Baseball 2018: But Some of Us Still Remember When….

Baseball 2018: But Some of Us Still Remember When….

“Remem­ber When” was first pub­lished in The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor, 18 April 2018.

On the first day of April, a spoof flashed around social media. In hon­or of East­er, all thir­ty Major League Base­ball teams would be wear­ing jer­seys in East­er egg pas­tel col­ors. April Fool! The day dawned, and the teams all wore their nor­mal uni­forms. The cul­prit, Chris Cream­er of SportsLogos.net, said it was all in fun.

Chris’s joke gained cre­dence thanks to MLB’s habit of com­mem­o­rat­ing every­thing from pet dogs to “our troops.” (“Pups in the Park,” who’s gonna clean up that mess? And for­give my cyn­i­cism, but when I wore the uni­form we were fre­quent­ly referred to as baby killers.)

Remember
Mike Trout of the LA Angels, Mother’s Day 2017. I’m sure we all love our Moms, but would they real­ly want their grown sons wield­ing pink bats? (MLB)

Of course the thing hon­ored must be Polit­i­cal­ly Cor­rect. For years now, play­ers have gone to bat wield­ing pink bats and pink bat­ting gloves on Mother’s Day. Some­one imme­di­ate­ly told me East­er uni­forms must be a spoof because it’s not PC to cel­e­brate a reli­gious hol­i­day. Yeah but, a Jew­ish friend wrote, “Passover was the same week­end as East­er this year. So it could eas­i­ly be accom­mo­dat­ed by hav­ing the play­ers also wear yarmulkahs.” But let’s not get into com­par­a­tive reli­gions.

Remember?

Base­ball is an ele­gant game, the only team sport not played against a clock. It is full of tra­di­tions. But it’s changed. Take the broad­cast­ers (please). When I was a kid they called pitch­es, balls, strikes and plays, and made pre­scient obser­va­tions about players—nothing else. The last great prac­ti­tion­er, Vin Scul­ly, retired in 2017. Vin did his home­work. What oth­er announc­er would know to tell us that Wil­son Ramos made spare cash as a boy by buy­ing a pony and sell­ing rides?

In Vin’s hey­day there were no rem­i­nis­cences of an announcer’s play­ing days, no ball­girl inter­views with play­ers, no celebri­ties clut­ter­ing up the broad­cast booth dur­ing the game, no goofy mas­cots, no songfests, no fire­works, no instant-replay, no reviews (umpires were uni­form­ly com­pe­tent and utter­ly impar­tial). Just baseball—pure and state­ly, as Abn­er Dou­ble­day intend­ed. (Yes, I know, Abn­er prob­a­bly didn’t invent it, but he should have.)

Just for fun I thought it would be amus­ing to record the van­ished fea­tures of base­ball as it was in, oh, say, the Sum­mer of 1960. (One of my bit­ter­sweet years: the last before my orig­i­nal Wash­ing­ton Sen­a­tors rat­ted for Min­neapo­lis.) I divide these between The Good (things we should have back) and The Bad (things that prob­a­bly won’t be missed). The more of these you remem­ber, the clos­er I can pin­point your age.

The Good

1. Remem­ber Sun­day dou­ble-head­ers, with one tick­et for both games? (True, that the cost of salaries and every­thing else now pre­cludes two-games-for-the-price of one. So how about a tick­et to the same seat for two Sun­day games, an hour or so apart, with a slight dis­count over the stan­dard two-game price?) Among the improve­ments would be a short­er sea­son. Today’s expand­ed play­offs have us play­ing in freez­ing March and dark­est Novem­ber. God nev­er intend­ed that for the game of base­ball.

Remember
Forbes Field, Pitts­burgh. One of the improve­ments since the 1960 World Series: field groom­ing. That out­field looked like a cow pas­ture!

2. The home team “took the field” and both sides stood for the Nation­al Anthem, which was part of every broad­cast. The Nation­al Anthem is still played. (Dis­re­spect­ing it hasn’t spread here from foot­ball.) But you nev­er hear it before a broad­cast. And you should. Some of us still remem­ber that.

3. There was no such thing as a “des­ig­nat­ed hit­ter.” The Amer­i­can League adopt­ed this ill-con­ceived rule in which the pitch­er nev­er hits. He is replaced in the line­up by an exhaust­ed roost­er who can still bang the ball but not play the field. The object was to pro­duce more hit­ting in an era of dom­i­nant pitch­ing. The cat­a­stroph­ic results includ­ed the demise of strat­e­gy (like the key deci­sion of when to pinch hit for your pitch­er), and the decline of the sac­ri­fice bunt, which every pitch­er was once expect­ed to exe­cute. Con­verse­ly, many play­ers sim­ply don’t know how to hit to the oppo­site field. This results in the ridicu­lous “shifts” we see so often. Anoth­er thing God nev­er intend­ed was all the infield­ers play­ing on one side of the mound.

