Baseball nostalgia is welcome as a replacement for the interruption in the 2020 season. But it’s bland and needs to be more imaginative and relevant.
Baseball nostalgia has always been a sport within the sport of our National Pastime.
Whether they are conversations during a family barbeque, the workplace lunchroom, or on a barstool at the local tavern, they’ve always been an integral part of the fabric of baseball.
We recall moments of baseball drama as if they happened yesterday. Movies appear in our minds, and often, we are the star attraction. Because – we were there.
Baseball Nostalgia – No, I Was There!
I suppose, for instance, if every fan who claims to have “been there” for the 5th Game of the 1969 World Series when the Mets beat the Orioles, attendance at Shea Stadium surely would have soared to well beyond a quarter-million fans – not a mere 57,397.
Rest assured, though, I was one of those idiots who stormed the field, spraining an ankle leaping off the Orioles dugout.
Then, clawing the infield with bare hands in desperate in search of a clump of sod that would sit in the back of my Mustang for a month.
Ah, those were the days. But baseball nostalgia is more natural to explain than baseball lore. And sure enough, when I relayed the whole story to my nine-year-old grandson, he looked at me inquisitively – like – huh?
Should he choose to fall in love with baseball, he’ll have his stories to tell as well. Because baseball, just like the timeless element of the game itself, creates baseball nostalgia every day.
If it happens today, it’s nostalgia for someone tomorrow. “You wouldn’t believe the catch I saw Mike Trout make…”
Baseball Nostalgia Is Finding Nuggets
Baseball is also a sport about numbers. But to play the baseball nostalgia game, you have to be equipped with more than just numbers.
For instance, most baseball fans know that Sandy Koufax tossed four no-hitters during his Hall Of Fame career with the Dodgers.
But – how many of those same fans know that Harvey Kuenn made the last out in two of those games.
Bobby Thompson, of course, resonates with baseball nostalgia. But what about the story of Clint Hartung, an obscure but colorful player nicknamed the Hondo Hurricane who was sent in as a pinch-runner for Don Mueller and scored the tying run for the Giants.
Baseball nostalgia can go back as far as you want to find the reaches exploring the development of the game.
Baseball Nostalgia In Another Dimension
Which brings me to what is missing in the current revival of baseball nostalgia we see during a baseball shutdown. It’s not only about the Aaron Boone home run or the Jeffrey Maier “catch,” making Derek Jeter a household name.
Instead, it’s about drilling deeper to find the stories that lie beneath the surface of the evolution of the game we see on the field today.
What are the chances, for instance, that a nine-year-old Little League pitcher today would believe you if you said to him, “You know son, there once was a day when you would be banned from the game for trying to get a batter out.”
Seek and ye shall find the baseball nostalgia story about Candy Cummings (featured image) who dryly observed, “I thought what a wonderful thing it would be if I could make a baseball curve like that.”
Or, how about paying a visit back to the one-person carnival show that Bill Veeck brought to the city of Chicago when he bought the majority interest in the Chicago White Sox in 1959.
Veeck, who later aptly titled his autobiography “Veeck As In Wreck,” had the gall to believe that fans paid their hard-earned money to be entertained.
And if that meant sending a dwarf to the plate as a pinch-hitter, so be it.
Or, the night he decided it was a good idea to have a bonfire behind second base following a game – inviting fans to bring disco records to hurl into the flames.
Much like George Steinbrenner, who would follow him, Veeck was a man you loved to hate. (For a good read, see William Corbett’s story for SABR).
Baseball Nostalgia: What’s Real And What’s Not
But not all baseball nostalgia stories are as lighthearted. For there are times when exploration of our National Pastime can be painful, especially when it becomes intertwined with the fabric of American culture during a time of upheaval and dissent.
So why not use this time for the story about Curt Flood on the back page of the New York Post, a final segment of baseball nostalgia to be sure, to highlight the birth of free-agency and the $324 million contract awarded to Gerrit Cole (no offense intended).
My point is we are skirting around a time when baseball nostalgia can progress beyond the story I read this morning in the New York Daily News by Deesha Thosar – a writer I enjoy reading.
The article called for a remembrance of the 1986 New York Mets, a team fueled by cocaine and amphetamines, and all in the form of a prospective documentary running on ESPN and Netflix about Michael Jordan.
And as I read through it, I found myself thinking – tell me something I don’t know. Tell me more about Candy Cummings and Cliff Hartung – names not at the tip of my tongue in a conversation with another fan of baseball.
Baseball Writers: Seek And Ye Shall Find
The plain fact is baseball sportswriters are stuck in a ditch. Without games, the numbers, the standings, major league baseball is a Seinfield show – wildly successful – but all about nothing.
Baseball nostalgia fills the print pages and all nights on the empty ESPN, YES, SNY, and every sports network across America with single games from yesterday.
I’ve seen in Dallas the brain matter spray from the skull of John F Kennedy a hundred times. Nothing changes.
I’m all in on baseball nostalgia, but it has to be more than about looking up the box score on Nolan Ryan‘s seventh no-hitter and regurgitating a recap of the game that is readily available on YouTube.