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 Will Birmingham join the World Baseball Association?

 
  

April 1974

  
         
    The formation of the World Baseball Association is formally announced at a news conference in Washington, DC. The WBA will play games in the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America and Asia. Play is to begin in late January of 1975. Franchises have already been awarded to Columbus (OH), Jersey City (NJ), Birmingham, Memphis, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Washington, DC and Mexico City (Mexico). Plans are to quickly expand to Central America, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines since baseball is very popular in both Latin America and the Orient, and both regions produce many talented ballplayers.

Each franchise will cost $150,000 and two-and-a-half percent of all gross revenues annually. All money collected will go to the WBA, a profit-making corporation that will direct all activities of the league, including the hiring of players, coaches, managers and umpires.

A player and manager draft is scheduled for the middle of June in an American city to be decided later. Sean Morton Downey, Jr., president and one of the league's founders, said the league has plenty of money and will go after established, front line ballplayers. "We'll better the American and National League salaries, yet our players will have to play less than half the number of games the current major league teams expect of their players. I do not expect any trouble signing good players. We will attract them with the same sort of salaries that brought players into the new football, basketball and hockey leagues. And we feel sure the courts will permit players to make moves when their current contracts expire. We do not believe baseball players can be bound for life any more than football players can. More than seventy established players have been in touch with us already, including six members of the World Champion Oakland A's. They are definitely interested," Downey said.

The league will consist of 32 teams that will be split into 4 divisions. a 72 to 84 game schedule is planned, compared to the 164 game schedule of Major League Baseball.

Rule changes will include the use of 5 designated hitters to replace defensive players who will remain in the game, the use of one designated runner per game, the pitcher will be required to throw a pitch within 20 seconds, 3 balls instead of 4 for a walk and stealing home after the sixth inning will count 2 runs. Downey added, "Baseball as presently played and structured is a bore. We will introduce innovations which will breathe new life into the game. We're going to help the American public fall in love with the game all over again," Downey said. Another change rumored for consideration is a fluorescent orange ball for night games.

Downey was involved early on with the American Basketball Association in 1967, which later merged with the National Basketball Association in 1976. Downey doesn't plan to stop with the WBA. "I'm also considering a team boxing league. I have big plans on many fronts," Downey said.

Glynn West, general manager of the Birmingham Athletics, said he has not heard of anyone who might be interested in bringing major professional baseball to Birmingham. "If someone (other than the A's) is interested in playing at Rickwood I don't know anything about it," West said.

It is also rumored at this time that Gary Davidson, founder and president of the World Football League, is planning to organize his own baseball league, the World Baseball League.

  
         
  

Epilogue

  
         
     

The World Baseball Association never made it past the planning stages.

In a related note, Sean Downey, Jr's World Team Boxing actually made it off the ground, but only for one match. The season opened on January 17, 1975 with four teams. Four other teams were set to debut in later months. The first, and only, league match featured the Portland Nor'easters versus the Montreal 76'ers with Portland winning handily 13-4. The next day three franchises were suspended for alleged financial mismanagement, Portland, Providence and Boston, all of which were owned by Frank Opie. The league's future was in the air for a week before folding for good.

Downey was also one of the owners of the American Basketball Association's New Orleans Buccaneers, although he did not remain so through their first season in 1967.

But ultimately Downey did all right for himself. He eventually worked his way into broadcasting, where he went by the name Morton Downey, Jr. and had a talk show in New York and has since appeared in numerous motion pictures.

  
         
 
 
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Last Update: January 21, 2007