Yet another way baseball could save America

One of my grandfather’s baseball teams. That’s him squatting on the right. Note that some guys wear jerseys that say “P.O,” while others don’t.

My wife brought this story to my attention this morning, knowing I would like it: “Companies worried about worker turnover could try baseball.”

It’s about how measures that employers instituted at workplaces a century ago might help with today’s Great Resignation problems. A number of things were done to make workplaces more pleasant, but this was my (and the headline writer’s) favorite step:

Goodyear President F.A. Seiberling … embraced employee welfarism with a wide-reaching program in Akron, Ohio, that included an improved working environment, a thrice-a-week employee newspaper, a housing development and even a company baseball team to make workers feel like part of the “Goodyear family.” Confronted with the same problems, his crosstown competitor Harvey Firestone followed suit.

These companies met others on baseball fields in a league they organized that spanned at least two other states. The brick stadium where the Firestone Non-Skids played (named for the company’s first treaded tires, “non-skids”) seated 4,500 cheering workers, and it still stands in front of the old company headquarters. The idea was that when employees sat in the stands and cheered for the company, they’d be more loyal, and as a result, they were encouraged to do so. Goodyear told workers in 1920, for example, that attending the games alone wasn’t enough; “moral support, organized cheering, [and] boosting 24 hours a day” were critical as well.

The quality of baseball had to be good enough to attract these fans, though. In rising industrial cities like Akron and Michigan’s Flint and Grand Rapids, where there were no professional teams, fans typically watched amateur clubs compete. Industrial teams played as part of that environment, and so increasingly, companies hired men who were good baseball players. During World War I, Frank Stefko remembered hearing from a fellow soldier, Glenn “Speed” Bosworth, that Goodyear was hiring ballplayers in Akron, so after the war, he traveled to the Rubber City from Scranton, Pa. The personnel office said the company didn’t have openings until he mentioned Bosworth’s message. “Oh, you’re the ballplayer!” They hired him on the spot….

It worked. Employee morale and longevity improved, as did productivity. Employers did this not just to be nice guys, but because it was good for business. It also helped stem union efforts — until the Depression led to cutbacks in such expenditures, so the great heyday of unions arrived in the 1930s.

My wife knew I would like the story because of my grandfather. She never met him — he died of lung cancer when I was four — but he found some time to teach me some basics of baseball before we lost him.

And playing baseball on the workplace team is a big part of his legend. I’ve told you all this before, but I’ll tell you again, because I love these kinds of stories from the days when this was a baseball-loving country. Here’s something I wrote about it before, with a picture of the house where my grandmother lived with her family before her marriage:

Here’s how she met my grandfather — she would see him walking past her house on the way to the train station each day in a suit and straw boater, carrying a bag. She thought he was a salesman, and the bag contained his wares. Actually, he was a ballplayer, and bag contained his uniform and glove. He worked for the Post Office, but he only worked there so that he could play ball for its team. He was a pitcher. Gerald “Whitey” Warthen would eventually be offered a contract with the Senators, which he turned down to work in his father’s business.

A couple of minor corrections: He worked, I think, for the Railway Post Office, which I take it was some subset of the P.O. we all know. More importantly, he wasn’t just a pitcher, as I have learned since reading about him in recent years in old copies of The Washington Post and other local papers. He was also an infielder. Basically, he played anything as long as it was baseball. Oh, and before he launched on this working-for-baseball period, he had been captain of the team at Washington and Lee.

Anyway, I guess I am genetically predisposed to see baseball as a great way to attract employees. Unfortunately, the end of that story in the Post sounds a discouraging note:

Today, companies are also experimenting with ways to boost worker welfare in the context of the Great Resignation. Baseball spectatorship has been replaced by team-building activities that include workplace climbing walls, wine-tasting events, table tennis, family picnics, free lunches and special doughnut days. At the turn of the last century, employers experimented to identify which perks resonated with workers. While the jury is still out on whether such programs will be successful today, companies are following in the footsteps of NCR, Goodyear and Kellogg’s in experimenting with programs that employees find meaningful and useful — enough so to stay in their jobs.

You see that? No baseball. That’s the sad state of America today. Baseball is no longer seen as a way of pleasing the masses. Is there any hope for us?

8 thoughts on “Yet another way baseball could save America

  1. Barry

    nah. No way.

    I played some industrial league softball back in the day- in the upstate – and also in Lexington County.

    I also played church league softball in both places (church league ball reveals a lot about people’s character- plenty of it not all that ideal).

    It’s a different world now.

    I don’t think this would solve much of anything. Especially with the penchant for people to escalate seemingly minor issues to major issues, and physical violence so quickly in modern times.

    “A coach broke an umpire’s jaw in a June 2022 youth league game. The 72 year old umpire had his jaw break in several places and required “extensive emergency dental surgery.

    Even as police and EMT’s were providing medical attention to the umpire, other parents from the same team were heard shouting expletives at the umpire and saying things like, ‘He deserved it.’ ”

    In April, Kristi Moore, an umpire in Mississippi, was struck in the face by a parent who was shouting curse words at her throughout the game. The parent waited on the umpire outside the gates and struck her in the face, as other parents watched, injuring her eye, requiring her to seek emergency treatment.

