So Sports Illustrated gathered some of their finest (?) writers to compile a list of things they “miss” about baseball. It seems in conjuncture with what is presumably an ongoing series titled “REMEMBER WHEN (presented by Nestle Crunch)”. Naturally, I was enraged by most of the list, being a young whipper snapper, and since apparently all the contributors of this list are crotchety old men fueled by imaginary nostalgia and a penchant for absolutely no fact checking at all. Shall we? We shall.
“If you paid attention in the ’70s and ’80s, you could spot a player by his stirrups. And if you were a Little Leaguer back then, stirrup style was a huge game-day decision. (I liked to think I had an ERA like Seaver and socks like Boggs.) Now? Aside from a few throwbacks (Jamie Moyer and Juan Pierre, we salute you), there’s not a stirrup to be seen. Too bad. The baseball uniform is more boring than ever. And no one wants an expansion team named the Boot Cuts”.
As you can see, the list starts out on a pretty agreeable note (unfortunately). Most young people I know, none of whom are baseball players, are in complete agreement that stirrups, of all varieties (plain high socks included) are awesome. I do think it’s a bit of an overstatement to say that there’s “a few throwbacks”, since there’s been a bit of a surge since the low pants wastelands of the 1990s. Off the top of my head, I can think of quite a few: Jim Thome, Hunter Pence, Nick Johnson, Josh Outman, DJ Carrasco, Ryan Dempster, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez, Curtis Granderson, Miguel Cabrera, Nyjer Morgan, Ian Kinsler, David Murphy, Joey Votto, Alfonso Soriano, Todd Helton, Scott Podsednik, Ichiro Suzuki, Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, etc.
2. Home Run Derby
“Say “Home Run Derby” to today’s younger generation of fans, and they immediately conjure the annual live, musclebound ESPN extravaganza at the All-Star break. But to those of us of a certain age, the original is still the greatest: the 1960 syndicated TV show that was pure low-rent, low-tech fun. The 26 episodes pitted 19 sluggers of the day — from Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron to Bob Cerv, Jackie Jensen and Jim Lemon — in taped, nine-inning slugfests held at Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field, a minor-league park that would in ’61 become the first home of the expansion Angels. (In the empty ballpark, every shot resounded.) Each week’s winner received the munificent sum of $2,000 and a chance to face another opponent in the next episode; the runner-up took home $1,000. It is a measure of the era’s chump-change salaries that almost all the power hitters of the era participated.”
Having seen old episodes of Home Run Derby, it was pretty damn awesome. The only problem with this complaint of course, is that it’s exactly these old timer fucks who’ve ruined the Derby. Ok, well, I really just mean Joe Morgan. Certainly the idea of dude’s slugging it out in an empty stadium with a old-timey host is good and all, but unless it was hosted by Vin Scully in 2009, there’s no way it would be able to exist without ESPN or FOX totally shitting all over it aurally, whether it be with Buck/McCarver or the aforementioned Morgan and Co. (Berman, Phillips). So in a sense a valid complaint, but it just needs to be acknowledged that I’d rather have no derby at all than to listen to “back back back back back” for an hour.
3. “NO PEPPER” Signs
“They used to be like airline food. The mere sight of one caused everyone, no matter how refined their sense of humor, to launch into a Seinfeldian riff about the need to ban such a harmless pursuit. “Is this the most hazardous thing they could think of? Come on! They’re major leaguers!” The cool thing about the signs was that they lent an air of danger to pepper, which we, as kids back in the day, used to play. We were engaging in an act that someone had deemed to be too dangerous for Reggie Jackson or Pete Rose. Then somewhere along the line, the anti-pepper movement won. The signs disappeared, no longer necessary because the game had vanished, too. And now we’ll never know what was so dangerous about it.”
