By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."
Comedian Bill Dana invented a Spanish accented character named Jose Jimenez (in fact there is a real major league baseball player with the same name) on the Steve Allen TV show in 1959. The character would “expound” on all sorts of subjects but with a very heavy Spanish accent. So heavy that he would scramble what he was talking about such that is was funny.
Click on this link to see Dana as Jose Jiminez, submarine officer.
Among his classic lines was, “Baseball been berry berry good to me” (in fact, in 1970 Dana killed off the Jose Jimenez character after realizing it was playing into racial stereotypes).
Now I grew up in NY City with three major league teams: the Brooklyn Dodgers (before they moved to Los Angeles), the New York Giants (before they moved to San Francisco), and the New York Yankees (still playing in The Bronx).
At this time of year many NY City schoolteachers would roll a TV into the classroom so we could all watch the World Series games.
Back in those days, most World Series games were played during daylight hours – so as to not “sully” the game by playing it under the lights.
In fact, Wrigley Field in Chicago didn’t have lights until 1988. Back then, the major league baseball “powers that be” thought the game would be spoiled by playing at night. Seems that modern sports promotion and TV ad revenues (after all it is a business!) quickly changed that, so now almost all the World Series games are played at night during prime time.
In just about every major league baseball market the World Series was THE event in every neighborhood. Every boy under 20 years of age would get 100% engrossed in what was then called “The National Pastime.” We knew the age, height, weight, lifetime batting average, and right or left-handed batting statistics of every player.
Mickey Mantle was one of the premier players who batted both right and left-handed as a switch hitter. It was not common back then, but today just about every team has at least one.
Back before Sabermetrics, baseball managers thought that hitting right handed against a left-handed pitcher (and vice-versa) provided an advantage for the batter. You have to look at the physical set up – a left-handed pitcher throws to the “off-side” of a right-handed batter – which in theory gives the batter a better look at the baseball.
Since then, the science of statistical analysis (called Sabermetrics) suggests that is not so.
Ted Williams – the last major leaguer to hit for a .400 batting average for the season – said the hardest thing in sports is to hit a major league fastball. So even a few extra milliseconds to “see” the baseball was supposed to be an advantage.
Through family connections, I was able to meet most of the New York Yankees of that vintage. Included were Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and more.
What I remember is that back then, Spring Training was necessary as the players would come into it way way out of shape. A winter of hard drinking, partying, and over-eating would have many of them come into camp 20 lbs. overweight and so hung over that Spring Training was necessary to get the players back into shape.
Today, with an average player making over $4 million dollars a year, most players are on a 365 day regimen including personal trainers, fully equipped gyms in their homes, etc. They come into Spring Training “ready to play.”
But alas, I suggest that baseball is not really “The National Pastime” any longer. Proof is that salaries have come down for the past five years or so driven by shrinking TV revenue.
We now routinely get 60,000 fans at a Seattle Sounders soccer game. That was unheard of even ten years ago. Soccer is perhaps the most often played game worldwide.
And professional football (NFL) has replaced baseball as “The National Pastime” for many fans. Just look at the number of televised professional football games. After the college football season is over at around Thanksgiving, we have pro football games on TV Saturday, Sunday (three different time slots), and both Monday and Thursday nights.
Pro football is so uniquely violent – something that appeals to American fans – that it is similar to auto racing. Many fans attend these events simply to watch wrecks and the possibility that someone will be killed.
At least that’s one fan’s view from here.
As my wife has always said: “Baseball is a stupid game. How could a man walk if he had four balls.”