Our Pastime’s Past Time Could Be Our Industry’s Best Time

Through expansion, I argue that baseball is perhaps less competitive today than in its past. However, survivors in precision parts manufacturing are more competitive today, which is not news to you.

 

I really became aware of major league baseball in 1961, the year the Reds went to the World Series for the first time since 1939. They lost in four games to the Yankees, but getting to the Series in 1961 was a big deal.

In fact, getting to the World Series before the Major League Baseball (MLB) expansion and the resultant creation of divisions within the leagues was huge. In my youth, only two teams made it to the postseason. Today, eight teams (four teams from each league) vie through the playoffs for a chance to make the World Series.

I looked at the standings for MLB as far back as 1920 and noticed that through 1960 the American and National Leagues each had eight teams. In 1961 the American League added two teams. The National League added two teams in 1962, bringing MLB back into balance at ten teams per league. That lasted until the 1968 season when two teams were added to each league and two divisions were set up within the league. The league championship series (LCS) was born in 1968.

Today, there are a total of 30 teams—14 American League and 16 National League—that comprise major league baseball. The two leagues each have three divisions, and come playoff time, a wildcard is selected from each league to give balance to the LCS.

Here’s a thought that I hope will at least generate some lunch table discussion as we approach MLB playoff time. Back in 1960 when there were 16 teams in baseball, did the fans see a better game than they see today? I ask this question because if one does the math, 16 teams times an individual team roster of 25 players equals a total major league pool of 400 players. In 1960, the 401st best ballplayer was in the minor leagues.

Today, that major league pool totals 750 players. If you agree with my reasoning, then 350 of the major league ballplayers we see today would have been Double- or Triple-A players in 1960—and for most of baseball’s prior history. Although today’s player is probably a better conditioned athlete, it’s arguable that the overall level of major league play has been diluted. On the other hand, I may just be a bitter, frustrated Reds fan who hasn’t even sniffed a wildcard or any playoff hope since 1990 and feels compelled to lash out at the rest of the game to explain it.

That said, perhaps this thought will get you thinking, too. Let’s look at the industry of precision parts manufacturing. If baseball has diluted its talent pool by expansion, is it possible that manufacturing may be seeing an opposite effect through productivity and automation improvements?

Through expansion, I argue that baseball is perhaps less competitive today than in its past. However, survivors in precision parts manufacturing are more competitive today, which is not news to you.

At the turn of the 20th century, more than 50 percent of the American population farmed for a living. Today, about 2 percent of our population works on farms, yet we produce more food than ever before. Could a turn-of-the-century farmer compete individually with a farmer of today? Perhaps. However, farming has changed and so have the skills necessary to do the job.

Likewise, the talent needs of the precision parts manufacturer are also changing. We’ve seen the number of people needed to make things dwindle as labor-intensive manufacturing seeks cheaper labor sources. What’s left are fewer but, in many cases, better jobs and a pool of workers that, properly trained with relevant skills, represent the manufacturing equivalent of pre-1960 MLB. To compete globally, U.S. manufacturing must recruit and field a major league team. That process starts locally. Get your scouts out to find and sign talented rookies.