd say we have some version of that at most games now. There are very few "hits" on this list, though...

Apr 30, 2012 13:38 PM

They'd better hire the extra cops before they eliminate reserved seats.

How was eliminating the Bonus Rule going to make players play for the love of the game, rather than money? The rule was designed to eliminate bonuses, since if you gave a bonus of over $4,000, the kid had to stay in the majors for two years.

And the word is "hawking" not hocking - although cigarettes have been known to cause the latter.

Apr 30, 2012 11:46 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Your guess is as good as mine on the Bonus Rule point. It doesn't make sense, except in the "I'm tired of seeing athletes get paid big money so I'm going to complain about it" way of thinking...

And you're right about "hawking". It's just what came out of my fingers, I guess. Although I tend to like the idea of pictures of athletes hocking cigarettes and beer out of their lungs...

Apr 30, 2012 13:43 PM

"I ain't no athlete, lady. I'm a baseball player."

John Kruk

Apr 30, 2012 14:39 PM
rating: 0
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