Looking at the past to see Major League Baseball’s future

This week in North Philly Notes, Lincoln Mitchell, author of Will Big League Baseball Surivive? considers how MLB has changed since Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world.”

On November 23rd of this year, 90 year old former big league pitcher Ralph Branca died. Bianca was a solid pitcher, winning 88 games with a very respectable 3.79 ERA over 11 year seasons in the 1940s and 1950s. Branca, however, is mostly remembered for giving up the most famous home run in baseball history. He was the relief pitcher who gave up a three run home run to Bobby Thomson in the bottom of the 9th inning of the third and final game of a playoff series to determine the National League pennant in 1951. Even casual baseball fans have seen the clip of Thomson running the bases, Branca looking dejected and the Giants fans at the old Polo Grounds in northern Manhattan going crazy while announcer Russ Hodges keeps repeating “the Giants win the Pennant.”

That was, by any measure a great game, unless I suppose, if you were a Brooklyn Dodger fan. Thomson’s home run highlighted the Giants comeback after trailing by 4-1 in the last inning. Five future Hall of Famers, including Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, played in that game between two teams who had been rivals for over half a century. The game was further immortalized by Dom DeLillo who opened his Cold War Epic The Underworld with a fictional scene of Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Toots Shor and J. Edgar Hoover sitting together at that game.

Perhaps the most interesting and overlooked statistic about that game is that there were 20,000 empty seats for this most exciting and anticipated of games. Baseball fans today assume that big league baseball was always played by the best players in the world in front of full stadiums, but for much of baseball’s history that was not true. Ironically, while baseball played a bigger role in our culture then—it is hard to imagine any home run in the 21st century becoming as widely remembered as Thomson’s or known as the “shot heard ‘round the world’—it was a much smaller industry.

will-big-league-baseball-survive_smThis is significant because to understand where Major League Baseball (MLB) is going, it is essential to understand how it got to be where it is. In 1951, only a few years after Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers, baseball at the major league level, was still a game played entirely in the northeast and Midwest in mostly empty ballparks. Integration was still in its nascent stage as there were informal limits on the number of African-American players on each team, and Latinos with dark skin were still almost entirely excluded.

Baseball’s journey to becoming a multi-billion dollar industry with the best players from the baseball-playing world vying for lucrative spots on 30 teams in North America was a complex one. Baseball did some things well, like being ahead of the national curve on integration and adapting well to new technologies, notably the internet, but it also encountered problems such as its mishandling of the steroid crisis while poor attendance remained a problem as recently as the 1990s when baseball considered eliminating two teams.

The recently concluded season ended on a high note as the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908. The final game of the World Series between the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians drew more viewers than any game in the last quarter century. Since the World Series, the major baseball story has been the efforts to renegotiate the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the players and the owners. The most visible issues that have been raised with regards to the CBA thus far have been the possibility of adding a 26th player to big league rosters and introducing an international draft for all amateur players around the world.

These issues, however, are only very dim reflections of the bigger challenges baseball will confront in the coming decade or two. In the last 10-20 years globalization has brought more top players from everywhere in the world to MLB, but as globalization continues, many baseball loving countries, particularly those with some economic power, will chafe at this system, while MLB may realize that concentrating entirely in North America leaves many markets untapped. Similarly, new technologies and ways of consuming information will make lucrative cable contracts a thing of the past while MLB will need to find ways to more efficiently monetize its impressive advanced media products. Additionally, as fewer American children grow up playing more than one sport, fewer Americans grow into adulthood with a working knowledge of the game, raising important questions about how baseball will find the next generation of fans.

The last decade or two have been almost a perfect storm for MLB. Cable revenues have remained high while advanced media has brought in even more money. Globalization has made the best players available to American teams, while not being quite powerful enough to challenge American baseball hegemony; and there are still enough middle aged and older Americans who grew up with the game to fill stadiums and watch the postseason on television. This won’t continue and how baseball responds to these changing conditions will determine the future of this complicated and rarely fully understood American institution.

 

 

 

Temple University Press Annual Holiday Sale!

Celebrate the holidays with Temple University Press at our annual holiday sale
November 30 through December 2 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm (daily)
in the Diamond Club Lobby, lower level of Mitten Hall at Temple University

All books will be discounted

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Celebrating University Press Week

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate University Press Week!

