NY Sports Day
Andy Esposito

Esposito: Baseball’s Secret Anniversary

Andy Esposito/NYSD

Shhh! Baseball is having an anniversary, but apparently, they don’t want too many people to know it.

It was 150 years ago that baseball’s first all-salaried team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, took the field as the first ballplayers labeled as professional, and thus, a major league sport was born. They weren’t the first team to ask their patrons to pay for the privilege of watching their feats of athleticism. That actually occurred on Long Island a few years earlier, in 1858.

But the year things got rolling to the point where today millions of fans go to games and watch the sport on their various devices debuted in 1869. And you would think major league baseball would pat itself on the back this year with a menu full of promotions and marketing events to remind their fans why they are enjoying the oldest professional team sport in the country.

Um, no.

Oh, there are anniversaries being celebrated left and right. The Mets are, so far, doing a bang-up job commemorating the 50th Anniversary of their first World Championship in 1969, with events already held, books are being released, and having Gil Hodges, Jr. throw out the first ball to Ed Kranepool on Opening Day was a nice touch. There will also be a full weekend of activities scheduled for June 28-30.

Major League Baseball, which will soon again rightfully celebrate the debut of Jackie Robinson in 1947 on April 15, is also celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Jackie’s birth in 1919. Even Budweiser is pitching in with a special bottle featuring Robinson. Hmm, Chock Full of Nuts it is not.

Some are recalling the 100th Anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal from the year of Robinson’s birth. You can’t call it celebrating, but certainly everything changed in baseball after that dishonorable incident.

And this summer marks the 80th Anniversary of the first Induction Ceremony into the Hall of Fame. On Sunday, July 21, six new members will have their plaques unveiled: Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Lee Smith, and Harold Baines.

For more info, click on: www.baseballhall.org.

The 50th Anniversary of the Mets’ first Championship is featured on the cover and inside the current issue of the Hall’s quarterly magazine, Memories & Dreams. The 150th Anniversary of professional baseball, from the institution that prides itself as the keeper of the game’s history is barely mentioned, but the Mets’ 50th is wonderfully feted.

Art Shamsky wrote a new book about the 50th, “After the Miracle,” which dug deeper into the back stories of the games that year and about a special reunion held in California when Jerry Koosman, Ron Swoboda, Bud Harrelson, and Shamsky visited Tom Seaver.

Wayne Coffey wrote a book, “They Said It Couldn’t be Done,” which also broke down the entire season and revisited the memories of many of the participants as they recall today.

And Swoboda has a book on the way, “Here’s the Catch,” about his career in baseball, highlighted by his amazing fielding gem in the ‘69 World Series.

Sometimes it seems like we may someday see books composed by everyone that participated, including the ushers and popcorn vendors, but it is always fascinating reviewing the season when literally everything changed in baseball, with expansion adding two teams, the leagues being split into two divisions, a new playoff series added, the pitching mounds being lowered, and the little engine that could (led by Gil Hodges, Sr.) shocked the world by overcoming tremendous odds by winning the big trophy.

So where’s the big coffee-table book chronicling 150 years of major league baseball. Nope, haven’t seen it. MLB should have commissioned one and have it in Amazon and every book store nationwide by now.

Fifty years ago, baseball did do a fairly good job of celebrating its 100th Anniversary. There was a special logo and patch created and every team wore it on their uniforms. There were posters and promotions throughout the leagues. Some teams hosted 1800s-themed promotions, some featured barbershop quartets. You may also recall when teams wore those 1800s style pillbox caps. The Pirates enjoyed that flat-top look so much they wore those caps for years afterward.

And that’s part of the point today. MLB did create a new logo and patch commemorating its 150th Anniversary, but there are postage stamps more prominent. It’s a miniscule thing, maybe four inches wide, about an inch and half tall. You’ll see it, if you look real close, on the right sleeve of every major leaguer this season, a thin bar that simply states MLB, with a tiny version of their standard player silhouette logo in the middle, and the number 150 to the right.

Happy 150! Whee! Let the party begin!

There could have been a larger logo, something that did a better job of drawing attention, something that could have prompted a million souvenirs and marketing ventures. Stadiums could have it sprayed onto outfield pastures like you see some teams do with their team logos. Since nostalgia never goes out of style, it could have led to all kinds of related wearables and memorabilia.

You won’t see it on the grass at Citi Field or Yankee Stadium. You won’t find t-shirts or caps with it.

When you go on mlb.com, you don’t see the logo or even a mention of the anniversary. The MLB TV channel has its own logo pushing the notion that it is now ten years old, but nothing related to the big 150. They replayed the Ken Burns docu-series, “Baseball,” over the winter, but perhaps there should have been an update somewhere along the way.

Perhaps there should be a traveling exhibit summarizing the lengthy history, taking to the country towns and inner cities throughout the year. Perhaps there should have been a 150th Anniversary Contest, with prizes related to everything from the All-Star Game, to Cooperstown, to the World Series.

If these things are in the works or are occurring, apologies across the board, but they have not become apparent to the average viewer, reader or fan.

Why all the fuss about a logo or its implications? It’s not the logo, it’s the message. Or rather, the lack of a message.

Lately, MLB has done a great job of “boasting” about what’s wrong with the sport. It’s too long, there’s too many shifts, too many strikeouts, not enough action, too many pitching changes, and so on.

Instead, it should be “bragging” about what’s right with the game, why we still come back year after year for now 150 years, and that starts with promoting its history and all of the good things that have made it so enduring and endearing.

Happy Anniversary, indeed.


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