- Baseball Goes West: The Dodgers, the Giants, and the Shaping of the Major Leagues by Lincoln A. Mitchell
In Baseball Goes West, Lincoln A. Mitchell pushes back against the prevailing interpretation of the Giants’ and Dodgers’ moves to California in the 1950s to argue that relocation “was absolutely central to the making of modern Major League Baseball” (4). For Mitchell, when the New York teams journeyed west, they initiated a much-needed expansion project that would help grow the game and maintain its popularity through the late twentieth century.
Mitchell’s well-researched account uses a good variety of sources including newspaper articles and data from team records. He shows that, by the mid-1950s, Major League Baseball (MLB) attendance and popularity was dropping at un unprecedented rate. According to Mitchell, baseball needed a large expansion project out west to generate more interest in new markets. Statistics on attendance show that, by the mid-1960s, MLB’s overall attendance per team had increased, adding credibility to Mitchell’s claim that the moves west in 1957 helped facilitate an important turn in the history of the game (9).
He explains a few reasons that the moves to California were successful. Baseball had made “incremental” progress westward when it put teams in Kansas City and Milwaukee, but the West Coast remained somewhat disconnected to the East by not having a major league organization (6). By bringing two of the best teams from the National League to the West Coast—and to markets eager for an MLB franchise—baseball could finally bridge the geographical gap, making the national pastime a continental sport. This helped create growth in terms of attendance figures and profit with the advent of televised baseball. In addition, the importance of Los Angeles and the entertainment industry to baseball mattered. Mitchell argues that the Dodgers’ move to LA helped forge a new relationship between baseball and Hollywood that would help enhance the game’s national profile (161).
Overall, Mitchell’s book is defined by his big historiographical move, reframing the expansion narrative as having a positive effect on the game while critiquing the “myopic” interpretations that too often focus on questions of despair and loss (4). In doing so, Mitchell does not consider the collateral damage that these historic moves caused in [End Page 94] Brooklyn and upper Manhattan. Owners Walter O’Malley and Horace Stoneham may have been “courageous and smart,” but Mitchell would have us believe that they relocated their teams for the general betterment of baseball (3). First and foremost, these owners were crass businesspeople who saw an opportunity to increase revenue and generate profit. How the neighborhoods and the people living in New York were affected by O’Malley’s and Stoneham’s decisions could have been addressed alongside the more positive developments that expansion generated. Mitchell’s book raises the question—what was the long-term impact of the relocations in setting a precedent for more contemporary relocation efforts by professional sports organizations? Owners regularly threaten city officials with relocation to leverage public funding for new stadiums, and cities risk losing millions of dollars if they do not adhere to owners’ demands.
Additionally, Mitchell’s book asserts that baseball’s move to California helped initiate a globalization effect that would have lasting positive impacts on the game. Both the Dodgers and Giants attracted large numbers of Latino and Japanese American fans and hired scouts, including Alejandro “Alex” Pompez, to recruit and sign Latino stars like Orlando Cepeda. While Mitchell rightly identifies this as a positive development for major league teams, there is research to show that MLB’s expansion into Latin American markets had devastating consequences for local and national economies in places like the Dominican Republic. For example, Rob Ruck (Raceball) and Alan Klein (Growing the Game) argue that MLB’s globalization efforts in Latin America explain its long-term success—but at a cost. These historians frame expansion as a colonial endeavor, arguing that MLB’s...