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The theme of University Press Week 2016 is Community: from the community of a discipline to a regional home and culture, from the shared discourse of a campus to a bookstore’s community of readers.

The Association of American University Presses community uses the #ReadUP hashtag to highlight on social media the best of what our members are publishing all year long. It beautifully captures what we celebrate when we celebrate University Press Week: the scholarship, writing, and deep knowledge that is shared with the world through our books and publications. Follow #UPWeek for more news and info about the 2016 celebration!

Check out these videos featuring members of the Temple University Press staff talking about what working at a University Press means to them:

Sara Cohen, Editor

Gary Kramer, Publicist

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Getting Ready for the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta

This week in North Philly Notes,  Boathouse Row author Dotty Brown previews the annual regatta that will overtake the Schuylkill river this weekend. 

Every year, thousands of people pound down the paved backbone of the city in the sweaty exuberance of the Broad Street Run.

This Saturday and Sunday, in another extraordinary test of athleticism and determination open to anyone, the sound will be the beating of oars down a different city artery – the Schuylkill River.

Rowing out their hearts and lungs in the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta will be more than 8,500 competitors from 29 states and 12 foreign countries racing in 1,942 boats. They range from high school teenagers and college freshmen just picking up the sport to committed athletes striving for world competition to masters rowers in their 50s, 60s, 70s and yes, even their 80s.

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Ann Jonik (left) and sister Marie Jonik win an eight-oared master’s race in last year’s Head of the Schuylkill Regatta. Both competed in the 1976 Olympics, the first year women had a rowing event. Photo by April Saul.

About half are now women, a fact that would shock the crowds who witnessed the first recorded regatta on the Schuylkill on November 12, 1835.

 

That day, seven eight-oared barges, much heavier than today’s hip-hugging vessels, competed. The event “brought to the shores of the Schuylkill more persons than were ever assembled on its banks before,” wrote John Thomas Scharf in his 1884 History of Philadelphia. They “came on horseback and in gigs and wagons and coaches, the number present being several thousand, and the event being also considered by some persons sufficient to justify a cessation of business for the day.”

Regattas soared in popularity after 1858, when the emerging boat clubs of Boathouse Row banded together to form the Schuylkill Navy,  the country’s oldest amateur athletic governing body.

boathouse-row_smBy the 1870s, when Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins painted his Central High School classmate, champion rower Max Schmitt, as many as 30,000 people would throng the river banks, crowd its bridges and pile onto rowboats and steamers to cheer the racers and wage bets. With baseball and football in their infancies, rowing was then the single most popular spectator sport in the country and Philadelphia was the place to see it.

Today, it still is.

The races will run Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. For information, go to http://www.hosr.org

Charting the public’s engagement with disaster media

This week in North Philly Notes, Timothy Recuber, author of Consuming Catastrophe, writes about our media-induced empathy for disaster victims, and the problems associated with empathetic hedonism.

From October 4th to October 10th, Hurricane Matthew trudged up the Atlantic coast from Cuba to North Carolina. It killed hundreds in Haiti and caused billions of dollars in damages in the United States. And for several days, it monopolized our attention, elbowing its way into public consciousness alongside the US presidential elections, as news networks provided live coverage in the States while citizen journalists sent shaky, handheld camera footage from locations throughout the Caribbean. In the storm’s immediate aftermath, harrowing tales of rescues mixed together with heart-wrenching stories of loss and earnest appeals to charitable giving on our televisions and computers. Then we began the process of forgetting. Presidential election coverage returned to its absurd heights. War crimes in Yemen took center stage among the foreign news reports. And life for all of us distant spectators of mass-mediated disaster returned to normal.

While this pattern of public engagement with disasters is not surprising, it deserves scrutiny. What does it mean to understand the suffering of others in these ways? How does the increasingly intense and intimate coverage of catastrophes encourage certain kinds of reactions, and discourage others? What sorts of narratives win out when we understand disasters and loss through the succession of powerful yet fleeting mass-mediated experiences, where one disaster and then then next appear and disappear before our eyes? And how are new media technologies altering or reinforcing these patterns?

consuming-catastrophe_smThese were the questions I set out to answer in Consuming Catastrophe: Mass Culture in America’s Decade of Disaster. I focused on a particularly tumultuous time period in recent American history: the first decade of the twenty first century. From the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, the financial crisis in 2008, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, America was rocked by some of the largest disasters in the country’s history. Yet despite very significant differences in the duration, cost, and amount of lives lost due to these disasters, each followed a fairly similar path through mass-media and public consciousness. Using close reading and discourse analysis of news transcripts, documentary films, reality television programs, and digital archives, I was able to trace out some of the larger cultural norms that emerged during this period.