* * *

4. Bunting is still done, most­ly in the Nation­al League, but it’s a van­ish­ing art. The essence of the clas­sic bunt is sur­prise. Time was when you’d nev­er square around before the pitch, hold­ing the bat in your hands. This just allows the cor­ner base­men to come charg­ing in to cut off your sac­ri­fice. Watch­ing today’s unskilled labor stand there hold­ing their bats long before the pitch makes my hair hurt.

5. Pitch­ing mound cour­tesy: When relieved, the depart­ing pitch­er would wait for his reliev­er, hand him the ball, and pat him on the back before he left—a lit­tle ges­ture of encour­age­ment that has seem­ing­ly van­ished. Today, be a pitcher’s per­for­mance great or awful, he slinks off the mound a few sec­onds after the man­ag­er arrives to take him out.

6. Every­one would remem­ber that a no-hit­ter was NOT men­tioned until it was com­plete. Today, with the excep­tion of a few tra­di­tion­al­ists, they start blab­bing “X has a no-hit­ter going” as ear­ly as the fifth inning. The words even pop up on com­put­er­ized box scores. Please note: this doesn’t go on in the dugout. Team­mates give the no-hit pitch­er a wide berth, and nobody, but nobody, says the fatal words to him. Of course no one believes that say­ing “no-hit­ter” before the last pitch is real­ly a jinx. It’s just a nice thing to do. Voic­ing those words is the act of an ingrate.

* * *

remember
Ebbets Field’s famed Dodger Sym-PHO­NY. (The accent was always on the “pho­ny.”)

7. There were no names on uni­forms. (The Yan­kees, Giants and Red Sox main­tain this tra­di­tion, at least on home uni­forms.)  Past­ing names on uni­forms might have been use­ful before the dig­i­tal age. But now TV, smart­phones and com­put­er mon­i­tors iden­ti­fy every play­er con­stant­ly, as do dig­i­tal play-by-play pro­grams. If you’re at the yard, the guy’s name and mug are plas­tered on a big score­board. If all else fails, break down and buy a pro­gram!

8. Ball­park PA sys­tems didn’t add to the cacoph­o­ny with record­ed cheer­lead­ing. There was no “Every­body Clap Your Hands.” It was enough once to have an organ blast­ing feel-good muzak. Or there were cer­tain fea­tures iden­ti­fied with indi­vid­ual teams, like Brooklyn’s famous­ly out-of-key “Dodger Sim-PHO­NY.” By the way: indi­vid­ual “walk-up music” for each play­er is one of the dumb­est mod­ern accre­tions I’ve seen. Espe­cial­ly when the guy pro­ceeds to strike out on three straight pitch­es. If a play­er deserves music, let it come after a great at-bat, field­ing play or pitch­ing per­for­mance.

Remember
The Wash­ing­ton Sen­a­tors’ immor­tal Goose Goslin. Bet you thought I’d for­get.

The Bad

1. “Pitch counts” were unheard of. The man­ag­er would decide how an indi­vid­ual pitch­er was doing based on his cur­rent per­for­mance. Dif­fer­ent pitch­ers had dif­fer­ent endurance. Pitch­ers tend­ed to be left in much longer than they are today. While all this was a trib­ute to indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, med­ical knowl­edge has advanced. The known strains of mod­ern pitch­ing, with 100 mph fast­balls and high-speed break­ing balls, has made pitch count a sta­tis­tic worth con­sid­er­ing.

2. There was no inter-league play. The Nation­al League played Nation­al League teams, the Amer­i­can League played Amer­i­can League teams, and the best of each met in Octo­ber (not Novem­ber). This used to be in my “good” col­umn, but friends con­vince me it’s well we have inter-league games today. You get to see rivals, like the Yan­kees vs. Mets or Nation­als vs. Ori­oles. Also, when the NL team is the host, Amer­i­can League teams get to play real base­ball, where the pitch­er has to bat like every­body else.

