When baseball players demanded guaranteed minimum salaries and a bigger piece of the revenue pie during meetings with owners in 1946, Major League Baseball had a dollars and cents response that August. If the players were to receive more money, then they would be asked to play more games to bring in additional revenue.
The powers that be running the sport decided that the way to raise more money from fans was to schedule 14 additional games per team starting in 1947. Clubs would compete in 168 games instead of the then-standard 154-game schedule that had been in effect since 1904. During this current era of play, when 162 games are scheduled, there is often complaint that a season that begins around April 1 and does not conclude until after several playoff series late in October, is a schedule that is too long.
Current major leaguers typically have a travel day of Monday or Thursday, but a day off from play. Under the 1946 plan the 168 games would have been crammed into 167 days between April 15 and September 28–and then the World Series would begin. Players would be counted on to play every day, seven days a week.
I stumbled upon this little nugget of little-known baseball history (or trivia, perhaps) during a recent visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown. A clipping from the old New York World-Telegram dated August 29, 1946 (with no byline) reported this story after a meeting in Chicago. I was surrounded by baseball experts in the library, but none of the four that I consulted over a couple-of-day period had ever heard that a 168-game schedule was on the table.
This was the context. After World War II as the American economy began humming once more, baseball players felt underpaid. They did not have a union, but they did have an agenda. Surprisingly, since they never really had before and pretty much maintained a plantation overseer-serf relationship with the players, the owners (maybe goosed by league executives) took their employees seriously this time.
They agreed on a minimum salary for big leaguers of $5,500 a year, payments covering living costs during spring training, continuing Major League salary payments to a player sent to the minors, payment of $500 in moving expenses to a player traded if he had a family, agreement to make contributions to a players pension fund, and some additional clauses.
The owners’ lament was where was all of this money going to come from to fund these provisions–certainly not from their profits.
Players were hungry for the benefits, but they did not picture themselves working every single day without a break for six months, so they frowned on the seven-day work week. There was also a concern expressed over how to make up rain-outs. That was an era when the double-header was still common, but the idea of adding more doubleheaders was at odds with the professed goal of making more money. The alternative was to play an extra-large number of day-night doubleheaders in case of frequent rain days.
The plan for 168 games a year starting in 1947 looked as if it might take hold, but additional meetings followed with the players’ voices against the deal growing louder, and the proposal went away. The Major League Baseball Players Association–the players’ union–was founded in 1953. Not until the players hired Marvin Miller as their representative in 1966, however, did the players make many inroads in gaining benefits. The minimum salary was still $6,000–this year it is $490,000.
As we all know, though, Major League Baseball never did turn to a 168-game regular season. In 1961, the American League adopted the 162-game schedule and in 1962, the National League did likewise, both making the change because of expansion. Of course, for the teams that qualify for the playoffs, which didn’t exist in 1946, it’s possible to play more than 170 games en route to a World Series title.