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10 Things We Don’t Miss In Baseball
By Joe Lemire
1. Segregation
Was Josh Gibson the “black Babe Ruth” or Ruth the “white Josh Gibson?” Could Cool Papa Bell have given Rickey Henderson a higher stolen-base record to shoot for? What kind of win total would Satchel Paige have had if he'd pitched in the majors before he was 42 years old? The injustice of segregation prevented the day's best baseball players from competing against each other, so in a sport that prides itself on its history and statistical comparisons, there's a lingering “what if?” looming even larger than the Steroids Era.
2. The reserve clause
It was the ultimate non-compete clause, allowing a team to let a player's contract expire but still hold his rights. Bound to a single club unless they were traded or released, some players simply saw their careers end prematurely. And many who did keep playing couldn't get a fair wage without competing teams being able to bid for their services -- that is, until Curt Flood fought the system and ultimately brought free agency for the players. Sure, fans bemoan the lack of team loyalty by free agents nowadays, but there was nothing loyal about being restricted to one club.
3. Cookie-cutter stadiums
Are we in Cincinnati? Or is this Pittsburgh? Philadelphia, maybe? St. Louis? In the 1960s and ‘70s several municipalities came up with the cost-saving but characterless idea of building identical, “concrete donut” stadiums for the city's pro baseball and football teams. The venues -- which were also found in Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis, Oakland, San Diego and Seattle -- were nearly indistinguishable, particularly on television (except, of course, for the home team's uniforms), and lacked any local flavor. Not only that, the dimensions of baseball and football fields are so different that one sport's fans inevitably suffered terrible views from seats angled in the wrong direction.
4. Faux Grass
Mercifully, only three major league teams (the Blue Jays, Rays and Twins) still play on the short-pile synthetic turf, and there's hope for further improvement: the Twins debut a new, grass-filled park next year; the Rays are exploring new stadium options; and the Jays could take a cue from the Diamondbacks and install grass under their retractable roof. Baseball is about fresh air, the smell of cut grass (not to mention mowing new patterns in the outfield every few weeks) and, of course, groundballs that don't skip across a carpeted infield at 100 miles per hour.
5. Terrible uniforms
O.K, the ‘70s were about freedom and experimentation, but that laxity also led to some of baseball's worst-ever uniforms. The White Sox wore shorts -- what, is this softball? And don't even get us started on those red-yellow-orange striped Astros uniforms (the Rainbow Guts, as they were known back in the day). Purportedly created to earn the team notoriety and to take advantage of the improved quality of color televisions, the uniforms instead left fans blinded by solar glare.
6. Morganna the Kissing Bandit
A busty serial-busser who frequently ran onto the ballfield, midgame, to plant a wet one on an unsuspecting ballplayer, Morganna quickly turned from a novelty into a nuisance. The woman who once called Dolly Parton flat-chested was a stadium staple throughout the 1980. She was arrested numerous times on disorderly conduct charges –- she even interrupted play during the first night game at Wrigley, when she was stopped by security on her way to kiss Ryne Sandberg (who, coincidentally, homered on the next pitch). At least she had a good legal team behind her. Morganna's defense attorney once argued that she had no choice in the matter, as her top-heavy condition caused gravity to pull her onto the field of play. Her first kissing victim, done on a dare, was Pete Rose in 1971. Morganna later quipped, "I tell people my career started with a bet, and Pete's ended with one."
7. Players Smoking in the Dugout
Another imperfection in Harvey Haddix's herculean effort on May 26, 1959 -- the day he threw a near-perfect game, not allowing a base runner for 12 innings, only to lose the game in the 13th -- was that shortstop Dick Groat lit a cigarette for the pitcher between every inning. Former Brewers catcher Ted Simmons was even caught smoking during Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. Thankfully, the only puff of smoke caught emanating from a major league dugout these days is this tribute to Harry Kalas.
8. Spitballs
The spitball was as dangerous as it was unfair. On Aug. 16, 1920, Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was hit in the temple by a fastball thrown by Yankees righthander Carl Mays. Chapman died the next morning. Many believed Mays had doctored the baseball, so the spitter was banned -- though it wasn't immediately eliminated from the game. Hurlers such as Preacher Roe and Gaylord Perry continued to throw the pitch into the '80s, applying saliva or Vasoline to the ball because the substances altered its spin and could move the pitch in unpredictable ways.
9. Donald Fehr
The head of the players' union isn't gone yet, but he announced in June that he'd step down before the start of the 2010 season. Fehr certainly protected the players well in his 26 years at the helm, helping fight the implementation of steroid testing and presiding during an era in which the sport's average salary rose from $289,000 to $2.9 million. But many believe that protection came at the detriment of the game, as new information continues to surface about how prevalent performance-enhancing drugs were in baseball. Also, the lack of a salary cap has hindered small-market teams' ability to compete, and the 1994 strike canceled that year's World Series and took a toll on fan interest.
10. Steroids*
The asterisk has become the most ominous punctuation in the English language (not that there was much competition; what, does the semicolon threaten you?) and certainly in the baseball vernacular, marking an era in which so many statistical achievements are of questionable authenticity. We thought Roger Maris had it rough when sportswriters debated the merits of his 61-home run season –- and considered branding it with a scarlet asterisk -- when he played eight more games in the 1961 schedule than Babe Ruth had in 1927, but the culprits of the Steroid Era have it far worse (see Bonds, Barry; McGwire, Mark; and Sosa, Sammy, for starters). Alas, we're not out of the woods yet.
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