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It Was Another Time, Another World...
When It Was A Game
There was a time in our country when games weren't only played by children, they were also played by men. Grown men who so enjoyed something that they did whatever they could to continue playing this game, often getting paid a pittance simply to do what they loved. The fans appreciated them, oftentimes loved them for who they were to their cities and towns. The appreciation went both ways as the players were invested in their team's hometown as well.
Fans came to the game dressed as though it was something more than a game, dressing in nice clothing with the men in fedoras and jackets, where ties were the norm rather than the exception. Ladies wore bonnets and dresses and the children knew each and every player on their team. These they idolized even as they demonized those of the opposing team; but never hateful or coarse, rather only as a "bad guy" or lesser player than their own beloved team.
- Baseball Almanac - Movie Time: When It Was A Game
Baseball Almanac reviews the baseball movie When It Was A Game.
For the most part, these players were normal, everyday men who simply had a gift, or the drive to excel beyond that which most men had. Or perhaps they simply had a break that others didn't, being able to scrape and save enough to get by playing for wages that were less than the average man made in a year then. They would take jobs in the off season, doing whatever they could to survive long enough to see the warm days of summer once more and be able to play that game one more time.
They were polite to the fans because they knew they had some bearing on whether they stayed or left a team, and because America was simply more polite then. Not always of course; once integration began there was hate, and threats made against these players. Most came around; not all. But even yet, there was respect to be had between players and fans, respect that somehow carried both on and off the field.
Perhaps it is with rose colored glasses that I look back in time through, wishing for a time that will never be again, but if so I still will place them on my face and gaze through them wistfully at a time gone away.
For those who are near my age, do you remember sitting by the radio, listening to the scratchy sounds emanating from the set, basking in the glow of the dial as your heroes played the game you loved? Cheering as someone scrambled around the bases to score? Groaning as the other team scored? Imagining that you are there as the pitcher threw another strike by the hitter, watching in your mind as strike after strike landed in the catcher's mitt with a resounding "pop"?
Do you remember your first live game? I believe actor/comic Billy Crystal described it perfectly once in a movie. The awe one felt entering the stands after walking through the darkened tunnel; looking around in disbelief at the greenest grass you ever saw, and gazing at the unending row upon row of seats that seem to stretch on forever. The warm-ups going on before the game, players running here and there, tossing a ball back and forth between them. Watching as your pitcher warmed up on the sidelines and fired a strike into the catcher's glove and wondering how anyone could possibly hit such a pitch. Then the excitement building as your team takes the field, sprinting across that grass towards their positions. The first baseman tossing grounders to the infield and outfielders throwing the ball impossible distances between themselves.
Then, the first pitch. Strike one! You sat on the edge of your seat (if you weren't standing up), glove on your hand just in case a foul ball came your way. Clapping and cheering at the end of each out then cheering even louder as your team came off the field to bat. If you were lucky, your were sitting close enough to the field to see your team and maybe reach out to them between innings for an autograph. Eating a hot dog between innings and drinking a soda. Begging for cotton candy, peanuts, and a pennant as a souvenir.
Perhaps you were even dedicated enough to keep a line score from that day. Marking each ball and strike just like you were taught by your father on a sheet purchased for that day. Checking your decision on whether it was a hit or error against what the official scorer decided on the big scoreboard. Juggling the drink, scorecard and glove as a ball soared through the air in your direction only to watch it land two rows out of your reach. Hoping that next time it would fall into your glove.
Do you remember when your favorite players lost time due to entering the service during WWII or Korea? The game's best players such as Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio and many more all lost time during the height of their careers serving in our Nation's military, defending our country in its time of need. Their unselfishness shone as they volunteered to serve, walking away from the game they loved in order to fight tyranny on other shores.
- The Greatest Baseball Players in History to Have Served in the Military | Bleacher Report
The latest MLB news, trade rumors, scores, live coverage, free agent updates, power rankings mock drafts and more from Bleacher Report
Now compare that scene to what we are faced with today. No longer a game, it is a business for all concerned filled with people who cannot fathom any other lifestyle than the one they are living. They do not barnstorm in the off season, nor do they take a job as a butcher or factory worker to make ends meet. Can you imagine one of them walking away from their millions of dollars a year to fight for our country? Walking down the street in your hometown, smiling and greeting people like any other person? Look at the clean lines of the player's suits from years ago, the fashionable hats and limbs versus the inner city hood clothing and tattoos covering every square inch of their bodies; bodies filled with unimaginable concoctions designed to artificially enhance their performance far beyond that which God intended to borderline super-human capacity. The players of yesterday desired to excel on their God given abilities (with a little help from spit and other liquids perhaps) but doing nothing to their bodies until chemical advances came along in the 1960s and beyond. Was this when our game began its descent into the hell it is today? A game filled with greed and poor attitudes, of entitlement and demands?
On this, the eve of the First Game of the Season this year I dream, I think, I miss those yesterdays filled with an innocence unlike any we will ever know again. I miss meeting Stan the Man in Owens Sporting Goods, of seeing Mickey Mantle walking into his restaurant in the local Holiday Inn. The closest one can come today is to attend a minor league game, the lower the better. Perhaps a Double A game filled with the hope that a player has just to make it to the big leagues, to walk onto that same field you saw in your youth and experience the awe you felt that first time in attendance. Sitting near the fence on the first base side close enough to speak to the players as they make their way to the dugout before the game, asking politely for an autograph and experiencing the bubbly feeling inside as they smile, take the pen from your hand and sign your baseball or t shirt or maybe your program. Cheering them on as they struggle to climb the ladder to the big leagues and then cheering for them when you see them on TV a year or two later. Hoping against hope that they remember where they came from and never become that which is all too common in the game today: a selfish, money grabbing millionaire that considers themselves above the fans, and the game itself. To those of you who might be reading this little article, remember: it is a game. To the owners, remember: it is a game. Perhaps if you kept that in mind we all might get a little more enjoyment out of an afternoon.