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The Postwar Yankees

Baseball's Golden Age Revisited

David George Surdam

Publication Year: 2008

The Yankees and New York baseball entered a golden age between 1949 and 1964, a period during which the city was represented in all but one World Series. While the Yankees dominated, however, the years were not so golden for the rest of baseball.

In The Postwar Yankees: Baseball’s Golden Age Revisited, David G. Surdam deconstructs this idyllic period to show that while the Yankees piled on pennants and World Series titles through the 1950s, Major League Baseball attendance consistently declined and gate-revenue disparity widened through the mid-1950s. Contrary to popular belief, the era was already experiencing many problems that fans of today’s game bemoan, including a competitive imbalance and callous owners who ran the league like a cartel. Fans also found aging, decrepit stadiums ill-equipped for the burgeoning automobile culture, while television and new forms of leisure competed for their attention.

Through an economist’s lens, Surdam brings together historical documents and off-the-field numbers to reconstruct the period and analyze the roots of the age’s enduring mythology, examining why the Yankees and other New York teams were consistently among baseball’s elite and how economic and social forces set in motion during this golden age shaped the sport into its modern incarnation.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-ix

Writing this book was truly a team effort. I’ve been helped by the kindness of friends as well as that of strangers. ...

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Introduction: What Golden Age?

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pp. 1-10

The New York Yankees have dominated Major League Baseball in recent years, leaving many fans waxing nostalgic about a time when the sport was not ruled by teams with large payrolls. Many fans born just before and during the postwar baby boom remember the era fondly. Major League Baseball of that time conjures images of a golden age ...

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1. Those Damn Yankees

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pp. 11-31

Almost every American has heard of the mighty New York Yankees. Even those who are not baseball fans know that the Yankees epitomize championship baseball. The team’s resurgence beginning in 1996 has created the usual hand-wringing and cries to “break up the Yankees.” Yet the current team has a long way to go before rivaling the records ...

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2. Player Movement and Building the Yankees

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pp. 32-58

During the postwar era Major League ballclubs depended upon their farm systems, trades, and purchases to stock their teams. Despite the rise of free agency in the 1970s, not much has changed in terms of player distribution. As with today’s game, good players tended to end up with wealthier teams, as poorer teams traded or sold their stars. ...

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3. The Game on the Ledger

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pp. 59-84

The dominance of the New York Yankees from 1921 through 1964 eventually weakened the American League on the field and in the stands. The Yankees’ almost monotonous success in the late 1940s through the mid-1960s exemplified the dangers of having a single team dominate the sport. The team’s supremacy was most deleterious to ...

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4. Changing Demographics, Suburbia, and Leisure Patterns

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pp. 85-125

The postwar years brought myriad changes to American society, from large-scale movement to the suburbs and a rise in leisure time and spending. Baseball seemingly stood to reap the benefits of a society with more time on its hands and more money for recreational use. But in fact clubs in both leagues experienced a drop in attendance in the years beginning with the Korean War. Aside from competitive ...

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5. Television and Baseball

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pp. 126-162

Television was the newest, and possibly “baddest,” entertainment bully on the block during the postwar era. The medium perplexed baseball owners. Detroit Tigers owner John Fetzer had perhaps the most astute observation about television and baseball: “Baseball has been engaged in a constantly changing and developing relationship with ...

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6. Where Is Robin Hood When You Need Him?

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pp. 163-180

One potential remedy for the American League doldrums during the 1950s was revenue sharing, in the form of gate sharing between teams. Revenue sharing was not new then—it had been around since the inception of professional baseball. The practice was sometimes controversial, however, given different teams’ ability to draw fans at home and away, among other things. Revenue-sharing agreements began ...

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7. Isn’t Anybody Going to Help That Game?

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pp. 181-208

Given the Yankees’ continued success and its deleterious effect upon attendance, did the rival American League owners attempt any innovations to redress the imbalance? Woeful teams had access to an untapped source of playing talent: black players. The population shifts of the 1940s and 1950s made new cities attractive alternatives to the decaying eastern cities. Finally, poorer teams could push for new rules ...

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8. The Major League Cartel

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pp. 209-243

The events of 1946–64 occurred within the context of a Major League Baseball cartel. While the Yankees and the other teams acted independently in most contexts, they banded together under joint league frameworks. In most businesses a dominant firm such as the Yankees would desire to drive out rivals. Of course, the Yankees had a symbiotic relationship with the Kansas City Athletics and St. Louis Browns. The ...

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9. The Sixteen-Headed Hydra

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pp. 244-277

The Major League Baseball cartel consisted of sixteen (and later twenty) independent, often strong-willed owners. Sometimes owners had to band together to prevent a maverick owner’s self-interest from injuring the group. On other occasions owners acted jointly to curb the injurious effects of too much competition within the group. Hence, the ...

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10. The Yankees’ Dynasty

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pp. 278-302

For most of the era New York towered over its rivals, especially at the gate. American League attendance shrank overall after 1949. Part of the decline in attendance certainly did not result from the monotony of Yankee pennants, as even the more competitive National League suffered an attendance decline during the 1950s. Yet the 1949–53 Yankees saw attendance at the stadium fall by almost one-third, however, despite ...

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Epilogue: What If the Golden Age Ended and Nobody Cared?

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pp. 303-305

By 1966 the Braves were ensconced in Atlanta, and Charlie Finley was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to transfer to the greener fields of Oakland. Los Angeles and San Francisco baseball fans were ecstatic with their Major League teams. Whatever golden age the New York Yankees had experienced, in 1966 the glow was gone, with attendance ...

Appendix of Tables

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pp. 307-352


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pp. 353-402


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pp. 403-409


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pp. 411-425

E-ISBN-13: 9780803218758
E-ISBN-10: 0803218753

Page Count: 540
Illustrations: 37 tables
Publication Year: 2008