Chief among these norms is the obligation to show empathy to those directly affected by disasters. In the book, I develop the concept of empathetic hedonism as a way to understand the media-induced pleasure in attempting to imagine what others are feeling, even if those feelings are painful. We are, I argue, increasingly asked to empathize with a whole host of suffering others today. And this certainly can be a good thing. But that empathy often comes at a cost. It is easily focused on individuals and their personal problems, but hard to direct towards structural issues. It is intense but short lived, such that the long aftermath of rebuilding is often ignored. And it works best with spectacular, acute disasters—like hurricanes—rather than long, slow, diffuse disasters—like global climate change, even though the latter has more damaging consequences than anything else. Thus we need to think critically about where and how our attention and emotion is being directed during and after disasters. And as I suggest in Consuming Catastrophe, we need to focus on the less spectacular work of creating a more just society all of the time, not just when disaster strikes.

Rio de Janeiro’s Summer Olympics: Searching for Legacies

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, writes about the aftermath of Rio’s summer Olympics.  

The Rio de Janeiro summer Olympic and Para Olympic games ended September l8. Most Brazilians, the media, and Olympic organizers concluded the city of Rio and consequently Brazil had done well by the six week marathon of games and individual competitions. The reputation of Cariocas, the name for residents of Rio, as hospitable, upbeat, generous people with a marked talent for improvisation was reinforced. Furthermore, the second act Para Olympics more than held their own. 2.1 million tickets to Para Olympics events were sold, the second largest number in the history of the games. Enthusiasm for Para Olympics athletes was obvious, a victory lap for greater social inclusion, for anyone with a physical disability.

The run up to the games included many efforts to forsee Olympic legacies. In Rio de Janeiro’s 2009 bid, the Olympics were presented as a spur that would set in motion or speed up completion of several large scale projects. Topping the list was master plan to improve the city’s public transportation and traffic flow. By the start of the games in 2016, there were new BRT corridors, completion of a long planned 4th metro line, and a light rail tram line in downtown Rio connecting the main bus station with the domestic Santos Dumont airport. They added high quality links between international and domestic airports, and Rio’s western and northern suburbs. They finally brought rapid public transit to upscale Barra da Tijuca connecting it to prosperous southern zone neighborhoods of Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. The construction of lengthy tunnels replacing an overhead freeway in the downtown port area allowed its revitalization to proceed as a tranquil zone of new museums and pedestrian leisure. The revitalized port was christened Porto Maravilha suggesting a modern world wonder or marvel. For Mayor Eduardo Paes and Olympic organizers, Porto Maravilha ranked in importance with the upgrades in public transportation as the other main legacy of the Olympics.

Layout 1Clearly, the middle and upper classes benefit from BRTs, the new metro line, and the opening of long downtown tunnels where traffic flow is not interrupted. They reduce travel time, and demonstrate contemporary big city public transportation at its best.  But will new bus and expanded metro service be within reach of low wage workers and their families, many of whom live in favelas, and distant suburbs? They commonly earn the monthly minimum wage of approximately $300. The cost of a month’s travel to and from work taking the BRT and metro has been calculated as 1/3 of a minimum salary.  Without employer paid travel to work, as might be the case in the informal economy, the cost will be too great for someone earning the minimum wage. The job seeker will look for work close to home. Moving beyond work to leisure, the cost of public transportation to and from Porto Maravilha can also be high. This reinforces a tendency of residents of poor communities to stay at home, to turn inward and be more community bound than they might want. Often overlooked is the frugality of Rio’s low wage workers as they budget for basics such as food, clothing, rent and transportation. Perhaps for these reasons, authorities have considered the option of free rides on the new light rail tram that passes through Porto Maravilha. No doubt they felt a need to show good faith in putting its attractions within reach of as many of Rio’s communities as possible, even more so in the midst of hard fought municipal elections.

