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Will Birmingham join the World Baseball Association?


April 3, 1974
The formation of the World Baseball Association is formally announced at a news conference in Washington, DC. Franchises have already been awarded to Columbus, Jersey City, Birmingham, Memphis, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Washington (DC), and Mexico City.

Play is to begin in late January of 1975.

The WBA will play games in the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America, and Asia. 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 2.5% of all gross revenues annually. "But that's only the minimum. Some have, and will, pay more. The price is subject to supply and demand, just like oil," Downey said. 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 70 established players have been in touch with us already, including 6 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. Birmingham will be in the Mid American division. 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. "We'll use the orange baseball at night anyway but we're still experimenting to see what color we'll use in the daytime. We experimented with red-white-and-blue balls but when I saw them spinning through the air it made me dizzy. A real stomach-turner," Downey said.

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.

April 5, 1974
Former Oakland A's manager Dick Williams says he has been approached by the WBA to be their first commissioner. "I feel honored that my name has been brought up in connection with the new league. I'm going to listen to what they have to say," Williams said. Williams managed the A's to 2 World Series victories but was sued by A's owner Charles O. Finley when he left the team to join the New York Yankees. As a result of the lawsuit, Williams dropped out of baseball and went into private business. Williams says he is content, but would be happier back in baseball. "I've had 3 short conversations with those people. I have no idea what the job would entail. It's got every bit of a chance to go. I think the WBA will put a lot of pressure on the rest of baseball."  


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 4 teams. 4 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 3 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 14, 2018