I remember my first pair of cleats. I was nine years old, embarking on my first-ever season of organized ball. My mom took my little brother and me shopping at a local Payless — the only place my folks, understandably, would buy any kind of shoes for our growing feet. I was excited to finally be able to wear a pair of cleats. I had seen the older kids wearing them, and they just seemed so cool. After trying on multiple pairs, I wound up with a pair of black, low-top cleats with royal blue shoelaces and royal blue lettering that announced “Rawlings.”
It turns out, the concept of cleats has been around since the 1500s — and possibly even
earlier than that. King Henry VIII is documented to have owned a pair of “football boots,” created for him by the royal shoemaker, Cornelius Johnson. These special “boots” were created from a strong material (most likely leather) for the purposes for playing “football” (by which Henry likely means some early version of soccer). The earliest cleats typically featured leather, metal, or wooden studs. For those who couldn’t afford to have a special pair made, they would create their own shoe enhancements with the use of metal plates or (cringe) nails.
The process of vulcanization, a chemical process for converting rubber into a more durable material, was developed in England and the United States in the 1840s. Vulcanized rubber proved especially useful in producing shoes intended to protect the wearer’s feet, and, as a bonus, it was a much lighter material. Furthermore, vulcanized rubber proved handy when the concept of studded or spiked shoes emerged. The first known spiked leather running shoes were developed by a British company in the 1890s, and the first soccer-specific shoes were also developed at the end of the 19th century.
In the United States, meanwhile, metal spikes began to appear on baseball shoes in the 1860s, typically in a detachable form, and the first official baseball shoe appeared in 1882 when Waldo Claflin started selling leather shoes with built-in cleats marketed specifically to baseball players. The emergence of American football in the early 20th century led to widespread recognition and popularity of cleats, the first football shoes actually being baseball shoes adapted to the new sport. Over time, as sports in general continued to grow and with the advent of artificial turf, cleats evolved, and different types of cleats developed according to various sports and playing surfaces. With safety in mind, Major League Baseball banned sharp, metal spikes in 1976, leading to further developments in the plastic studs we see on cleats today.
Before Jackie Robinson made his mark by breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, he was a four-sport star at UCLA, playing baseball, football, basketball, and running track. He remains the only four-letter athlete in the school’s history. In his final year playing football for the school, Robinson led the Bruins in rushing (383 yards), passing (444 yards), total offense (827 yards), scoring (36 points), and punt return average (21 yards). You can see a bit of footage from Robinson’s football days at UCLA here:
Robinson even went on to play a bit of semi-pro football. In September 1941, he moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he played football for the semi-professional Honolulu Bears for $100 a game. His career with the Bears was cut short, however, when Robinson was drafted into the Army during World War II.
After World War II, Robinson briefly returned to football with the Los Angeles Bulldogs. He then was offered a job as athletic director at Samuel Houston College in Austin, and as part of that role, he coached the basketball team for the 1944-1945 season.
It was in early 1945 that the Kansas City Monarchs offered Jackie a place on their team in the Negro Leagues. Robinson then signed with the minor league Montreal Royals following the 1945 season.
The rest, as we know, is history.
Happy Jackie Robinson Day!
I work with a lady who recently was telling me about how relieved she felt the day her oldest son made the decision to quit playing football. I think sports are important in terms of developing character, leadership, and teamwork, as well as maintaining a healthy populace. But I certainly can understand a parent’s concern about injuries. The numbers in this infographic are from 2012, but I imagine the numbers today are still relatively close.
The Eighth Inning of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns brings us into the 1960s. In this decade of the American Pastime, we find that it is being recognized less and less as such. Football has risen to prominence, and a lot of folks come to argue that football, not baseball, has now become the true national game. Additionally, the sixties were quite a stormy and unstable period in American history, filled with race riots, activism, anti-war protests, hippies, and Woodstock.