There are also distinctly negative legacies. One that dogs the reputation of Mayor Eduardo Paes was yet another cycle of removing poor residents, even whole communities, from homes largely built by them. They were moved and their homes demolished in order to make way for new road and Olympics construction. Removal was part of the first remaking the port area between 1902 and 1906 as overseen by then Mayor Pereira Passos. 20,000 individuals were uprooted as their residences were razed. Many resettled in the nearby favela of Providencia. In the early 1960’s, when the federal government moved to Brasília and the city of Rio de Janeiro became the state of Guanabara, its governor Carlos Lacerda removed 30,000 favela residents from areas he saw as belonging to the middle and upper classes. Lacerda also wanted land for building what became the state university of Rio de Janeiro. Lacerda’s uprooted residents were relocated to the then-new Cidade de Deus (City of God), and to Vila Kennedy, a distant suburban community where the cost of building the housing was partly paid for by the United States Alliance for Progress Program. However, these numbers do not approach the estimated 77,000 individuals removed by Mayor Paes.

For most evicted residents, there was new public housing, or the promise of new public housing. But it was away from the communities in which they had lived which in some cases might be entirely eradicated. A 2016 study of the evictions by Lucas Faulhaber and Lena Azevedo, explained how this was done. In the case of the squatter settler without title to the land removal could be relatively easy. The land might be declared an “area of risk,” meaning the state was acting to save lives, an argument not always easy to contest. Where residents had titles, removal was more difficult. Such was the case of Vila Autódromo whose history as a working class community dated to the late 1960’s. A main quality of Vila Autódromo was tranquility, even bucolic tranquility, in densely populated, noisy Rio de Janeiro. Furthermore, it was a stable working class community without drug traffickers, militias, violence or homicides. For good reasons, its residents did not want to leave. Furthermore, they felt secure having been granted a 99-year right to use the land by former Rio Governor Leonel Brizola in 1994. As late as 2010, Vila Autódromo had a population of 4,000. However, Vila Autódromo stood at the designated point of entry into the Olympic Park for athletes, reporters, Olympic officials and visitors.

Mayor Paes was determined to remove the community. He brushed aside the document with a 99-year right to use the land. It was a “papelucho” or piece of paper of a political demagogue. Paes claimed he needed to build access roads through Vila Autódromo to the new Olympic Village. In 2013, a group of urban planners from the two local federal universities developed a plan showing that building access roads was possible without removal, and that under this plan, the cost would be much lower. The plan went on to win the Deutche Bank Urban Age Award. Paes then argued people coming to the Olympic village would feel unsafe at the sight of a Brazilian working class community so near to them. It was a case of visual pollution. Vila Autódromo did not look middle or upper class. Vila Autódromo defenders pointed to its record of safety, without shootouts or drug trafficking gangs. The Mayor’s team continued to pressure people to leave in exchange for an apartment in one of two new public housing projects. As time passed and people continued to stay, large cash indemnities began to be offered. Residents were harassed as water and electricity were turned on and off. Still a dwindling group determined to stay. Heloisa Helena Costa Berto was a poor black woman and candomblé priestess with a small home and ceremonial religious center in Vila Autódromo. She was also intent on staying. Mayor Paes told her he wanted the area “cleaned.” For critics of removal, Berto had become a victim “social cleansing.” She watched her home and center being demolished in February 2016. Then three months later on May 13, the date slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, she received an award from the state legislature “conceded to those who work for the improvement of Afro-descendant, Latin American and Caribbean women of the state of Rio.” In Brazil, many contradictions are on display, or as the local expression has it, “Brazil has these things.” For twenty residents who continued to hold out, the city of Rio was forced to build 20 houses on a small area of what had once been Vila Autódromo.

