- The Postwar Yankees: Baseball's Golden Age Revisited
David Surdam examines Major League Baseball's most storied franchise, the New York Yankees, through the lens of an economist from 1949 to 1964. He combines historical evidence and statistical and economic analysis to investigate the New York Yankees specifically and the major and minor leagues generally from a perspective that is closer to economic and business history. To be sure, Surdam demonstrates that New York City baseball fans—the Yankees in particular—were the chief beneficiaries of the so-called "Golden Age" of baseball in Gotham. The Bronx Bombers would win fourteen pennants in sixteen years and eight World Series championships. However, Surdam attempts to probe more poignant questions like would the players regard this era as golden? Because this was a period before free agency, how did the Yankees maintain their competitive edge? Was the comforting belief that teams had roster stability during the pre-free agency period true?
Surdam provides an interesting look at the way several major league teams operated their farm systems, the primary means of player development. Running a farm system was a costly endeavor. From 1952 to 1956, the Yankees typically operated their farm system at a reported loss of $925,237 with a net gain of $8,071 in 1953. Other teams like the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians reported cumulative losses of $742,182 and $82,000 respectively during the same period. In 1953, the Yankees owned three minor league teams and having affiliations with ten more, while the St. Louis Browns had the second largest farm system, owning one team and had affiliations with eleven others. The Yankees had an impressive record of signing top-level players up to the early 1950s like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra. In the postwar years, however, the Yankees fell behind the Cleveland Indians in introducing productive players.
Another insightful issue Surdam examines deals with television's impact on minor league attendance. He reveals how the new medium's impact varied from region to region throughout the U.S. In the South for example, minor league teams that folded by 1953 face little or no competition from television. Fewer than one in twenty households in the South had television. Outside of Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia, all of the states comprising the former confederacy had rates of less than one in forty. The Great Plains states were another region where fewer than three percent of the households had television. On the other hand, the Northeast experienced some of the highest television saturation rates. Forty-two teams folded in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; at least one-sixth of the households in those states had televisions. Minor league teams in those states had the lowest survival rate of any region—less than a third of the sixty-one teams that had existed in 1949 played in 1953.
Surdam's study would have been stronger if he had considered the ways in which postwar market forces began to alter Organized Baseball's consumer market. Between 1940 and 1970, the West and South increased their share of the nation's income from 33 [End Page 485] percent to 43 percent, and their population rose from 42 percent in 1940 to 48 percent in 1970. "Sunbelt" cities escaped years of wear and tear, allowing them to offer lower taxes and more pleasant surroundings to industries seeking to relocate. Government spending stimulated economic growth and prosperity. Federal home loan policies, defense spending, highway construction, and urban renewal contributed immensely in allowing the federal government to channel tax dollars into the private sector. To urban America, government's role in capital accumulation manifested itself in federal aid, and also in local pro-growth coalitions seeking to use public funds as a catalyst for economic expansion.
The culmination of the demographic trends, government policy, and business interest fused itself into what can best be described as the suburban-industrial complex. At the peak of the...