This is headache inducing, since this dude isn’t even lamenting the death of Pepper itself, but rather, lamenting the death of the death of Pepper. Either way, this is all you could think of? Seriously. Of ALL the things you could possibly miss about baseball of the past, you miss signs that told the players not to play Pepper? And get real, you’ll never know what was so dangerous about it? Someone please explain to me what’s NOT dangerous about grown men swinging a bat at a ball from 3 feet away from each other.
A banner hung over the entrance: IT’S GREAT TO BE AT DODGERTOWN! And quickly you understood why. You walked down the magical pathways made of crushed seashells. Down Vin Scully Way and down Don Drysdale Drive, the streets lined with baseball-globed lampposts, azaleas in bloom and the occasional royal palm. In the distance the crack of bats echoed. The smell of freshly cut grass (somehow, it was always freshly cut) in the air. Here time moved as slowly as Tommy Lasorda waddled around the grounds in those last years of this baseball paradise. Dodgertown was spring training at its best.
Good god. This guy can’t even muster up the strength to miss Ebbets Field, but instead the Dodgers spring training field. First, spring training is for scouts, rich people, locals or sportswriters. Seriously. No one else goes or gives a fucking shit about spring training, especially those of us midwesterners. Since this guy happens to be a sportswriter, he’s clearly just complaining that he’s not going to get to go watch the Doyers at Vero Beach anymore. Oh, and by the way, the crack of the bat always echoes, and baseball grass always smells freshly cut, because it is. Time probably moved slowly for this mope because he was half in the bag on Mimosas by noon.
5. Walking Out Through Right Field at Old Yankee Stadium
But the really magical moment came after the game, when I tugged on my dad’s sleeve and whined sufficiently that he let me follow the crowd out of the gate onto the field and walk along the warning track and across that sacred grass where Mickey Mantle had trod. The Yankees discontinued the practice sometime later in the ’60s. The new stadium cost $1.5 billion, and for some little kid — and maybe the little kid who needs to be kept alive in big kids — that one thing might make it seem worth the price.
Cool dude, you got to walk on the field at (Old) Yankee Stadium. I mean, for a little kid, that’s cool. For a groundskeeper, that’s a nightmare. Maybe not everyone is as lucky as us White Sox fan to have the Sodfather, aka The God of Sod, aka The God Sod as our keeper, but with the immaculate shape he keeps the field in, I’ve thought about protesting the once-a-year Picnic in the Park event. Not to mention Bossard is responsible for the drainage and irrigation systems in almost half of the parks in baseball. Ballpark groundskeeping is a masterful art, and shouldn’t be fucked with. So like, hey kid, in respects to Bossard, and the rightfielder whose leg you’re going to break with the divot you’ve dug, keep the fuck off the grass.
6. Listening to Baseball on the Radio
Once upon a time, before Sirius and XM and MLB.com, there was a thing we called radio. It came in two varieties: FM and AM. The former was for music and the latter was for everything else –- especially, to a pre-adolescent boy in suburban Detroit, baseball.
Someone please inform this guy that the radio still exists, and believe it or not, baseball games are still broadcast. I know it’s hard to believe, especially since this dude had to have been drunker than shit when he wrote that, but uh, yeah…YOU CAN’T MISS SOMETHING THAT NEVER WENT AWAY.
7. Quality Mustaches
Where have you gone, Rollie Fingers? Or, more accurately, where has the cool mustache gone? The handlebar –- along with the other great facial hair features of yesteryear -– is as much a relic of the past as eight-track tapes. And that’s a shame. Even a decent mutton chop would add flair to the game, because anything is better than today’s variations of chin straps, extra-long goatees and exotic sideburn designs.
The funny thing is that I googled a picture of Ted Keith, author or this particular post, and guess what? This motherfucker doesn’t even have a mustache. Or beard. Or sideburn(s). He kind of looks like that kind in high school who always had the sniffles. In theory, I agree that more ballplayers should have mustaches and/or beards. And guess what? I can say that, with authority, because I’m not a fucking poseur like Ted Keith. I’ve got a beard. Also, Adam Wainwright’s mustache looks tops.
