MLB’s Last Gasp: The Passing of the Favorite Pasttime

It’s Good Friday. I suppose this isn’t the time to talk about politics or criminals. So perhaps we should discuss a little bit of sports.

I read an article the other day in the Boston Globe about J.D. Martinez. He apparently is one of the Boston Red Sox new players. They say that a few years back he was almost all washed up but then he discovered that he was swinging at the ball in the wrong way. He should have been swinging at the ball using an uppercut motion rather than the way he was doing it.

If memory serves me correctly the article says Ted Williams apparently using the uppercut swing when he hit the ball. I sort of questioned that. The problem with suggesting that he did is that, as best I can tell, the article says that using the uppercut swing will result in a lower batting average. As I recall Williams’s batting average was over .400 one year. If the article is true about the uppercut swing lowering a batting average it is difficult to imagine what it would have been Ted William’s average if he swung the other way. It would have to have been over .500.

Looking back on my days playing baseball, I am convinced that I must have been using the uppercut swing. It wasn’t called that back then but I remember trying to swing like Ted. The result for me was that I struck out a lot. The article does note that is one of the result of using it. Then again, thinking of my times at bat, maybe I’m rationalizing about the reason I struck out so much. I seem to recall that most of my strikeouts were on a third called strike.

When I finished the article I thought that it was a not too clever explanation for telling us that we should not get upset with guys with lousy batting averages. That an old standard from the past. We must now consider another statistic that has something to do with power which is called the slugging percentage. If you don’t get many hits, which the batting average reflects, that is all right as long as you get a lot of slugs.

Remembering the owner of the Red Sox also owns the Globe I figured that is the way he justified bringing J.D. Martinez on the team. “He’s a slugger.” So the Globe tells us we are now supposed to consider a player’s value based on power which seems to boil down to his hitting home runs prowess.

Am I correct in remembering the article said that Major League Baseball (MLB) experienced more home runs last year than during any prior year in its history? Does it follow that MLB has fixed the game so that it no longer has soccer type scores but they are going to be more like the National Football League (NFL). Have the MLB owners decided that the fans would prefer a 21 to 17 game over a 1 to 0 pitchers’ duel.

There’s little doubt that “America’s Favorite Pastime” MLB has seen its title passed on to the NFL. Its  attendance is down. A Forbes headline last October noted: “MLB Season Attendance Dips Below 73 Million For First Time Since 2002.” Yes, it’s  true the NFL has also experienced fan base diminution due in part to some people objecting to what they perceive as NFL players disrespecting the  flag and to the feeling that the TV games are one long commercial. Even so, it  still far outranks baseball.

So the MLB owners are going to make it more exciting with home runs hoping interest in the game can be revived. I think they are going about it the wrong way; for me there was nothing more exciting than a game going into late inning tied at zero to zero and then having one team win, not by a walk off home run, but by eking out a single, a steal, a passed ball and a trip home. Tinkering with the game isn’t going to change the interest in it.

It may be simply that more Americans have had increasing difficulty identifying with MLB teams. The Red Sox opening day lineup shows that six out of nine players who will bat are from Latino backgrounds, with four not being born America citizens. How does that affect the Make America Great Again crowd who look back to the earlier days of the country when the percentage of Americans in baseball was in the high eighties. It did not drop below 80% until 1996.

The question that must be answered is will America’s once favorite pastime survive when it has less and less Americans playing on its teams.

29 thoughts on “MLB’s Last Gasp: The Passing of the Favorite Pasttime

  1. My Million Dollar Infield

    Dick Stuart: First Base
    “It was his inability to field his position that gained him his string of unflattering nicknames – “Stonefingers,” “The Boston Strangler,” “Doctor Strangeglove.” ..Highly insulting but richly deserved…He charted new dimensions in defensive ineptitude…Stu once picked up a hotdog wrapper blowing toward his position and received a standing ovation…it was the first thing he had managed to pick all day and the fans realized it could very well be the last.”
    Billy Consolo: Second Base
    “1952 Red Sox shelled out 90,000 balloons, a record at that time….He could hit, but not breaking pitches, he could run, but seldom got the chance….great glove but highly erratic….most throws landed six rows in grandstand….all attributes were deeply and irrevocably flawed….which is to say if you are constructing a large cantaloupe, start with a small cantaloupe, not a collection of small cantaloupe parts.”
    Marv Throneberry: Third Base
    “Every one has his favorite Marv Throneberry joke. Mine was Marv himself. When Marv complained he had not been given a piece of his birthday cake, Casey Stengel told him, “We wuz gonna give you a piece,,Marv, but we wuz afraid you’d drop it.”
    Don Buddin: Shortstop
    “A professional goat, a creative goat…he would neglect to touch a base during a rally, lose pop-ups in the sun in extra innings…forget the count and try to bunt with two strikes…If there were a way to make the worst out of a situation, Don Buddin could be counted on to find it.”

