A Glimpse Into Baseball’s Storied, Senile Past


So I was going through my attic and came upon this poorly typed article by my grandfather, who died last year.  He was a sports writer, and boy was he cantankerous!  I felt as though his thoughts would be appropriate this week.  Here they are:

I remember a time when my friends and I would abandon the manic thrills and broken windows of a stick ball game–the sidewalk was our internet!–for the excitement of a real baseball game.  We’d hop on the trolley, our eyes brimming with hope to see Barnyard McHoolihan sock a dinger, or Steps Bilbop steal home 23 times in a triple-header.  Zipping past Hoovervilles faster than I inserted myself into this column, my friends and I squealed with laughter at the anticipation of the truly unbelievable, hyperbolic things that definitely happened as I remember them.

Not like today, of course.  These pitchers today never pitch complete games, which already makes them inferior in almost every conceivable way.  Why, Chip Mastersball could throw a curve ball that broke from a batter’s eyes to the dirt in his cleats.  That’s how you threw a pitch.  He could do it all day, every day–he’d pitch 27 innings in an afternoon whenever he wanted, until he turned 23 and his arm bones exploded in mid-throw.  But that’s what makes a pitcher great, I’ve decided:  Putting aside his personal health like a real man and playing a sport until his body physically rejected it.

These self-entitled mound divas out there today don’t know how to play baseball.  Sure, they pick up the ball and throw it, but give me a break.  There’s more to it than that.  There’s billions of intangibles to consider out there, like how old-timey a player’s name is, or how many wins they have (wins, of course, being the sole statistic needed to gauge the value of a pitcher.  But more on that later).

Now, with your “set-up men” and “closers,” pitchers are spoiled rotten, and consider themselves too important to talk to me when I hide in their lockers.

“Phil, what happened out there?  It looked like you were good, but became terrible!” I shout, springing from behind their clothes like a lion with dementia.

Then they tell me to talk to their PR handlers and I’m forced to wait with everyone else to get an interview.  I mean, this wasn’t always such a process. We used to watch the game, shout questions at players, and then hammer away on typewriters until our knuckles bled (I preferred to type with my fists, like a man).  Then, it was out of our hands as we handed off our stories to the local 10-year-old boy on a street corner shouting “Extra!  Extra!”  That’s how you sell a paper.

But what’s worse than arrogant players is the stats that make them so “good.”  If I was 30 years old and still living in my mother’s root cellar, I could come up with made up terms, too, and assign them to my favorite players to make them look good.  “WAR?”  In my day, we had two of them, and they both involved shooting Germans.  “WHIP”?  My punishment for stealing pies off window sills.  “BABIP”?  My date to the senior prom.  Betty Babip, the chick with the hips, we’d call her.

Suddenly, these all-capital letters have replaced good old fashioned RBIs and home runs and ERA?  That’s impossible.  These are the stats I was raised on, and I refuse to believe that there are more accurate ways of measuring a baseball player’s worth.  You know how I know if a player is worth my time?  If he gives me an exclusive.  That’s how you know a guys got the salt to succeed in this game.

If we’ve learned anything in America, it’s that things stay the same, all the time; and in doing so, everything is great.  Once we’ve found on way to do something, it is cemented into history as the only way to ever do it.  Why do you think I wrote this on a typewriter in 2007?  Because computers are full of cackling devils.

But what do you expect?  I’m too old to change, and all I’ve got are my fading memories.

And players used to have tiny hats.  What happened to those?!