MLB Opening Day was yesterday, and as hard as I tried, I just could not get excited about it. The Royals play their opening game tonight, and while I feel a tiny bit happier about that, it’s still nothing like what I usually feel when Opening Day comes around.
I am making an effort, I really am. From the time the announcement came down that a season was going to happen up to now, I have been trying to get excited about baseball.
It’s just really hard to do right now.
Every time I think about Major League Baseball proceeding with a season, I find myself thinking, “Half those players are going to get COVID.” “This season will be ended by early September.” “It’s not like anyone can go to the games anyways.” “It’s not about the game, it’s all about the money.”
Now, admittedly, bringing baseball back is not all bad. It’s been weird not having new games to watch, even from the living room. I miss the highlight reels, even the repetitive ones. I miss having to confess to my co-workers, “Um, yeah… I fell asleep in the seventh inning, so I didn’t see that homer.” I miss the bench-clearing brawls in all their glorious stupidity. I miss seeing the perfectly cut grass of the myriad outfields and listening to the various broadcasters react to and analyze the games. I miss baseball itself.
But even that can’t drown out the thought in my head that keeps insisting that going through with this season is stupid to the core. The schedule is so short and compact, it’s almost laughable. Then there’s the not-so-funny fact that all these players are at risk for exposure.
I will watch some games — it will be hard not to. But it still won’t be the same.
I’m sorry baseball. I just can’t this year.
I am not too serious about anything. I believe you have to enjoy yourself to get the most out of your ability. I can take the criticism with the accolades. Neither affects me.
Unfortunately, I am not getting out of work today, but I am still joining in the collective sigh of relief and happiness that Opening Day has finally arrived! And yes, the Royals-White Sox score will be up someplace where I can check in frequently.
Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen threw a five-hitter to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals, 11-0, on October 27, 1985. The victory came in Game 7 of the World Series, as the Royals won the Series, four games to three.
Every now and then, I’ll go out and do things with other people, whether it be for a work function or just hanging out with friends or colleagues in general. Certainly this partaking in social rituals is a normal part of being a member of society and the human race, although, introvert that I am, I often do so begrudgingly and with a sense of discomfort and dread.
I went out for dinner on Friday evening with some folks from work, though I was actually looking forward to this particular outing. It had been a high stress week on the job, so the thought of some good food and a cocktail out with some company struck me as appealing.
The catch to this, I realize in retrospect, is that I am not the kind of person who can go out with just anybody solely for the sake of going out with somebody. Granted, this is not a brand new epiphany that has only occurred to me in the last couple days — when it comes to dating, for example, I won’t just go out with anyone who happens to be available. There has to be some level of interest already established, and my date certainly won’t be reaching any metaphorical bases until I deem an appropriate level of worthiness. In non-dating scenarios, ironically, it becomes a bit more complicated. Agreeing to go out for a casual not-date drink with a colleague or acquaintance does not generally come with the implication that someone might be looking for more. It’s just about “hanging out” or “blowing off steam” or whatever-you-want-to-call-it.
The reason I find this more difficult is because it makes it harder to say no. Saying no to a proposed date is socially acceptable. If you don’t meet my standards, then I won’t date you, period. Most people respect that equation. Simply hanging out, however, comes with a more lax set of expectations. It is a societal norm to hang out with folks even when we aren’t all that close to them. We meet old acquaintances for lunch or we go out with co-workers during happy hour, even though we may not even like them. If you say no to these invitations, you are dubbed “antisocial” or “unfriendly” or, most confusing of all, “stuck up.”
All that said, I agreed to this outing on Friday evening primarily due to the appeal of potentially letting go of the tensions brought about by the workweek. I should have known better than to go out with a couple of co-workers in the attempt to accomplish this. I wish I could say there was a high point to the conversation that commenced, but there really wasn’t. I’ll own up to the fact that I didn’t do much to help matters: I made no effort to try to redirect the conversation, merely eating my food and sipping on my whiskey and Coke in relative silence. As a quiet individual, I find that trying to steer a conversation being dominated by two or more other, louder people often feels like more effort than it’s worth.
Fortunately for me, we had decided on meeting at a local sports bar, which meant that Game Two of the NLDS was playing soundlessly on all the televisions in the establishment. So while the conversation devolved from the exasperations of online dating to an all-out gossip/bitchfest about work (that topic I was hoping so much to avoid), I frequently glanced over to see how the Rockies and the Brewers were doing. I confess that I had largely stopped watching the Royals as their 58-104 season dragged on — even as things started to pick up for them in September, I couldn’t bring myself to watch. But no matter how distant my relationship with the game might seem at times, baseball always holds a greater appeal for me than listening to negativity from other humans.
I have family members living in Wisconsin. Combine that with the opportunity to watch former Royals Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, I defaulted to rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers. I was pleased to see that they were up 1-0, and the score remained that way until our dinner outing (thankfully) ended. It made me smile a little to see that they did go on to win the game, and it was good to see both Cain and Moustakas at the plate again. I miss having them in Kansas City, but I can’t help but be happy for them and their opportunity to play some more October baseball. I hope the Brewers continue to do well.
