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In 1958, Lou Boudreau predicted there would be four major leagues

And other words of wisdom from the Cubs radio announcer, 65 years ago.

Lou Boudreau at Wrigley Field for the 1947 All-Star Game
Bettmann / Contributor

I was researching something recently — and honestly I can’t remember what it was — when I came across an article “By Lou Boudreau, as told to Jack Rosenberg” from the Chicago Tribune of April 13, 1958.

At the time, Boudreau was not quite 41 years old and had been dismissed as manager of the Kansas City A’s the previous summer. He’d been hired by WGN radio to do color commentary on Cubs games with Jack Quinlan doing play-by-play.

As a Chicago-area native, great MLB player and World Series-winning manager, Boudreau’s thoughts about baseball were obviously something the Tribune thought readers would enjoy seeing.

From this article 65 years ago, Boudreau got some things right about the future of baseball, but others very, very wrong. Here are a few excerpts from the article (which is not online, so I can’t link it).

Baseball, as I see it, is bursting with potential. By 1963, I look for four major leagues with six teams each.

One thing you have to remember from this is context. The Giants and Dodgers had just left New York for California and there was a move about to bring baseball back to New York, possibly with a third league. Here’s a bit of the history of the proposed Continental League, which eventually collapsed when the existing leagues agreed to expand in 1961 and 1962.

Baseball didn’t have 24 teams by 1963, but did so by 1969. In fact, while that seemed like very quick expansion, remember that the AL and NL were a total of 16 teams for more than 50 years. Baseball probably could have expanded sooner after World War II; the desire for baseball in new cities then is one of the reasons for all the franchise shifts of the 1950s.

What Boudreau proposed, though, were four “leagues” geographically aligned, with old and new teams intermixed:

League No. 1 — New York, Boston, Detroit, Buffalo, Montreal and Toronto

League No. 2 — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati

League No. 3 — Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City and Minneapolis

League No. 4 — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Denver and Omaha

Boudreau was prescient in including Phoenix, now one of the 10 largest metro areas in the USA. In 1960, though, Phoenix ranked 29th, while Buffalo was 18th. Omaha? Not sure what the Good Kid was thinking here, as Omaha wasn’t in the top 40 of metro areas in 1960.

Here’s another interesting note in the article:

If I owned a baseball team, I’d pay Leo Durocher $100,000 a season to manage it. He’s a manager’s manager. He’s got more nerve, more daring, than any man I’ve ever known.

At the time, Durocher was 53 years old and had last managed in 1955 with the Giants. He was working for NBC as an executive and announcer and didn’t return to the field until 1961, when the Dodgers hired him as a coach.

$100,000 was a great deal of money in 1958. The highest-paid player then was Ted Williams, making $150,000. No manager was paid anything near that.

Durocher still had that sort of aura about him when the Cubs hired him in 1965. We’re all quite familiar with what happened.

Another prediction:

Mickey Mantle will break Babe Ruth’s home run record. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but Mantle will break it. One reason it’s comforting to be on the side lines now is that I don’t have to select pitchers to face Mantle.

Mantle had just finished winning his second consecutive MVP award and, at age 25, already had 207 career homers. Basically, he was Mike Trout before there was Mike Trout. Injuries ended Mantle’s career young, but he did make a run at Ruth’s record in 1961 before Roger Maris broke it. Many writers thought Mantle would be the one to break the record in that expansion year; he had 39 home runs by the end of July, while Mantle had 40. Mantle “declined” to just 54, while Maris broke the record with 61. Remember, Boudreau had no way of knowing in 1958 that the schedule would be expanded by eight games.

Herb Score will be the next pitcher to win 30 games in any one season. Unless I miss my guess, he’s likely to wind up as the greatest left hander in history.

At the time, Score was still trying to come back from the frightening injury he suffered the previous year when a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald of the Yankees hit him in the eye. Unfortunately, Score never could come back and he retired after 1962.

Score was sort of a lefthanded version of Nolan Ryan — lots of strikeouts, but also lots of walks. For example, when he led the AL in strikeouts in 1956 with 263, second was Billy Pierce — with 192. Score had two great years in 1955 and 1956 but the injury took away what could have been a fantastic career — and also possibly helped Cleveland stay a contender in the 1960s. He eventually became a beloved radio broadcaster in Cleveland.

Boudreau also thought the day of the player-manager (as he had been for many years in Cleveland) was not over. It mostly was; only Don Kessinger and Pete Rose were player-managers after Boudreau. He also thought night games took “at least two years off the career of the average player,” though he didn’t explain why, and acknowledged they were here to stay.

The article was a fascinating look at the game from a man who’d already been around the major leagues for 20 years at the time. He remained around the Cubs until he retired from WGN radio in 1986, even taking part in the famous “manager swap” when he came from the broadcast booth to the Cubs managing job, with Charlie Grimm going to radio, in 1960. It didn’t work on either end; the 1960 Cubs lost 94 games (54-83 after Boudreau took over) and Grimm was a flop on the air. Boudreau went back to radio in 1961, but the Cubs chose the infamous College of Coaches to replace him.

And that’s what I found out about this fascinating slice of history — while I was searching for something else.