The outfields of that era were by no means entirely patrolled by waltzing walruses. "There were a lot of great outfielders in 1950 that could play in any park," says Goldsberry. "Duke Snider was great under any conditions. So were Jackie Jensen, Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, to name a few."
Nevertheless, former Giants in-fielder Bill Rigney says that defense is better today—not only because of swifter, more agile fielders, but also because of the gobble-it-all modern gloves and the streamlined uniforms. "We used to look like boats under full sail," says Piersall.
And then there is the artificial turf, which makes everything different—especially fielding. Says Detroit general manager Bill La-joie, "The turf is worse to play on because it leads to so many injuries. But it has also changed the kind of players you need, in the infield as well as the outfield. Lou Boudreau was a fine shortstop in his era, but he was slow. Today's game would have been very tough for him."
Boudreau and 1950 MVP Phil Rizzuto played a very shallow shortstop, not much more than a step behind the baseline, to make up for their lack of arm strength. As Rizzuto admits, "I couldn't have played the short leftfield some guys do-today."
However, for 1950 infielders who did have the arm and the quickness, the move to turf might have produced amazing results. Those players grew up playing on rocky, tilted, matted fields, and as Rigney says, "If some of the great-handed infielders like Buddy Kerr, Pee Wee Reese or Marty Marion played on turf, they might have gone an entire season without an error."
Consider this: The Minnesota Twins' highest fielding percentage in 21 years on the grass of Metropolitan Stadium was .980; their lowest after eight years in the Metrodome is .980.
Though turf makes it easier, the fielders today are tangibly superior to their counterparts of 40 years ago. Sorry, traditionalists, but in 1950 there was no one close to Ozzie Smith and no Kirby Puckett leaping over the centerfield fence and no Bo Jackson flipping a throw from the leftfield wall to home plate. Likewise, no second-short-third combination in 1950 could cover the ground that Jose Oquendo, Smith and Terry Pendleton cover for the Cardinals in Busch Stadium. So for infielders and outfielders, 1990 wins going away.
But let's take a look at something that 1990 also has in spades over 1950: the hot-dog mentality. This includes Kirk Gibson's machine-gun trot and the Henderson Steps—Rickey and Dave's Oscar-winning home run performances. Lately, even managers have been getting into the act. The Texas Rangers' Bobby Valentine managed a game in Kansas City last year bedecked in wristbands, eyeblack and shades. Some players wear almost indecently tight uniforms and blow-dry their hair between batting practice and the start of a game. Says Tebbetts, with a tinge of distaste in his voice, "The game has become showtime. In 1950, players played for one another, with one thought only: winning. Now you see one-handed catches, overthrown cutoff men and mindless stolen bases. Henderson and Coleman don't need to steal third with two out; it's a show. But in 1990, baseball is big bucks television entertainment. The word entertainment in 1950 pertained to the movies or theater or a band concert in a city park."
Rosen says philosophically, "It's really better for the fans today. I'd like to say the game I played was more entertaining, but let's be realistic. These are different times, and people are used to flamboyance. As great as those Celtics teams were with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, most fans would rather watch Michael Jordan."
It is true. Bo Jackson is nowhere near the all-around player that Snider was at a comparable age. But who would most fans pay to see? No contest.