8. When Catchers Wore Caps
But there’s a romance attached to the old days when catchers wore a cloth fielder’s cap along with a mask. Maybe it has something to do with baseball’s, well, uniformity. Managers and coaches dress like players, and the players look alike, save for the catcher in his tools of ignorance. His cap, however, made him feel a little more part of the team. Battey donned his helmet after his cheekbones were broken, and O’Brien took matters a step further when two consecutive foul tips to the mask made him see stars. I can’t fault either of them, but the old cloth cap was the surest sign that the catcher was the toughest guy on the field.
Nothing says “you’re a pussy” like wearing a helmet as 95 MPH FASTBALLS ARE BEING HURLED AT YOUR FACE WHILE DUDES WITH LARGE WOODEN BATS ARE SWINGING 6 INCHES FROM YOUR FACE. That’s right. You, with the helmet, yeah you, you’re a pussy. Now why don’t you put on your feather cap so you can get fucking brain damage playing baseball. Now that’d be real tough.
9. Wimpy Middle Infielders
As kids, some of us were — how to put it? — wimps. Small. Skinny. Able to put the bat on the ball consistently, unable to make it travel much farther than the pitcher’s mound. But that was fine, at least as dreams of a major league career went. Because before steroids, before weight training, before Cal Ripken Jr., before this crazy idea that baseball players had to be good at the plate and in the field, there was a class of ballplayer that gave hope to every kid who still weighed 50 pounds in the fifth grade: the minuscule middle infielder.
Nothing says “I don’t actually watch baseball anymore” than a post like this. Anyone who’s bothered to watch a baseball game this year might have noticed a few wimpy middle infielders, like: Felipe Lopez, Erick Aybar, Cristian Guzman, Alberto Callaspo, Freddy Sanchez, Orlando Cabrera, Elvis Andrus, Chris Coghlan, Rafael Furcal, Mark Ellis, Luis Castillo, Skip Schumaker, Placido Polanco, Emilio Bonafacio, Craig Counsell, Chris Getz, Willie Bloomquist, Everth Cabrera, Kaz Matsui, Jamey Carroll, Chone Figgins, Ryan Theriot, Orlando Hudson, Maicier Izturis, and so on. I don’t understand how people have jobs writing when they are clearly ignorant poopy heads.
Most of all, though, I remember Youppi!, that 7-foot-tall whatever-it-is whose orange fur provided the one dash of bright color inside the dank, blue-gray-green Big O. As professional baseball died its slow and agonizing death in Montreal –- the Expos didn’t become the Washington Nationals until six brutal years after I saw them — Youppi! silently danced on the dugout, pranked the opposing team, hugged terrified little kids, and, like the fiddlers on the Titanic, did everything to divert attention from the inevitable, which finally came on Sept. 29, 2004, when the Expos played their last home game. There was talk that Youppi! might follow the team to D.C., but the Nats instead commissioned a generally charmless eagle mascot named Screech.
I mean, I’ll let this slide, I guess. Mascots are pretty awesome, especially when they are of high caliber (i.e. Pirate Parrot, Philly Fanatic). Also, Youppi! was the first mascot ever ejected from a baseball game, is awesome.
11. Fans Running Out Onto the Field
Now, though, the ninth inning of a deciding game means cops (on foot, on horseback, in tanks) ringing the field, keeping anyone from even thinking about rushing the diamond. So what are we left with? A scene of contrived mayhem in which bunch of dudes jump onto a pile — surrounded by acres of nothing — then put on goggles and go celebrate in a locker room that’s been covered with those giant clear tarps that serial killers use, lest anyone’s street clothes get soggy. Want to liven it up? Easy. Make it spontaneous. Let fans back on the field.
A classic case of why we can’t have nice things. I think a massive celebration with fans on the field is pretty sweet, but you can’t blame teams for wanting to protect their million dollar investments from getting shanked with a rusty knife by some drunk asshole.
