This is not a “woe is me” diatribe by a fan whose team played to the very end of the postseason. This was brought on by a comment from good friend of the blog Diane in a comment a few days ago…
“A bunch of stuff has happened in the last few weeks that has been painful. In some ways, losing the Series is the least of it. I know this is big business with baseball icing, but I’ve stuck with it so far because it’s a tenuous thread to my long-gone hardworking daddy who toted me out to get mosquito bit on South Main, and to the Buffs before that. Baseball was what he got for faithfully holding a low-paying job and never failing his family. I know there will be more news coming, but I’m thinking I might not want to hear it. I still love ‘Tuve and Springer and others, and my heart goes out to A.J. Hinch, because as I wrote here in the playoffs, he was showing extreme fatigue — not just physical but mental — and it might have even affected his ability to make crucial decisions in that last game. These are highly paid human beings, but human beings nevertheless, and I’m thinking the season is too long. When you play almost every day and travel too, it’s asking a lot. That and cash considerations are taking us over a cliff.”
This brought me to the realization of how different the fan experience is these days and that most of the folks, who check in here have lived through sometimes agonizing changes in the game and how we experience it. Don’t get me wrong, some of the changes have been for the best, but some have not and for some of us any change is difficult to swallow.
The In-person Experience
In the 1950’s and early ’60’s the experience was minor league bleacher seats at old Buff and then Colt Stadium with lights as beacons to every mosquito in Harris County and the sweat index staining your shirts and blouses. It was an intimate game played fairly close to the fans and played at a reasonable cost and played fairly poorly by the home team. The games were quick and quiet in that 2 hour range. You could hear the smack of ball to glove during the in- between innings warmups.
Back in the 1960’s and ’70’s the in-person experience in Houston was fairly affordable – especially if you were sitting upstairs or in the outfield at the Astrodome. You parked within decent straight walking distance somewhere around the circumference of the Dome for $5 as I recall and rode the escalators up or down (normally up) to a cushioned seat in air conditioned, mosquito free comfort. The food and drinks cause more than in the outdoor world, but were fairly simple hotdog, peanuts, popcorn, beer and soda fair. The scoreboard had cartoons and exploded when the home team reached the far away and up high bleachers with a rare bomb. The team was sometimes better than the early days, but rarely sniffing a pennant race
In modern times, again the ticket prices, parking and food/drink have been on an unending steady rise. The average ticket last year ran about $68 at Minute Maid. Parking can easily cost you $15-20 a few blocks from the stadium. Inside the park there are literally hundreds of food and drink choices and hundred is a good word to use as a family of four can get to that cost fast. The park has a roof that rarely gets opened and again the people are protected from the skeeters and the elements as needed. The games are a lot longer and a lot louder. Three hour to four hour games are the norm. Young ladies in shorts shoot T-shirts at the crowd as they ride around the park or jump around along the dugout roofs. Loud music is piped in and between innings are filled with videos, games and thinly disguised advertisements. The teams have either been horrid or much, much better than the old days. The team tries to compete with the “excitement” of the NBA and NFL experiences with an untimed game. There is more to experience today, but sometimes less is more.
The At-home Experience
In earliest times, the “experience” was tied to a transistor radio broadcast of the game or a quick review of the morning newspaper that may or may not have the box score and a write up from the night before. The newspapers had journalists, who travelled with the team and their columns and game summaries were the life blood of information about your favorite team.
TV coverage of baseball was pretty basic. One national game was broadcast per week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, later replaced by Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek and in the 60’s the Astros occasionally were on as their home games were a safe backup to a rain out on the main game. The Astros would be on TV for their Sunday road games only. These were special treats to be savored as we could actually see in a grainy way the team we adored on the radio and in the newspaper.
This of course has morphed into today’s world where every game is available to fans (or should be – sorry Becky) on pay cable or on our smart phones or on our computers. This includes the crazed ability to watch any game by any team in the majors if you so wish (and have access). It is better today in some ways, but sometimes we wish for the quiet “theater” of just us and our radios and our imaginations.
Knowing the Teams and the Players
There is a moment in City Slickers where the “guys” are talking to the one gal on the cattle drive …..
Phil Berquist: So, do you hate baseball?
Bonnie Rayburn: No, I like baseball. I just never understood how you guys can spend so much time discussing it. I mean I think the game is great but I don’t memorize who played third base for Pittsburgh in 1960.
Mitch Robbins, Phil Berquist, Ed Furillo: Don Hoak!
Bonnie Rayburn: See, that’s exactly what I mean.
At one time there were only 16 teams in the majors (20 after the Astros, Mets, Senators and Angels were added 1961/1962). And in reality, most fans only cared about the teams in their league. Your team would only play the other league in the World Series and you would worry about that one team at the time. So, it was possible to memorize the 200 players from those teams in your league and know that Don Hoak was the 3B for the Pirates.