All this, I guess, is just a long way of me saying that I like baseball infinitely better than I like most people, even though baseball obviously wouldn’t exist without people. I meant to write a lot more about baseball itself here, which clearly did not happen, but at least I can still say that the “moral” of this post is that baseball continues to provide a nice escape whenever our lives throw us into these somewhat uncomfortable situations, no matter how distant we might feel from the game.
Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri first opened as Royals Stadium on April 10, 1973. Construction for the stadium began in June 1967, when a $102 million bond was issued by Jackson County for construction of two sports stadiums. One of those stadiums was for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League. The other stadium, meanwhile, was intended for the Kansas City Athletics.
The Philadelphia Athletics, owned by Arnold Johnson, had moved to Kansas City in 1955, bringing Major League baseball to the city for the first time. The Athletics moved into Kansas City Municipal Stadium, a facility originally built in 1923, which was then rebuilt and expanded for the A’s. Johnson passed away in March 1960, and on December 19, 1960, Charles Finely purchased a controlling interest in the Kansas City Athletics from Johnson’s estate.
In the early 1960s, Finely began looking to move the team to a new city. In an effort to keep the Athletics in Kansas City, the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority was established to oversee construction and funding for a new sports complex for the A’s and the Chiefs, who also shared Municipal Stadium. Original plans called for a multipurpose stadium, but these were scrapped due to design and seating capacity issues. Going against the trend in other cities that were building multipurpose stadiums at the time, the county decided to build two new stadiums, one for the A’s and one for the Chiefs.
Charles Finely, however, did not want to wait for the construction of a new stadium, and in October 1967, Finely took the A’s to Oakland, California, where a new multipurpose stadium had just been erected. After the move, United States Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri threatened to press for the revocation of baseball’s anti-trust exemption if they did not give Kansas City a new team. The MLB responded by hastily granting expansion franchises to four cities, including a Kansas City team owned by a local pharmaceutical magnate, Ewing Kauffman. The new teams were scheduled to start playing in 1971.
However, pressure from Symington and other officials prompted the MLB to allow the expansion franchises to begin playing in 1969. The new club in Kansas City was named the Royals, and they played their first four seasons in Municipal Stadium. Meanwhile, construction on the Truman Sports Complex, including the Royals’ new stadium and the Chiefs’ facility, Arrowhead Stadium, began on July 11, 1968. The Royals played their first game in their new ballpark, originally named Royals Stadium, on April 10, 1973 against the Texas Rangers.
Royals Stadium was the American League’s first ballpark with Astroturf as the playing surface. It held 40,793 seats, which all faced second base and were arranged in three tiers featuring maroon, gold, and orange seats. The stadium’s most unique feature, however, was the display of fountains and a waterfall beyond the outfield fence. Stretching horizontally for 322 feet, it remains the largest privately-funded fountain in the world. The fountains are on display before and after the game and in-between innings, while the waterfalls are constantly flowing. A twelve-story scoreboard, in the shape of the Royals’ crest, was placed beyond the center field fence.
In 1993, the stadium was renamed in honor of Ewing Kauffman. Two years later, the Astroturf was replaced with grass. Then, after the 1998 season, Kauffman Stadium was given a full makeover. The renovation included the addition of Crown Seats, Dugout Suites, new clubhouses, and an exclusive restaurant and lounge known as the Crown Club. All of the formerly-brightly-colored seats in the stadium were replaced with blue seats.
Then, on April 4, 2006, Jackson County, Missouri voters approved a 0.375% sales tax increase to fund plans to renovate the Truman Sports Complex, including a $256 million renovation of Kauffman Stadium. Along with this, the Royals committed to a lease that will keep them in Kansas City until 2030. The renovation included a reduction of capacity to 37,903, a new high-definition scoreboard in center field (known as “Crown Vision”), new bullpens perpendicular to the field, expansion of the seating in the Crown Club and Dugout Suites, and new fountain view terrace seats in the outfield. New fan attractions included a kids’ area known as “the Little K” and a new Royals Hall of Fame in left field.
Four statues stand in the outfield concourse behind the fountains. Three of the statues are located in right field (featuring George Brett, Dick Howser and Frank White, all of whom have had their numbers retired by the Royals), and in left field is the former Royals owner Ewing Kauffman and his wife Muriel.
There’s nothing like Opening Day. There’s nothing like the start of a new season. I started playing baseball when I was seven years old and quit playing when I was 40, so it’s kind of in my blood.
After a long hiatus, due to having to return the series to the library and wait for others to finish their turns with it before having my chance at checking it out again, I have finally made it back around to watching the Ninth Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns. This installment in the series covers the time period from 1970 to 1993, the ending representing present day at the time, as the series was originally released in 1994.