12. The Baseball Bunch
Each week, Bench was joined by a fellow big leaguer and the two ran a group of youngsters through drills on things like stealing bases, bunting and fielding grounders. The show also featured Tommy Lasorda as “The Wizard,” who would deliver a message to the kids about how to play the game properly. This lecture was accompanied by highlights and bloopers, which may not seem like a big deal now, but in the days before 700 hundred daily SportsCenters, the MLB Network (and this thing called the Internet), it was genuinely exciting to see highlights. For any kid who grew up in the ’80s and loved the national pastime, The Baseball Bunch was must-see TV.
This here is a problem of a guy who doesn’t understand the difference between “missing” something and being a sentimental jagoff. Everything that “The Baseball Bunch” provided, you can get now, and more of. Just because it was a delight to get highlights in the 1980s doesn’t mean that they don’t exist now. To prove my point, here’s what you do: get your hands on a couple of Tom Emanski VHS tapes, so you can get down your fundamentals. Then, you have your option of ways to learn how to “play the game properly”, like listening to a Hawk Harrelson broadcast, or reading a Murray Chass column. Then, you can watch highlights on a variety of channels, or hell, even your computer. And bam! Look at that, it’s like your shitty 80s television show. Good lord, that sounds awful.
Attention, teams: Do you think fans are impressed with your piped-in stadium music? Do you think we care that Ozzy Osbourne announces Chipper Jones’ at-bats, or that Mariano Rivera enters as the Sandman? Please. Take your Young Jeezy and your Lil’ Wayne, your AC/DC and your White Stripes, take all your studio-created and digitally transmitted noise and throw it out. Instead, give me Omaha’s Lambert Bartak warming up the College World Series crowd with one of the hundreds of tunes he pulls off the top of his head. Give me Philadelphia’s Peggy Lee embarrassing an on-field streaker with a quick rendition of Is That All There Is? Give me a human being, one with talent and poise, one with an eye on the game and an ear for the crowd, one who knows that the music should lie quietly in the background, except for in those moments that demand it take center stage. Just give me an organist. Let the baseball do the rest.
There’s no worse sin in baseball than hurting a guy’s arm. Which is why no one throws complete games anymore and why pitchers are moving closer and closer to a standardized delivery. With precious few exceptions, it’s a compact, drop-and-drive, by-the-book motion. (Rumor is, every member of the Giants front office takes two Xanax whenever Tim Lincecum pitches.) Gone are the days of elaborate windups — the swinging of the arms, the rocking to and fro, the kicking of the legs. (Juan Marichal’s attempt to touch the sun with his toe is the most obvious example, though a personal favorite was Jack Brennan of the Indians, who used to come to a stop with his left foot in the air, like John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch.) It might make sense; that much wasted effort can’t be good. But at least when you saw a Marichal (or even a Brennan) pitch, you knew who you were looking at. And it’s a whole lot more fun to pretend to be Marichal on the playground than Roger Clemens.
Sitting alongside the American League’s most cavernous center field (440 feet), Detroit’s right field foul pole stood just 325 feet from home plate. It was born in 1938 when the structure’s expansion was completed and lasted until 1999. The second deck in right field hung 10 feet over the playing surface and created one of the most unique features of any ballpark past or present. Motown fans and foes saw countless Norm Cash, Gates Brown and Lou Whitaker warning track fly balls magically transformed into Tigers runs due more to trajectory than distance. Unlike the faux-features shoehorned into some of today’s modern ballparks, designed more to satisfy the public’s thirst for nostalgia than for the quality of the game, Tiger Stadium’s signature attribute was an invention of necessity —- right field was flush against Trumbull Avenue, forcing expansion away from the street when more seats were needed.