Perhaps the most unconvincing appropriation of legacy was the illegal and unjustified construction of the Olympic golf course. Golf is an elite, not popular sport in Brazil. A newly built Olympic golf course was partly sold as a contribution to growing its popularity, particularly since the course would be open for a few years to the public. But with green fees of $75, few who are not in the upper middle or upper classes were likely to try golf. Furthermore, Rio de Janeiro already had one private club suitable for international championship golf. But Paes and the local Olympic committee did not pursue this option. Instead, the Rio city council passed a decree in December, 2012 allowing a substantial piece of land to be detached from the Marapendí ecological reserve for building the Olympic golf course. The decree violated Brazilian law in two ways: there were no public hearings, nor was there a required environmental impact study. The transferred land was no longer subject to strict environmental regulations. Without the regulations, it was easier to build nearby luxury high rise condominiums that were the specialty of developer RJZ Cyrela, a large campaign contributor to Mayor Paes. An odor of corruption has overhung the construction of the Olympic golf course from the beginning. Marco Mello, local biologist and environmental activist looking at Olympic area condominium building, and the history of the unnecessary golf course provided his own legacy judgment: “Without a doubt, the Olympics are a great real estate scam.” In the October 2nd election for mayor, Eduardo Paes’ handpicked candidate to succeed him finished badly in third place with 16% of the vote.

Telling the story of a bitter conflict over sexuality in the airline industry

This week in North Philly Notes, Ryan Patrick Murphy, author of Deregulating Desire, blogs about the flight attendants’s gains. 

In August 2016, flight attendants for United Airlines ratified a new contract that raised the top wage to over $71,000 per year. The deal provides pay and benefits that far exceed the standard for most jobs in the service economy. Whereas workers in restaurants and in big box stores can be forced into overtime at the last minute, United flight attendants get time and a half if they volunteer to work on busy days. Whereas those in retail and in fast food lose pay when business is slow, United flight attendants are guaranteed their monthly wage regardless of the demand for air travel. In an era when white men continue to out-earn other workers, the new United contract delivers a living wage to a majority woman workforce in which half of new hires are people of color.

deregulating-desire_smFour decades of tireless organizing allowed United flight attendants to lock in these gains. Since the middle of the 1960s, flight attendants have been on the cutting edge of social change. In an era when most middle class white women married and had children right out of high school, flight attendants – or stewardesses as the airlines still called them – stayed single, married later, and delayed motherhood. Living in the downtown areas of major U.S. cities, many stewardesses joined the women’s, gay, and lesbian liberation movements, and helped transform dominant cultural ideas about love, sex, and kinship.  As people’s attitudes about sexuality changed in the 1970s, however, the economy failed to keep pace with the social transformation. On the one hand, most people’s families began to look more like flight attendants’, with people marrying later, having children outside of marriage, or choosing same-sex relationships. But on the other hand, the ideal of the traditional nuclear family became ever more important to the political debates of the 1970s and 1980s as phrases like “female headed households,” and “out of wedlock births” became means to blame poor women – and especially women of color – for their poverty.

Rather than avoiding these heated cultural debates, flight attendants made ideas about family and about sexuality the centerpiece of their union agenda. They built alliances with LGBT and feminist groups outside of the industry, and argued that a living wage, affordable health insurance, and a secure retirement should not be reserved for white men in heavy industry and in corporate management. Flight attendants’ new movement was immensely successful, and real wages for flight attendants at many airlines doubled between 1975 and 1985.

While the category of sexuality galvanized flight attendants, it also became the centerpiece of management’s effort to challenge the flight attendant union movement.  Business leaders in the airline industry – and among the Wall Street bankers who financed their operations – argued that a decade of rapid social change had undermined the values that had always made America strong. To alleviate the vast new economic pressures facing the middle class in the 1970s, managers pushed to restore those bedrock values: deferred gratification, personal responsibility, and hard work. Ordinary families’ stability, big business argued, rested on rolling back the cultural changes that flight attendants and many of their allies had initiated in the 1960s and 1970s. The new alliance between pro-business and pro-family activists presented a daunting challenge for flight attendants, and by the 1990s, unions at many airlines had been forced to forfeit many of their previous gains.

Deregulating Desire tells the story of this bitter conflict over sexuality in the airline industry. While it illuminates the challenges that flight attendants and all feminized service workers have faced as neoliberal reforms transformed their industry, the book shows that an ongoing commitment to feminist and LGBT activist movements has helped them maintain a heavily unionized workplace. As the recent victory at United Airlines demonstrates, flight attendant unions have delivered concrete economic resources for their members, resources that most workers – including much of the white middle class – lack in the 21st century. In an age when economic inequality is the centerpiece of national political debates, and when there is little concrete analysis of nuts-and-bolts efforts to fight economic inequality, Deregulating Desire documents flight attendants’ often successful struggle for workplace justice.

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