Today, teams play inter-league and there are 30 teams to boot and our brains are smaller and clogged and there is no possible way for us to remember the 750 players on the roster at one time. And even if we did…..they move around so much – leading to this.
To be perfectly honest, players did change teams in the old days, but it was always at team’s discretion, either by getting released or traded….. I float back to Spec Richardson sending the future of the Astros (Rusty Staub, Joe Morgan, Mike Cuellar) elsewhere. But since players were granted free agency, there are even more players moving either of their own choosing in FA or by teams trying to avoid getting nothing for their players when they choose FA.
In the old days, players were chained to their teams and were in a take it or leave it on contracts. If you want to see what can result from an owner shoving under market contracts on their players – read the book Eight Men Out about the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
But its tougher on the modern fan, especially if it is a player you really don’t want to lose (Gerrit Cole) that you suspect you will.
The Inter-league Experience
In the Astros case, the inter-league experience has too meanings. The team changing leagues and the team playing across leagues.
Growing up we were aware of the other league and we knew and maybe even idolized the big stars like Mickey Mantle or Carl Yastrzemski. But we rarely saw them and of course our teams never played them. This was a chunk of baseball that was not filling up our platter, because we were not trying to remember who the LF for the White Sox was in 1966 (Ken Berry – and no not the guy from the Andy Griffith show). We might get a glimpse of some of the other teams on the Game of the Week, or the World Series, but it was a here today, gone tomorrow thing for us.
And then the designated hitter happened in the AL and baseball was not the same in every game and it sure was not the same when these teams played in the World Series. Purists did not want it. Folks who were sick of watching pitchers making outs wondered why this did not happen sooner. And folks like me are wondering how you can continue to have two sets of rules in the MLB. Oh, Boston Celtics – you know how you built your team around making 3 pointers, well the Western Conference outlawed those, so when you play on the road at LA in the Finals you need to play a different brand of basketball. Totally, goofy.
Today we see the teams from the other league on a fairly consistent basis and it is not quite so special anymore.
The money has gotten to the point that we can’t really understand it anymore. In 1980, Nolan Ryan became the first player to make $1 million in a season. Justin Verlander makes about a $1 million…..every time he takes the mound. The league “minimum” is almost $600,00 a year – a number most of us will never see in our lives, maybe even cumulatively.
Of course back in 1974 Nolan was a 5 year veteran making a cool $27,000 a year. For a long time, the players had off-season jobs to supplement their income. My father-in-law talks about growing up in Brooklyn and a lot of the Dodgers lived right there among the fans.
And of course you had owners like Bill Veeck who would sit out in the bleachers with the fans. Most of the owners were quite rich men, but these days it is mostly corporate with our view of the owners being from a camera pointed towards the plate and seeing them close to the players in those seats we could never afford for the games they deign to attend.
Its billionaires, taking money from us (through tickets, food, TV revenue) and giving it to multi-millionaires. And both the billionaires and the millionaires talking “po-boy” about it all. Hard to take it all in….
Let’s face it. Growing up the stats consisted of a pitchers W-L and possibly his ERA and a batters batting average, home runs, and RBIs. For the speedsters we cared about the SB numbers, but we never got much farther than that.
Back then WHIP was something we might see on Rawhide and WAR on Combat. Now we are pulled into worrying about individual players stats like RISP. Back in the day, we never knew a player’s batting average with runner’s in scoring position was. We just knew we would rather see Jimmy Wynn up with ducks on the pond than Dave Adlesh.
There are numbers for everything and everyone and every situation. We know how Michael Brantley hit against left handers in the 7th inning and later in games that are within 2 runs. But we sometimes forget our nephew’s name.
How the Game is Played
Again, back in the day, when players never lifted weights and more were built like Terry Puhl and Enos Cabell than Greg Luzinski the game was built on skills and variety. The stolen base, the sacrifice bunt, the hit and run were all integral parts of the game, not things that were avoided because statistics say the chances favor those who swing away (like Joaquin Phoenix in the movie Signs).
The modern player is still terribly skilled. But the games have become whiff-fests, slug-fests where the winner may be the team that figures out how to position its players better (or luckier) than their opponents. The game is not necessarily worse, but it is very different than in our youth.
What We Know
The latest “situation” with Roberto Osuna highlights one of the biggest differences between the old game and today’s game. Back in the day, we did not know what we know now about the players. We did not know who drank, who might be running around, who supported who politically, who might be getting some extra performance enhancing chemical “help”, who might be taking recreational chemical “help”, who might have anger management issues, who might be abusing women, etc.
In some ways back then ignorance was bliss.
Normally, I set things out and then ask for you opinion without directly throwing out my opinion. In this case I will share my opinion first. Like a lot of other things in life, the modern world has made baseball more accessible to the modern fan, but it includes a lot that we might be happier without. To me it is tougher being a fan today than in my youth.
OK – now it is your turn.