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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 29-61
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Baseball's New Frontier
The Expansion of 1961-62
On January 20, 1961, in his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed:
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.... Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This we pledge—and more.... I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.
It's difficult to summon adjectives to describe such an attitude. The term bold doesn't really capture it. The tone of the new president was amazingly vigorous: this was self-assurance bordering on recklessness. Yet, audacious as it was, Kennedy's swagger wasn't out of step with the nation—the speech was a smash hit. The mood of the United States in the earliest years of the 1960s was well reflected by such intrepid rhetoric. At the time, anything seemed possible for Americans to achieve. A spirit of daring innovation, a lusty embrace of the new, and a fearless expectation of positive outcomes inspired the era; the JFK agenda was coined "The New Frontier."
Notions such as nostalgia and caution were distinctly passé. With grim wartime responsibilities vanishing in the rearview mirror, and with glittering vistas of progress and plenty ahead, Americans in 1960 cruised lavishly finned sedans along freshly built freeways into ever-sprawling suburbs, listening to pocket-sized radios and watching full-color television sets, fully expecting not only to win the "space race" but also to vanquish world Communism while eradicating disease, poverty, and racial discrimination, and to have it all pretty much wrapped up by 1970. Who, indeed, would wish to exchange places with any other people or any other generation? [End Page 29]
In this atmosphere of boundless national confidence, Major League baseball was ready to embark on its own adventure into a New Frontier. Elements of fundamental change had been gathering momentum in baseball: racial integration had begun in the late '40s, and by 1960 not only were a meaningful percentage of African American players active in the majors, but a steadily growing proportion of Latin American players (black, brown, and white) was present as well. 1 The first geographical franchise shift in the Major Leagues since 1903 occurred in 1953, and by 1958 five teams had moved. Already, the Major League baseball of 1960 was a distinctly different product than the one presented only a few years earlier.
But although it had been rapidly modernizing, Major League baseball was still the same sixteen-team size it had been for so many decades, and the irresistible call of the New Frontier was not merely to change but to grow —newer was fine, but bigger was better. No additional franchise had been introduced to the American League since 1901, or to the National since 1892, but amid the expansive crescendo of the JFK era, reverence for the time-honored tradition of the eight-team league and 154-game schedule was scarcely heard. Fulsome confidence in an ever-grander future was the national posture. Could the national pastime display anything less? Thus it was that in two bold strokes, Major League baseball increased its scope by 25 percent: the Los Angeles Angels and the new Washington Senators were launched in 1961; the Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets in 1962. 2
Each newborn franchise beheld a unique—literally, once-in-a-lifetime—opportunity to create itself from scratch, unburdened by historical legacy. The Angels, Senators, Colt .45s, and Mets ventured forth into the pristine New Frontier, propelled by dreams of victory, energized by fresh plans and bold expectations. In one of...