“Good Seats Still Available” is a curious little podcast devoted to the exploration of what used-to-be in professional sports. Each week, host Tim Hanlon interviews former players, owners, broadcasters, beat reporters, and surprisingly famous "super fans" of teams and leagues that have come and gone - in an attempt to unearth some of the most wild and woolly moments in (often forgotten) sports history.
National League Baseball's 1900 Contraction - With Bob Bailey
We celebrate the Society for American Baseball Research's fiftieth anniversary with a look back at one of the most pivotal events in major league baseball history - and featured in the group's newly-released commemorative anthology "SABR: 50 at 50".
Longtime Society contributor Bob Bailey ("Four Teams Out: The National League Reduction of 1900") revisits his 1990 Baseball Research Journal article describing how a fledgling 12-team, 1890s-era National League pro baseball monopoly found itself on the brink of implosion - as financial imbalance, competitive disparity, self-dealing common ownership, and a pronounced national economic Depression collectively threatened the circuit's very survival by decade's end.
As a result, the NL eliminated four franchises for the 1900 season - all former refugees from the previous American Association:
Ned Hanlon's "small ball"-centric (original) Baltimore Orioles (AA: 1882-92; NL: 1893-99); The Cy Young-led Cleveland Spiders (AA: 1887-88; NL: 1889-99); The woeful original Washington Senators (AA: 1891 as the "Statesmen"; NL: 1892-99); AND Louisville's first and only major league baseball team - the Colonels (née Eclipse)
By 1901, Baltimore, Cleveland and Washington each had new franchises in Ban Johnson's NL-challenging American League - with Louisville never returning to major league play.
Philadelphia Hockey Beyond the Flyers - With Alan Bass
When anyone brings up the topic of pro hockey in Philadelphia, the conversation quite naturally starts (and often stops) with the Flyers - one of the six franchises added to the NHL in the league's 1967 "Great Expansion," and the fastest of the bunch to capture the Lord Stanley's Cup, after only its seventh season.
But as this week's guest Alan Bass ("Professional Hockey in Philadelphia: A History") suggests, limiting the discussion to just the Flyers not only ignores the surprisingly long history of the game in the "City of Brotherly Love" prior to their arrival, but also neglects the club's lasting impact more broadly on Philly's sports scene ever since.
For example, few fans know that the Flyers were actually not the first NHL franchise in Philadelphia. That "honor" instead went to the 1930-31 debacle known as the Quakers - a hastily relocated cellar-dwelling team from Pittsburgh (the Pirates), owned by a Depression-era bootlegger (Bill Dwyer), fronted by a temporarily retired lightweight boxing champion (Benny Leonard), and producer of one of the worst seasons in the league's 103-year history (4-36-4 record; .136 winning percentage).
Or that the city nearly got its second shot at the NHL in 1946-47, when franchise rights holders of the dormant Montreal Maroons couldn't secure funding for a new arena on the site of the old Baker Bowl.
Or even that for decades before the Flyers' arrival, Philadelphia was a reliable home to a wide range of colorful minor league franchises with names like Arrows, Comets, Ramblers, Rockets and Falcons - and even after (Firebirds, Phantoms).
And we won't even mention the World Hockey Association's home ice-challenged flirtations with the market - the inaugural 1972-73 season's Philadelphia Blazers (Civic Center/Convention Hall) and 1973-74's mid-season relocated New York Golden Blades-to-Jersey Knights (suburban Cherry Hill [NJ] Arena)!
The Houston Oilers - With Fr. Ed Fowler
We consult a higher authority this week to help us dig into the story of the NFL's former Houston Oilers - one of the American Football League's founding franchises in 1960, and the predecessor to today's Nashville-based Tennessee Titans.
Before decamping for divinity school in the late 1990s and a second career as a vicar in the US Anglican church, Fr. Ed Fowler ("Loser Takes All: Bud Adams, Bad Football & Big Business") spent over 30 years as both a writer and columnist for sports sections at major newspapers such as the Austin American-Statesman, Kansas City Star, Chicago Daily News, and finally, the Houston Chronicle - where he spilled plenty of ink on the trials and tribulations of Houston's first professional football team.
The Oilers were owned throughout their existence by Houston oil industry entrepreneur Bud Adams - and dominated the AFL's early years by winning titles in 1960 and 1961, and barely missing out on a third (a double-OT loss to the Dallas Texans in the 1962 AFL Championship Game).