    Player profiles excerpted from The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book
    By Brendan C. Boyd (not Oilcan) and Fred C. Harris

    1. I think Marv Throneberry was a considerable part of the inspiration for the plaintive title of Casey Stengel’s memoir of his return from retirement to serve as the first manager of the New York Mets, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”

    1. An army pal who was a sportswriter had sent me this note: Marv’s brother Faye was playing 1B in a game for Stengel’s Mets when a runner was picked off first. He was so surely out that instead of even trying to get back to the bag, he jumped into Throneberry’s arm…. At least, that how the story/legend has it.

  2. At the old New England Sportsman’s Show held every winter at the Commonwealth Armory, I was incredibly lucky one fine day. Maybe the finest day ever. I was 14 and a fanatical fly fisherman. I had been fly fishing since I was 10 and bought my own fly rod when I was 12. Through a long maze of events that I wont go into now, I met Ted Williams, my hero, behind the scenes while he was having a conversation with Joe Brooks and Lee Wulff. They were the trident of fly fishing Gods! Period.

    Having been introduced to Ted as “…a kid that can really cast like a pro…” I was taken by him to the casting platform and asked to show him what I knew. He was extremely kind and generous with his criticism and suggestions. For twenty minutes these three men, huge men in stature as well, treated me as a fellow fisherman. We talked and discussed and shook hands good bye and I was in a stupor. What had just happened? Believe it or not, I still haven’t recovered nor do I want to.

    1. Abe , Write it up . That is a magazine article many would be fascinated to read . It is as close to offstage Ted Williams as one could imagine .

    2. Abe:

      I might have been there. I recall going to the New England Sportsman show with Ted as the attraction. Don’t recall the quartet standing there but do recall looking at Ted standing on the platform with his fishing rod. The highlight of my day was standing in the crowd as Ted was walking on his way out. I was in his path and he nudged me aside. That’s probably the closest I came to sport’s greatness.

      Remembering that nudge, many years later I was in DC at a dinner at the Library of Congress honoring the author of the book John Adams, David McCullough. Another Ted was there. He was the US Senator from MA, I was standing near my table and I saw him approach. I thought “this guy has been my senator forever but I’ve never met him. Now is my chance.” I put out my right hand and said: “Senator, nice . . . .”

      Never finished because as he lightly grasped my right hand he brought his left arm in front of me and pushed me out of his way. It was a masterful move designed I assume after years of practice.

      1. mtc et al: In 1967 I got picked up thumbing by Ted Kennedy near Brewster, MA . . Friday night . . .been thumbing about an hour, no luck . . .Tedwas in a convertible . . .blue blazer, white slacks, sunglasses . . .I was in work clothes, grubby . . .we were in a traffic jam . .Friday night . .we talked about one-half hour, more . . .he dropped me off in Hyannis, I stuck my thumb out again, immediately a black Ford pickup truck stopped, “Where you going?” I said, “Lake ShoreDrive, Falmouth.” He said, “I live on Lake Shore Drive, I’m heading home.” Dropped me off at my cottage . . .@9:00 P.M., the place was rockin’ …I ran inside, shut off the record player and shouted to 20 or so drunken/high revelers, “Hey, guess what? I just got picked up thumbing by Ted Kennedy.” Silence, bemused looks. Arthur Bradley said, “So what, we just met Hubert Humphrey down the package store.” The record player came back on full blast, the party continued, no one cared about Ted and Me.
        Anyway, Ted and I talked about a lot of stuff . . .the Israeli sinking of the Liberty Ship, politics, sports . . .and before he dropped me off, after he’d found out I’d be starting graduate school in DC that Fall, he told me to contact him and he’d get me a part time job as an elevator operator or with the Capital Police . . .I always liked Ted . . .even when he changed to pro-choice liberal, I still liked him, even tho I was ardently pro-life . . .I liked and still do like and admire all the Kennedys and their families . . .dedicated public servants, . . .life of public service . . . .the piccadilloes? who hasn’t had them . . .Larry Tye has new book on RFK . . . .
        Don’t read anything Howie Carr writes . . .he is a malicious character assassin who delights in hurting people, inflicting suffering, detraction and mean-spiritedness. If there are truly EVIL people in America, Howie Carr is one who is intentionally evil . . .even Howie has his redeeming qualities, but his Schadenfreude (delight in others’ sufferings) knows no bounds. Carr is intentionally maliciously malevolent. Who else runs a death pool, and mocks the dead and dying?

