|The Ten Men Who Have Most Influenced Baseball as We Know it Today|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on March 31, 2003
I have no doubt that this list will be somewhat controversial and I invite opinions, ideas and debate over this topic.
1) Alexander Joy Cartwright/Duncan Curry/Henry Chadwick/ William Tucker/ “Doc” Adams/Abner Doubleday
All of these men have claims to being the “Father” of the game of baseball. However of all of the claims the best one probably belongs to Alexander Cartwright who was a founding member of the original Knickerbockers Baseball team along with Curry, Tucker and Adams - all of whom probably had some part in forming the game. Cartwright however wrote down and codified the rules of the New York game (another variant, the Massachusetts game, existed) which became what we know as baseball today. He is credited with determining the distance between bases, base lines, fair and foul territory, the shape of the field, number of players, number of outs, and supposedly created the role of shortstop among other rules.
Henry Chadwick has also been called the “Father of Baseball” but Chadwick was a writer not a player and what he did was write about the game and spread its popularity as well as create the modern box score and scoring system. He believed and made publicly known that he believed the game evolved from an old English game known as rounders.
However the most important man in the game at the turn of the century was Albert Spaulding and Spaulding considered an English origin to the game unacceptable and he needed an American origin for the game. So with the help of a commission on the origin of the game he created one. Backed by the testimony of an old miner named Abner Graves, Spaulding created a myth that the game had been created by General Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. There is no evidence to back that up and in 67 volumes of memoirs written by Doubleday there is not a single mention of the game.
Ironically upon Chadwick’s death in 1908 Spaulding sent a flower arrangement shaped like a baseball and spelling out the words “the Father of Baseball” to the grave. He also purchased the plot and raised money for the monument bearing those same same words which stand over Chadwick’s grave today.
2) Ban Johnson - While Cartwright may have invented the game as we know it today without Ban Johnson there might only be the National League. Johnson transformed a minor league known as the Western League into what we know as the American League today. For more information on that see What Every Fan Should Know: The Birth of the American League.
However Johnson did a lot more than that. He led a drive to clean up the game and abolish cheating and unfair practices, he gave the umpires authority and protected and backed them up which turned the game into a family game getting rid of a lot of the abuse and threats to the umps as well as cleaning up language on the field. He served as league president and was the real authority in the game up until the appointment of baseball’s first commissioner - a job Johnson wanted badly. He retired from the game in 1927.
3) Kenesaw Mountain Landis - Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis came into the game when it was most in need of an outside influence which was beyond reproach to clean up the game. Landis was selected as the first commissioner of the game in the wake of the Black Sox Scandal (see What Every Fan Should Know: The Black Sox Scandal) of 1919. He was one of the only commissioners allowed to rule with an iron hand and powers unprecedented in the history of the game. Following commissioners have had that power largely taken away by ownerships who realized it was not in their best interest to have a commissioner who could unilaterally override their collective decisions.
Landis is most noted for throwing out the eight members of the Black Sox who sold the World Series to gamblers and restoring integrity and the fan’s trust to the game. WIthout him as a figurehead and a leader the game might have died in the early 20s.
4) Babe Ruth - Babe Ruth single handedly turned the game of baseball on its ear, ending the age of the dead ball and changing the nature of the game from a singles game into a power hitters game. Ruth is still considered by most the greatest player of all time.
5) US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt - During World War II baseball was considered to be important to the morale of the American people and at the request of the president it was not shut down like other sports despite the fact that most of the best athletes were taken away to fight in the war. However FDR did not want the game to impede the country’s war efforts so he requested that baseball make an effort to play at night - and they did. Leading to the creation of widespread night baseball who’s impact long outlasted the war.
The first games of night baseball were played by Negro Leaguers long before it was ever done by the Major Leagues.
6) Branch Rickey - Rickey was a great innovator who transformed the games in many ways. However there are two accomplishments which really set him apart from the pack. The first was the creation of the minor league systems as a feeder/farm system for the big league teams. The second was having the courage to bring Jackie Robinson to the big leagues and challenge the powers that be when it came to race and baseball. While Robinson had to take the abuse and deal with being the first black man in the majors he would not have been able to do it without the courage and backing of Rickey and a commissioner who both has a sense of social justice who allowed him to play.*
Rickey spent a lot of time making sure that when the color barrier fell, it would stay fallen. To that end he spent months interviewing, researching and seeking the player who could help open the doors of baseball to all men. Without his courage Jackie Robinson may never have played in the majors and the civil rights movement might even have been set back by years. That was a change greater than baseball.
