My radio pal Jim Traber popped me Tuesday for my Oklahoman column about knowing only about half the baseball all-stars. He tried to make me feel guilty but failed. I just don’t much care anymore about baseball, and if other people want to care, fine. I admire their passion. But mine’s gone, and short of the Oakland Athletics relocating to Bricktown, it’s not coming back. You can read that column.
But my readers, as always, had interesting things to share. So I thought I’d pass them along.
Peter: “I left the baseball sports page after the last big strike MLB had, which could have been five strikes ago for all I know. But reading your article was, for me, like finally realizing that a loved one is really gone, that their death is real and they aren’t coming back. Truthfully, you’ve brought me to tears for the first time since the death of my beloved baseball of my youth. Don’t ask me why, but I was a fanatical Oakland A’s fan back in my childhood days of the 70′s, when Charlie Finlay was their owner and he gave bonuses to the players for wearing mustaches! Those days when Reggie Jackson earned the name Mr. October and before he turned Benedict Arnold on me and became a Yankee. Oh, and that dreaded team from Cincinnati with Charlie Hustle whom I absolutely hated but would just about give my right arm to have him in the Hall of Fame today (but that’s a whole other discussion, isn’t it). While I really shouldn’t thank you for writing the article, you’ve finally given me some closure. Maybe because I no longer feel alone about this death. There are, I’m sure, hundreds if not thousands of us out there mourning the loss of the days when we would stay home from school just to watch the World Series, for in those days, there was no night baseball. Yes, Berry, the lights are out on the game we once dreamed to play on that field of dreams. It’s taken me a long time to get there, so I think I’ll cry a bit more today, and try to embrace the memories of what once was our true national pastime.”
Well, I didn’t know anyone would be that emotional, but Peter’s best point is about no longer feeling alone. It’s not the younger generation that baseball has lost. It’s the older generation. You want the truth? I know a lot more young baseball fans, guys under 40, than I do older baseball fans. Us old guys have given up the ghost.
Robert: “I read your story with a sad understanding of what you meant — and with which I agree. The All-Star Game once mattered big-time, as did baseball, but that was then. When did baseball fall from THE sport in the U.S. to today, barely an afterthought. Was it TV and football, or something more? That would be an article, a series, I’d love to read.”
Well, it’s a good idea. I’ve written about it some. Touched on it some. But an analysis of baseball’s slow decline would be interesting. Starting with the NFL’s rise, the labor wars, the doping scandals. The suspects are many.
Bill: “Thanks for your article about the All-Star Game. Me watch? Probably not. I don’t know any of the players. In my day, about 10 before yours, everyone knew who #7 was, who #6 was, #24 was and who #44 was, and it was not McCovey. Rose was #14 even if Boyer wore it, too, and Yogi owned #8. Every NLer would get to worrying when they saw #45 stride to the mound for the Cardinals, as they knew that aspirin tablets would be thrown that night instead of baseballs. Anyway, great writing. Loved it.”
I was never a numbers guy in baseball or basketball – football yes, because it’s necessary — but I know what Bill is talking about. Baseball in the ‘70s, which included tons of stars from the ‘60s, was the very best.
Jim: “I agree that baseball has lost some of its appeal to us. However, attendance overall has increased, maybe because the population has increased, I don’t know. The days when we would stand on the street corners and discuss every player of our favorite teams are gone. In fact, I never see a kid on the street corner. They are all inside playing war games, etc. Baseball could improve the flow of the game by simply not letting managers make two trips to the mound; one trip and the pitcher is gone! The catcher should have one trip and that’s it. No stepping out of the box, for stupid reasons, and now they will introduce instant replay which slows the game down even more! Relief pitchers throwing on the mound when they are called in is wrong, they should come in and start pitching! Stupid decisions by the leagues! But I still love baseball, it is the hardest sport to play because of the bat hitting the ball at 90 miles an hour. However the love of basketball, of the pro variety, leaves me wondering where your head is at? Who cares about some guy that is 6’8” dunking a basketball. If I could not dunk at that height, I would retire to my bedroom! And their regular season is a joke and a circus show only! Also, they have some of the worst cast of characters in the country playing for them, hoods and spoiled brats!”
And just when you thought the world was rid of angry old men. First, most everyone 6-8 can dunk. But not everyone 6-8 can get free to dunk. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison aren’t in the business of letting you get close enough to dunk whenever you want. But forget the NBA ramblings. Jim told it straight about baseball. A slow game has gotten slower as society has sped up. That’s a disastrous recipe.
Joe: “I’ve read you for a long time and consider you the best sportswriter in town but don’t know why you badmouth baseball. I’m older than you but have always loved baseball as well as football, basketball, boxing (all sports really). Of course they can all be criticized, and drugs have hurt baseball and other sports, but I think there are so many now that get bored with any inaction on the diamond, field, court or ring. The world we live in is go go go, which like anything can be overdone. So you don’t like baseball anymore, OK, but I believe you do a disservice to baseball players and their many fans in this area by griping about it.”
Now that’s an interesting theory. I might be right about baseball, but either way, pipe down about it. But to be honest, I thought I had. I hardly ever write about it.
