(1920) – In the United States, Prohibition was accomplished by means of the Eighteenth Amendment to the national Constitution (ratified January 16, 1919) and the Volstead Act (passed October 28, 1919). Prohibition began on January 16, 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect. Federal Prohibition agents (police) were given the task of enforcing the law. This immediately put brewers out of business and scrambling for an alternative revenue source.
(1921) – The Governors of The Brewers Executive Enterprise Ring (B.E.E.R) came to a historic accord:
1. They would create a new product. “Near beer”. Near beer was legal because it fell under the 0.5-percent ban, being virtually nonalcoholic. This would allow the brewers to at least “stay afloat” until prohibition was lifted. Something they unanimously believed would happen within a few years.
2. Needing a venue, or a “launching point” for their new product, B.E.E.R. created their very own baseball league. The plan was simple. Offer people a place to go and see baseball and let them watch the games for free. After a few hours of sitting in the hot sun people could satisfy their thirst with a legal alcoholic beverage. This in turn would build a new customer base away from the ballpark.
Finding or building small parks on vacant land would be relatively easy. Finding players even easier. Players that couldn’t make it in the big leagues were looking for a place to prove their worth. Big league baseball was still reeling from the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. The country just emerged from the First World War. The time was right. B.E.E.R. was confident that people would come. But their goal was simple; to break even or operate at minimal loss until the shroud of prohibition was lifted.
(1922) – Brewer’s League Baseball was officially born on January 16, 1922, exactly two years after the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect. The original league consisted of eight teams in two divisions. The league decided to go with a 162 game schedule (a concept later adapted by Major League Baseball). The more games they played, the more ‘near beer’ they sold. After the long season the two division winners would play in a best of nine to determine the Brewer’s League Baseball (BLB) champion.
The inaugural league looked like this:
St. Louis Snappers
Rockford Blue Hens
The rest of the year was spent holding open tryouts, building/acquiring stadiums, scheduling and of course brewing their new product, ‘near beer’.
(1923) – On April 15th, 1923 the first game in BLB history took place. The Pittsburgh Millers defeated the Pawtucket Patriots 3-1 before a crowd of 342 non-paying near beer drinking patrons. Attendance steadily increased as the season went on with the league averaging over 2,000 per game in the end. The Rockford Blue Hens became the BLB’s first champion defeating the St. Louis Snappers in a thrilling nine game series five games to four. A ‘buzz’ was brewing as the general public was starting to enjoy the product on the field almost as much as the product off of it.
(1924-1932) – Throughout the rest of the decade sales of near beer steadied. The product wasn’t quite the success B.E.E.R. had hoped for. However, what did happen was stadiums were beginning to fill to capacity. By 1927 the league average was over 5,000 per game. To help supplement their income, B.E.E.R. members began charging admission to their games at the start of the 1928 season. Surprisingly, attendance didn’t dip.
During this time MLB viewed BLB as a simple joke. BLB commissioner J. Allen Wright challenged the New York Yankees of 1927 to an exhibition series against a BLB All-Star team. He never got a response. PR campaigns went unheard as most of the mainstream print media took the league as seriously as MLB did.
With the arrival of the 1930’s BLB had reached a plateau. Some players had shown enough to make the jump to the Major Leagues for major league money. Attendance had leveled off as well. Rumors began gaining momentum that indeed prohibition would be lifted. Suddenly BLB seemed to be at a crossroad.
Winds of Change:
(1933) – At the end of the 1933 season BLB had some tough decisions to make. The Volstead Act was amended to allow “3.2 beer” (3.2 percent alcohol by volume) by passage of the Blaine Act earlier that year. B.E.E.R. responded with a brew of their own to accommodate the new slightly more lenient standards. Interest in the league was strong. Interest in near beer was not. The Board of Governors for B.E.E.R. met after the ’33 season to discuss their options. Many members wanted to disband the league itself, as they simply weren’t profitable. They had agreed to meet in January of 1934 to vote on various proposals floated by members. Then everything changed on December 5, 1933.
With the ratification of the Twenty-first amendment prohibition was lifted. B.E.E.R. immediately called an emergency meeting of all members to vote on the future of the league. The majority wanted simply to get out of the baseball business altogether and concentrate on their specialty which was brewing. There were three owners however that saw an opportunity and decided to keep their teams and league alive and grow another revenue stream. Team owners of the St. Louis Snappers, The Kentucky Colonials, and The Boston Yankees bought out their counterparts who were more than happy to wash their hands of the whole thing and get back to brewing. A decision they would later regret.
(1934) – The remaining owners of BLB quickly utilized their business world connections to gauge interest of prospective owners. What ensued was a bidding war. Men of money from Maine to California wanted in on this young hopeful league. Men who were not given a seat at MLB’s table now had their chance to get their slice of apple pie. The remaining five franchises were sold off at a nice profit. Demand was so high that the league granted two new charter franchises to wealthy entrepreneurs. The Carolina Tobs and Philadelphia Independence were born. Tobs ownership was so wealthy from the tobacco business that they built the first 20,000-seat stadium in BLB history. There would be no baseball in 1934 due to league reorganization.
