Baseball Has Gone Astray.
* Teams had just two uniforms: white at home; gray on the road. Those uniforms remained unchanged season after season. Somehow it was comforting--a sort of safe, secure knowing feeling--to see the same cap, jerseys, and pants year in, year out. Today, with the introduction of third (and even fourth) jerseys, alternate caps, and the suddenly ubiquitous color black, players more resemble softball has-beens than classy professionals. The New York Mets, for example, rotated through seven different uniform combinations last year.
* To be in the World Series, a team had to finish in first place. During my grade-school years, the American and National Leagues each had 10 teams (after six decades of eight clubs apiece). The Fall Classic featured the regular-season winner of the A.L. vs. its counterpart in the N.L. Simple, fair, and quite appealing. Even when the leagues expanded to 12 teams apiece in 1969, the revamped system remained just. Each circuit had two divisions of six teams. The two first-place clubs in their respective leagues met in a championship playoff to determine the World Series representatives. The regular season featured a division-based schedule, as each club played its division foes 18 times apiece and its nondivision opponents 12 times each.
Today, with three divisions in each league and a fourth club chosen via the wild card, there not only is an extra round of playoffs, but the best four teams aren't even assured of making the postseason since a second- or even third-place team in one division may have a better record than one of the other two division winners. For example, a few seasons ago, the Mets (third place, East Division) and Los Angeles Dodgers (second place, West Division) both had better records than the Houston Astros (Central Division). Yet, Houston went to the playoffs as a division champ while N.Y. and L.A. didn't qualify because the Florida Marlins (second place, East Division) won the wild card. Moreover, teams play significantly more games out of their division than within, making a mockery of the entire divisional concept.
* The World Series took place in early October--during the day! Now, it's played in late, late October with the final pitch coming somewhere near, or after, midnight (and that's not counting extra-inning games). Two factors are at work here: starting times and length of game. Those beautiful early fall afternoons have a nasty habit of becoming real cold autumn nights, especially when the games don't even begin until 8:30 p.m. We understand the need for a prime-time audience to help pay the bills, but with postseason contests lasting three and a half to four hours (the two-hour game of our youth has gone the way of the five-cent candy bar and 10-cent phone call), games should start at 7 p.m. (EST), which will take viewers right through prime time. As it currently stands, World Series games--obviously the most important contests of the season--are played in the worst possible conditions (cold in the East and twilight in the West) in which much of the country never sees the final out. What a rotten way to determine a champion while alienating the fans at the same time.
* There was no interleague play. A.L. and N.L. clubs met only twice a year--in July's All-Star Game and October's World Series. Baseball is nothing if not tradition, and keeping the leagues separate was perhaps the most treasured tradition of all. Not only did the practice date back almost 100 years, but it was one of the key elements that made baseball different--and better--than the other major team sports: football, basketball, and hockey.
And what of each league's revered records? Baseball fans are stat crazy and trivia obsessed. But how can there be league records anymore when the numbers are earned against the other league? David Cone of the New York Yankees (A.L.) threw a perfect game against the National League's Montreal Expos last season. Is that an American or National League perfect game? When National League sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke Roger Marls' 1962 major league home run record of 61, they also passed N.L. seasonal home-runn leader Hack Wilson, whose mark of 56 had stood since 1930. Or did they? Do the homers McGwire and Sosa belted during the interleague games count toward breaking an N.L. record? Moreover, why should games against American League opponents help determine National League pennant races, and vice versa? Not only that, but the World Series, and especially the All-Star Game, have lost some of their luster. They can call them the Fall and Mid-Summer Classics, but such an appellation hardly seems appropriate anymore.
* A well-pitched game was expected and appreciated and the home run was exciting and special. Expansion, a juiced baseball, a shrunken strike zone, a lowered pitching mound, and muscle-enhancing drags have spoiled the two key elements of baseball. Good pitching is rare, and the home run has been cheapened. It seems that no one can throw strikes anymore, while everyone sends the ball sailing over the fence.
* Players respected each other and the game. There was no styling in the field or agonizingly slow check-me-out home run trots or taunting curtain calls or charging the mound after every brushback pitch or standing at home plate to admire home runs or wearing advertising caps and T-shirts for postgame press conferences. I can't help but remember one particular old TV clip of a Mickey Mantle home run. What strikes the viewer immediately is the way he circled the bases quickly, head down (no eye contact), so as not to embarrass the pitcher. Imagine such a thing happening today.
Wayne M. Barrett is Managing Editor of USA Today.
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|Author:||BARRETT, WAYNE M.|
|Publication:||USA Today (Magazine)|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2000|
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