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

diamondclubflyer

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.

hosr

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

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.

Meet Temple University Press’ new acquisitions editor, Ryan Mulligan

This week, in North Philly Notes, a Q&A with our new acquisitions editor, Ryan Mulligan.

You are acquiring books in sociology, criminology, and sports as well as regional titles. What is your affinity for these discipline?
I worked on sociology books in my previous position and found the discipline to be so vibrant and necessary. Sociology places the human faces we see into the contexts that shape them and make them the way they are. Conversely, it also puts real, complex, human faces on the contexts we make assumptions about. So much of academia is rightly concerned with showing the ways the real world resists our assumptions and heuristics, but sociology is extra important because assumptions and heuristics about people can be so dangerous.

This is a great moment to be getting into criminology, as there is so much skepticism and room for questions and answers in law and order today. Criminology has a close relationship with sociology. It has been mostly published by larger publishers and I’m excited about the opportunity to take a more targeted topical approach to specific subfields that merit a tighter focus but have broad implications.

Everyone who knows me knows I love sports and Philadelphia sports in particular. Everyone describes Philadelphia fans as passionate but we are also demanding and informed, which makes us a voracious readers and consumers of perspectives and information. In other words, it’s a great environment in which to be publishing sports books. Beyond my own fandom I’m also excited about the sports list as a publishing opportunity. So much of sports publishing has traditionally been nostalgic and I think there’s a real opportunity, especially for a university press, to publish books that are curious, socially engaged, forward looking, and concerned about how sports arrived at where they are and where they are going. I see so many outlets online serving a broadly interested and educated sports fan and think that shows a readership underserved by many of the sports books on the bookstore shelf.

I’ll especially look to continue Temple University Press’s strengths in urban sociology, criminology, labor studies, social movements, social stratification, and sexuality and gender studies.

headshot_ryan

What book (or books) made you fall in love with reading and the power of words?
I’m going to go to my childhood with E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. It was interesting, later on, to read White’s indispensable writing guide, The Elements of Style (with William Strunk, Jr.) and see him explicitly outline what had enlivened his writing for me as a child: a charming honesty and understated directness. Ray Bradbury deserves a shout-out, too.

What was the last great book you read? (Can be academic or not)
Just before starting work here on the sports list, I read The Only Rule Is It Has to Work, published last May, a book by two analytics-oriented baseball writers who had the opportunity to take over baseball operations for an independent league baseball team. They describe the victories, defeats, and culture clashes resulting from their attempt to put the strategic consensus of the SABR community in to the game plans of the all-too-real coaches and players that inhabit their would-be sandbox. It underscores how hard it still is to get everyone, whatever their view of baseball, to come to grips with their uncertainty, more than a decade after Moneyball.

What one book would you recommend everyone read?
As long as I’m talking about uncertainty and data, everyone should read Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise. The fun of it is reading well-told stories from several fieldsweather, politics, economics, sports, earthquakeson how the best prognosticators make the best predictions. Everyone can learn something about how the best in a field you don’t know find sense within the mountain of information available to them. But the message that I think should resonate for scholars and civilians like myself alike is how the most knowledgeable people are honest with themselves about what they don’t know

What book or author do you wish more people knew about?
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy. This is an intervention in one of those debates where there are two cogent sides but neither approaches the crux of the problem: Leovy shows that whether we institute more policing or less policing, we would benefit from better policing.

What titles might we be surprised to discover on your bookshelf?
Learn to Surf, by James Maclaren. Not really the vibe I give off – maybe because I haven’t been very successful at it.

What author(s), living or dead, would you be most interested in meeting, or having over for dinner?
Shakespeare. There’s a Titus Andronicus joke to be made here, but I can’t quite work my way around to it.

