As a kid growing up in Philadelphia in the late '40s, Dick Steinberg finished his homework as quickly as he could and then sequestered himself in his room to score the Phillie game. Steinberg carefully penciled in the Phils' lineup. He knew the order by heart—most every kid in Philly did. When it was time for bed, around the seventh inning, Steinberg turned the lights out. He made a cave out of the blankets and brought the Bendix radio under his covers.
"I remember it so well," says Steinberg, now 56 and the general manager of the New York Jets. "It was my birthright to be a Phillie fan, and I always knew their lineup. I knew most of the others, too—the A's, the Yankees. It wasn't hard. They didn't change much."
A generation and more later, to see what sport hath wrought, we return to the Philadelphia area, where a Steinberg-type kid might grow up today. We venture to the suburbs northeast of the city—to Newtown, Pa., home of the Council Rock/Newtown Little League. The Goodnoe Farm Owls have just beaten the Weber Hardware Robins 12-11. We ask 21 of these preteens, in the prime of their sports-loving lives, a few questions.
One can name the Phils' batting order.
Only two name a Phillie—Dickie Thon in one case, Lenny Dykstra in the other—as their favorite baseball player.
Only two name the Phils as their favorite baseball team.
The favorites of the others? Both the Owls and the Robins love the A's (six votes) and like the Giants, the Mets and the Yankees (three apiece). Here are kids, baseball's next generation of fans, on a diamond in eastern Pennsylvania, and their favorite teams and players are as much as three time zones distant. Steinberg understands. "How can anybody know these teams today?" he says. "The lineups change every three weeks, and players move constantly."
To be sure, sporting loyalty is on the wane. In 1956 the Brooklyn Dodgers traded Jackie Robinson to the hated New York Giants; he retired rather than report. By contrast, in 1990 the Cincinnati Bengals offered to pay guard Max Montoya $25,000 to spurn any free-agent offers he might get in the off-season. Montoya agreed and then jumped to the Los Angeles Raiders for a six-figure raise.
In the upwardly mobile, free-agent, global-village, instant-gratification life of pro sports, loyalty is a laughable matter. "Money is success today," says Ray Meyer, the legendary and now retired DePaul University coach who once turned down a Chicago Bulls coaching offer that would have tripled his salary. "But how many cars can you drive? How many suits can you own? I think when the big money came into sports, we lost a lot of values and a lot of loyalty."
It's fruitless to long for the golden days when teammates stayed together for entire careers. Not only are those days gone forever; they weren't entirely golden. There was, of course, an enforced loyalty that bound teams together. Will we ever know if Mickey Mantle was indeed a live-and-die-with-the-Yankees Yankee? He never had a Gene Autry waving a $5 million-a-year contract at him. Ironically, it's easier to perceive loyalty today because it's so rare.