This post is part of the 2013 Blogathon to support Doctors Without Borders. Because of my own boneheaded mistake, it got separated from the pack. But I think it is a wonderful way to officially end the event.
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Long-time Old Time Family Baseball reader, first-time Old Time Family Baseball contributor. Michael is a friend and a colleague (over at TPA), and this is a great thing he does, and I’m thrilled to be able to contribute to it.
I was thinking about that name, “Old Time Family Baseball.” It has a nice ring to it, puts a certain image in one’s mind. (Probably, like, this image, to be specific about it.) But what does it mean?
Well, looking around the site isn’t going to give you any clues. I mean. And come on. Also this. Hmm, nope. (That goes back only about two weeks, but I’m pretty sure it’s representative. Mike posts a lot, you guys.)
So what is “Old Time Family Baseball”? One imagines a certain unspecified fuzzy-edged Time in which baseball was a wholesome game, pure, family-friendly, something for everyone to enjoy. And when I see/hear “old time,” I think really old, like last century old, waxed mustaches and wool jerseys and all that. So let’s start there.
Here’s what Bill James had to say about the 1890s (and by way of comparison the 1880s), in his original 1985 Historical Baseball Abstract, in a segment called “How the game was played”:
“Dirty. Very, very dirty.
The tactics of the eighties were aggressive; the tactics of the nineties were violent. The game of the eighties was crude; the game of the nineties was criminal. The baseball of the eighties had ugly elements; the game of the nineties was just ugly.
Players spiked each other. A first baseman would grab the belt of the baserunner to hold him back a half-second after the ball was hit. Occasionally players tripped one another as they rounded the bases. Fights broke out from day to day. Players shoved umpires, spat on them, abused them in every manner short of assault. Fans hurled insults and beer bottles at the players of opposing teams.
A witness to the entire period, [Francis] Richter wrote that”in the ’80s there developed a spirit of rivalry which led to much abuse of umpires by players and of players by each other…. The situation developed nothing more serious than an occasional riot…. the steady growth of rowdyism reached its apogee in the decade of the ’90s, during the sol reign of the 12-club National League. Obscene and indecent language between players and to the umpires reached such a pitch that…some of the magnates could not stand the raw work of the players, and protested continually against it. But the larger number of the magnates condoned and excused every act of rowdyism, no matter how flagrant.”
Well, I wouldn’t bring my family to see that.
How about the 1900s? New century! The decade of the Model T and the invention of radio broadcasting! But also Ty Cobb; per James’ 2001 NewHistorical Baseball Abstract, Cobb spiked Frank Baker in a play that caused Connie Mack to label him “an undesirable person who will stop at nothing to gain his ends.” Can’t have the kids emulating that! Oh, and also, Cobb slapped a black elevator operator for being “uppity” and cut the intervening security guard with a knife and might have killed a dude, And if you’re looking for another reason — say Ty Cobb doesn’t happen to be playing in the game you’re going to — the average National League batting line in 1908 was .239/.299/.306. Boring for the kids.
The teens, of course, had the 1919 Chicago White Sox and Chick Gandil, one of the most despicable and un-family-friendly players in the history of professional sports, along with a number of other, lesser-known gambling scandals (several of which Gandil was no doubt a part of). Everyone knows gambling and families don’t mix. Unless it’s The Family Circus! O-ho. So true, Bill Keane. So true.
In the twenties Kenesaw Mountain Landis cleaned out the (flagrant) gambling, but the decade saw the start of the era of Babe Ruth, who stood for essentially every other vice (and I mean, we can assume he gambled a bit, too). Besides, home runs are base and violent things.
Nobody could afford to take their families to baseball games in the thirties, even at $0.75-to-$1.00 ticket prices (up to $6.00 or so for the World Series).
One thing we’ve been ignoring is that during none of this time was baseball (or most things in America) a particularly friendly thing to anyone who was not both white and male; that all kind of comes to a head in the 1940s, with building tension for the first six seasons and, once Jackie Robinson made his debut, constant death threats, protests, threats of riots and the like. Not that it wouldn’t be an incredibly inspiring thing to witness, but it could be awfully ugly, too. Besides that, for much of the forties, there was a great big war going on, and it was hard to justify spending time and money on frivolities like baseball (never mind that the baseball kind of sucked).
The fifties were the decade of Mickey Mantle, who was basically Babe Ruth after P90x. And of the Yankees, who’d teach your kids to be bullies. It was also the decade when we saw the first of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, with greenies coming into vogue.
The sixties? Please. As John Thorn wrote here, the sixties “were worrisome, stormy years for baseball” just as for the rest of the country. Relocation, expansion, a few extra games that allowed the Roger Maris guy to beat Babe Ruth’s sacred record, the draft, and on and on. Everything was changing, modernizing. That’s not “old time family baseball,” not at all. That’s new-fangled big-business modern baseball. And then toward the end of the decade, it was dominated by long-haired hippies. No thank you.
I was alive for only the last few months of it, but it’s always seemed to me that nothing was particularly family-friendly in the 1970s. Drugs, disco, the Astros and Padres uniforms…everything looks dirty.
Then, more drugs: cocaine in the eighties and steroids in the nineties. Then of course the 2000s and twenty-teens have been the exact opposite of old time family baseball, the reason we need concepts like old time family baseball.
I think I’ve found old time family baseball, though: it happened September 23, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida. It has all the elements. This happened in the past, so it’s “old time”; it was a Family Fun Day at the ballpark (every Sunday home game was); it was played indoors, so no exposing young children to the elements; and the Rays beat the Blue Jays 3-0, promoting in young ones a healthy patriotism and hatred of Canadians. There was, sadly, one home run (by B.J. Upton in the first inning). But no one fought with each other, no one was hurt, and I don’t believe anyone played in the game who has been suspended for PED or other drug use, or otherwise has a reputation as an unsavory character.
So, there you have it. When I think of “Old Time Family Baseball,” I shall henceforth think of a game that happened four months ago at Tropicana Field between two teams who were largely out of the playoff hunt by then. Awfully prescient of Mr. Clair to think to name his blog that, two and a half years before it happened!
In any corner of the internet that is not mostly porn, Bill has probably written about baseball (currently mostly at The Platoon Advantage and SB Nation). He’s a lawyer and currently cursing to himself somewhere in sub-zero Minnesota.
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