Wednesday, July 24, 2019

On This Day - "Want to Laugh at a Millionaire?"

In the summer of 1944, the Milwaukee Chicks baseball club was struggling to survive in Milwaukee. The All-American Girls' Professional Ball League team was doing well on the diamond but struggling at the box office. The last thing they could afford was a feud with one of the most powerful newspaper columnists in Milwaukee. But that's just what they got.

The first shot was fired by R. G. Lynch, who was not only a columnist but the sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal. At the end of his column "Maybe I'm Wrong", on Sunday, July 16, 1944, Lynch took square aim at Wrigley, his symphony "double-headers", and even the AAGPBL itself.

Maybe I'm Wrong
[Sports Editor]

Want to Laugh at a Millionaire? Go Ahead!

Recipe for girls' baseball popularity: Separate the bull fiddle of one symphony orchestra. Beat the musicians until stiff and bull fiddle until splintered. Fold in one girls' ball club. Pour into ball park well greased with newspaper advertising and bake three July nights and one afternoon.

You don't like the recipe? You think symphony music and glorified soft ball will not mix any better than pickles and cream? Well, the recipe was concocted by a millionaire businessman, Phil Wrigley. He is the prime backer of the All-American Girls' Professional Ball league which moved into Milwaukee and Minneapolis this year after a fairly successful start in four smaller cities last season. The league is simply dripping red ink in the two big towns. Wrigley recently decided to so something about it. He reasoned that Brewer fans got enough baseball watching the Brewers so the girls would have to interest others. A lot of persons with no interest at all in girls' baseball would have to be enticed out to the field to see the new game. What would be the bait to get them out?

"Hire the Milwaukee symphony orchestra," ordered Wrigley.

The men he pays to carry out his ideas tried to substitute a name dance band, but it was no go. Wrigley wanted symphony and, besides, Kay Kyster, Horace Heidt and the rest of the maestros of dance orchestras were unavailable.

So the Milwaukee symphony orchestra will play a one hour concert Wednesday night at Borchert field, starting at 7:30, and after that the girls will play ball. The same combination will be offered Thursday and Friday nights. Next Sunday afternoon, a musical sandwich will be on the bill of fare, with the orchestra playing between games of a double header.

Mr. Wrigley's minions hope that the music lovers who attend the concerts will not get up and walk out when the girl ballplayers take the field. Mr. Wrigley's minions, confidentially, think he is nuts, but they would not be quoted for anything—not because P. K. would fire them (he is not that way at all), but because they gave thought before that some of the millionaire gum man's ideas were screwy and have seen those nutty ideas pay off.
"Maybe I'm Wrong", indeed.

It's a bit rich that the Lynch should turn up his nose at the league being "well greased with newspaper advertising", considering how much his employer was charging the league to run its ads before every single home game. As they did with the established Brewers. Heck, there's an ad for a Brewer game literally next to his column.

   Philip K. Wrigley
   (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
We should not be surprised that Philip K. Wrigley quickly learned that he was being mocked by one of the two major daily newspapers in his newest and largest AAGPBL city. Nor should we surprised that he didn't like it. What may be surprising is his reaction; he dictated, in the words of the Journal, "a letter of four and one-half pages, single space". He sent his rant to the Journal before reconsidering and quickly forwarding a second communiqué, one that took his first letter off the record.

Lynch agreed not to publish the full original letter, but he did extensively mine it for his next column. The following Sunday, Lynch led with an in-depth review of, and response to, Wrigley's missive.

Maybe I'm Wrong
[Sports Editor]

Mr. Wrigley Makes a Point, but Too Subtly

PHIL WRIGLEY, the chewing gum and baseball man, read the comment in this column last Sunday about girls' baseball and the symphony orchestra and decided this reporter, in common with a good many others, did not understand his thinking, so he sat down and dictates a letter of four and one-half pages, single space. We enjoyed that letter and wish that our readers could enjoy it too. Unfortunately, we sent along another note as an afterthought to say that the letter was not intended for publication. However, we got permission to quote from it, so that the readers may understand why we—and probably they—did not follow Wrigley's thinking with regard to the girls' league or the symphony orchestra. It is about the most subtle thinking we have come across in a long time. The idea behind the girls' league is shrewd and the thought behind the symphony orchestra is rare, indeed!

"From the broad point of view," Wrigley wrote, "I think it can be said that softball is a substitute for baseball and as such has been frowned upon by professional baseball, but, as I have seen it, it is a substitute by necessity and not by choice. Nine times out of 10 it is played because it takes less space, less skill and less equipment than baseball, but it has one great advantage and that is it makes millions of people familiar with the fundamentals of and skill necessary for professional baseball. I do not think that anyone can argue that our national pastime is not more enjoyable and better entertainment when you at least have some idea of what it is all about."

A Girls' Sport

With soft ball becoming a substitute for baseball, this seemed to Wrigley a liability which could be turned into an asset by proper handline, "which meant recognition of the fact that because of its limitation it was not in competition with baseball but, on the contrary, through its wider possibilities, it could act as a stepping stone, or feeder, to baseball, both from the players' standpoint and that of the spectator."