(1935-1941) – BLB was now up up and away. The league enjoyed unprecedented success. Now ten teams strong and league attendance hitting the 10,000 mark (due in big part to the Tobs sellouts) expansion was on the minds of the owners. More teams, maybe more playoff games. What also was changing was how the league was now able to keep some of its marquee players by being able to outbid MLB on occasion. Suddenly the league was no longer a joke with the print media. Some teams even began getting their own beat writers assigned to them. BLB owners and Commissioner J. Allen Wright drafted a plan to add two more expansion teams and a third division to the league. This would also allow them to expand the postseason. The goal was to have everything in place by 1942, the 20th anniversary of the league. Then everything came to an abrupt stop.
(1941) – Everything changed for the league, the country, and the world for that matter on December 7, 1941. With the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor American was instantly at war. All plans for BLB were put on indefinite hold. Many of its very own players were drafted into the service. Because of this the league ruled to suspend the 1942 season until further notice. The Rockford Blue Hens having been the one team to consistently lose money were also hit the hardest by the draft. Team ownership voluntarily dissolved and became the first franchise to disband from the league.
(1942-1945) – BLB only played one abbreviated season during the next three years, that was in 1943. Interest was at an all time low, and some its best players were literally losing their lives in places nobody had ever heard of before. The league was not idle however. Teams were now negotiating with cities to get stadium deals with. The timing was perfect for clubs to make their moves while there were no games being played. The Kentucky Colonials relocated to Virginia. The St. Louis Snappers moved to Dallas. The Boston Yankees moved to Washington. The Milwaukee Haymakers relocated to Baltimore and changed their name forever to the Bulldogs. The Philadelphia Independents changed their name to the Freedom, but did not move the team. Finally in 1945 the war was over. It was a time to heal, and a time to rebuild.
(1946) – BLB resumed play in 1946. New teams, new divisions, new owners and a new attitude. The new layout looked like this:
New additions included Wilmington, Maine, and California. With their new format the league had three division winners and one “wild card” team adding more post-season revenue to coffers.
(1947-1958) – Over the next ten years league attendance was now over the 20,000 mark. New stadiums were popping up all over the league. Three more expansion teams entered the fray: Los Alamos (1949), Windy City (1952), and Denver (1952). The low point of the period was the untimely death of Commissioner J. Allen Wright who was the visionary that made BLB possible. He was replaced by William “Choo Choo Train” Harris on October 14, 1955. Choo Choo Train was a player on the since defunct Rockford Blue Hens and had been with the league since it’s inception. Known for his hustle and tenacity he was well respected around the league for his bold leadership and ability to get through any tough negotiation.
The Golden Age:
(1959-1971) – By the 1970’s BLB was an unmitigated success. No longer the ugly stepsister to Major league baseball, BLB had everything it’s counterpart did. TV deals, licensing deals, sold out ballparks, top salaried players. The league had now blown up to 18 teams in two leagues with four divisions with the addition of Harford, Hyundai, and Sin City all in 1969. Commissioner Harris masterfully guided the league into the Promised Land. He was able to get a consensus even among the most stubborn owners. There was nothing holding BLB back from becoming the most successful sports league in the world. Until…
(1972) – The nation was on the edge of the Watergate scandal in Washington DC. However it could never imagine the scandal that was about to hit like an atomic bomb. On May 7th, 1972 Commissioner William “Choo Choo Train” Harris was indicted on racketeering charges for fixing the outcomes of baseball games from 1962-1969. The fallout was devastating.
(1974) – Harris is found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 25 years in a federal penitentiary. All league records, champions, and statistics are wiped from the record books. Hardest hit by this is the Los Alamos Mayhem who dominated the decade winning five world championships. Whispers were abound that it always seemed like you were playing against the umps when playing against the Mayhem, but no one could’ve imagined how right they were. This meant they still were left seeking their first championship.
Attendance had dropped 78% across the board as fans felt betrayed by the league. Sponsorships were almost non-existent. Credibility shot, the league spent the next four years purging itself of its ugly past. Hoping for a new beginning it turned to a new face.
(1978 (The Present) ) – So here we are today. A new commissioner has taken over swearing to do whatever it takes to regain the fans trust. Two new teams have been added this year, Davenport and Los Lunas, bringing the league to twenty. Adding excitement this year is the league’s first ever ‘dispersal’ draft. All players will be poured into a pool and redrafted by the teams.
The plan is already showing signs as season ticket sales are up a modest 23% across the league. It’s a fresh start for everybody, but will it be enough?
Everything written has been the past. Only the owners and players of BLB can write the next chapter. They alone determine what will happen next…