The game of baseball also finds itself experiencing some changes. In 1961, Babe Ruth’s single season home run record is threatened, then broken, by a man who is far from being a fan favorite. Roger Maris is described as moody and sullen, avoids talking to the press, and starts losing his hair as a result of the pressure he is under as he inadvertently finds himself chasing Ruth’s record.
Pitching sees a rise in dominance as the decade progresses, thanks to commissioner Ford Frick’s commandment that the strike zone be expanded to counter the explosion of home runs. Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson are among those who rise to preeminence from their positions on the mound. As pitching becomes the ruling force in the game, there comes a decline in home runs being hit. This, in turn, contributes to the decline in fan interest in the game.
This time period also sees changes as far as the growth of the league. The success and profitability of the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the west brings the league to consider other ways in which to spread the game throughout the country. Four new teams were added to Major League Baseball. We see the birth of the California Angels, the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins, then a newer Senators team moved to Arlington and became the Texas Rangers. The New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros) also joined the National League. The Braves would move from Milwaukee to Atlanta and the Athletics moved to Oakland. After just one season, the Seattle Pilots left for Milwaukee and became the Brewers, and towards the end of the decade the Royals were established in Kansas City and the Expos in Montreal. (I’m sure I must be missing one or more others here, and for that, I apologize.)
At the beginning of the decade, Ebbets Field met its fate with a wrecking ball painted to resemble a baseball. Jackie Robinson, who had once played at Ebbets, now worked and fought for civil rights, and Branch Rickey, who was the force behind integration in Major League Baseball, passed away in 1965. The Polo Grounds became the home of the New York Metropolitans, led by the one and only Casey Stengel, now getting along in years. Suffices to say, the Mets weren’t very good in those early years. Eventually, Stengel would retire from baseball. After that, the same wrecking ball that took out Ebbets Field would also bring down the Polo Grounds. The Mets moved into Shea Stadium, and by the end of the decade transformed into the “Miracle Mets,” winning the 1969 World Series.
In this inning, we meet Pete Rose and see bits about Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Whitey Ford, Roberto Clemente, and many, many others. Sandy Koufax seemingly retires almost as quickly as he broke into the league and became the youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. In Baltimore, Earl Weaver became manager of the Orioles. One of the greatest managers of all time, the Orioles became the dynasty of the decade under Weaver.
In this decade, we also meet Marvin Miller. Miller became the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966. The players loved having Miller speaking on their behalf, but baseball owners, unsurprisingly, hated having Miller around. He was a man who Red Barber would call “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.”
By the end of the disc, we learn about Curt Flood’s battle against the reserve clause, which at this point is only just beginning. Flood learned that he was to be traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia, and in the face of the racism he knew he would face in Philadelphia, he decided to oppose the trade. This flew in the face of the entire history of baseball business.
I think my favorite feature of this disc comes in all the arguments defending baseball. In spite of George Carlin’s comedy routine that makes baseball seem like a slow, sissy sport, baseball continues to be referred to as America’s National Pastime for good reason. Sure, football is faster and perhaps more suitable to the 30-second attention span that now dominates our culture (though, more recently, football also seems to be declining in popularity). But baseball’s place in the American psyche runs deep, and in a lot of ways, it is the very nature of its leisurely pace that makes it so appealing.
Here’s a good, and important, infographic from the Huffington Post that takes a look at the racial makeup of Major League Baseball. Jackie Robinson may have broken the color barrier in 1947, but as the graphic points out, that didn’t change the economic barriers to playing baseball. And, let’s be honest, this is an expensive sport. On the other hand, Robinson’s debut into the majors did also open the doors for Latinos in the MLB, and given the talent it has introduced, this is definitely a great thing.
Former Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Cal Hubbard became an American League umpire on November 4, 1935. Hubbard would go on to become the only person to be enshrined at both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
No other sporting event can compare with a good Series. The Super Bowl is a three-hour interruption in a week of drink and Rotarian parties.