The motion was simple, a bend of the wrist and spread of the fingers creating a waist-high cradle for the free-falling baseball. The arms barely moved. Fundamentals were ignored. But then the ball dropped and the glove popped and the crowd “Ahhhed!” and suddenly, the routine had become the extraordinary. At least that’s how it was in the Deadball Era, when Rabbit Maranville roamed the infield, turning pop-ups into highlights before highlights even existed. The basket catch was casual then, its degree of difficulty obscured by nonchalance. It was just something that a few fielders — Maranville and, later, Willie Mays chief among them — perfected to fans’ delight.
We need to stop taking this sport so seriously. The richer baseball becomes as a business, the more protective everyone gets of everything. Fun — the lifeblood and foundation of the game – is being squeezed out. But who in major league baseball with access to the levers of power can make the game pure fun again? Who can give us more innovations like doubleheaders, ivy-covered walls and exploding scoreboards? Nobody. Not anymore, at least. Bill Veeck was an owner, a visionary and, thanks to the 1948 Cleveland Indians, a world champion. He may also have been the last man in the exclusive fraternity of major league baseball who knew that baseball, before it was about multi-million dollar contracts, drug scandals and TV deals, was about fun. That it was a game. And because he did, and because he won anyway, he was one other thing, too: a Hall of Famer.
The eephus pitch. Think of a pitch thrown with as much arc as possible. Instead of it being thrown hard, imagine it being so slow it wouldn’t be ticketed for speeding in a school zone (Dave LaRoche, the last great practitioner of the eephus, once claimed he could throw it in the low 30s). And instead of precision, imagine it being simply lobbed toward the plate in the general vicinity of the strike zone, sort of like the way your dad pitched to you when you were eight years old.
19. Ted Kluszewski’s Guns
My god, those arms. He looked like he could literally scare the ball over the fence. In a 1956 article in Sports Illustrated, Robert Creamer desribed Klu at the plate: “He swings his bat with none of Ted Williams’ grace, or Stan Musial’s precision, or Mickey Mantle’s explosive coordination. He holds the bat no more than half way back, it seems, more like a man with a fly swatter who is willing to land heavily on the fly if it comes within reach but who isn’t about to get excited over the chase. When the pitch approaches the plate, he brings the bat down in a short, level swing … and meets the ball. That’s about all. There’s not much wrist action and comparatively little follow-through. It’s all arms. But the overwhelming power resident in those arms cows the ball, reverses its direction and sends it flying toward the distant fences.” Plenty of today’s players could put Klu’s guns to shame — they weren’t shapely so much as just thick. But that’s why we miss them: They were unlike anything else in the game.
I’m not sure his “guns” were really all that big, as opposed to you know, wearing basically a fucking tanktop for a jersey. How’d he get away with that? Aren’t there jersey regulations?
Roger McDowell will go down in major league history as the greatest prankster to step on the diamond. He is most famed (along with being Seinfeld’s second spitter) for being the guy who could skillfully wrap a wad of chewing gum around a cigarette, then secretly place the contraption on the heels of unsuspecting teammates and light ‘em up. That’s the old-fashioned hotfoot. While today’s Mets have fired up their fans for all the wrong reasons, McDowell’s antics help give the 1986 World champions some fire and fun in the clubhouse. Maybe it’s time K-Rod learned the hotfoot.
Sure, buddy, McDowell’s “antics” helped the Mets win the 1986 World Series…never mind that he only pitched a combined 7.1 innings and gave up four runs over 5 appearances (bad). Well, I guess all that fire and fun must have gotten to Buckner.
21. Bullpens In Foul Territory
The worst thing about all of the new parks that have been built in recent years? Easy. All the bullpens are behind the outfield wall. Each team should be required to put their bullpen down the foul lines. It was always fun to watch a reliever who was warming up dodge a hard-hit ball. Plus, it would be easier for cameramen to keep an eye on what relievers do during the course of a game, even if it’s not always pretty.
First of all, Oakland and Chicago (Cubs) still have bullpens in foul territory if you want to get your weird fix, dude. Second, nothing is funny about an unsuspecting pitcher getting nailed in the head. What’s with all these guys missing really dangerous shit about baseball?