* Bill Veeck had wanted to break the color barrier years earlier and had plans to bring negro players to the majors but was stopped by Commissioner Landis who would not allow it.
7) Walter O’Malley - Its been said that the three most hated men in New York were Adolph Hitler, Beneto Mussolini and Walter O’Malley who took the Dodgers from Brooklyn and convinced the Giants to move west with him (for the true story behind the scenes I suggest you read Michael Shapiro’s ÒThe Last Good Season Ó
This turned major league baseball into a true national sport instead of one which ended at the eastern bank of the Mississippi river. It was made possible by jet travel and opened new markets to the game.
8) Bill Shea - After the Giants and Dodgers left New York City, the City was without National league baseball for the first time since the birth of the game and the organization of the National league. That was not going to last and the man who most pushed for New York baseball was William Shea. Shea was an attorney who loved baseball and used all of his ability to get a National League team for NY.
After failed attempts to get the Pirates, Phillies or Reds to relocate, Shea petitioned the National League to consider expansion - there were a number of cities besides New York who were itching for baseball. The NL refused.
So Shea and Branch Rickey in 1960 forced the National League’s hand by announcing the creation of the 8 team Continental League intended to be the third major league with teams initially in New York, Houston, Denver, Toronto and Minneapolis.
Rather than face this competition Walter O’Malley approached Commissioner Ford Frick and the league owners and convinced them that expansion was preferable to competition - so the NL awarded franchises to NY and Houston for the 1962 season. It was the first expansion of the NL since the league had contracted in 1899.
8) Curt Flood - Curt Flood took baseball to court and exposed the ugly truths in the labor practices of the Major leagues for over 100 years by challenging the reserve clause. He laid the groundwork for free agency which changed the very basics of the game. For full details see “What Every Fan Should Know: The Curt Flood Case”.
9) Marvin Miller - Marvin Miller’s name is synonymous with labor relations first as a union leader for the Steelworkers of America then for the Major League Baseball Players Association (the players union). Before this the players union had always caved in to owners demands and had no real voice in how the game was played. Miller helped the players find the steel in their own backbone and stand up in a united front to ownership - and that changed everything.
He got the players to pay for Curt Flood’s challenge to the reserve clause which not only brought about free agency but collective bargaining which has lead to much better conditions for athletes and ended many exploitive practices.
Unfortunately social reform of this type is rarely without problems and Miller also had to lead the players in their first strike in1972 and additional labor stoppages in 1980 and 1981 which have plagued the game.
He was succeeded as head of the MLBPA by Donald Fehr in 1982
10) Bud Selig - Its hard to be a fan of Bud Selig but he has given us two innovations which have changed the game as we know it: interleague play and the Wild Card. While I’m not crazy about interleague play I believe the Wild card has played a tremendous role in the revitalizing of the game. Neither of these ideas belonged to Selig but he was a big proponent of both - and both have happened during his tenure as commissioner.
Charlie Finley - Baseball owner and innovator.
Bill Veeck - One of baseball’s greatest innovators who stressed that baseball was a form of entertainment - and that pleasing the crowds was the key.
George Steinbrenner - Exploited the free agency system and gave the first million dollar contract. Many people feel he is the force which has distorted the free market values of players over the past several decades.
Connie Mack - Owner/manager of the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years - a strategist and innovator.
Earl Weaver - Strategic innovator.
Bartlett Giamatti - Threw Pete Rose out of baseball to protect its image and made an example making sure that the modern player understood that no one was above the rules.
Jackie Robinson - The player selected by Branch Rickey to break the color barrier, it took a lot of effort and was a true test of courage for any man to face. I chose Rickey over Jackie only because Rickey made it possible for Jackie to do what he did and that role is often forgotten.
John Haydler - President of the National League who originally proposed the DH rule in 1928 - for the National League. It was initiated in 1973 during the tenure of commissioner Bowie Kuhn - since then it has been adapted and used by every baseball professional league in the world, except the National League.
Masanori Murakami - The first asian pitcher to make the majors. He played for the San Francisco Giants from 1964-1965.