Spring has sprung. The crack of the bat and the pop of leather can be heard echoing through every hometown ballpark across the country, signaling the arrival of a spring tradition. “Sa-wing, batta’ batta’ batta’, sa-wing, yurr-out,” and “staaa-rike” are familiar sounds to the faithful baseball fan this time of year.
So are the terms, RBI, HR, MVP and ERA. They’re all a part of the arcane language of baseball. Kids have been playing the game for more than 150 years in vacant lots, fields, school yards, streets or anywhere a makeshift diamond could be created.
Over the past century, the origin of America’s favorite pastime has been a hotly debated subject. The controversy began in 1905 when prominent Englishman Henry Chadwick suggested the game had been played in England decades before Abner Doubleday claimed to have invented it. The English version of the game, called “rounders,” was played on a diamond with a base on each corner. A “striker” with a bat stood beside the fourth base and attempted to hit the ball thrown by the “pecker.”
Three misses and the striker was out! At the end of three outs, the opposition and defense switched sides … sound familiar ? It’s reported that Albert G. Spalding, a wealthy American sporting goods dealer and baseball promoter, was keenly aware that a game that originated in the U.S. would inspire a greater devotion from its fans. Thus, he promoted the American theory. These debates, embellishments and tales are all part of baseball’s colorful folklore and charm – the mystique that creates the legends.
Baseball Costs For Fans
Like most fans, I’ve cringed at ticket prices and whined at parking fees. I’ve gasped at the cost of a ballpark frank and garlic fries. I’ve questioned the payment given to the superstars and bad-boys of the game.
But baseball is still greater than its shortcomings.
There’s an intangible force at work here, an aura surrounding the game. It’s a magical, pervading influence that most of us felt as kids watching Mickey Mantle run out onto the field at Yankee Stadium. We felt it at Candlestick Park as we traced the footsteps of Willie Mays all the way back to center field to watch him make the game’s winning catch. Baseball has long been a game of records, records that when broken, ensure a player a piece of immortality.
When Mark McGwire smashed his 62 home runs in 1998, he shattered Roger Maris’ long-held home-run record. McGwire revived a reverence and excitement for the game. He also landed himself a place in baseball history, if not a controversial one.
Stars like McGwire, though exciting on the field, aren’t quite as colorful as the old-timers of the game, like Leo “The Mouth” Durocher, Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, who promoted controversy off the field with an occasional politically incorrect statement.
Durocher was one of the game’s feistiest characters. He managed the Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 1940s and was well-known for his cutting remarks such as: “Show me a happy loser and I’ll show you an idiot,” and “Nice guys finish last.” The venerable Stengel, while manager of the New York Yankees, was exasperated by demands from the crowd for a popular young player he had on the bench. He finally called for the player in question: “Am I going in now?” asked the player. “No,” replied Stengel. “Go up and sit with your fans in the stands – they want you.” The young rookie was Mickey Mantle. Casey wasn’t the smartest baseball manager.
The most verbally confusing and expressive quotes, however, were spouted by Yogi Berra. The New York Yankees catcher was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player three times. But more than his natural catching talent, he was known for his irrepressible remarks. When his team wasn’t drawing much of a crowd at the ballpark, Berra was quoted as saying, “If the people don’t want to come out to the park, nobody’s gonna stop them.” When he was taken to a famous restaurant he’d never heard of, he’d say, “No wonder nobody comes here, it’s too crowded.” And toward the end of an extra-inning ballgame, fans would hear radio announcers repeat Yogi’s most famous quote: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Like picnics at the park, running barefoot in the grass or dashing through the sprinklers on a hot afternoon, baseball will always be a part of summertime fun.
See the photos and stories of these Baseball Greats.