What major league baseball was like many years ago!

Major League Baseball as played in the WWII era and earlier was a much different game than Major League Baseball as played today.  During that period of time there were only 16 teams in two leagues – each team had 25 players and this meant that there were only a total of 400 players on major league rosters prior to the September call-ups of promising players in each organization – obviously a VERY COMPETITIVE situation.

The minor leagues were much different as well – there were numerous teams and league classifications.

AAA
AA
A
B
C
D

Today, there are far fewer leagues and classification in the “minors.”

AAA
AA
A (short season)

Often players would sign with a certain team and be brought up “through the ranks” of that particular team.  To give you an example – one I’m obviously very familiar with.

In 1936, my father graduated from The Peddie School in Hightstown NJ.  My dad attended Peddie as a post-grad having graduated from Trenton High School in 1934.  My father was trying to decide on whether to attend Brown University on a baseball scholarship or to become a professional baseball player.  After a standout baseball career at Peddie, my father was invited to attend a tryout at Shibe Park (later known as Connie Mack Stadium) in Philadelphia under the watchful eye of non-other than the legendary Mr. Mack.

At the time my dad was a pitcher and second baseman, however Mr. Mack seeing his foot speed as well as his hitting ability, suggested to my father that he should consider switching to the outfield and while the A’s at the time were well stocked with outfielders, Connie Mack advised his good friend Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators to sign my dad to a professional baseball contract.

In 1936 my dad signed his first contract and was assigned to the Trenton Senators of the NYP League – a rather unique experience for a professional ballplayer to be playing his first years of baseball in his “home town” – in fact, when the Trenton Senators played at home, my father was able to live “at home.”

My dad would play with the Trenton Senators in 1936-37 and would be called up to Washington in September of 1937 and would play major league baseball until 1947 when injury forced his premature retirement that year.

During the time that my father played major league baseball, the players would sign one-year contracts which they negotiated directly with either the GM or owner of the team.  There were NO agents and NO long term contracts and NO such thing as free agency.  Now it has been said that players were bound to the team that employed them – which was true – either you played for the team that offered you your contract each year – or you didn’t play!  However, to the best of my knowledge, there were very few, if any players, who decided not to play – they were being paid quite well for the time and many felt very fortunate in being paid to play a game that many had played since childhood!

This is not to say there were no salary disputes – as there often were!  Players would demand to be paid a certain amount and the owner or GM would offer them a certain amount and if the player did not like what was being offered – he would decide to “hold-out.”  This was a regular occurrence during that era – sometimes the player would hold out and at the last minute he would sign or if the ball club thought highly of that particular player the team would meet the salary demand.  Often the offer of the ballclub to the specific player would be based on the performance of that player during the previous season.  However, in the case of the Washington Senators, often a player would have had a good previous season but the team might have had a poor performance on the field and at “the gate” resulting in a rather lengthy “hold-out” until some kind of compromise was reached!

Several other major differences between WWII era major league baseball and today’s game.  A 154 game schedule, no wild card, divisional and league championship series – the winner of the American League would play the winner of the National League in the World Series.  Most games were played during the day as night baseball was only played occasionally – the first night All-Star game was held at Shibe Park in Philadelphia in 1943.  Another major difference – doubleheaders – during the WWII era and before – doubleheaders were regularly scheduled – often on Sundays and almost always on certain national holidays – such as Memorial Day. July 4th and Labor Day

And length of games – often major league games would be in the neighborhood of two hours with starting pitchers pitching complete games (unless of course, they were being “shelled”).  There would be no pitch counts, and both leagues would play by pretty much the same rules – pitchers were expected to hit and many times, pitchers who were excellent hitters, would be used as pinch hitters.  In other words the DH did not exist!

Of course, there was virtually NO TELEVISION – just about all games had to be followed either at the ballpark or on the radio and The Sporting News was known as the “Bible of Baseball – players and fans would pour over statistics and the previous game coverage in the daily newspapers would bring the written word to millions the next morning.

In my opinion, the skill level of today’s players is much greater however I believe the “love of the game” and the knowledge of baseball fundamentals is much less that in an earlier time.

I believe the game of baseball is timeless – 9 innings, 9 players on a side, 3 strikes, 4 balls, 3 outs per inning, 90’ between bases, 60’6” pitcher’s mound to home plate – but today’s game is much different from yesterday’s game!

At one time baseball was our national pastime – I’m not certain that can be said today!

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