Spiro Athanas graduated from McKinley in 1960, one of six children, all of whom went to McKinley. He lettered in football, basketball, and baseball. Spiro has written numerous articles for this web site. He is retired and passes his time playing golf and painting.

In 1950, baseball was far and away the favorite sport of American fans. The baseball players were not very far removed economically from our fathers who went to the ballgames And many of those baseball players had off-season jobs to supplement their pay. This article clearly shows the difference in our viewpoint on baseball and its players, and also the difference in our culture.


Major League Difference
How many of you McKinleyites of a certain age have said, “I know my family was poor when I was growing up, but I didn’t feel poor,” or “My family was poor when I was growing up, but I didn’t know it?” I know I have. I was doing some research the other day and came across census data that may shed some light on why we felt that way. According to my research, the median income for an American family in 1950 was about $3300 a year. The median income of a major league baseball player in 1950 was a little over $8000 a year, or a little less than three times that of the average family. Contrast that with census data for 2006, which says that the median income for an American family was about $43,000 a year, while the median income of a major league baseball player was almost $1,000,000 or over twenty times that of the average family.

In 1950, baseball was far and away the favorite sport of American fans. Almost every boy and many girls had their favorite player and their favorite team which they followed closely and rooted for with almost religious fervor. Yet many of those “heroes” earned just a little more than most of our fathers. And many of those hallowed baseball players had off-season jobs to supplement their pay, some in factories.

Of course, in 1950 television (and the advertising dollars it can generate) was in its infancy. And those infamous sky boxes, which sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, had not yet been invented. In our youth, when you went to the ball park and sat in the bleachers you knew that there were better seats near home plate, but you also knew the people in those seats weren’t being wined and dined and waited on hand and foot by an army of caterers.

In 1950 a seat in the bleachers at Sportsman Park cost 50 cents. And the minimum wage was 75 cents. Now a seat in the bleachers will set you back sixteen bucks. And the minimum wage is $5.75. So while the minimum wage has increased 700%, while the price of a ticket at the new Busch Stadium bleacher seat has gone up 3200%.

It wasn’t just baseball that was different in 1950, to be sure. It was our culture. The media saturated culture in which we live today is certain to let everyone know hundreds if not thousands of times a day in hundreds if not thousands of ways that there is a vast difference between being rich and being poor. Indeed, that there is a vast difference between the rich and even the middle class, and, perhaps, a greater gulf culturally between the middle class and the underclass.

It’s certainly not news that we have a culture that is designed to create wants rather than to satisfy needs. Today almost every kid has to have the latest X-box, and most of their parents have to have an iPhone. Tomorrow it will be the next new thing we can’t do without. In 1950 I had a no-name bicycle (it wasn’t a Schwinn), and a Marty Marion baseball glove (which were ubiquitous and inexpensive), and a vintage World War-II field radio that didn’t work. That’s about it. And I don’t recall feeling deprived in the least.

So then the question begs to be answered: Are you poor if you don’t know you are poor, or don’t feel poor? Or maybe the question is: What does it mean to be poor? I’m certain my family’s income was well below the median in 1950. And I’m sure that was true for many if not most families in the McKinley neighborhoods. But were we poor? I think not. In many ways we were rich. Most of us were members of loving families who cared about our growth and well-being. We were part of a neighborhood were we knew many people and felt safe and secure. And we went to schools, including McKinley, where the teachers and coaches were dedicated and hard working men and women who cared about the kids in their charge. If you have those things going for you in your youth – and you live in a great country such as ours – if you work hard and smart, have a little talent and a bit of luck, you can dramatically improve your financial status or achieve just about any goal you are willing to pursue. And most of us have done it.


-- Spiro Athanas
orips@aol.com