* * *

3. Bat­ters didn’t wear gloves. A base­ball writer I know says: “I remain puz­zled by how Cobb, Speak­er, Jack­son, Horns­by, Ruth, Gehrig, GoslinDiMag­gio, Williams, Musial, Robin­son, Man­tle, Mays, et al. could hit the way they did with­out bat­ting gloves. Must have been a pro­found hand­i­cap.” I think he’s being face­tious. Golfers and cyclists have always worn gloves, they must do some good for base­ball play­ers too. (But I would force­ful­ly ban step­ping out of the box to re-wrap your Vel­cro glove fas­ten­ers between pitch­es, short­en­ing the aver­age game by a good ten min­utes.)

4. On the first Yan­kee broad­casts I remem­ber, Mel Allen would some­times say, “Well, folks, bot­tom of the 9th and the Yanks are bring­ing in their gloves.” That was when out­field­ers often left their gloves on the grass of the out­field, some­times even in fair ter­ri­to­ry. So when the home team was deter­mined to win a tie game in the bot­tom of the 9th, they would “bring in their gloves” as a kind of dec­la­ra­tion. This quaint prac­tice end­ed when a cou­ple of play­ers tripped over oppo­si­tion gloves left out in the field.

“Progress was all right once, but it’s gone on too long”

Remember
“Ol’ Case,” num­ber 37, Charles Dil­lon Sten­gel, 1890-1975. (Wiki­me­dia)

…said Ogden Nash. Base­ball is an Amer­i­can insti­tu­tion (with avid boost­ers in places like Japan and the Caribbean), in part because of its gen­tle­man­ly tra­di­tions. There are many more than I’ve list­ed here. (Watch­ing Game 7 of the 1960 Pirates-Yan­kees World Series, I noticed that pitch­ers worked fast, bat­ters didn’t step out between pitch­es, and the whole game last­ed two hours and 36 min­utes. Every­body wore stir­rup socks, and Casey Sten­gel‘s ears were the size of Texas.

We can nev­er dupli­cate Casey’s ears, but we could prof­itably restore stir­rup socks and knicker­bock­ers instead of those bag­gy-legged trousers that flop around at shoe lev­el on the less sar­to­r­i­al play­ers. Damn right I’m a grumpy old man.

Now click here for Bil­ly Crys­tal‘s mar­velous rec­ol­lec­tion of his first vis­it to Yan­kee Sta­di­um (Yanks vs. Sen­a­tors. of course), on 30 May 1956. This is the very best part of Ken Burns’s doc­u­men­tary, Base­ball.
And:Best day of my life,” again Bil­ly Crys­tal, in City Slick­ers.

4 thoughts on “Baseball 2018: But Some of Us Still Remember When….

  1. Alan­na is sharp. ESPN’s announc­ers are unlis­ten­able. I do the same thing, turn off the audio and lis­ten to Char­lie Slowes broad­cast­ing the Nats games. I mean the Wash­ing­ton Sen­a­tors. Prob­lem is, ESPN often blacks out the MLB At Bat broad­casts, and I don’t sub­scribe to ESPN.

  2. Great base­ball mem­o­ries. I would like to say “ball girls” like Alan­na Riz­zo of the Dodgers are real­ly knowl­edge­able about base­ball, the play­ers and the rules. She also speaks flu­ent Span­ish. She is bet­ter than many ESPN announc­ers who seem to know noth­ing and who seem, unlike Scul­ly, nev­er to read or pre­pare for a game. Most are very poor, D+ at best. When­ev­er pos­si­ble I lis­ten to the radio and turn them off. Via MLB at bat I usu­al­ly have two or three choic­es, Almost always 100% bet­ter than ESPN clowns.

  3. He wasn’t a fol­low­er of team sports, though he loved play­ing one (polo). But he did have a few stray quips about base­ball, which I will post here­in short­ly. In the mean­time, for amuse­ment, I offer Ques­tion Time, House of Com­mons, 21 July 1952…

    Mr. Fen­ner Brock­way (Lab.) asked: “Is [the Prime Min­is­ter] aware that…the Iver Heath Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty Asso­ci­a­tion held a fete to raise mon­ey for par­ty pur­pos­es to which it invit­ed Amer­i­can Ser­vice base­ball teams to par­tic­i­pate for a ‘Win­ston Churchill’ trophy…and had a note from him say­ing he was hon­oured that his name was linked to the tro­phy?”

    WSC: “I read in the Dai­ly Work­er some account of this. I had not, I agree, ful­ly real­ized the polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions that might attach to the mat­ter, and in so far as I have erred I express my regret.” [Laugh­ter.]

  4. What? No quote from The Great Man? Churchill must have said some­thing about the great Amer­i­can pas­time.

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