As we sit in freezing weather anticipating the coming of spring and another baseball season, the possibility of making more changes to the game we love also brings about many discussions with fellow fans, and yes, even professionals who will agree and disagree about tweaking the game.
I have always been in favor of just leaving the game alone, but then this week my eyes were opened by an elderly man I met in the barbershop. I began my rant about how the powers that be in baseball are once again trying to ruin our game with more changes. He casually began to tell me that the game has been in a state of change for as long as he could remember. He mentioned how Babe Ruth revolutionized the game after the turn of the century. Taking it from small ball to the big home run era. It wasn’t long before fans began to love seeing Ruth launch baseballs into the bleachers. I gave that a thought and realized that there have been many changes through the years. Yet the game is still the same.
In no particular order, here are some of the changes that we have seen that at the time of their inception, were looked at as things that would undoubtedly ruin the game. The DH in the American League was met with skepticism that continues to this day from baseball purists. We have now seen that It has allowed good players to extend their careers and for us to enjoy them for a few more years.
When the two National League teams in town moved to the west coast, many Dodger and Giant fans thought it was the end of baseball for them in New York. Expansion teams brought cries of watering down the major leagues. Happily for those former Giant and Dodger fans, they became Mets fans. A breadown into four divisions as well as the expanded playoffs began in 1969, where we saw the Mets beat the Braves in the first National League Championship Series and then go on to their first World Series championship. All of that has expanded to the wild card era which allowed more fans around the country a better chance to see their team potentially win a World Series.
Teams have changed leagues, while Interleague play has given us cross town rivalries in our big cities. How about when we saw two All Star games per season from 1959 to 1962? That was exciting. Night baseball was going to ruin the game. Matter of fact, the Cubs refused to install lights until 1988. Many a pennant was lost playing all those day games in July and August in Chicago. The first World Series game under the lights was game four in Pittsburgh in 1971. This enabled kids to watch the Series with their Dads after school and dinner. Though I do have fond memories of sneaking a transistor radio into school in the ‘50s when New York teams were in the series every year.
Names on the backs of uniforms? The Red Sox wanted to just put “YAZ” on Carl Yastrzemski’s uniform but he said no and made them put the whole name on his back. Oh those silly Red Sox. Cookie cutter ballparks, pillbox hats, uniforms made of stretch material with no belts or buttons. Many with wild colors. Well maybe there were some changes we could live without.
Free agency was going to break up teams. Instead it has allowed us to think that maybe just maybe that big power hitter of our rival could one day be playing for us. Unless your team starts with an “M.” The draft has leveled the abilities of small market teams to acquire young prospects without having to out bid richer teams.
The biggest change though, was in 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the Major Leagues. That was resisted by fans, players, reporters and front office people as something that would ruin baseball and although there is still plenty of racism in this country of ours, baseball was the leader in making a change that has brought opportunities to so many.
So the next time you get into a heated discussion about instant replay or the new intentional walk, just remember that baseball is not perfect. It never was and never will be. Changes are an on-going thing dating back to the turn of that other century, yet the game is still the same. 3 strikes, 4 balls and 3 outs. The bases are still 90 feet apart and the pitcher’s rubber is still 60 feet 6 inches from the plate. It’s still the greatest game ever. Wait, you say they are putting netting down the lines at Yankee Stadium? That is going to ruin my view!