Major League Baseball (MLB) has absorbed my life for more than six decades. What have I learned, and what do I still need to learn?
My earliest love and passion for major league baseball (MLB) began with a transistor radio I carried to school in the seventh grade and taking the bathroom pass from Miss LeMoyne’s English class to catch a moment during the 1957 World Series game between the Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves.
It was before Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and the Yankees came into my life, so I rooted for the Braves and especially Warren Spahn, who became the “architect” of my pitching style later in Little League.
I subscribed to the Sporting News from monies collected through lawn mowing and gardening chores around the neighborhood, and Wednesdays became a special day when I’d walk out to our mailbox – and there it was – all folded up into a tight neat bond with an elastic band around it.
MLB: Box Scores – Simple And Easy
It was easy in those days, as all that was reported were the box scores, batting averages, league leaders, and an occasional story containing opinion that prompted thought.
Time went on, and I saw no reason to renew the subscription as the internet exploded, and information was only a click away, but I noticed something that began to trouble me.
MLB: My First Reality Check
Baseball was becoming a business – no check that – it was always that, but it wasn’t in my face like when headlines began to change.
It was baseball’s baseball’s first true free agent, someone named Andy Messersmith, and Curt Flood, who had the courage to challenge MLB’s reserve clause, that restricted a ballplayer to a team for a lifetime, and then the final nail when George Steinbrenner signed Reggie Jackson to an unheard-of sum (then) five-year $3 million contracts with the Yankees.
MLB was changing, but it was not changing in a vacuum because I was too, and the decade of the Sixties became the most tumultuous inter-cultural war of our history.
MLB: Strike Three – Yer Out
I watched then as the power of the Player’s Union (MLBPA) began to grow, leading to a strike in 1980 when I was living in Dallas, Texas, and friends with Bill Stein, a player with the Texas Rangers, who enjoyed bowling and would frequent the bowling center I was managing.
As I looked at Bill and his son, who often accompanied him, I began to see these “Gods” who exist in our imagination as only men trying to make a living in a profession the same as I was.
Bill Stein, in his final year in MLB earned $250,000 ($601,563 inflation adjusted).
I use Bill only as an example to show how the game of MLB has changed for myself, and perhaps you as well.
While I still, and always will, watch and enjoy the athletes who entertain me every night, there is a sense of loss for those who played the game they were born to love; World Series money wasn’t pocket change.
It’s All About The Money
The 1956 Yankees team, for instance, had to split $8,924.36, their cut for winning the World Series that year, compared to the Houston Astros, who made a getaway in a season of suspected cheating of $438,901.57, on top of their lucrative regular-season earnings.
It’s not that I want to go back to the days when the Yankees’ right fielder Hank Bauer drove a beer truck in the winter to support his family while being on a Yankees championship team seven times.
We can’t go back, and it’s not my intention to do so as much as it is to remember where MLB has come from and where we are going.
Salaries for MLB players will continue to rise. Still, if they do, they need to rise proportionately to a players performance and not to award outrageous contracts by “reputation,” as in the case of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Bay, and so many others who sit in the comfort of their homes, collecting money they never earned.
MLB: Two-Faced Owners
MLB owners look to the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations as a way to rectify what they consider to be extravagant salaries paid to their players, but they are wrong.
The “problem” rests with the owners themselves because it is they who agree to these multi-year contracts that roll into contracts that reduce money left for role players, like Bill Stein of yesteryear, into the mix, that must include MLB’s enforcement of the Luxury Tax.
I liked it better when the Sporting News in my mailbox was all I needed to complete my day. When my Little League’s yearly journey to the old Yankee Stadium meant sitting behind a pole that obstructed my view, yelling “Hey, Boo Boo” when Yogi Berra (Bear) came to bat, but times change. I’ve changed along with them and MLB.
Seventy-some years later, I see a game I’m still in love with, and that’s why I write about it every day.
But I also see MLB trying to get a foothold on itself, and I wonder if they can, and will, succeed.
MLB headquarters in New York cannot seem to stop themselves from coming up with ways to reinvent a game that is pure in its most simple form.
I Was So Much Older Then, I’m Younger Than That Now
It worries me, and to some degree, I’m not sure I want to attend an MLB game in 2031.
But the trace to my youth persists, and that is what I grasp – because that was MLB then – and somehow amidst all that we see today has roots in that game – and that is what will survive…
A few play the game today like it was meant to be played – and you know well who they are.
These are the ones who deserve our cheers, like those we rendered to Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Pete Rose, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax, the ones whose names I scoured the box scores in the Sporting News to find so many years ago.
Baseball, especially MLB, is a religion, and if it finds you as it did me, do not let it go, because years from now, as it is with me, it will never let you go, and for that, you will have a friend for a lifetime.