- Bill Giles and Baseball by John B. Lord
Despite the title Bill Giles and Baseball, John B. Lord’s work is markedly different from a conventional biography about the former Philadelphia Phillies president and owner; rather, it is a history of baseball since 1980 from a business and marketing perspective. After the first chapter, “A Rapid-Fire Exposition of the Business of Baseball from the Beginning to 1981,” most of Lord’s book focuses on the 1981 to 2002 era. This period saw significant labor problems (the strikes in 1981 and 1994), skyrocketing salaries, and more expansion franchises, while the 1990s may have been the most tumultuous in baseball history: no World Series in the strike-shortened 1994 season, expanded playoffs, three divisions in each league, interleague play, realignment, and changes in business and marketing. The optimistic Lord concludes his book with ten reasons that baseball has grown since 2002, including a positive assessment of the stability that the controversial Bud Selig brought during his long reign as commissioner, including how the labor problems of the NBA, NFL, and NHL have largely been avoided. Readers may enjoy the “what if” scenarios also included here: how the National League almost adopted the designated hitter in 1980; the proposed radical realignment of teams switching divisions and leagues to more naturally accommodate time zones (for example, Giles thought the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, [End Page 267] Kansas City Royals, and Colorado Rockies should be in the same division, while also supporting a Phillies move to the American League East to be with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox); and even contractions of some small-market franchises.
Giles has a long history with the Phillies organization since joining them as vice president of business operations in 1969. But he had previously worked with the Houston Astros/Colt .45s, including overseeing the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Astrodome. Indeed, some of the most interesting material is in the chapter “Bill Giles and His Ballparks,” as Giles later oversaw the construction of Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Park, all three parks reflecting shifting attitudes about ballparks. Drawing from personal interviews with Giles, as well as from Giles’s own recent memoir—Pouring Six Beers at a Time: And Other Stories from a Lifetime in Baseball (Triumph Books, 2007)—Lord recounts where Giles stood on various issues, whether it was Commissioner Fay Vincent (who merits his own chapter) or interleague play (Giles was described as the “number one member of the Interleague Play Booster Club”). Lord views regional and national television rights as perhaps the most significant factor in the explosion of baseball revenues (and corresponding player salaries) and sees Giles, who championed the failed cable network TBN (The Baseball Network) in the 1980s, as one of television’s most ardent supporters. Owners’ meetings also factor heavily in Lord’s history, and some of the more interesting tidbits are those concerning George W. Bush’s (surprising) amicability during his time as Texas Rangers owner.
Lord, professor of marketing at Saint Joseph’s University where he specializes in sports marketing, reveals his comfort with discussing the intricacies of the business of baseball. Reading about the changing role of the commissioner (from “umpire of baseball” to “CEO of baseball”) may not be to every baseball fan’s taste, but this is the type of “industrial” history that baseball studies sorely needs. This book is recommended for baseball history courses as one of the best books on how the game has evolved since 1980. It serves as a companion piece to Ken Burns’s The Tenth Inning (2010); those that criticize that documentary for focusing too heavily on steroids may prefer Lord’s treatment of the same years, as he (perhaps refreshingly) hardly mentions the devastating effects of steroids on the game, instead focusing on how the national pastime has become increasingly international and other ways that baseball has expanded its fan base.