The Ninth Inning opens with a baseball game being played between a pair of Dominican teams. A couple players from one of the teams give interviews expressing the importance of baseball to the Dominican culture. “It’s like a religion,” one player says. “There’s never been a revolution or war during baseball season.” Historian Manuel Marquez-Sterling compares baseball to the opera, insisting the two are essentially the same kind of thing.
On this disc we learn about Brooks Robinson leading the Orioles to the 1970 World Series championship against Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds. In 1971, the Orioles found themselves on the losing side of the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Roberto Clemente of the Pirates made a name for himself during this period. He was an icon for both the black community and for the Puerto Rican community, and he gave back to society as much as he could. On New Years Eve of 1971, however, Clemente’s plane crashed in an effort to bring relief supplies to Nicaragua following an earthquake.
Baseball’s reserve clause met its end during this time period. Curt Flood’s battle in the courts against the clause at the start of the decade came away largely fruitless, though it did serve to bring the issue into the public spotlight. In 1975, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, with the help of Marvin Miller, took on the reserve clause by claiming free agency. In the end, the reserve clause was abolished and players were now eligible for free agency after six years. This, as we see through today, resulted in an explosion of baseball salaries. The collusion of baseball owners in the late-1980s threatened this newfound free agent market, in much the same way owners once had observed the “gentleman’s agreement” to never sign a black player. This collusion, however, would soon get exposed and would cost the owners a considerable sum.
The treatment of both Roberto Clemente and Curt Flood highlighted the points made by Jackie Robinson shortly before his death. Certainly, as Buck O’Neil mentions, a lot changed in baseball, and in American society, as a result of Robinson’s role in breaking the color barrier. Nevertheless, baseball still had a long way to go in terms of racial equality. Henry Aaron knew all about this reality, playing for the Braves and chasing Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record. The hate mail sent to Aaron, some of which gets read in this episode, sends chills down my spine. In 1974, Hank Aaron did break Ruth’s record, and deservedly so. The 1987 interview of Al Campanis regarding the reasons behind a lack of blacks in baseball management drove home the existence of the persisting prejudice.
The Oakland A’s of the 1970s drew attention, not only due to their excellent performance, but also due to the appearance of their players. Players were given bonuses to grow their hair out, and many went on to sport some quite interesting facial hair. Catfish Hunter’s pitching for Oakland was stellar, almost unfair in the eyes of some hitters, who noticed the strike zone seemed to grow larger whenever Hunter took the mound.
The Cincinnati Reds returned to the World Series in 1975, this time against the Boston Red Sox. Not only did the Reds have Pete Rose on their roster, but also boasted of names like Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, and Joe Morgan. Game 6 of this Series proved one for the history books, featuring Carlton Fisk’s dramatic walk-off home run for Boston in the twelfth inning to tie the Series at three. Cincinnati would win the Series, however, in Game 7. As a side note, I particularly enjoyed the various stories told by pitcher Bill Lee on this disc. The man was certainly a character. He speaks candidly and hilariously about his own experiences, blunders, and shortcomings, and his wild gesturing made it just as fun to watch him speak as it was to listen.
The 1970s saw the rise of George Steinbrenner as owner of the New York Yankees. Free agency worked in Steinbrenner’s favor, and he spent freely to build a winning organization. Though they lost the 1976 World Series, they won it in 1977 and 1978, led by Reggie Jackson. Steinbrenner became notorious for running through managers like a child runs through fads, bolstering his reputation for trying to buy his way to championships.
The 1979 Series featured Willie Stargell and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and then in 1980, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Kansas City Royals, led by Pete Rose, who had signed with them after becoming a free agent. Rose would return to the Reds later in his career. Nolan Ryan also took advantage of free agency, dominating from the pitcher’s mound with multiple teams. After the collusion among the owners was busted up, baseball contracts exploded, and player after player made headlines as the newest highest paid player.
After this point, the documentary ceased to cover every single World Series championship, but rather focused on the ones that would be deemed “most popular” in baseball history. The 1986 World Series saw a continuation of the Curse of the Bambino. The Boston Red Sox lost the Series in a stunning fashion to the New York Mets. After giving up what seemed like a sure victory in Game 6, the Red Sox also lost Game 7. The 1988 World Series went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a championship victory that included the unbelievable tale of Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 in spite of his injuries.
In August 1989, Pete Rose was banished from baseball. Bart Giamatti gave the announcement in a press conference, stating that Rose’s involvement in gambling had hurt the game, and that the game must be held to the highest standards. In spite of a depressing end to the 1980s, and in spite of all the scandals and other struggles in baseball, John Thorn and Buck O’Neil exalt the continuing survivalist spirit of baseball. Admittedly, the timing of these statement is a bit ironic, considering that the next World Series after this documentary was released, the 1994 Series, did not get played due to the players’ strike. In spite of that, baseball did come back, and I’d say the fact that so many baseball blogs, such as this one, exist is a testament to the continuing love and wonder that baseball brings.
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.