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How O'Malley pillaged baseball

March 13, 2005|by David Woods

Those of us living in the Baltimore-Washington region are all too familiar with ironic losses of professional baseball, basketball, and football franchises: Washington Senators to Minnesota (courtesy Calvin Griffith), expansion Washington Senators to Texas (courtesy Bob Short), Baltimore Bullets to Washington (courtesy of Abe Pollin, but this one worked both ways - bad for Baltimore, but good for Washington) and Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis (courtesy Robert Irsay).

But these foul individuals are pikers. They merely stole one city's sports franchise. The world champion in the category is the late Walter O'Malley - onetime owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers. O'Malley not only caused still broken hearts in Brooklyn and the Bronx, but managed to turn off the entire populations of Washington, Oregon, California and a half-dozen other western states in the 1950s when he spearheaded major league baseball's move west. In the process, he helped destroy the nation's senior minor league - the Pacific Coast League.

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The PCL was a pretty fair league, having developed all three DiMaggio brothers and Ted Williams. The PCL also had negotiated a "no draft" rule with both the American and National leagues, so PCL players could continue to play in the PCL until the entire league gained status enough to become a major league on its own.

The PCL was on its way to that level, with teams in Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego, Portland and Sacramento in 1950. Only Portland and Sacramento do not have major league teams today. But I'm getting ahead of my story.

O'Malley wasn't even brave enough to take the first step. Instead, he persuaded longtime rival Horace Stoneham to move his baseball New York Giants to San Francisco, which cost the PCL the San Francisco Seals and essentially ended the fine Triple-A league as it was.

Yet O'Malley was not through. He brought his Dodgers to Los Angeles to replace the PCL Los Angeles Angels (which he bought cheaply) and convinced city fathers to allow the Dodgers - and only the Dodgers - to play in the publicly owned L.A. Coliseum while he built Dodger Stadium for his team.

Meanwhile, O'Malley stuck his nose into the American League to insist the new expansion Angels could play only in Wrigley Field (a 14,000-seat stadium O'Malley owned) until Dodger Stadium was built. Then the Angels would have to play in Dodger Stadium for at least five years, leaving O'Malley's only competition no choice but to pay rent to O'Malley for use of a public facility to help O'Malley finance his new stadium at Chavez Ravine. Only after this decade of robbery did O'Malley allow Angels owner Gene Autry to build a stadium for his team. Talk about a fox in the henhouse, or a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Wouldn't we have a great major league today with franchises in Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego, Phoenix and Denver, with other possibilities in San Jose, Portland, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Sacramento?

And the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees would still be in New York, perhaps with the Mets, too.

But you'll never see it, thanks to the late, money-grubbing Walter O'Malley - and the other baseball leaders who let him get away with this personal pillaging of our nation's baseball audience.




"A Voice From The Crowd" is a weekly feature in The Herald-Mail which gives sports fans an opportunity to be a sports columnist. This week's guest columnist, David Woods, lives near Hedgesville, W.Va. Comments on his column can be sent to sports@herald-mail.com If you are interested in becoming a contributor to this column, e-mail Sports Editor Mark Keller at keller@herald-mail.com

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