You may agree with the following assessment:
"The great trouble with baseball today is that most of the players are in the game for the money."
You've probably said those words yourself. It's a common lament about today's game and today's players. Except that this criticism was uttered by Ty Cobb -- in 1925!
Baseball is damaged when ex-players, especially those who are still in the game as coaches, scouts, or broadcasters, deride the present-day players. I don't have any doubt about that. It's lousy public relations. It's confusing to fans. And as far as I'm concerned, it's unsupported by the facts.
If ex-ballplayers have some things they want to teach the younger guys, fine: Why don't they put the uniform on and come teach them? Base running. Bunting technique. All the lost arts that you hear the old-timers complaining about. But as for making vague, unsupported claims that today's players are unwilling to work, lacking in the fundamentals, and the rest of it, well, that's bunch of baloney.
It's human nature for the generation on the way out to knock the generation on the way in. At a banquet in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1956, Gabe Paul felt the need to defend the game against the verbal assaults of old-timers such as Cobb.
In May 1952, Cobb penned an essay entitled "They Don't Play Baseball Anymore" for Life magazine. In Cobb's opinion, the game's decline was so severe that "There are only two players in the major leagues who can be mentioned in the same breath with the oldtime greats." He named Phil Rizzuto and Stan Musial. (No Ted Williams; no Joe D., who had just retired -- not even those newcomers Willie, Mickey, and the Duke!) Cobb also wrote, "There are too many joke teams, like last year's Browns. In far too many games they fall behind by scores like 12-2 around the fourth or fifth inning..."
Paul, at that Nashville banquet in 1956, defended the current game -- the game of the 1950s -- by expressing a sentiment that could be voiced in any era. "You know what?" he said. "Around 1975 they'll be saying the players of that period aren't as good as they were in the fifties."
Come to think of it, in 1980, I was speaking with Clyde King, a highly respected scout then with the Yankees, and he unwittingly made a prophet of Gabe Paul. Clyde had been in the game forty years, and had pitched in the big leagues in the 1940s and '50s. It was clear that he was totally unimpressed with what he was seeing in the late 1970s and early '80s.
"I see a lot of games, Jon," Clyde told me. "And there isn't a night when I don't see five or six mistakes made at a minimum -- it's awful!"
No doubt Cobb would have agreed with that assessment.
Cobb had been a symbol of the dead-ball era, when speed and "scientific hitting" dominated. When Babe Ruth ushered in a new era of home runs and offensive punch in the 1920s, the old-timers held their noses. They were baffled by the Babe.
"He isn't scientific at all," they brooded. "He just tries to hit it over everybody's head."
Yeah, it was so terrible that the fans loved it and came out in record numbers.
But then Cobb's predecessors of the 1890s thought that he was overrated, too.
It's like former ballplayer Bill Joyce once said: "Baseball today is not what it should be. It makes me weep to think of the men of the old days and the boys of today. It's positively a shame -- and they are getting big money for it, too."
Bill Joyce said that in 1916.
|» NEXT: '75 Reds The Best?|
Copyright © 1998 by Jon Miller and Mark Hyman. Excerpted with permission.