Post-merger, the Oilers spent the bulk of the '70s as NFL also-rans until the coach "Bum" Phillips-led "Luv Ya Blue" era (1978-80), that netted two straight (though losing) AFC Championship Game appearances and featured stars like Elvin Bethea, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and rookie RB sensation Earl Campbell.
Though the team consistently made the playoffs from 1987-93 behind the QB wizardry of CFL star Warren Moon, the Oilers posted losing records in virtually every season otherwise.
Adams, who first threatened to move the team in the late 1980s, followed through at the end of the 1996 season and relocated the Oilers to Tennessee - where they became the "Tennessee Oilers" for the 1997 (Memphis) and 1998 (Vanderbilt Stadium) seasons, before permanently converting to the "Titans" in 1999.
The Titans retained the team's previous history and records, and the Oilers name was officially retired by then-league Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, preventing the name from ever returning.
The NFL would return to Houston just three years later with a new franchise, the Texans.
The Original National Lacrosse League - With Dave Coleman & Steve Holroyd
Our resident lax experts Dave Coleman and Steve Holroyd ("Two for the Show") return to help us dig deeper into the largely untold story of the original National Lacrosse League - the seminal mid-70s indoor circuit that helped lay the groundwork for modern-day professionalization of one of North America's oldest organized sports.
Originally conceived by NHL hockey owners as a means of filling their arenas in the off-season summer months, the NLL consisted of six clubs in each of its 1974 (Maryland Arrows, Montreal Quebecois, Philadelphia Wings, Rochester Griffins, Syracuse Stingers, Toronto Tomahawks) and 1975 (Maryland, Montreal, Philadelphia - and the relocated Long Island Tomahawks, Quebec Caribous, and Boston Bolts) season.
While sizable crowds flocked to the league's fast-paced, rough-and-tumble summertime box lacrosse action in Philadelphia, suburban DC's Landover, Maryland, and Montreal - the NLL's other franchises found the going much tougher.
When it came time for a planned third season in 1976, however, three of the league's six clubs were already bankrupt, and the Quebecois were rendered homeless by the Montreal Summer Olympics, which had annexed the Forum as its boxing venue.
There would not be another professional lacrosse league in North America until the birth of the Eagle Pro Box League in January 1987 - the precursor to today's NLL.
The Original World Team Tennis - With Steven Blush
Pop culture writer/filmmaker Steven Blush ("American Hardcore") joins the festivities this week to (at long last) help us delve into the enigmatic story of the original 1970s-era incarnation of World Team Tennis - including an exclusive preview of his upcoming book & documentary Bustin' Balls: World Team Tennis - Pro Sports, Pop Culture and Progressive Politics.
From the "Bustin' Balls" book dust jacket:
"Tennis. Exquisitely tailored white outfits. Formally attired spectators. Stiff upper lips and utterly antiquated attitudes that made the sport accessible only to wealthy WASPs.
"'Tennis is the perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility,' said legendary rule-breaker Billie Jean King in 1973.
"By 1974, Ms. King and a group of investors made up of fans, promoters, and at least one used-car salesman crashed the country clubs and well-manicured courts with the creation of World Team Tennis - and eliminated proper etiquette in tennis forever.
"Tennis stars from the far reaches of the world came to Cleveland, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and showed a new breed of fans that the emotional passion and physical violence on the court were as entertaining as any Sunday afternoon football. Between cursing out judges, encouraging personal grudges, and the "anything goes" milieu of the 70s, World Team Tennis busted through all race, sex and gender barriers.
"Bustin' Balls is the entirely true story of the most controversial, influential and fantastic sports league you never heard of."
Negro Leaguers & Baseball's Hall of Fame - With Steven Greenes
When legendary Red Sox slugger Ted Williams gave his induction speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 25, 1966, he unexpectedly included a blunt admonition to the sport's establishment that something in the hallowed Hall was significantly awry - the absence of standout players from the Negro Leagues:
"I've been a very lucky guy to have worn a baseball uniform, and I hope some day the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players who are not here - only because they weren't given a chance."
The "Splendid Splinter" was referring to two of the most famous names in the Negro Leagues, who were not given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. (Gibson died early in 1947 and never played in the majors; Paige's brief major league stint came long past his prime.) Williams biographer Leigh Montville called the broadside "a first crack in the door that ultimately would open and include Paige [in 1971] and Gibson  and other Negro League stars in the shrine."
The Hall has been playing catch-up ever since - and as this week's guest Steven Greenes (Negro Leaguers and the Hall of Fame: The Case for Inducting 24 Overlooked Ballplayers) argues - still has plenty of ground to cover if it is to fully memorialize the contributions of some of the best talent to have ever played the game.