Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Baseball Traditionalists

Sometimes it's hard to tell what a baseball traditionalist believes in because traditions have changed over time. Which tradition or group of tradition is in view? Often, traditionalists will point to the 50's as the ideal for such things as fan rowdiness. "Back in the good ol' days, fans were polite and had manners and never said bad things to the players." But just 50 years before that, things were even more rowdy than they are today. Gambling and organized crime were rampant, fans threw bottles, fruit and vegetables at players on the field during the game, and umpires were routinely targets of death threats. The clubhouse wasn't dreamed up yet, so fully uniformed players took the trolley from the hotel to the ballpark, where youngsters lined the rails to throw mud at the invaders. In my expert opinion, fan drunkenness, rowdiness and the like peaked in the late 80's, and have been in steady decline ever since. Last year while mildly heckling some visiting players, my friend Mike noted that if we attempted to yell some of the things we routinely did in the 80's, we would end up in jail.

My favorite reference to tradition was when the Cincinnati Reds offered to sign Rollie Fingers to a contract near the end of his career. A condition of the contract would be that he would have to shave off his trademark handlebar moustache (acquired in his days in Oakland when Charlie Finley allowed his players - he actually offered them $50 - to grow long hair and facial hair) because of the Reds' policy against wearing facial hair. "We're a traditional team" was the reason given. Naturally, Fingers turned them down. What was so hilarious about this pretension of traditionalism, was that the Reds were a team that was owned by a woman, wore double knit polyester uniforms with pullover tops and pants with elastic waist bands, and played in a cookie-cutter multi-purpose stadium with artificial turf. But a look at old tobacco playing cards would reveal that ballplayers of that era sported facial hair, especially moustaches, far more regularly than today.

1 comment:

  1. Rollie Fingers with no mustache!!??? That would be crazy! I think that was half of the reason I got in line at a ball autograph thing when I was a kid. Although the lineup of guys was pretty enticing too... (If I recall right it was a day they brought a few of their pitchers out to some local store for autographs - Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter and Blue Moon Odom) But as a kid, I thought his mustache was so cool!