post from last week reminded me how few of my readers either are not interested in sports or follow other sports more closely. Oh well, too bad for me. But being a sports fan is one aspect that defines me. I love American sports. And while there are those who will disparage games such as football, perhaps because they use their hands, or take time between plays to create strategy, instead of animal-like quickness and instincts. But to each his or her own. Disparage all you want.
In any event, Hanzo questioned my attitude toward baseball’s current success. Well baseball is successful in economic terms. There is no questioning the millions and billions of dollars of revenues and the incredible attendance records that seemed impossible when I was a wee lad. But to me, baseball is not what it used to be. As I tried to explain, fans invested time and energy into the game. More importantly, they invested their heart. But it is hard to invest heart in a team, I think. It is more natural to invest in a player. You can relate and feel for a player who is struggling or is doing great. Investing your heart in a team does not reap the same rewards, it would seem to me.
There was a time when I was incredibly passionate about htis sport. As a kid born and raised in LA, I was a true blue Dodger fan. God, I loved that team in the 60s. Maury Wills, Don Drysdale, Johnny Roseboro, Wes Parker, Jim Lefebvre, Jim Gilliam. They were not great athletes, but certainly above average, good enough to compete for a pennant. But what really separated them from the pack was Sandy Koufax. That man was great. Truly great. He had a short career, and indeed, the years he was effective spanned a mere five years, but man they were amazing years. Indeed, on the strength of those five years, 1962-66, he was the only pitcher to make the top fifty in ESPN’s Sports Century list. Can you believe that? His last five years were considered better than the entire careers of pitchers such as Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Satchel Paige, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan. During those five years, Koufax was virtually unhittable. The Dodgers won three pennants and two world series. The two years they didn’t go, Koufax sustained injuries mid year and was sidelined until the end of the season. In other words, when he didn’t play, the Dodgers didn’t win.
Anyway, Koufax was my hero, but I loved everyone on the team. I would talk to friends about each individual player, the pros and cons.
“Koufax is the best pitcher in the world.”
“But he can’t hit worth a lick. Drysdale’s my guy.” PT used to say. And it was a tough argument. The Dodgers were a pretty crummy hitting team, and Drysdale led the team with a .300 batting average and seven home runs in 1965. They even turned to him to pinch hit. But it was this kind of discussion that we could have since we knew the individual players.
Marichal (27) brandishing his bat.
Koufax is behind Roseboro
Mays leading Roseboro off the field
Every so often, I’ll meet another old-timer at a bar who knows baseball from back then, and we have incredibly fun conversations. My favorite conversations are with Giants fans. Damn, I hated the Giants. And every conversation came to a cressendo with a discussion of August 22, 1965. Juan Marichal–the SOB–was playing chin music (throwing at a batters head) with the Dodgers. So when Marichal came to bat, Roseboro decided to show him. Koufax would never throw at a batter intentionally. He never had to. So Roseboro decided to whiz a ball back to the mound right by Marichal’s head. Pissed, Marichal whirled around and clobbered Roseboro on the head with his bat full force. Man, that was the worst I have ever seen one professional player hit another. I know hockey can get violent, and there have been some mean fist fights by many players in many games. But to hit someone in the head with a baseball bat? Blood was streaming down his head as Marichal was trying to get a couple more licks in. Koufax and Willie Mays eventually intervened, but man, it was scary and awesome. When I talk to these Giant fans, and we talk fervently about this incident: the Dodgers and Giants were both in the pennant race and everything was already super-heated. As rival fans, we hardly agreed with anything except for one thing: baseball is no longer the same. Today, players move around freely and rivals this year could be teammates next. Yes, I saw the Red Sox and Yankees over the weekend and saw the big brouhaha. And yes, they currently have the best rivalry in sports right now–Clemens and Piazza notwithstanding. But the fight this weekend just didn’t seem based on tradition–as if fights are traditional. Okay, Varitek is a Red Sox born and bred so I can see why he would get fired up, but Alex Rodriguez? C’mon. He’s been a Yankee for what? Half a season? That tells me he got pissed on a personal level, and it didn’t really have anything to do with being a Yankee. Nothing compared to the rivalries of the old days. Best not to make too many enemies. But yesteryear, players stayed with one team for a long time and rivalries festered, like an open wound.
Anyway, I no longer have the passion I once had for the game. Too many things have changed: salaries, free agency, the designated hitter. Baseball as a game is still going strong and still attracts fans, but it is no longer the same for me. When Bud Selig called the All Star game a tie two years ago, it was confirmation that baseball was no longer what it was. There will be no Pete Roses barreling into Ray Fosses in All Star games anymore. While the injury Fosse sustained effectively ended his career, he never complained accepting the effort and passion all players manifested then. No one could doubt their passion, even in a game that didn’t count. The played for the game and they played for there team, and I am moved by that. Today’s palyers have too much to lose. Money is everything and they will change allegiances for the right price. I enjoy the game still, but I cannot feel passion for it or for the players.
Of course, I might root for a guy who wears stirrups. Does anyone know why players don’t wear them anymore? That was one of the things I couldn’t wait to wear when I began playing little league. Pull up a pair of white socks, then wear the stirrups over them to support the arch (I think). I used to think they looked so cool, but I suppose that’s just another example of me being an old geezer.