    Moore, who oversees fast pitch umpires in the state of Mississippi said it’s almost impossible to recruit umpires anymore. Many games are canceled for a lack of umpires – a nationwide problem. Moore says the few umpires they do have work too many games, and often burn out quickly.

    In a recent case, a youth league coach struck a teen umpire and knocked him to the ground after a game deciding call he made at home plate. If it matters, video evidence showed the umpire got the rather easy call correct.

    In another recent case, a Harris County Texas police sergeant who was also a youth league coach was caught on video pulling the arms of numerous children, hitting their hands extremely hard, causing them to shout out in pain. The officer was “relieved of duty” but is actually still on the job.

    1. Barry

      Speaking of adult softball games

      They usually just get right to pulling guns these days


      Gunshots fired during brawl at adult softball game in Winter Haven, police say

      Police say somebody fired shots into a crowd, hitting two vehicles after a rivalry came to blows at an adult softball game in Winter Haven Tuesday night.

      “According to police, the event took a violent turn when players from two opposing Polk County teams got into an altercation, and one was “sucker-punched.” Police said the only injuries reported were minor abrasions.”

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I played in church league decades ago — late 70s, early 80s — back in Jackson, Tenn. I have some stories to tell about that. It was an interesting cultural experience to play on the only Catholic team in a town where one of the Baptist churches had FOUR teams of very enthusiastic and skilled athletes.

        I have some stories about that. Like the time we were playing a Baptist team, and I was catching, and the other team accused our pitcher of being drunk.

        Which I suppose, by Baptist standards, he was (you know how picky they are about such things). But aside from a little trouble he occasionally had catching the ball when I threw it back to him, and then picking it up after dropping it, he seemed OK to us. Our team had a tradition of going out to the Pizza Hut for beers after games, and this night some of the boys instituted a variation on that, and went out BEFORE the game.So considering that, we weren’t too worried about him. This was slow-pitch softball, and not a lot of finesse is required on the mound.

        Anyway, the scandalized Baptists complained to the umpire, and the umpire took it to our player-manager, who joined me and the pitcher out on the mound, and the “manager” told the pitcher that the ump was going to come over and ask whether he had been drinking, and told him to “Just say no.”

        So he did, and the game resumed. If you’re wondering whether it turned out to be a no-hitter, it did not…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’ll still take church league over commercial-industrial league.

          Years ago here in Columbia, the Cosmic Ha-Has — the team of The State’s newsroom — played in a commercial league. I was pitching one night against a team of guys who were built kind of like the guy who stars in Reacher on Prime Video, only heavier. I don’t know what business these guys worked for, but it must have involved throwing anvils around all day.

          It was ridiculous. I’m pretty sure every member of that team hit at least one home run, and some of them did so multiple times. And when I say “home runs,” I mean out of the park — which, if you play softball, you know is not nearly as easy to do as in baseball. In many years of play, I had seldom seen it happen before, even once in a game.

          It was a nightmare. I had never even imagined such a thing. Good thing we had a mercy rule, ending the game after five innings because they were so far ahead. Otherwise, some of them might have injured themselves running around the bases so often…

          1. Barry

            On one of the teams we faced in industrial league in Lexington (i was a sub for a few games, not a regular player as i was just helping out a friend’s work team), the other team had a guy that had played college baseball 15 or so years before.

            The guy was 1000% better than anyone on the field. I was in good shape at the time and pretty fast. I am about 5’ 11” and at the time weighed about 170.

            I tried to lay a tag on him once as my teammate had relayed the ball to me. I knew i had him and nonchalantly reached down to tag him. The guy fast crawled backwards, jumped up super quick and ran back to the base before i realized what was happening. Quickest guy i ever played against and he wasn’t some pro player, just a former college player.

            Good players are often a lot, a lot faster than the average joe.

            You often don’t realize that until you play against them.

            In 14 and under ball, i once faced a pitcher that went on to play in the Cardinals minor league system as a pitcher. He was throwing, guessing here, in the high 70s as a 14 year old. He was also about 6’3” on his way to 6’6” in high school.

            He had plunked a guy that batted right before me on the forearm sensing him into intense pain. I stepped in and was scared to death.

            The first pitch i swung at and hit it between 1st and 2nd and ran to 1st base on cloud 9 only to find out the ump had somehow granted a timeout right as the pitch was made. I stood back in and proceeded to strike out.

        2. Barry

          Well, I don’t blame the Baptists. Good for them.

          When I played church league softball, I didn’t want to be facing people that were drunk on the athletic field or had been drinking.

          That’s not responsible and it’s potentially harmful, not to mention just flat out stupid. It’s also a recipe for disaster in athletic competition.

          But I never cared to be around drunks or people that were under the influence. I always have- and still do – consider them trashy and I’ll stand by it.

          Had nothing to do with Catholics but I was fine they weren’t in our league. We had- and have- little in common with them anyway.

  2. Ken

    You don’t have to look to far-off Ohio to find company-sponsored baseball teams when you’ve got the example of the textile leagues, right here in the Carolinas. Don’t know if they could be considered a tool for employee retention, though. They were semi-professionalized, so not just anybody got to play. Plus, they grew out of communities that in contrast to now were far more homogenous, had fewer entertainments and distractions (like the one you’re staring at right now) and in a time when we were a much less individualized society.
    Baseball is the only team sport that interests me. But there’s no turning the clock back to the time when it was America’s game – though some might like to.


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