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Saturday, April 15, 2017

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: THEN AND NOW

I have been a fan of major league baseball for as long as I can remember.  I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio so as a kid I kept close track of our home town Reds.  During those days in the 1950’s the Reds had an exciting team but didn’t usually win more games than they lost because they lacked one of the first ingredients for success in the game:  good pitching.  They were exciting to follow because although they gave up a lot of runs, they also scored a lot with great hitters like Ted Kluszewski, Gus Bell, Wally Post and Jim Greengrass.  Consequently, we saw a lot of 10-9 games with the Reds on the short end but they won their share of those high scoring games too.

Regardless of their inadequacies on the pitchers’ mound those Reds teams and other major league teams of their era were a lot different from teams of today.  A major reason is that they didn’t make the high salaries that players make today.  During the early to late 1950’s players were fortunate to make $10,000 for a season.  Most of them had second jobs like pitcher Bud Podbielan of the Reds who worked part time at a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Cincinnati to make ends meet.  In 1957 a great young pitcher on the Reds named Jim Maloney held out in spring training for a $20,000 contract; chicken feed by today’s standards.  As good as he was, he wound up signing for $17,000 as the team wouldn’t budge on its offer.  A guy like Maloney would be making millions today.

That era was also different from today because of the players’ attitude toward fans.  Those guys were a lot more accessible that the millionaires we have on the diamonds today.  I remember when Jerry Colangelo was involved with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003, some of the players balked because Colangelo insisted that they sign autographs for ten minutes before games.  It doesn’t seem like much of a hardship but with the millions those guys were making some felt it to be a burden. 

As a comparison, I remember going to Reds games in Cincinnati as a kid and collecting autographs from the players before games.  They used to hang out under the grandstand at old Crosley Field to grab a few puffs off a Camel or Lucky Strike before they went out to warm up.  That area was where we kids invaded to get autographs.  Those players were of a different mindset than many of today.  They were happy to sign our books and many even seemed flattered to be asked for an autograph.

When visiting teams came to Cincinnati to play the Reds, it was time for me to take the trolley bus downtown and hang around the hotel lobbies where the visiting teams stayed.  I acquired many great autographs from guys like Willie Mays and Monte Irvin of the 1954 World Series Champion New York Giants plus the rest of the Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, and , of course, the Reds..  Willie and Monte even took the time to add a message to me next to their name.  Monte died recently but Willie is still hanging on in his late 80’s

Those were fun days to grow up.  It was an era when sports weren’t taken as seriously as now and people seemed to have more of a sense of humor.  Today there are guys making millions who couldn’t make a team in the days of fewer major league clubs.  It’s lucky timing for them.

(Please leave comments below.  Thanks!)