Fran Zimniuch. Baseball's New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. 232 pp. Cloth, $19.99.
Zimniuch begins the book with background information on the first major geographical shift in Major League Baseball. In a unanimous decision by National League owners, Walter O'Malley's Brooklyn Dodgers and Horace Stoneham's New York Giants moved to Los Angeles and San Francisco on May 28, 1957, respectively (19). O'Malley and Stoneham were presented with better stadium facilities and economic opportunities in Los Angeles and San Francisco than what was offered in Brooklyn and the Meadowlands. Chapter 2, "The Continental League," demonstrates how the fear of a third major league sparked expansion. After the Dodgers' and Giants' departure, New York City's mayor, Robert Wagner, created the Mayor's Baseball Committee to bring a major-league team back to New York. William Shea, a prominent New York attorney, led the commission, but Zimniuch argues it was Branch Rickey's involvement as the potential Continental League commissioner that legitimized the rival league. With Rickey's notoriety and the financial acumen of eight owners who committed $2.5 million and funded stadiums to hold 35,000 fans, the Continental League announced its plans for opening day on April 18, 1961 (33). Threatened by competition from a third major league, American League and National League owners offered four new teams to Los Angeles, Washington DC, Houston, and New York. As a result, the Continental League owners accepted the proposal and the league folded on August 2, 1960, before any games were played (36).
Zimniuch then chronicles all of the expansion teams: California Angels and Washington Senators in 1961; Houston Colt .455 and New York Mets in 1962; Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots, San Diego Padres, and Montreal Expos in 1969; Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays in 1977; Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins in 1993; and Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998. The analysis on the expansion teams is disappointing and redundant. Each chapter details the finances of the expansion draft, the players selected, a history of each team's struggle for respectability, and long quotes from a player involved on the team, concluding with team highlights and a list of best players.
However, sandwiched between the encyclopedic listings is a chapter on the abolition of the reserve clause. Chapter 6, "The Pendulum of Power Swings to the Players," is the most valuable portion of the book because it analyzes how Curt Flood's lawsuit changed Major League Baseball. Zimniuch presents the plight of the players nicely by highlighting previous lawsuits like Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League in 1922, Toolson v. New York Yankees in 1953, and Flood v. Kuhn in 1973. Curt Flood's Supreme Court case resulted in arbitration for the players, and Zimniuch concludes his chapter by describing Andy Messersmith's and Dave McNally's fight on behalf of the players following Flood's lawsuit. Messersmith and McNally, who pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Montreal Expos, played the 1975 season without a signed contract. After the season ended, a three-person Major League Baseball arbitration panel decreed that players were only tied to their teams one year after their contracts expired. Consequently, as Zimniuch notes, the "decision rendered the reserve clause ineffective, ending the enormous power and control it had given the owners for decades" (112). The owners and the players eventually agreed to allow veterans with more than six years of experience the opportunity to sign with other teams. By 1976, notable players like Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Steve Stone, and Gary Matthews qualified for free agency.
The excerpts on the Florida Marlins and the Arizona Diamondbacks are also very educational. Both teams had the mentality to select veteran and highly priced players in the expansion draft, which led to the Marlins winning the World Series in 1997 and the Diamondbacks in 2001. However, both teams plunged into mediocrity afterward, and Zimniuch could have delved deeper into baseball's disparity in wealth and the competitive advantage it gives to large-market and established teams.
The final four chapters, "Expanding on Expansion: "Bottom Feeding: "The Characters of Expansion: and "Baseball's Brave New World," largely repeat the weak analysis in the preceding chapters. A more thorough examination of baseball's expansion with interviews from Major League Baseball executives, the teams' fans, and newspaper accounts should have been interwoven with the team histories. Zimniuch also skips over the major team relocations, which are just as important to the new communities and their effect on Major League Baseball. Baseball's New Frontier is a fine book to learn about a brief history of expansion teams, but Zimniuch only scratches the surface on the topic and leaves me wondering where this book fits into the vast amount of baseball literature.
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|Title Annotation:||BOOK REVIEWS|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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