Baseball in the Year 2000: Predictions from 1981

Well, this isn’t the preview guide analysis that I expected to post tonight, but it seemed too interesting to pass up.

This evening, the 1981 Sporting News Baseball Yearbook that I found on ebay was delivered to my house. I was excited to look through it, to see what they had to say about baseball at that time… could they foresee Fernando-mania? Was the Dodgers-Yankees Series predicted? Did people realize just how phenomenal Rickey’s rookie year was, and what it would lead to? Was Mike Schmidt’s status as the greatest third-basemen ever recognized this early (Schmidt and George Brett do share a cover on the magazine)?

Looking through the magazine, I came across an article with a great premise: predicting what will happen to baseball in the year 2000, still 20 years away from the time this was written. Introducing the article, author Joseph Surso wrote, with tongue at least a little in cheek:

“One thing you can bet on: the green that will continue to transform the game the most is mint-green, not grass-green. And, considering the stampede for green at all levels of the game in 1981, you almost can envision three leagues, at least six divisions and maybe nine, tiers of playoffs, a World Series with Japan and Latin America, 7-foot pitchers, $3,000,000-a-year stars, 10 or so men to a side, metal bats, rabbit balls, monster promotional give-aways every night, network control of schedules and maybe even of players’ contracts, and $25 tickets if all the above don’t work.”

What I like best about this vision isn’t how right most of it is (7-foot pitchers, monster promotional give-aways, network control of schedules), but just how naively insufficient some of those numbers are ($3 million players? $25 tickets?). It’s easy to imagine that these numbers were actually put in there as kind of a “worst case scenario” prediction, yet Major League Baseball has blown these numbers out of the water.

But the article doesn’t spend much time paying attention to the author’s point-of-view, and instead focuses on the predictions of several prominent baseball men.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (speaking “whimsically”): “In the year 2000… I see Pete Rose getting 200 hits… I see the National League favoring interleague play and the American League opposed… The National League will adopt the DH and the American League will abandon it…”

Stan Musial (whose NL record for hits was expected to be eclipsed by Rose that year): “In the year 2000, everybody will be making a million dollars with pay TV. That’s the salvation of sports: pay TV…”

Ray Grebey, director of labor relations for MLB: “Pay TV? Everybody thinks it will revolutionize the economics of the game. But pay tv isn’t necessarily an extra source of revenue for baseball. You can only show your game in one place. So I don’t foresee a revolution, I don’t think things will be much different from now if we all keep our heads and work out our problems. But as for $1 million a year or $2 million a year for everybody, there’s no way that baseball could stand it…”

That last quote by MLB Labor Relations Director Ray Grebey is the biggie, in my mind… Baseball couldn’t stand $1 or $2 millions dollar annual contracts? Wow. I know that salary structures were significantly different back then and that free agency hadn’t yet left it’s real mark on the sport (these magazines actually provide a pretty good look at the contemporary feelings of free agency from year to year) and that this quote comes from MLB’s senior spin man, but it still seems crazy to think the people couldn’t foresee the vast amounts of money that could come into the business of baseball in 20 years time.

There are a couple more interesting takes on the “baseball in the year 2000” theme:

Sadaharu Oh: “In the year 2000, society will be more civilized and developed than at the present time. Science will make the world more sedentary, too, so baseball spectators will want to see more of the spirit of the game, especially since everything will be automatic… However, the world may be short of wood for baseball bats. So I believe we will use aluminum or metal bats, and the game of baseball will be very, very offensive and exciting because there will be more hitting… The stadiums may have to become bigger. Not all, perhaps, but some stadiums will have to be enlarged.”

Harry Minor, scout for NY Mets: “We’re going to radar guns to measure pitcher’s velocity now, so by the year 2000 there’s no telling how mechanized we’ll become in scouting and testing talent. I’m sure we’ll have small hand models of radar guns and, with video cassettes, you could tape a ball game as a scout, go home and play it out again at your leisure. Replay, slow motion, the works.

Oh’s take on the added offense of the future and of how lazy people will be in the future is probably the most prescient thing I’ve read in any of these magazines. The fear of a shortage of trees, however, seems a typical ’80s-type worry, though, and one that I’m sure we’re all glad is unfounded. Instead, we had steroids (and band-box stadiums, the opposite of Oh’s prediction, actually) take place of the aluminum bats.

The most ironic of the statements, however, comes from the Montreal Expos VP of Player Development, Jim Fanning:

“There will be all kinds of leagues and divisions. All the existing cities in the big leagues will stay, and new ones will be hammering at the door to get in…. Also, there’ll be enough domed stadiums in baseball for teams in cities like Denver, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, and Buffalo, and at least four more cities…”

The prediction for ballclubs in Denver and Tampa Bay (and there’s even a rendering of the possible Tampa stadium included in the article) is pretty spot on, but it’s the comment about “all the existing cities…will stay” that I thought was funny. Montreal, after all, is the only major league city from 1981 that no longer has a ballclub. Of course, the Expos didn’t move to Washington until 2004, so I guess technically he was correct.

As I’ve said before, looking through these old baseball preview guides can be quite interesting, and articles like these just make me want to keep on reading.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.