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Joe is the founder of Project COBB, under which he serves as Stats and Research Manager for the GB National Team and chairs the British Baseball Hall of Fame. Joe's writing has been published in book form by Fineleaf.

Countdown to SABR Day 2011: 1970s Cobbette – The “Yankees” British national league of 1977

Cobbette-(128x128)This is post three in a ten-post countdown to SABR Day 2011. The series is going through the decades of the 20th Century, backwards from the 1990s. On SABR Day itself, there will be a special feature on the 1890s, which will celebrate the significant link between keeping score and baseball history. This article will be published at 05:00 British time in order to coincide with the start of the day in the time-zone of the Cleveland-based SABR office. To view all the Cobbettes published to date, click here.

1970s

Most of the details presented in this short article are taken from the Baseball Mercury web archive.

During the winter of 1976-77, the British Amateur Baseball Federation (BABF) was approached by a public relations consultancy named Messrs Aquarius Ltd. The proposal that the firm presented was for their client Mattessons Meats to enter into a promotional venture with the BABF, in order to gain publicity for one of their “Yankees” hot dog brand. For this, a new league was to be set up, to run in parallel to the existing British domestic structure.

What was in it for British baseball?

Mattessons’ offer included posters and banners to promote games, as well as 3000 free programmes for each competing team (the cover from one of these can be seen above-right). In addition, Mattessons agreed to arrange a trophy for the Most Valuable Player in each game and a set of trophies for the overall winners of the league. Finally, Aquarius offered to publicize the competition through the radio and the print-media press.

Therefore, baseball was not really getting a direct injection of cash. Instead, the hope was that baseball would gain increased exposure through the effcts of the promoted league, and this in turn would tempt other businesses in the future to partner in promotional ventures, or even take on a straightforward sponsorship.

Which teams competed?

It was agreed that each of the four regions affiliated with the BABF – namely, Merseyside, Humberside, the Midlands, and the South – would enter an All-Star team into the league competition, which was to be played out during the spring and summer of 1977. It seems that the Humberside All-Stars and Southern All-Stars were called just that, but the Merseyside entrants opted for to play under the Liverpool Giants tag, while the Midlands outfit were known as the Midland Mets.

Each team was scheduled to play every other team in the league once at home at once away, and thus six games would be played in total by each side.

Which side won?

The Humberside All-Stars and Southern All-Stars  finished joint league leaders with a 4-2 record (the Giants finished 3-3 and the Mets 1-5). It was thus decided that a play-off should be contested at Bromsgrove to determine the outright winners. This the Southern representatives won, to become the champions of the one-off league competition. The outcomes of the 12 contests in the league are listed below (dates of games are taken directly from the league’s programme, and thus do not take into account if any fixtures needed to be arranged):

29 May 1977
Humberside All-Stars (home) beat Midland Mets [?-?]
Southern All-Stars (home) beat Liverpool Giants [14-5]

12 June 1977
Liverpool Giants (home) beat Humberside All-Stars [?-?]
Southern All-Stars beat Midland Mets (home) [7-2]

26 June 1977
Humberside All-Stars (home) beat Liverpool Giants [?-?]
Southern All-Stars (home) beat Midland Mets [13-3]

3 July 1977
Liverpool Giants (home) beat Midland Mets [?-?]
Southern All-Stars (home) beat Humberside All-Stars [13-5]

17 July 1977
Humberside All-Stars beat Midland Mets (home) [?-?]
Liverpool Giants (home) beat Southern All-Stars [10-9]

14 August 1977
Humberside All-Stars (home) beat Southern All-Stars [4-3]
Midland Mets (home) beat Liverpool Giants [9-3]

Did it work?

If the eventual champions of the league, the Southern All-Stars, felt a benefit for baseball in their region, it did not feature in an end-of-season report from administrator “Rapid” Robert Garrod. However, representatives of the other three regions did express views on the league, and their opinions were mixed.

In the summer of 1977, Humberside baseball witnessed an upsurge of spectator interest, which was attributed mainly to the “Yankees” National Baseball League, where the region’s three home games attracted a cumulative crowd of around 1000. Moreover, some of the people attracted to the game through the promoted league were said to have been drawn across to the regular domestic fixtures of the regions’ three adult teams (the Hull Aces, Giants, and Royals).

The Midland Mets were also happy with the crowds they attracted to their home games in the league. Around 200 people came to each of the first two contests, despite unfavourable weather conditions. The fans were said to have enjoyed the hot dogs as well as the baseball.

A grimmer view of the league’s success was offered by Merseyside correspondent Norman Wells. In his words:

“Financially this league proved to be very expensive for our area. The necessary paid advertisements, which would have, we feel, brought good attendances, were almost non-existent. Added to this lack of attendance, the cost of coach travel, hiring of grounds, and umpire fees, insurance etc., all but drained our resources. The whole project could hardly be described as a sponsored league, and left us with a lot to reflect upon.”

Elsewhere, Wells added that the major domestic league in the north of England “ran into some difficulty, as so many Sundays had to be sacrificed” to the “Yankees” National Baseball League.

Given Wells’ comments, it is not surprising that there was no genuine sponsorship deal for a British baseball league during the 10 years that followed, and when such a competiton did arise, in 1987, it was after such a gap in time that the “Yankees” National Baseball League can hardly be offered as a contributing factor.

If you have an interesting history snippet to share that has a link to Britain then please send a message to Joe Gray through the Get in contact page. To see all of the work of Project Cobb, which is a Chartered Community of SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research), click here.

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4 Responses to “Countdown to SABR Day 2011: 1970s Cobbette – The “Yankees” British national league of 1977”

  1. ADDENDUM…

    Here are some comments from Jeff Archer, whose London-based Spirit of ’76 team competed in a series of contests against international club opposition during the 1977 season.

    “When the program was announced, I requested that the London Spirit of ’76 be included. There were many reasons. First, the team would have been good enough to compete against the other four areas. We were better organized and were able to gain meaningful publicity, as we had already proven. And, we already had Wasps’ ground as a field. It would not have been difficult for us to carry on with our international program as well as playing a few games in the Mattesons league. I sent a detailed proposal to the BABF explaining how the inclusion of my team would enhance the new project. Early on, I received positive views on our prospects. Eventually, though, I heard through the grapevine that the proposal was not taken so well.

    During the season, I personally saw no publicity for the league in the press. This does not mean there was none at all, but it does seem that Wells’ view was pretty accurate.

    That said, it was up to the teams to take on some of this responsibility. At the same time, my team was getting press in the papers and on radio. The program director at Radio London had me on three or four times a season for interviews. I also was featured on a Saturday morning kids’ TV show called Breaktime. I already had my promotional contacts in line and thought that this would benefit British baseball immensely. The BABF thought otherwise.

    In other words, I exploited the publicity I gained. In my opinion, Mattesons may have been looking for a cheap way of getting publicity and the teams could have been looking for a free financial ride from Mattesons. Under these circumstances, neither side came through.

    December 5, 2010 at 11:00 am Reply
  2. Mark #

    Joe, do we know where any of those teams played?

    December 5, 2010 at 11:04 am Reply
  3. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the question.

    Neither Baseball Mercury nor the programme appears to give a clue as to the venues used. However, if you were interested in finding out more, I have no doubt that correspondence with Normal Wells (Merseyside), Dennis Newman (South), and other organizers/fans known to have been involved in/followed the league would quickly yield the answers.

    Cheers,

    Joe

    December 5, 2010 at 11:41 am Reply

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