In writing this piece I have solicited a lot
of opinions, researched a ton, and made a list that no doubt many
baseball fans will disagree with. However what you’ll see here
is my opinion as to who the 10 men who most influenced the game
we watch today - as well as a half dozen or so who deserve honorable
mentions. Several of them have been written about here at At Home
Plate, and I’ve tried to link to relevant articles (or series)
when possible. Those who’ve not been written about will be
topics for future articles - hopefully we can cover all of them
before the year is out. I’ve tried to look past the obvious
in writing this and to give kudos to a lot of men who have been
behind the scenes in most of the key changes to the game. In that
I hope you’ll be forgiving of the fact that only two players
made the top 10 and a third only got an honorable mention.
Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 01 May 2007
I have no doubt that this list will be somewhat controversial and
I invite opinions, ideas and debate over this topic.
1) Alexander Joy Cartwright/Duncan Curry/Henry Chadwick/
William Tucker/ “Doc” Adams/Abner Doubleday
All of these men have claims to being the “Father” of
the game of baseball. However of all of the claims the best one
probably belongs to Alexander Cartwright who was a founding member
of the original Knickerbockers Baseball team along with Curry, Tucker
and Adams - all of whom probably had some part in forming the game.
Cartwright however wrote down and codified the rules of the New
York game (another variant, the Massachusetts game, existed) which
became what we know as baseball today. He is credited with determining
the distance between bases, base lines, fair and foul territory,
the shape of the field, number of players, number of outs, and supposedly
created the role of shortstop among other rules.
Henry Chadwick has also been called the “Father of Baseball”
but Chadwick was a writer not a player and what he did was write
about the game and spread its popularity as well as create the modern
box score and scoring system. He believed and made publicly known
that he believed the game evolved from an old English game known
However the most important man in the game at the turn of the century
was Albert Spaulding and Spaulding considered an English origin
to the game unacceptable and he needed an American origin for the
game. So with the help of a commission on the origin of the game
he created one. Backed by the testimony of an old miner named Abner
Graves, Spaulding created a myth that the game had been created
by General Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. There
is no evidence to back that up and in 67 volumes of memoirs written
by Doubleday there is not a single mention of the game.
Ironically upon Chadwick’s death in 1908 Spaulding sent a flower
arrangement shaped like a baseball and spelling out the words “the
Father of Baseball” to the grave. He also purchased the plot
and raised money for the monument bearing those same same words
which stand over Chadwick’s grave today.
2) Ban Johnson
- While Cartwright may have invented
the game as we know it today without Ban Johnson there might only
be the National League. Johnson transformed a minor league known
as the Western League into what we know as the American League today.
For more information on that see What Every
Fan Should Know: The Birth of the American League
However Johnson did a lot more than that. He led a drive to clean
up the game and abolish cheating and unfair practices, he gave the
umpires authority and protected and backed them up which turned
the game into a family game getting rid of a lot of the abuse and
threats to the umps as well as cleaning up language on the field.
He served as league president and was the real authority in the
game up until the appointment of baseball’s first commissioner
- a job Johnson wanted badly. He retired from the game in 1927.
3) Kenesaw Mountain Landis
- Federal Judge Kenesaw
Mountain Landis came into the game when it was most in need of an
outside influence which was beyond reproach to clean up the game.
Landis was selected as the first commissioner of the game in the
wake of the Black Sox Scandal (see What
Every Fan Should Know: The Black Sox Scandal
) of 1919. He was
one of the only commissioners allowed to rule with an iron hand
and powers unprecedented in the history of the game. Following commissioners
have had that power largely taken away by ownerships who realized
it was not in their best interest to have a commissioner who could
unilaterally override their collective decisions.
Landis is most noted for throwing out the eight members of the Black
Sox who sold the World Series to gamblers and restoring integrity
and the fan’s trust to the game. WIthout him as a figurehead
and a leader the game might have died in the early 20s.
4) Babe Ruth
- Babe Ruth single handedly turned
the game of baseball on its ear, ending the age of the dead ball
and changing the nature of the game from a singles game into a power
hitters game. Ruth is still considered by most the greatest player
of all time.
5) US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
World War II baseball was considered to be important to the morale
of the American people and at the request of the president it was
not shut down like other sports despite the fact that most of the
best athletes were taken away to fight in the war. However FDR did
not want the game to impede the country’s war efforts so he
requested that baseball make an effort to play at night - and they
did. Leading to the creation of widespread night baseball who’s
impact long outlasted the war.
The first games of night baseball were played by Negro Leaguers
long before it was ever done by the Major Leagues.
