Monday, September 27, 2004

Time Out for Baseball

I first paid attention to a radio broadcast of a major league baseball game in about 1947. My grandmother, who was a die-hard fan of the Detroit Tigers, would tune in the Tigers' games when she could pick up the signal of WXYZ, a Detroit station about 150 miles distant from her small lakeside village atop Michigan's "thumb". (If you didn't know that Michigan has a thumb, look at a map.)

Anyway, at that time Detroit's play-by-play announcer and baseball analyst, rolled into one, was Harry Heilmann -- not a household name these days, but a former Detroit great who was a four-time American League batting champ in the 1920s. The Tigers, by default, became the team I rooted for until I switched my allegiance to the (gasp!) New York Yankees about 30 years later. (That's another story.)

I'm reciting this bit of personal trivia just to let you know how long I've been a baseball fan. Because...when I opened the sports section of today's paper to the baseball standings, I was struck by this fact: Each of the teams that now lead baseball's six divisions (three in the American League, three in the National League) represents a franchise that was established before major league baseball began to expand after the 1960 season. From 1901 through 1960, there were 16 major league baseball teams (that number has since grown to 30). In fact, from 1903 through 1952 those 16 teams stayed put. And they stayed put in relatively few cities: Boston (one American League team, one National League team), New York (one AL team, two NL teams, including Brooklyn), Philadelphia (one AL, one NL), Pittsburgh (one NL), Washington (one AL), Cleveland (one AL), Cincinnati (one NL), Detroit (one AL), Chicago (one AL, one NL), and St. Louis (one AL, one NL).

Now, the six division-leading teams are:

New York Yankees (what a surprise!), representing a franchise that has been in New York City since 1903. (The New York franchise replaced an original American League team known as the...Baltimore Orioles.)

Minnesota Twins, formerly the Washington Senators (1901-60).

Oakland Athletics, formerly the Philadelphia Athletics (1901-54) and the Kansas City Athletics (1955-68).

Atlanta Braves, formerly the Boston Braves (1876-1952) and the Milwaukee Braves (1953-65).

St. Louis Cardinals, in business since 1892.

Los Angeles Dodgers, formerly (of course) the Brooklyn Dodgers (1890-1957). And here's where the Dodgers played, from 1913 through 1957 -- famed Ebbets Field:

Oh, and here's Harry Heilmann, in his playing days: