Baseball, I'm told, is in bad shape right now. The World Series was canceled, and replacement players are threatening to show up. Everyone is talking about how the great American game has been trashed, how baseball has lost its integrity, how the players of today are greedy and arrogant in comparison to the old players.
I have to wonder, though: When, exactly, was baseball ever the great American game? When did it ever have integrity? Were the players ever really perfect?
Volumes have been written about how it is a poetic game, even a metaphor for life in general, and how old players like Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson were great American heroes. Yet baseball remains what it always has been: a sport, played in packed stadiums amid screaming fans and organ music. I go to Angels games to watch Tim Salmon belt one out of the park or see Chad Curtis steal a few bases; I don't go to discover the meaning of life.
After the World Series was canceled, everyone was disappointed, myself included. We all said that baseball has become too commercialized and that the players are too money-hungry. The thing is, people have been saying that virtually since baseball was invented. Would you guess that back in 1869, when the major leagues were formed, the idea of players being paid at all was considered very stupid? A look back through history shows that baseball's current problems are as traditional as the hot dog.
Today, the players are on strike because of the salary cap. Back in 1919, the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series because they felt they were underpaid.
Today, we complain about the advertising that goes on in baseball. Yet old players like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth advertised everything from Coca-Cola to Murphy-Rich Soap.
Today, players are criticized for ignoring the fans. Back in the '40s and '50s, though, Ted Williams used to spit at them, flip them off and throw his bats at them.
Today, we all fear having replacement players. Yet during World War II, that is what a lot of teams had when their best players were in the military.
Is baseball any different now than it was in the past? Was there ever such a time as the golden period of baseball? I think baseball is the greatest sport in the world. But it really is just a sport. You can't expect too much from it.
History has a way of smoothing things out, I guess. We remember the early 20th Century as the time when baseball was pure, not the era when Ty Cobb tried to cut up his opponents and the White Sox tossed the Series. In fact, one of those White Sox players, Shoeless Joe Jackson, was used in the movie "Field of Dreams" as a symbol of the earlier, better era.
The '90s won't look so bad after a while. They'll eventually become a part of the good-old days too, and go down in history as the age when great legends like Jeff Bagwell and Greg Maddux worked their magic.
Last season, you'll recall, pitcher Kenny Rogers of the Texas Rangers threw a perfect game against the Angels. Fifty years from now, when everyone longs for the days when good, honest men like Kenny Rogers played ball, people will tell the story of how he walked out of the bullpen through the mist and quietly threw a perfect game as the sun drenched the field and the fans sat in wonder, realizing that they were watching poetry in motion.