6) Branch Rickey
- Rickey was a great innovator
who transformed the games in many ways. However there are two accomplishments
which really set him apart from the pack. The first was the creation
of the minor league systems as a feeder/farm system for the big
league teams. The second was having the courage to bring Jackie
Robinson to the big leagues and challenge the powers that be when
it came to race and baseball. While Robinson had to take the abuse
and deal with being the first black man in the majors he would not
have been able to do it without the courage and backing of Rickey
and a commissioner who both has a sense of social justice who allowed
him to play.*
Rickey spent a lot of time making sure that when the color barrier
fell, it would stay fallen. To that end he spent months interviewing,
researching and seeking the player who could help open the doors
of baseball to all men. Without his courage Jackie Robinson may
never have played in the majors and the civil rights movement might
even have been set back by years. That was a change greater than
* Bill Veeck had wanted to break the color barrier years earlier
and had plans to bring negro players to the majors but was stopped
by Commissioner Landis who would not allow it.
7) Walter O’Malley
- Its been said that the
three most hated men in New York were Adolph Hitler, Beneto Mussolini
and Walter O’Malley who took the Dodgers from Brooklyn and
convinced the Giants to move west with him (for the true story behind
the scenes I suggest you read Michael Shapiro’s ÒThe
Last Good Season Ó
This turned major league baseball into a true national sport instead
of one which ended at the eastern bank of the Mississippi river.
It was made possible by jet travel and opened new markets to the
8) Bill Shea
- After the Giants and Dodgers left
New York City, the City was without National league baseball for
the first time since the birth of the game and the organization
of the National league. That was not going to last and the man who
most pushed for New York baseball was William Shea. Shea was an
attorney who loved baseball and used all of his ability to get a
National League team for NY.
After failed attempts to get the Pirates, Phillies or Reds to relocate,
Shea petitioned the National League to consider expansion - there
were a number of cities besides New York who were itching for baseball.
The NL refused.
So Shea and Branch Rickey in 1960 forced the National League’s
hand by announcing the creation of the 8 team Continental League
intended to be the third major league with teams initially in New
York, Houston, Denver, Toronto and Minneapolis.
Rather than face this competition Walter O’Malley approached
Commissioner Ford Frick and the league owners and convinced them
that expansion was preferable to competition - so the NL awarded
franchises to NY and Houston for the 1962 season. It was the first
expansion of the NL since the league had contracted in 1899.
8) Curt Flood
- Curt Flood took baseball to court
and exposed the ugly truths in the labor practices of the Major
leagues for over 100 years by challenging the reserve clause. He
laid the groundwork for free agency which changed the very basics
of the game. For full details see “What Every Fan Should Know:
The Curt Flood Case
9) Marvin Miller
- Marvin Miller’s name is
synonymous with labor relations first as a union leader for the
Steelworkers of America then for the Major League Baseball Players
Association (the players union). Before this the players union had
always caved in to owners demands and had no real voice in how the
game was played. Miller helped the players find the steel in their
own backbone and stand up in a united front to ownership - and that
He got the players to pay for Curt Flood’s challenge to the
reserve clause which not only brought about free agency but collective
bargaining which has lead to much better conditions for athletes
and ended many exploitive practices.
Unfortunately social reform of this type is rarely without problems
and Miller also had to lead the players in their first strike in1972
and additional labor stoppages in 1980 and 1981 which have plagued
He was succeeded as head of the MLBPA by Donald Fehr in 1982
10) Bud Selig
- Its hard to be a fan of Bud Selig
but he has given us two innovations which have changed the game
as we know it: interleague play and the Wild Card. While I’m
not crazy about interleague play I believe the Wild card has played
a tremendous role in the revitalizing of the game. Neither of these
ideas belonged to Selig but he was a big proponent of both - and
both have happened during his tenure as commissioner.
- Baseball owner and innovator.
- One of baseball’s greatest innovators
who stressed that baseball was a form of entertainment - and that
pleasing the crowds was the key.
- Exploited the free agency
system and gave the first million dollar contract. Many people feel
he is the force which has distorted the free market values of players
over the past several decades.
- Owner/manager of the Philadelphia
Athletics for 50 years - a strategist and innovator.
- Strategic innovator.
- Threw Pete Rose out of baseball
to protect its image and made an example making sure that the modern
player understood that no one was above the rules.
- The player selected by Branch
Rickey to break the color barrier, it took a lot of effort and was
a true test of courage for any man to face. I chose Rickey over
Jackie only because Rickey made it possible for Jackie to do what
he did and that role is often forgotten.
- President of the National League
who originally proposed the DH rule in 1928 - for the National League.
It was initiated in 1973 during the tenure of commissioner Bowie
Kuhn - since then it has been adapted and used by every baseball
professional league in the world, except the National League.
- The first asian pitcher to
make the majors. He played for the San Francisco Giants from 1964-1965.