  3. The season is too long. The games are too slow. If you wait till August to watch your first game you wouldn’t miss anything significant. Today young people don’t have the attention spans needed to follow the sport. Justice Scalia described baseball as nine players standing in a field and not much happens as opposed to soccer where both teams run furiously up and down the field for two hours and not much happens. After the Sox opening day loss it is Wait till Next Year.

  4. Always liked the name Jersey Street .

    These moribund bastards need a serious splice in the Spaulding mainbrace if they are to keep afloat as the Major League Baseball Flagship . ( tough metaphor to pull together , but , great success ! )

    Stockings should have some fun with it and , in all deference to Tom Yawkey and a humanly imperfect Past , tie the name change back to Jersey St . with the idea that some quirky baseball ritual , magical and inscrutable , is taking place .

  5. “Have the MLB owners decided that the fans would prefer a 21 to 17 game over a 1 to 0 pitchers’ duel.”

    So today Price scatters four hits in seven innings and the Sox win 1-0. Love it.

  6. The only crying in MLB is over the price of admission . It is a Grand Old Game . It apologizes to no one . Nor, should it . The Yawkey Way controversy is just a recent example of the Left , awash in a sea of cultural contradictions from In God We Trust on the dollar to how many push-ups a female Marine can do , re- ” Visions ” history .There was no referee in history calling balls and strikes . That was baseball !

  7. Traditional opening day of fishing season April 15, maybe 1956 or 1957. The tournament advertised a picture to be taken with Ted (may he rot) Williams. After a night of anticipation and needlessly re-checking the gear ’til three a.m., morning finally arrives and down to Savin Hill station I go. After making the transfers and walking a half a mile, I arrive at Jamaica Pond.
    I had my gear, my bait from the backyard, and a cheese sandwich to get me through the day. I found a spot away from most of the throng and made my first cast and retrieval. What a day. Happiness warmed my body. Then it happened. A strike and a fish landed. Eight inches of beautiful rainbow.

    I walked back to the large Victorian boathouse and spotted a horde of reporters surrounding Williams. (Something controversial had happened-I never found out what–didn’t care.) I presented my fish to an official, and sure enough it was the first of the day. When I tried to get their attention, holding up the fish, I was pushed away. I spotted Williams, resplendent in a stylish trenchcoat and tan and was told “Not now kid”. Crushed. All my joy dashed. The unfairness of it all. Revenfe was all I could think of. I took the fish and aimed over the heads of the newspaper guys. It was the luckiest shot I ever took. The fish hit Williams on the lapels of his pristine London Fog.

    I didn’t run. I walked leisurely back to the street car stop, my anger dissipated. The welcoming platform of Savin Hill station and the guys at the courts were all I needed to get well. Screw Ted Williams.

    1. Well, there you go. Amazing how two experiences can vary so much but my opinion of him will never change. I’ll let you screw him. I’ll kiss his ring. Oh, yeah. He never won one.

    2. I like both stories, Honest Abe’s exhilaration, I get; yes, Abe, do as John says, Put that together and publish it. Many would enjoy and benefit reading it.

      Ted will always be one of my hero’s Sports Legend, Superstar, but more importantly Marine Fighter Pilot in WWII and Korea . . .the splendid splinter . . .I have relatives, first cousins plus an aunt’s husband, from Ted Williams territory . . .they’re from Texas and Oklahoma . .it’s remarkable how WWII brought so many Americans together . . .so much good from so much heartache (My uncle killed in WWII left wife and son in San Antonio-Houston area; my Aunt’s husband, in Navy, an Okie, met her (she was one of first Boston policewoman) while he was on shore in Boston. Love at first sight! Must have been the uniforms.

