OPINION – The leaves were changing, there was a briskness in the air.
Soon, the snow would fly, but at that moment, the landscape was vibrant as the Midwestern trees yielded a bounty of colors; golden, red, and brown.
It was good to be a kid. We played kickball at recess, climbed the neighborhood trees to pick the end-of-season cherries, and knew that, well, it was October and we were sentenced to a long winter and spring inside the classroom.
Still, October was beautiful in the St. Louis suburbs.
Back then, we were all about baseball and, come October, we were all about the World Series.
Of course, back then, the World Series was played much earlier than today. It didn’t continue on until almost Halloween. There were only eight – then 10 – teams in the National and American leagues. There were no playoffs unless somehow, two teams ended the season tied for first place, and the World Series was played in the sunshine, rather than during prime time.
Sometimes, our teachers would bring a TV into the classroom so we could watch the games, a grainy, snowy black and white image that the teacher would spend a great deal of time fine tuning with a rabbit-ear antenna. It wasn’t great, but we knew the fuzzy images to be baseball players and recognized the familiar October voice of TV sportscaster Mel Allen.
Sometimes, we would have to come up with devious plans to sneak a little transistor radio into class with an earphone we thought we had cleverly hidden, the cord running inside of our shirts. Sometimes we would just put the radio on very low, set it on our desk and lay our head on it and catch whisper-loud accounts for a moment before returning to our class work.
It’s all different today.
There are 30 teams in today’s game, 10 of which make it into post-season play. It is scrutinized by more cameras than I think there were in the entire country back when I was a kid. And the tickets? Forget about it, unless you pull in some high dollars or are willing to give up a paycheck or two.
Back then, $100,000 was pretty much the ceiling as far as contracts go, and few were accorded that exorbitant amount. The first six-figure contract went to Hank Greenberg in 1947. Mantle, Mays, Musial, DiMaggio, and only a handful of others were awarded contracts of that size during baseball’s Golden Age. Most players from that era had to take winter jobs selling insurance or cars to make ends meet.
Today, the minimum salary is $480,000 but few players make that, most clocking in with million-dollar-plus contracts for posting numbers that would have been embarrassing to the old-timers.
Tomorrow night, a couple of old-school teams will face off as the St. Louis Cardinals – my St. Louis Cardinals – take on the Red Sox in the first game of this year’s World Series in Boston’s legendary Fenway Park.
The Red Sox are cool because they were the employer of Ted Williams, the greatest hitter to ever step into the batter’s box. They are cool because they play at Fenway, one of the last of America’s great stadiums. They are cool because, well, after an 86-year drought, they became a respectable team. And, Boston fans are acknowledged as diehard, fervent, loyal, sort of like Chicago Cubs fans, but not quite as self-deprecating.
The Cardinals are cool because they have this history for playing aggressive, scrappy, savvy baseball. They are cool because Stan “The Man” Musial, a true gentleman who also happened to be one of the game’s greatest hitters. Oh, yeah, there was this guy named Bob Gibson, who could throw a fastball through a brick wall. And, St. Louis baseball fans are regarded as the most knowledgeable in the league. I don’t know how they come up with something like that, but I’ve seen more than one baseball writer give them that honor.
I haven’t kept up with the game like I did when I was a kid when the most important thing in my life was collecting baseball cards. Back then, I could recite current and past batting averages, ERAs, just about anything stat-crazy kids would memorize.
Scandals, over-priced players, greedy owners, and the watering down of talent have sort of put me off.
I know the Cardinals have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, led by this super-phenom kid named Michael Wacha. They don’t have a batting order loaded with heavy bats, but still, somehow, managed to knock around the best pitcher in the game, L.A.’s Clayton Kershaw, to earn their way to the World Series.
The Red Sox?
They’re a gritty bunch, scrappy, tough to beat down. They don’t play long ball, either, or have a pitching corps quite up to the level of St. Louis.
But, they know how to win, and that’s important. A cliché, maybe, but it’s how they play.
What will probably happen, as often does on a stage of this magnitude, is that somebody very unlikely will catch fire and propel one of these teams to the World Championship. I’ve seen banjo-hitting infielders stroke game-winning homeruns, light-hitting catchers suddenly go on a rampage at the plate, rubber-armed pitchers somehow find a way to get the snap back into their curveball.
I’ve seen sure-handed fielders make uncharacteristic errors, brilliant managers make bad decisions, superstars humbled in World Series gone by.
But, that’s baseball, as they say.
There’s just something comforting, however, in seeing a couple of the old-school teams lining up against each other in the Fall Classic.
It takes me back to when it was a game, and not a sport played by gentrified millionaires.
- Baseball coach Mike Littlewood headlines Dixie State convocation on Sunday
- 3A All-Star game gives fans, coaches one last look at seniors
- 3A baseball playoffs: Snow Canyon wins three, grabs title
New from STGnews.com
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
Email: [email protected]
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.