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rites and wrongs of spring
Frank Deford
February 25, 1974
As baseball heads south for the annual invigoration, a fan with a trove of sacred memories mourns the end of an age of wonderful innocence—when hot air from the Grapefruit League wafted up to melt the northern snows
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February 25, 1974

Rites And Wrongs Of Spring

As baseball heads south for the annual invigoration, a fan with a trove of sacred memories mourns the end of an age of wonderful innocence—when hot air from the Grapefruit League wafted up to melt the northern snows

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" DiMaggio thus became the second Sox regular to start conditioning...."

YANNIGANS TOP REGULARS 1-0

"The first man to step to the plate in postwar spring training, Bobby Doerr...."

WISH YOU WERE HERE

"Many of the boys then went fishing, or out on the links...."

"Several Bostonians who have been following the Swarm were seen taking the Southern Exposure."

"The natives here were really popeyed at the amazing antics of Casey Stengel's top-flight inner cordon of Babe Dahlgren, Bama Rowell, Eddie Miller and Sibby Sisti. Dahlgren really hounded the ball with majestic precision. A group of fans standing behind first base went into ecstasies over Babe's brilliant fielding."

And we loved it, of course. We devoured it. The amazing thing about the papers pouring out the endless headlines and stories about such matters as cutoff plays and intrasquad frays was the way they were neglecting other stories. In those days, once the Sox and the Swarm started in the Grapefruit League the Bruins were lucky to get a few paragraphs even when they played a real game.

That has not all changed, either. Many sports editors still waste weeks in Florida "touring the camps," as the saying goes. Then they write columns of predictions based on last year's standings. When the Los Angeles Times decided a couple of years ago that it was not absolutely necessary to keep a reporter in Vero Beach filing a story every day even before Grapefruit games started, the Dodgers protested as if the Republic had been threatened. ("About the 10th day of camp, right on schedule, we invariably did our annual Is-this-the-year-Willie-Davis-hits-.400 story," Charlie Maher of the Times recalls.) But if the Times of L.A. has changed, the paper of record, the Times of New York, has not. In it the revered Red Smith tends to write about baseball's preseason virtually to the exclusion of the hockey and basketball pennant races, and so did the late Arthur Daley. This tendency is something like James Reston and Tom Wicker abandoning the portentous events of Washington for a month or so every spring to go west and report at length on the chances of catching Big Foot, the abominable snowman of the Sierras.

But perhaps the profession's more esteemed and venerable writers cannot be faulted, for they grew well into adulthood when everyone still believed in spring training. Florida is top-heavy with retirees, but the crowds at Grapefruit League games appear especially old. Younger people and the middle-aged are conspicuously underrepresented, and the only kids present are those in the company of grandfathers. What does it say of a nation when only the elderly declare themselves for innocence?

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