22. Old-School Managers
In an age when statistics, pitch-counts and matchups rule nearly every decision-making process, it has become conceivable that a computer might soon fare just as well as most of the men who manage today’s major league teams. Now if you were to tell fiery types such as Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Sparky Anderson and Whitey Herzog that they’d have to depend on numbers on a spreadsheet and not on their gut instincts to make in-game decisions, you’d be guaranteed a fight. Although some of their practices (e.g., kicking dirt on umpires) can’t be condoned, the entertainment value and gamesmanship that these men displayed on the field were the stuff of legend. None of them had a computer on their desks or printouts in the dugouts. And none of them needed them to win.
OH MY GOD EARL WEAVER BASICALLY INVENTED PITCHING MATCHUPS AND PLATOONS HOLY SHIT HE WAS LIKE THE FIRST MANAGER TO USE A COMPUTER AND STATISTICAL ANALYSIS AND REPRESENTS EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD AND SMART ABOUT BASEBALL LIKE HATING DUDES BUNTING AND GETTING CAUGHT STEALING EARL WEAVER IS A GENIUS AND YOU ARE WRONG YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT BASEBALL HOLY SHIT EARL WEAVER PROBABLY USED LIKE 5,000 SPREADSHEETS A GAME BECAUSE HE ISN’T A FUCKING MORON I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU
23. World Series Day Games
At least in those days the Saturday and Sunday games started at the kid-friendly time of 2 p.m. CT and ended just before dinner. That created another memorable effect: the autumn twilight that gilded the late innings. From Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder grab to Don Larsen’s perfecto to Bill Mazeroski’s Series-winning blast, some of the Fall Classic’s more iconic moments happened as the shadows crept past first base as if Old Man Winter was trying to steal second.
World Series day games would be cool, I guess, but also who gives a shit? Sorry if you have to stay up past your bed time, I know you’re tired from all the goddamned warm milk you’ve been drinking. If it wasn’t already this whole post is making me twice as Ageist as I was before.
24. Balanced Schedules
First, the good news (for some): the Dodgers and Giants meet 18 times this season. Same with the Yankees and Red Sox. Now the bad news (for all): the Diamondbacks vs. Padres must be endured 18 times. The Royals vs. Indians, too. For this, we can thank the gift that has long since stopped giving: the unbalanced schedule. Whatever happened to matchups that occurred often enough to be interesting but infrequently enough to not be diluted? Most important, whatever happened to slicing up the season evenly so that everybody played everybody else the same number of times, thereby ensuring that champions were decided as fairly as possible?
Why is Dodgers and Giants meeting 18 times this season a good thing? As if I didn’t already watch enough Bengie fucking Molina at-bats on accident. If Pablo Sandoval didn’t exist (and Cain/Lincecum) I would be in a constant state of throwing up every time I switched to a Giants game. No matter how you shape it, there’s always going to be unbalanced schedules, because the talent in each league/division will never be the same. There will always be bad teams, and they are gonna play each other. Sorry!
25. Bullpen Carts
In the 1970s and ’80s it seemed like every team had one. There was something about these cute curricles that captured the zeitgeist of the era. The Indians introduced the idea back in 1950, using a “little red auto” to transport pitchers to the mound. The White Sox upped the ante, employing a golf cart for their own hurlers –- and dispatching a black Cadillac, supplied by a local funeral home, for the visiting bullpen. Chicago later used a converted snowmobile that was fitted with special skis so as to not harm the Comiskey Park grass. Soon Brewers hurlers were cruising in on a Harley, Mariners relievers were sailing in on a tricked-out tugboat, Yankees pitchers made their entrance in a pinstriped Datsun and the Phillies’ relief corps had its very own fire truck.
If people used bullpen carts nowadays, everyone would complain about how big of sissies the players are, and that they can’t even walk/run to the goddamned mound. But no, since it happened a while ago, it’s “kitschy” and “cute”. Thank god this is over. Goodnight.