THE DEMISE OF CLASS D BASEBALL
By Curtis L. Englebright
In the mid - 1950's the Kitty League folded coincidental with the arrival of television sets in most area homes. Perhaps television was the linal nail in the league's coffin, but to attribute its death to television only overlooks other and more responsible culprits.
Minor league baseball peaked in 1948 with the most leagues and highest attendance in history. Nineteen forty-nine was still a good year but with a discernible decline in both leagues and attendance which quickly became precipitous in the immediate succeeding years. Across the country minor leagues folded at an alarming rate.
Without doubt, the changing demographics of the nation were the fundamental cause of lower minor failures. Small towns, among which were those with minor league franchises, lost much of their vitality as the population shifted to urban centers. A wise Union City businessman, Dave Schatz explained this to the writer in 1951, although the latter was too young and obtuse to understand it at the time.
Two other specific elements of the decline of the lower minor leagues should be noted. In no particular order of importance, one was the beginning of the practice of major league teams to award sizable signing bonuses to young prospects upon high school graduation, some of them astronomical in the currency of that time. As a result, locally owned Class D teams lost an important pool of players whose contracts they might sell at season's end to a team in a higher baseball classification. Thus, a critical source of revenue was destroyed.
Secondly, the sudden appearance in popularity of drive-in movies attracted many, particularly the younger, persons who otherwise would have attended ball games. Those too young to remember cannot appreciate the impact of drive-in movies on the night-life of small towns in that era. It was considerable.