Take Me Out To The Old Ball Game
Pee Wee Reese
When I was ten I loved the Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers. Especially Pee Wee Reese. And Duke Snyder. And Carl Furillo. I loved baseball. And then one day, to my utter amazement, the newspapers reported that the Dodgers were leaving me for their new love, the kids in Los Angeles. How could they do that? What had I done to be unworthy of them? Had they been cheating on me throughout the season? It felt like a bad break up, a contested divorce. It felt terrible. There was no loyalty to me and to Brooklyn. Only dollars. And betrayal. And leaving and going to LA.
Baseball back then was a game for kids. There were Sunday afternoon double headers with one admission fee. There were day games. You took a portable radio to school during the world series, because you hoped that Mrs. Powderly would let you hear the game. And you ran home at 3:15 to catch the last innings. Baseball's all star game, which was a dream come true for a kid, was a day game. It was played in the afternoon. So I could see Joe Dimaggio, and Jackie Robinson, and Pee Wee, and Willie Mays. And buying things was cheap: hot dogs, and soda and cracker jacks. These were for kids, except for the beer, which was for the adults.
Players didn't play baseball all year. They had other jobs. In the off season they sold cars or insurance or worked in an office or on the farm. They didn't make big bucks. You could see them doing their jobs.
But now we're in an entirely different era. Today Mannie Ramirez, who might have been one of the greatest right hand hitters, earned a 50 game suspension for using steroids. So now he's got his asterisk, he's the greatest right hand hitter*. And A*Rod. He's got an asterisk. And Mark M*Guire, and Sammy S*sa, and in addition to an asterisk, Jose C*nseco needs money so he's doing ultimate fighting. And we have no idea who the other 103 players were who tested positive for drugs along with A*Rod. And all of them have *s also. It used to be that the asterisk was reserved for Roger Maris whose sin was that he hit 60 home runs in a 162 game season, not in 156 games. Even the asterisk has now been devalued. Now it denotes cheating and drug use.
Now the all star game is at night. The world series is at night. The division series is at night. The first pitch in these games is at about 9 pm ET, so any east coast kid who wants to see his/her heroes is not going to get past the third inning. And beer at the ballpark is more than $6. And hot dogs are more than $4. And there are few day games. And there are no double headers with single admission. And there are new abominations: corporate boxes with glass windows facing the field and air conditioning, and restaurants with table cloths and silverware, and take out, and microbreweries, and there are no really cheap seats. I could argue that the designated hitter was a debasement of the game. But compared to these changes, the DH is nothing.
It used to be a ritual to sneak off from work or school to go to Ebbetts Field for the afternoon game during the week. There is no equivalent now to that spontaneous act of childishness, of playing hookie.
I still follow the Mets. I still love the smells of major league baseball. The green grass of the outfield. The roar of the crowd. The sound of bat on ball. The bright lights. But today's announcement of Mannie Ramirez's 50 game suspension shows the dark shadow of the kids' game I used to love. It used to be about hitting a round ball with a round bat. Now it's about something else entirely. It's about money, and enormous salaries to players, and great profits to owners, and public financing for private stadiums, and name rights. It's about everything except that naive, joyful game of hitting a ball with a round bat and 3 strikes being an out.
There used to be a Ballantine Beer sign in the ball park. It had 3 rings for Purity, Body, And Flavor. Ironically, it's the purity in the game that has gone.
I mourn its loss.