Hannagan & Baseball Centennial

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/Baseball_Centennial_1939_Issue-3c.jpg

Baseball Centennial

In 1939, Major League Baseball (MLB) owners set aside $100,000 ($1.6 million in current dollars) to celebrate the game’s 100th anniversary (It was debatable at the time and is accepted now that 1939 was not the centennial of the game.The game did not start with Abner Doubleday but evolved over time with rules of the game taking form during the 19th century. The owners also wanted the celebration to spur turnout because the Great Depression had cut attendance, and it had not fully recovered by 1939. The owners saw the baseball centennial celebration as a good opportunity to juice up attendance, and they wanted Steve Hannagan, the super publicist who was renowned for his ability to fill a sporting arena, to promote the centennial.

While the owners understood the need for promoting the game, the Baseball Commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, was not enamored with the cost of the promotional campaign. Judge Landis was an ornery old ‘cuss’ whom the owners chose in 1920 to clean up the 1919 ‘Black Sox’ scandal, when the White Sox purportedly threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

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Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis

Judge Landis assumed that the money for the campaign would be spent foolishly and that the publicist would be the only one to reap any benefit. Landis only wanted Hannagan to publicize the dedication of the National Baseball Hall of Fame on June 12, 1939 and to forget any promotional work.

Hannagan on the other hand proposed spending the money on a year-long national celebration of baseball that would culminate with the dedication of the Hall of Fame. Notwithstanding his misgivings, Judge Landis agreed to Hannagan’s recommendation.

Hannagan’s first move was to ask James Farley, the Postmaster General, to issue a commemorative stamp for the centennial. He also had the MLB owners issue a commemorative patch.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/Baseball_Centennial_1939_Issue-3c.jpg

U. S. Postal Service Commemorative Stamp for Baseball’s Centennial [2]

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Commemorative Patch for Baseball’s Centennial Celebration[3]

Another component of Hannagan’s centennial strategy was to ask nationally known sports writers to write about the Centennial in their nationally syndicated columns and literary agents to encourage their authors to write stories for major magazines. He also arranged for coverage by: The New York Journal and American with thirteen articles; the June 1939 issue of Baseball Magazine; the annual Sporting News Record Book; Spalding’s 1939 Official Baseball Guide; Newsweek, which placed Abner Doubleday on its cover; and NBC Radio, which ran an hour-long special called the “The Cavalcade of Baseball”. [4]

While it may be difficult to quantify with precision the results of Hannagan’s centennial campaign, there are several indicators that suggest it was a success.

  1. The ‘Baseball Hall of Fame’ brought in thirty thousand visitors from thirty countries and forty-eight states.
  2. Sporting News declared 1939 as the greatest year in baseball.
  3. Baseball reached its largest attendance since 1927 in 1939.

At the opening of the Hall of Fame, Judge Landis put his arms around Hannagan and told him: “I was wrong; the money was spent to achieve splendid results.”[5] Hannagan then had the pleasure of telling Landis that there was money left over from the campaign. Landis asked, “If it’s as much as $500, that’s good.”[6] Now, Hannagan had the ‘how sweet it is” moment; “I am sending you a check for $35,000.”

[7]End Notes

  1. Commemorative Stamp Issued by the US Postal Service (Retrieved April 26 ,2013) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baseball_Centennial_1939_Issue-3c.jpg
  2. Commemorative Patch Issued by Major League Baseball (Retrieved April 26 ,2013) http://www.flickr.com/photos/jerryreuss/4987316872/
  3. Anderson, William B. (September 22, 2001); The 1939 Major League Baseball Centennial Celebration: How Steve Hannagan & Associates helped tie business to Americana (Retrieved May 25, 2011); http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-79562017/1939-major-league-baseball.html.
  4. Anderson, William B. (September 22, 2001); The 1939 Major League Baseball Centennial Celebration: How Steve Hannagan & Associates helped tie business to Americana (Retrieved May 25, 2011); http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-79562017/1939-major-league-baseball.html.
  5. Hartwell, Dickson (November 22, 1947); “Prince of Press Agents”; Colliers; p. 77.
  6. Hartwell, Dickson (November 22, 1947); “Prince of Press Agents”; Colliers; p. 77.