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A sports economy

Published October 22. 2011 09:01AM

By jim zbick

A well-known insurance company's commercial shows two parents explaining how they are investing in their financial future by teaching their 5-year-old how to dunk a basketball in hopes the child can some day land a college scholarship. The advertisement ends with the company stating that there is an easier way to save - by buying their insurance.

A century ago a writer for the Tamaqua Courier made a similar comparison with youth and the allure of big sports salaries. In his article he showed how baseball stars were generating big salaries and how World Series's shares supplemented them.

"The golden stream of dollars signified by such assemblages (the World Series attendance) haunts the dreams of many a college boy," he wrote. "His father, with his threadbare college professor's coat, may have called the game "low and unbecoming," but it looks high and becoming to the youngster as he reflects on Ty Cobb's $9,000 per year (salary)."

The local writer continued his examination on the economics of the national pastime.

"There are certain facts about average baseball salaries that can be tactfully presented by the foxy parent to the youth who looks at baseball as a gold mine for the man who does the mining," he wrote.

The writer cited an article from Outing Magazine which showed that the average salary for a professional baseball player in 1911 was about $2,000. By comparison, the average annual income in America was $520.

Superstars of the day, such as Ty Cobb, were paid much better. The players a century ago would be amazed, however, at how the major league scale has grown. The minimum salary for a major league player today is $400,000.

Of course, the dollar went much further a hundred years ago. In 1911, a pound of butter was 34 cents, a half gallon of milk was 17 cents, a pound of round steak was 18 cents, a pound of potatoes was 22 cents and a brand new car was $750. In fact, just before the 1911 World Series began Henry Ford announced that the price of his Model T was being reduced to $690.

In another column titled "Base Ball and its Prizes," a Courier writer explained how our forefathers would have been amazed to see how far the game had progressed over four decades.

In this 1911 article, he pointed out how the game had evolved from its earliest roots on the Princeton college campus, silencing those naysayers who felt the game would never survive into the 20th century.

"Games played with a stick and a ball were called 'low and unbecoming to gentlemen' on account of the alternate heats and colds of the violent exercise and tendency to accidents," he stated. "In 1868, the Yale Courant predicted that the frequent accidents would "rid the country of able bodied men.

"Today the same kind of black-coated dignitaries that wrote fearsome predictions will be quietly slipping into the grandstand to see the world's championship awarded and very likely wilting their collars under the strain and sweat of rooting."

Baseball received a marketing boost in 1903 when the World Series became its season-ending showcase.

The 1911 series was a classic rematch of the 1905 contest between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics.

Although the Philadelphia As were the defending champions coming into the 1911 series, many felt New York had the stronger team. It even had to overcome the loss of its home field when the Polo Grounds burned to the ground during the regular season.

The Philadelphia team had plenty of fan support in the coal regions. After winning the 1910 World Series, a number of Philadelphia players, along with manager Connie Mack, did some touring during the off season. One of those trips - a mid-winter banquet in Mahanoy City - brought them through the Tamaqua train station.

About 500 people braved the cold to see the team arrive at the station in three special Pullman cars that afternoon in early February. Mack, the team's legendary manager, played up to the big crowd that had assembled, stating that he'd love to have that kind of fan support in Philadelphia whenever the team went into a slump.

"We are sorry that we cannot transfer our team to Tamaqua, but as this is impossible we will ask you to remove to Philadelphia where you will always be welcome at our park to assist us in making further and successful tries for the world championship," Mack quipped.

Eight months later, Mack had his team back on baseball's grand stage. The 1911 series is remembered for the six days of rain between Games 3 and 4 which caused the longest delay in series history until the earthquake-interrupted 1989 series on the West Coast.

The batting star of the 1911 series was the Athletics' future Hall of Famer, Frank Baker, who hit .375, including two home runs. His sixth inning home run won Game 2 for the Athletics, earning him the immortal nickname of "Home run" Baker.

The six games of the 1911 World Series included attendances of 38,281, 37,216 and 33,228 in New York and crowds of 26,286, 24,355 and 20,485 for games in Philadelphia.

The World Series share for each member of the winning As was $3,655 while the Giants' players walked away with a loser's share of $2,436.

By comparison, each member of the San Francisco Giants last year earned an extra $317,631 for winning the World Series.

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