Wrigley decided that the best way to mark a sharp distinction between baseball and soft ball was to label soft ball a girls' sport.

"The standards of baseball," he wrote, "are set by men, and it seems logical, therefore, to set the standards of soft ball by girls. This fact alone can prevent competition between the two sports and, at the same time, offer the so-called weaker sex... an opportunity to take part in our national pastime without being considered a freak."

The girls' league is in its second season and Wrigley, who created it, has not seen a league game. He explains:

"I am primarily a professional baseball man and for that reason I have not gone to any of the league games because I knew that I would immediately start drawing comparisons between girls' ball and baseball. This has been proven by the two exhibition games I have seen, because I immediately drew a comparison and was disappointed and, as a sports editor, I imagine you are having the same trouble. We all seem to need a basis from which to start and it seems to be human nature to follow the beaten path and make comparisons, rather than to start from scratch."

It was to avoid comparison and competition that the league started last year in cities where there was no organized baseball, he said, and went on:

"This year the league stuck its neck out by going into two cities that had professional baseball teams and by using the baseball parks—first, because they were the only places available, and, secondly, on what may be a mistaken theory of economics. Anyone who would either rent of build a hotel or office building, or a home for that matter, to be used 77 days out of the year, should have his head examined, but for a baseball club it is considered absolutely sound....

No Comparison

"The results this year have shown that it was a mistake to go into the Milwaukee and Minneapolis ball parks.... If you tried to play professional football on an ice hockey rink, you would immediately draw a comparison between ice hockey and football and naturally to the detriment of football, because both the press and the public would look at it through the eyes of and compare it with hockey....

"When you compare girls' ball with baseball, you are at the same disadvantage. Girls' ball is not in competition with, nor should it be compared with baseball any more than it is in competition with or should be compared with a symphony orchestra. That is the point we want to make, although probably nobody will get it, but at least we should get a new audience who will judge girls' ball on its own merit and not in comparison with baseball."

Apparently, Wrigley is going to stick to this problem as grimly as he stuck to his Chicago Cubs until he put them on the right road by signing Charley Grimm as manager, for it was announced Saturday that the symphony orchestra concerts would resume when the Schnitts begin their next home stand August 11 and continue the rest of the season, except when the orchestra has conflicting engagements.
It's not particularly surprising that Lynch continued to sneer at Wrigley and his league. But Wrigley's letter is stunning, and I'm not at all surprised that he (or his lawyers, or his battery of public relations professionals) tried to hold the Journal back from publishing his "letter of four and one-half pages, single space".

What's particularly stunning to me is Wrigley's admission that he hadn't watched a single league game in the year-and-a-half the AAGPBL had been in existence. And the two exhibition games he did watch made him think the product was inferior to men's baseball.

Wrigley's letter forces us to challenge our impressions and assumptions about him. Maybe Garry Marshall's portrayal of "Walter Harvey" in A League of Their Own was more on the mark than I realized: a disinterested and absentee owner more worried about filling potentially-vacant ballpark dates than in advancing the sport, or blazing a new trail, or the cause of equality, or... virtually anything.

In the film, Harvey founds the league as a backstop because he's afraid the war will rob him of his male workforce. No more men to play baseball? No worries, bring the women in. And then, when his fears prove unfounded, the candy magnate is content to toss them aside.

We're winning the war. Our situation changed. Roosevelt himself said, "Men's baseball won't be shut down." So we won't need the girls next year.

I love these girls. I don't need them, but I love them. Look at that. Come on. Let's go. Oh, look at me. I'm full of peanuts! I've got peanuts all over myself.
This is what it's gonna be like in the factories too, I suppose, isn't it? "The men are back, Rosie. Turn in your rivets." We told them it was their patriotic duty to get out of the kitchen and go to work. And now when the men come back, we'll send them back to the kitchen.
What should we do, send the boys returning from war back to the kitchen? Come on.
Do you know how dedicated these girls are? What they go through?

They play with sprained ankles, broken fingers. They ride a bus sometimes all night to play a double-header the next morning.
I'll make it up to them.
What? With Harvey Bars?
I'm getting tired of listening to you, Ira.
That does sound like the Wrigley who wrote to the Milwaukee Journal.

   Ken Sells
   (AAGPBL Players Association)
In the film, the league only survives because Ira Lowenstein, played by David Strathairn, takes it over from his boss. This, too, had its roots in reality. The Lowenstein character was based on Ken Sells, who was the assistant general manager of the Cubs when Wrigley tapped him to run the AAGPBL. Sells served as the first President of the league, running the day-to-day for the disinterested Wrigley. Sells began the transition from a single-entity league to the franchise model common to baseball, where individual operators would buy and run their own teams. That was the point when the league stopped being dependent upon the whims of a chewing-gum magnate and began to run like a real league.

So maybe we give Wrigley a little too much credit. Father of the league, to be sure, but a distant and removed one. It's worth noting that others were responsible for getting Wrigley's brainchild onto the diamond, and keeping it there. Others, presumably, who actually watched the games.

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