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The Day in Sports | COUNTDOWN TO 2000 / A day-by-day
recap of some of the most important sports moments
of the 20th Century: MAY 28, 1968

Baseball Progress Begins in the American League

May 28, 1999|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although baseball's American and National leagues appear to live in harmony and peace today, such was not always the case.

Their relationship was forged on an anvil of acrimony at the dawn of the century. The American League upgraded itself to major league status in 1901, but it wasn't until 1903 that, after an agreement with the National League, the two began to play each other in the World Series. Together, the two leagues fought off a two-year challenge by the Federal League during World War I.

But the two leagues have been at odds often since 1903. It dates to 1901, when the new American League outraged National League owners by placing three teams in Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston--all National League strongholds.

And so it was 31 years ago today, when a new schism opened up. The issue: divisional play.

At major league meetings in Chicago, it was announced that the American League, beginning with the 1969 season, would divide itself into two divisions and conduct best-of-five playoffs to determine its World Series participants.

The National League voted to remain an intact, 12-team league.

Said American League president Joe Cronin: "You can't sell a 12th-place club. Who wants a lot of second-division clubs? You have to look ahead 20 years, not just to next year."

Said National League president Warren Giles: "We have our differences with the American League. We don't believe in a playoff system because of baseball's history and tradition. . . . We don't believe the public will accept this."

The public did, and so did the National League.

Progressive minds prevailed and the National League too, moved on to a divisional format for the 1969 season.

Also on this date: In 1975, onetime heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles, 53, died of Lou Gehrig's disease. . . . In 1981, Angel owner Gene Autry fired manager Jim Fregosi, 39, and replaced him with Gene Mauch, 53. . . . In 1951, at the Polo Grounds, after starting out 0 for 12, 20-year-old Willie Mays got his first major league hit--a home run against Warren Spahn.

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