The crack of the bat, sliding at home with the dirt flying, having a catch – these are some of the most joyous memories of my youth.
Before I even followed baseball, in my house there were two things known about sports: the New York Yankees and Sandy Koufax. My father would often regale me with stories of his brother sneaking him into the bleachers at Yankee Stadium to watch I started following baseball by watching the pre-game introductions to a World Series game before having to get back to school. Even today, I find something quite thrilling about the players lining up along the baselines before each World Series game (although it has lost a little something being played at night).
Baseball is our national pastime, despite the fact that it evolved from an English game called Townball.
As for the game as we know it today, it is Alexander Cartwright who first devised the present-day rules. He put them into practice in 1845 in what is considered the first organized game, at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. As for the myth of Abner Doubleday creating the game (the reason the Hall of Fame is in his hometown of Cooperstown, New York), it is simply that – a myth. His descendants helped spread the story, although probably not to deceive. Most likely Doubleday spread the (then) little-known game among those who had never heard of it. Therefore to many, he was the creator.
The reason this has been the national pastime is in how the game has been passed from one generation to another. This has been best exemplified in the film “Field of Dreams“. No matter what conflicts exist between father and son, quite often they can still find a common ground talking about baseball. Please watch the film, particularly at the end. If you understand that, you’ll understand the enduring appeal of baseball (Ladies, I feel those who understand the film also understand men. It is one of the two movies known to make some men cry).
I have found this ability of baseball to bond to be true myself. When your team is pulling out an exciting win, I find the stands filled with all types of cultures, all ages, both genders, high-fiving and cheering as one; and societal differences are suspended for that brief period of time.
When I was young, my father took me to one game a year during his vacation. My first game, I got to see Hank Aaron (later the all-time home run king). The next year was my 1st “real” game-my 1st Yankee Stadium game. The history, the mystique, the majesty, “The House That Ruth Built”: 73 years after it’s opening, those participating in this years World Series still speak of The Stadium with awe.
Unfortunately, although the game has always been for everyone, Major League Baseball has not.
For over 60 years, African-American’s were kept out of the game. There never was a specific rule. As a matter of fact, before the so-called “Gentlemen’s Agreement” Cap Anson pushed for in the 1868, blacks did play in the majors, and a couple in the 1880’s ( Moses and Welday Walker). With nowhere to play professionally, the Negro Leagues were born. This is beautifully covered in the book “Only The Ball Was White” (I read this when I was 11, and it is still fresh in my mind today). But for some 60 years, African-Americans had to wait until 1947, when Jackie Robinson led the way back to the majors with grace, dignity, determination and great skill. This year’s tribute to Jackie is something everyone should note , in or out of baseball.
One additional note: In all the midst of all deserved tributes to Jackie, let’s not forget New Jersey’s Larry Doby, who played for the Cleveland Indians 11 weeks after Robinson’s debut, having to deal with the same situation in the American League cities.
Unfortunately we will never know the greatness of players such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson or Ray Dandridge other than books and docudramas (such as HBO’s “The Soul of the Game”).
This is far from baseball’s only blemish. The one crisis with the largest ramifications for the future of baseball was the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, when some members of the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnatti Reds. The integrity of the game (and it’s future existence) is called into question when gambling on games is involved (something Pete Rose has never grasped). As a result of this, baseball was teetering, and a commissioner was named-Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Landis ruled with an iron fist, but unfortunately was instrumental in keeping blacks out of the majors.
George Herman “Babe” Ruth
His outstanding talents rekindled the interest of baseball fans, and they quickly returned to the ballparks. In 1920, the year of the “Black Sox” trial, the “Bambino” hit more home runs that season than all but two TEAMS. From that point on, baseball has remained the #1 team sport in America, despite several strikes and one drug scandal in recent years.
As for that last sentence, those situations have made me recently question my fervor for baseball, as many others also have. I mean, here I am, rooting, cheering, and giving my money to a bunch of millionaires who are working for multimillionaires. Many of these players are younger than I am, and I’m still looking up to some of them. And sooner or later, they will go on strike again, breaking our hearts again. Both owners and players alike seek and even demand our loyalty and support, without any reciprocation. Many of us now ask – why continue?
I think about these things, and tell myself I’ll stop this soon; that’s it’s just another entertainment business, that there’s no emotional tie.
But every so often, when watching the Yankees pull one out in the ninth, I find myself a 7-year-old boy again, rooting my team onto victory. I mean – hey… it’s baseball!
Samet Bilir writes about technology trends, digital camera reviews, and photography, such as camera lenses and latest dslr cameras. To read more articles from him visit his website at chi-photography.com.