      AND HUTCH’S STORY I GET, too, just as much . . .the young man puts his heart and soul into an effort, gets up at 3:00 A.M., succeeds, gets the first big fish, and gets the rug pulled out from him and the limelight stolen by the King of Swat, the Spendid Splinter . . . sure, what 14 year old hasn’t had similar gut reactions to being “wronged”, upstaged by grownups.

      But, hear ye, hear ye. Hutch, it wasn’t Ted’s fault. It was the Media’s, the Press’s. If Ted had known he’d likely have treated you like he treated Abe . . .royally . . .he had time for youngsters

      So, I conclude: Hutch’s anger was justified, but misplaced. I’d blame the liberal reporters for the liberal Boston Globe and left-of-center Record-American et al.

      1. Since I had thirteen uncles that were all sports fans I got just as diverse a reaction from the lot. My Uncle Eddie thought it was a gift from Heaven that I got to converse and draw expertise from Teddy Ballgame. My Uncle Joe was in Hutch’s corner. “Bet he didn’t tip his hat” or something like that was his reply.

        Ted was put on the pedestal by many and then was demanded by the press to act like the Idol in every perfect way. He was a Kid. I always remember films of his gallop around the bases when he hit his homer in that 1941 All Star game to win it. Pure joy. But his dark side was a fact. It just never came close to outweighing his good side. Just ask Jimmy.

  8. That was you on South St . ? Walking up from Forest Hills ? Walk it back . You cannot . Why would you want to .
    Another great Boston story about the Splendid Splinter . He was always a curious mix of charm and taciturnity . The Kid called you ” Kid .” Cheer up !

    1. Took the S. Huntington/Heath St. trolley and walked forever. It was probably shorter to go to Forest Hills, but I was not familiar with that route.

      1. Yes , long walk up the hill past Angell Memorial on the left and right on Centre . That is a good hike to the lateral that went down to the Gazebo on the Pond .

  9. Not everyone can say they smacked Ted Williams with a Trout , especially an eight inch Rainbow Trout !

    Catch Of The Day !

    Kid .

    1. Happy Easter to all.

      My Irish Catholic wife and brother-in-law brought me to The Treaty Of Paris restaurant in Annapolis. An excellent holiday buffet we enjoyed on Thanksgiving as well.

      Strolling around the Maryland capitol always brings me back to the days in Boston where seeing a couple hundred sailors or army boys walking around in uniform in one day was the norm. I remember seeing the AFL Patriots play the Houston Oilers at Fenway. Hundreds of soldiers were in the bleachers sipping hot coffee or beer to keep the chill off. That sight faded from the Boston scene. I assume it is still not as common a sight to see many military folks around the town.

  10. Happy Easter and Happy Hanukkah; Passover last weekend too. I too have similar memories of the sailors and soldiers in uniform walking around Boston . . .down the combat zone . .and many many great memories of Annapolis, BC-Navy football games, my wife, Irish-English-German-Cherokee Indian born in D.C. was from Oxon Hill, MD and Ilived in DC area about 8 years . . .frequent trips to Annapolis area or Maryland Shores for soft shell crabs . . .I even spent an overnight in the brig in Annapolis, memorable for different reasons . . .all’s well that ends well . . .
    Oh the good times
    I drove by the Brookline Synagogue on Sunday Morning and folks were coming out of service . . .I was headed to Mass at St. Francis chapel in the Prudential Center . . .I tipped my hat in remembrance of my dear friend Marty’s whose moving funeral service was held in that Synagogue . . a magnificent structure . .the banner outside says its’ celebrating its 175th year at that location . . .Marty stuck with me through thick and thin as we fought corrupt government actors, always gave sage advice, good sense of humor, too, great family.
    I remember all the good times, and even the toughest, hardest of times I look back on and see the goodness shining through
    I end on a sour note: I don’t see goodness in Howie Carr’s and others’ constant character assassinations nor in Federal Prosecutors abusing their power to persecute folks.

    1. It was Marty’s wife’s funeral service; she was a beautiful, fun, caring, sharing, welcoming women, with many lifelong friends.

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