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Down With Conformity! New Trend to Sameness Robbing Game of Old-Time Color.

If you don't call your new ballpark Municipal, Memorial or County, or name it after somebody from Charles Comiskey to Gussie Busch, you jar the equilibrium of a school of conformity that has taken hold on the diamond.

Anything that doesn't measure up to a square isn't safe, nowadays. It's got to go.

"Why wouldn't it have been better to name the stadium in memory of John McGraw?" was one complaint when the Giants and San Francisco people rebelled from the everyday and chose the name of Candlestick Park for their new home. Every other major-league field except Pittsburgh's and Boston's bears the name of a person or the ballclub or is safely designated as a community edifice. (The Los Angeles Coliseum, of course, was named long before the Dodgers became a tenant.)

"Nobody will call San Francisco's park 'Candlestick.' It probably will wind up 'Giants Park,'" spoke up one voice of the school that favors making everything alike on the diamond. (Wanna bet?)

The National League is planning to number infielders, outfielders and batterymen in groups to satisfy the 90-degree minded fans, who won't rest until every inch of the pastime fits into an exact mathematical prism. They have made headway by alphabetizing the annual batting averages. They brook no nonsense such as Bill Voiselle's sporting No. 96, using his broad back as a billboard to advertise his hometown, Ninety Six, S.C. And the inevitable superstition defier who insisted on flaunting No. 13 is to be a creature of the past, unless he happens to be an outfielder. In the proposed numerical system, only outfielders can wear teens.

Gordon Windhorn played such good ball in the Yankees' camp last spring that an observer said: "If that boy will shave off those sideburns, he'll have a chance." This is a typical sample of the modern approach to baseball. It doesn't do to stray from the mold, even when you shave. If Burleigh Grimes were still pitching, his stubble beard would disturb the sensibilities of those whose line of thinking calls for everything being exactly even, or square-shaped.

Already, players are largely alike, off the field as well as on. Two clubs even tried togging their players in identical sports jackets around the hotels and on the planes. Gradually, numbers could be all that's left of their identity. The Chicago White Sox don't wear white hose and the Red Sox' stockings are mostly blue. Gotta be like the others.

The relentless search for sameness is seen in letters to editors proposing that every new ballpark be built in the same dimensions, so that records will be standardized. In time, if the cycle were completed, they would all be alike, from Boston to Los Angeles. And by that time every hotel a ballclub stops at may be named either Hilton or Sheraton.

"Progress is inevitable and most healthy," observes announcer Mel Allen, "but should not be achieved by throwing out institutions that are a definite part of the game. The clamor to eliminate the intentional base on balls by putting a runner on with a wave of the hand has a false basis in its aim to improve baseball. This ritual has a certain hazard to the defense and is part of the baseball picture. They have already torn out the box score and the daily afternoon game. Growth and pace with the modern world are most desirable, but knocking down the structure of the game isn't going forward; instead it's backward."

Most changes are for the better, such as grand, neon-lighted scoreboards that flash intimate information that only radio or television listeners learned before. It is proper, of course, the way the Commissioner's office keeps such spic-and-span track of every player transaction that there are no more rhubarbs like the freeing of Tom Henrich and Benny McCoy. But it surely was fun when Judge Landis freed 90 Detroit Tigers in one batch. And the time someone drafted a Dodger, Uncle Robbie jumped up and shouted: "You can't draft him; I've got him covered up!" It has cost a lot of interest, making everything add up right.

An Al Schacht doesn't seem to fit into the major-league picture now. And there is no Nick Altrock, Germany Schaefer or Rabbit Maranville cutting up. There used to be colorful umpires like Bill Klem, Silk O'Loughlin, Lord Byron, who sang his decisions, and Steamboat Johnson, who said "You're a dead bird!" instead of "You're out." Everything has been neat and circumspect since Beans Reardon retired. The umpires are all alike; they have to be.

During the first inning of every game, a formal notice, carefully worded by a lawyer, is droned to the public, cautioning against interfering with a ball or trespassing on the playing pasture and citing the penalty therefore. All strictly legal, and perfectly normal in the game today. Nobody is to blame for the change in decorum from comedy to austerity. But at least there can be a guard against become symmetrical too fast.

There need be no sticking to all the current practices. A fellow shouldn't be called a square if he advocates abandoning the routine of yanking pitchers, for instance. It has become so that it is considered a breach of etiquette for a knocked-out starter to head for the showers without waiting for his replacement to arrive from the bullpen. All that business of a manager or coach stalking out and escorting the pitcher off the mound is overdone. A manager used to stand in the dugout and yank 'em with a hook of the arm. Another questionable custom is applauding a departing pitcher who has just thrown a home-run ball just before leaving the mound. In Puerto Rico the fans are realistic; they jeer 'em.

It is not the intention to catalogue every change in the game as a product of too much scientific approach. Rather it is an admonition to be vigilant against the influx of too many attempts to make everything "by the book."

You could see how this baseball-by-the-book development has come into being in the quiz programs of recent years when almost all questions concerned only memorizing records. Ask most of them whether you should pitch inside or outside to Mickey Mantle and they'd be stumped. Or what a pitcher should do with the count two strikes and no balls; or did Burleigh Grimes chew tobacco or sassafras?

So hurray for Candlestick Park and Chavez Ravine. And for Yogi Berra, Mudcat Grant, Vinegar Bend Mizell and Casey Stengel. And Ramon Monzant, who stayed home because they wouldn't pay his year's salary in advance. For Bill Veeck and Frank Lane, and Ted Williams, who waives tipping his cap. For all the non-squares.

By Ken Smith

Edited and Abridged from the February 1960 Issue

Ken Smith wrote for the Hew York Evening News, Hew York Graphic and Hew York Mirror during a newspaper career spanning four decades. He covered the three New York baseball teams and the NFL New York Giants. He also served as the BBWAA's secretary for 19 years and another 17 as director of the Baseball Hall of Fame (1963-79).
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Title Annotation:ARCHIVES
Author:Smith, Ken
Publication:Baseball Digest
Date:Jan 1, 2020
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