595_regWhat Temple University Press title could you not put down?
If declaring a favorite child is an unwise parenting strategy, choosing a favorite child among the many you just inherited seems doubly fraught, so I’m going to venture outside my own lists here at Temple and choose a great book on Temple’s backlist that I read as an undergrad philosophy student: The Philosophy of Alain Locke, edited by Leonard Harris. Locke’s philosophy provides background and context for the Harlem Renaissance and for so many pride movements to follow.

 

 

Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

TOP


SaleBOTTOM

Ray Didinger on “Tommy and Me”

This week in North Philly Notes,  Ray Didinger, author of One Last Read and The New Eagles Encyclopedia, recounts bringing his play Tommy and Mebased on his life, to life on stage.

I didn’t know it was possible to have an experience that is both exhilarating and painful. But that’s what I was feeling Sunday night as Tommy and Me, my first—and probably last—stage play had its final performance at the Fringe Arts theatre.

It was exhilarating because the sellout crowd sent the play off with a standing ovation and afterwards people stayed around to say how much they enjoyed it. The story flashes back to the 1950s and ’60s and the career of Eagles great Tommy McDonald and dozens of people came up to me to relate their own memories of Franklin Field. Some still carried the ticket stubs in their wallets. Three bucks for a seat in the end zone. Yes, it was a long time ago.

TommyandMe SetThe painful part was walking back into the empty theatre and seeing the crew dismantle the set. During the two-week run from August 3 through 14, I virtually lived in that theatre. It became my world and each night when the lights went down and the actors took the stage, I was transported back to my boyhood when I was the freckle-faced fan who wanted nothing more than to carry Tommy McDonald’s helmet as he walked to the practice field. It brought a lump to my throat every night. But on Sunday, seeing it stripped down and silent, reminded me it was, indeed, over.

I knew this night was coming. I knew there would be that moment when I had to let go and Tommy and Me would become a memory, but it did not lessen the sense of loss. We sat at the bar for a long time—the cast, the crew, the whole Theatre Exile team—and talked about the play and how it grew into something larger than we first imagined. All 12 performances were sell outs and each show ended with a standing ovation that seemed to grow louder each night. Tom Teti, the veteran actor who played Tommy McDonald, said, “This was a rare one.” The others at the bar nodded in agreement.

Picture_r688x459Once we left the theatre that night we would be going in different directions. Joe Canuso, the director, is going back to work on Rizzo, the play he successful staged last year and is reviving at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in September. Matt Pfeiffer, the actor who played me as an adult, is headed to Naples, Florida, to direct a play. Ned Pryce, the actor who played the young Tommy McDonald, is already in rehearsal for a role with the Iron Age Theatre. Tom Teti is rejoining the team at People’s Light and Theatre in Malvern. Simon Kiley, who played the 10-year-old me, is getting ready to start sixth grade at Girard Academic Music Program. I would return to talking about the Eagles on WIP Sports Radio and Comcast Sports Net.

The New Eagles Encyclopedia_smBut for a little while longer, we were sharing the bond that was Tommy and Me, the play I wrote about my boyhood hero and our unlikely 40-year journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had never written a play before and when I started I wasn’t at all sure it would ever be produced. But thanks to Joe Canuso, who believed in the project, and Bruce Graham, the superb Philadelphia playwright who helped in its development, we were able to bring Tommy and Me to life. To sit in the theatre each evening and hear the audience laugh, sometimes cry, boo any reference to the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately applaud at the final curtain was a thrill unlike anything I had experienced before. I know I’ll never forget it.

Each night ended with the cast returning to the stage to answer questions from the audience. The very first night, a woman stood up and said: “I’m not an Eagles fan. I don’t even like sports…” I thought, “Where is this going?” Then she said, “But this story really touched me.” Several theatre critics [reviews below] made the same point: it isn’t a football story. It is a story about a boy, his hero and dreams coming true. It is a story I always wanted to tell and that’s why on Sunday night it was hard to let go.

Read the DC Metro‘s review. 

Read the Broad Street Review‘s review

Read Philly.com‘s review

Read NewsWork‘s review

Read Philadelphia Magazine‘s review 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: