Whatever It Is, It Ain’t Baseball

As early as my third Democrat column over ten years ago, i began my public rants about professional sports.

i remain torn.

i have loved sports, including professional sports, since as long as i can remember. With joy i remember Charlie Trippi of the Chicago Cardinals (yes, that’s right, you youngsters. The football Cardinals were in Chicago with George Halas’ Bears, then moved to St. Louis and then to Arizona) breaking into the clear on the black and white screen when a defensive back dove at him to make a shoestring tackle and Charlie (back when the pro rules said “down” meant you were stopped from moving forward) does a summersault and continues running for the touchdown. And i remember Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Bob Waterfield of the Los Angeles Rams; Bobby Lane of the Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers who is reputed to have played several games sober or without a hangover; Dick “Night Train” Lane who not only was a superb defensive back for those Chicago Cardinals and then the Detroit Lions but won my heart when he married Dinah Washington, one of my all time favorite singers even though the marriage lasted less than a year; even Red Grange as the play by play and analyst for the television game, and Lou Groza, the Cleveland Browns tackle who also kicked field goals with Otto Graham and Jim Brown and on and on and on; and then Mickey Mantle, Moose Skowron, Pee Wee Reese, and of course, Smoky Burgess, Nellie Fox, Roberto Clemente (the best right fielder who ever played the game), Don Hoak, Bill Mazeroski, Dick “Dr. Strange Glove” Stuart, Harvey Haddix, Elroy Face and his fork ball — notice how this list is heavily slanted with old Pittsburgh Pirate players — and on and on and on.

Now, my season tickets are long gone. i am still a Padre fan and watch most of their games on television but rarely go to a game. On of the games i attended with Maureen, parking, three beers, one water, two hot dogs, and one bag of peanuts cost over $70. We were guests of neighbors and didn’t pay for the $70 worth of tickets.

i love sports of all kinds, but the commercialism and outrageous money being made at the expense of fans is totally out of kilter and i rant too much about it if i keep watching it and i will keep watching and hope i can muffle my outrage just to enjoy it, but won’t, so this is my first public declaration of rantsville:

SAN DIEGO, CA – Mercifully, the World Series is over.

Admittedly, this former sports editor did check the scores as the games progressed, but I didn’t watch. I chuckled occasionally thinking of what Fred Russell, the dean of Southern sports writers would have thought of what should be called “money ball,” which is not the strategy for obtaining players made famous by Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics.

The games were delayed and played at night for prime time television coverage. The Colorado Rockies had to wait eight days while the Boston Red Sox toyed in the American League playoffs.

In the halcyon days of post World War II, the major leagues were far, far away, only something to dream and imagine as a boy in Middle Tennessee.

We might have seen major leaguers going up or down when we made a trip to Sulphur Dell in Nashville to watch the original “Vols” play Double A ball against the Memphis Chicks, Chattanooga Lookouts, New Orleans Pelicans, Birmingham Barons, Little Rock Travelers, Mobile Bears, and Atlanta Crackers.

The World Series was time for the Yankees to dominate, usually against the Dodgers. After television crept into our consciousness, my father and I would watch the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean on Saturdays and the World Series. Then, my father was a Yankee friend. I rooted for the Dodgers. He won.

We played baseball from March to September and watched the Series the first days of October. When we couldn’t get to a real diamond, we played on lots. When lots weren’t available, we played in backyards. If space was a problem, we played “whiffle ball” and stick ball.

As I recall, the first youth league in Lebanon was the Pony League. We played on the McClain Elementary School playground diamond. At nine while riding my bike to a game, I ran off the sidewalk, took a header and knocked out half of one front tooth. The next year the Pony League was replaced by Little League. I don’t think my tooth had anything to do with it.

What I saw of this year’s series bore little resemblance to baseball back then. Many players looked more like they played in a softball beer league than the majors. Mickey Mantle, Pee Wee Reese, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente played hard but dressed to perfection.  There were the extremists who were sleeveless like Rocky Colavito, but they were considered on the fringe in terms of the dress code. This year’s players looked like they were about to lose their pants.

Falstaff’s Game of the Week has evolved into overpaid super stars playing a modified game for the new version of gossip mongers, the sports fan of the twenty-first century.

Bowie Kuhn, who passed away in March of this year, tried to fool us by not wearing an overcoat in the freezing weather of night games of the World Series when he was commissioner. Perhaps Bowie was the turning point. Professional baseball evolved from sport to entertainment.

The loved and hated Yankees have been replaced by the Red Sox. Deep pockets rule. Strangely, Larry Luchinno, the Bosox president, came from San Diego where he championed frugality and attacked the Yankees for buying pennants. He even called the Yanks the “Evil Empire.” Now, if not the “Evil Empire,” the Red Sox are the baseball equivalent of Saruman, the second level evil in The Lord of the Rings.

Now there are two different games. One league has pitchers who don’t bat and “designated hitters who don’t play defense. So two different games are played in the series, depending on which team is host.

Fred Russell would be sad but find some way to express the irony with humor.

And Mr. Bush Babb, the overseer at the Cedar Grove Cemetery who played against Ty Cobb in the first Southern League before the irascible Georgia Peach made his name with the Detroit Tigers, would be aghast.

I must confess I am a contributor to this silly game of entertainment. Out here in the Southwest corner, I am a season ticket holder for the Padre games at Petco Park.

I often try to conjure up Sulphur Dell when I take my seat. San Diego is a long, long way from Nashville, and professional baseball is not the same. Baseball as I knew it is much like the home run Dick Shively would announce on the Vols’ radio network, “It’s going, going, gone.”

2 thoughts on “Whatever It Is, It Ain’t Baseball

  1. Thanks for taking this Murfreesboro boy us on a memorable stream of conscious consciousness that brought back real sports. Dick Shively was a special trigger. I thought he was far superior to any other sports announcer. Larry Munson never took his place and I stopped listening to the NashvillVols. But Dad and I to went to old Sulphur Dell. No place like it. Especially the dump in right field. Commercialization ruined the pros and the rich 5 are doing it to NCAA football. I still follow my group of 5 MTSU but I won’t watch the greed pit SEC. Thanks for your vent. I remember all of those real sports of the past. And my favorites were Pee Wee and Dizzy. Thanks again.

    1. i didn’t dislike Munson. He did a job for the Vols and Vandy, but he lost me when he went to Georgia. Shively and Sulfur Dell went together. i loved that ballpark. i am a huge Vanderbilt supporter. They have been very supportive of me, especially Andrew Maraniss, the resident athletic department writer and Candice Lee, the Vice Chancellor of Athletics. i know she and most of the coaches, if not all, are trying to do right by college athletes and the spirit of college sports. But they face an uphill battle against the other power brokers in the SEC. Glad you liked the trip.

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