Russell: “I can relate very well to your article concerning the All-Star Game. I haven’t watched a complete baseball game in many years. I lost contact with the sport many years ago when I no longer invested the time to stay with the game and players. This was my first love which I played every chance I could get and would play until the cows came home. I, too, knew the stats of games to players to upcoming schedule and would argue that Aaron was better than Mays. Just because his cap did not fly off when running, did not always slide head first or make basket catches did not make Aaron a lesser player. Since those days many years ago, I learned to wrestle, ran track, play football, golf, tennis, softball and along the way through television programming was introduced to many other competitive sports including pro basketball, NASCAR, bull riding, cycling , etc. I occasionally tune in to a baseball game, but I lose a certain aspect of the game, not knowing the players, managers, team standings or even the stadium settings. Sadly, I only have a certain number of hours in the day to participate or spectate regarding sport activity and baseball became the one that gathered the dust. I blame cable programming, the internet and the smart phone for the interest decline in my life for this game. Even though I can still recite the starting lineup of the Big Red Machine, the passion no longer exists and the All-Star Game is relegated to the next morning’s newspaper along with Metta World Peace and Chris Froome. Enjoyed the article. Keep ‘em coming.”
You know, the Big Red Machine has amazing staying power. It’s remarkable.
Chris: “In my house, the All-Star Game is still sacred, as is baseball. My son is 16 and together we know just about every player from every roster in the big leagues. You thought Eddie Leon was relevant? We think the same way about Jhonny Peralta. You remember Adolfo Phillips? Just the other day, my son was raving about Leonys Martin, the Rangers center fielder. Monday night, he was hanging out with friends while the Home Run Derby occurred. About 10 p.m., I received a text message from him that said ‘I hate the A’s’ — an obvious reference to Yoenis Cespedes winning the contest. I know the derby is a do-I-have-to event for players, but he doesn’t, and marvels at every 400-footer while wincing because Bryce Harper might be eliminated. And so do I. Last night, as with every other year, we cleared the calendar to make sure we were in the same room of the same house to watch the game. During a commercial break, he told me that earlier in the day, ESPN featured the “Top 10 moments in all-star history.” I guessed Rose plowing over Ray Fosse, Fred Lynn’s walk-off and Bo Jackson’s home run. He wondered why Michael Young’s triple in Pittsburgh didn’t make it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that was only a top 10 for him and me.”
Like I said, some of the younger crowd still embraces baseball. And maybe that’s good for the game, that it’s that way. The younger crowd doesn’t remember 1994, and wasn’t disappointed by the steroid scandal, since they don’t know any other era. It’s like Jim said earlier. Attendance remains strong in most ballparks. Just don’t expect me to watch it.
Jim: “‘It’s been a privilege.’ That’s what Mariano Rivera said as he referred to his baseball career and the opportunity to pitch in one final All-Star Game before his end of year retirement. That’s also what I would say. ‘It’s been a privilege.’ A privilege to have been a baseball fan since before I picked up a Little League bat over 60 years ago. As a retired Presbyterian minister, I have a strong sense of the flaws in our human race. We Presbyterians prefer to actually use the word ‘sin,’ as in ‘all have sinned.’ And so it is no great surprise that baseball has not been exempt. Granted, it has been very disappointing. Our twin sons grew up watching baseball stars who will never enter the Hall of Fame because they yielded to the temptation of steroids. And for the first time since 1965, when only Pud Galvin (born Christmas Day 1856) entered the Hall of Fame, no modern day player will be inducted into the Hall of Fame when that ceremony is held on July 28. Disappointed. But excited. Excited that Chris Davis, for instance, has 37 home runs at the All-Star break. You appeared to dismiss his feat as irrelevant. But many of us in the OKC area watched him struggle as he spent parts of three seasons playing for the Redhawks. And then, perhaps like Sandy Koufax, one of my heroes who struggled through his first six major league seasons with a 36-40 won-lost record, something clicked with Chris Davis. Some will ask, understandably, was it illegal aid? Or is it because he has become more patient, more selective and has in his own words ‘learned the strike zone?’ I enjoy football. I am a big Thunder fan. But I really love baseball. Stuck in my memory will always be the year in which my childhood hero, Pee Wee Reese, finally hit over .300, .309 to be exact. And I will probably always remember how Jarred Cosart, up recently from the Redhawks, pitched 6.1 innings of no hit ball in his major league debut with the Houston Astros. And I will remember the class of Mariano Rivera, who has never ever been associated with the enhancement folks. And I will look forward to five years from now when he, the greatest closer ever, will with almost certainty be elected into the Hall of Fame. I wish that you had not used your column on the day of the All Star game referring to men, most of whom have worked hard and honestly to get where they are, as ‘a bunch of guys on a big field, occasionally producing some impressive feats but otherwise just standing around while I wait for something to happen.” How much more seemly to have written about Mariano Rivera, a good man who has and will serve as a good ambassador in a sport that, like most of life, has its bad side and its good side.”
Here’s the problem. Me, you and the ghost of George Steinbrenner himself has no idea if Mariano Rivera is clean. Baseball long ago lost the posture of innocent-until-proven-guilty. We’re left to assume that all of them are guilty, and that’s a stain brought on by the players themselves, who through their union refused to let drug testing stem the tide of doping. It brought great glory and financial gain to ballplayers. But it came at a cost. This is the cost.