As usual, Joe Posnanski is mostly spot-on.
I do think steroids are worse than amphetamines in baseball, although it’s a matter of degree. First of all, I’m no doctor but my guess is that using steroids year-round is worse for you than using amphetamines on game days. Relatedly, why we at least feel instinctively that steroids are a bigger deal is that they actually change the structure of your body, or help doing so, as opposed to just being a more extreme version of legal stimulants like caffeine.
But I agree completely with the broader point: there never was an age of innocence in baseball. At most, there was an age of maturity – the generation who played in the late 40s and early 50s, the age of guys 5-10 years older than Willie Mays, seem to have been a more serious and mature generation of players, not by nature but by experience, so many of them having experienced World War II. Among other things, the breaking of the color line would probably have been harder if so many of the players of that era hadn’t had that experience. But it was hard nonetheless. And that generation still had its share of all the sins of baseball and society from the 1870s to the present day, just leavened a bit with hard experience.
The Age of Innocence
As usual, Joe Posnanski is mostly spot-on.
5 thoughts on “The Age of Innocence”
Joe has been trying doubly hard to rationalize steroid use. He doth protest to much. Guys like him who are emotionally tied to the game of their youth just can’t admit that 1993-200? was a farce.
You know, the real point that needs to be made by someone besides a commentator on a blog is this, and I have yet to see someone in the mainstream press, sports or otherwise, make it: there was NEVER a time when baseball, or any other sport, WASN’T about the money. Sports has ALWAYS been about the money, for the players, for the owners, for management, for the media, and really even for the fans, insofar as how much money we’ve had to spend to enjoy professional sports is concerned. And it goes right back to the moment when Harry Wright thought to himself, “Hey, we could actually probably get people to pay to watch games, if we had the best and most well-known players on the team.”
Mind you, I have no problem with this. I’ve made my own personal peace with the economics of sports, which is to pay sports teams and leagues no more than their take from my monthly cable bill. TV coverage of sports is so good these days there’s little reason to still go to games, and I’ve never been in to buying hats, jerseys, posters, or any other kind of sports merchandise or memorabilia anyway. And it is a completely legitimate and honorable practice to charge people a certain for your goods and services, whatever they may be, if said people desire them and are willing to pay for them.
But let’s not pretend that professional sports has EVER been about anything other than making as much money as possible, for its participants, on both the management and labor side. Let’s not pretend that the Federal League wars were about anything other than rich would-be owners trying to get richer, and players cashing in on that. Let’s not pretend that John Ward’s players rebellion in the early 1890s was about anything other than players trying to get their fair share. Let’s stop pretending that all of the baseball labor wars, in the latter 20th century, or early 20th century, and even those in the 19th century, were about anything other than the money.
And again, THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS. Management-labor wars have always been about exactly this, and that’s fine. It’s completely legitimate for workers, managers, and owners to try to get as big a slice of the pie as they can. But the real mythological age of innocence in baseball, and all professional sports, is this idea that there was a time when the game was just a game, and not a business. That’s the idea that Posnanski and anyone else with a real voice who cares should be attacking, not this idea that there was a time when no one cheated. Professional sports has been a business since the day in 1869 the Cincinnati Reds went pro, and the idea that sports has ever been anything but is the idea which galls me, and the idea in professional sports to which I object the most.
I have read dozens of these “steroids are no worse than greenies” (or coke, or whatever) diatribes, and I would have a lot more patience for them if the point were to condemn greenies, rather than to legitimize steroids. I am really fed up with baseball writers telling us that opposing steroid use is some kind of invalid view. Sorry, but if players are using steroids it’s hard for me to care about the outcome of a game, since it’s just a contest between medical practitioners rather than athletes. All the philosophical defenses of steroid use in the world can’t force me to be interested in the game.
But I do have to take issue with his characterization of sign-stealing as cheating. That’s not cheating, it’s just cunning. Signs are right out in the open. If you can read ’em, use ’em. It’s no less legitimate than a sneaky pick-off move or a fake-out throw or bunt.
I’ve read a lot more sportswriters taking the opposite view. I’m in the middle, I want steroids out of the game, and I made my point about why they’re worse than greenies, but I’m not gonna pretend that this is all a totally new thing or that we can reasonably untangle what happened.
As for sign stealing, go read what the 1951 Giants did. It was a lot more sophisticated than just players stealing signs. They had surveillance teams and wires to the dugout and everything.
Last Season in addition to following the Phillies, I followed the 1909 Philadelphia Athletics by reading the Sports pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer 1909 (on Microfilm in the University of Pennsylvania Library).
The biggest difference I noticed was the the greater recognition of the role of randomness in the game 100 years ago. Basically they seemed much more comfortable with the idea that sometimes the ball takes a funny bounce and it isn’t anyone’s fault.
I noticed in the other pages of the newspaper that random death was much more common in those days, or at least recognition that it was random was.
It seems today we are much more likely to want someone to be to blame for anything that goes wrong, in those days they were more used to the idea that many things were beyond their control and no one’s fault.
The game was different technically, without the probability of frequent Home Runs. The idea was to bunch hits together. ” bunching hits” was a common phrase in the sports pages.
Errors were much more common. The 2009 Phillies Made 76 errors in 162 Games, the 1909 Athletics, who finished 2nd to the Tigers by 3 games, made 245 errors in 153 games, the fewest errors in the American League!
I have heard the scorers were much more strict in those days and the gloves were very small. I wonder if an error was always considered a fault by the fielder or just one of those things that happen?
It must have been an interesting game in those days, in different ways than our game today. More innocent? That would be hard to measure.
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