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.
Having been also pursued by the Mets, Braves, Pirates, and Royals, Pete Rose signed with the Phillies on December 5, 1978 for four years and $3.2 million. Rose’s new deal comes after having spent sixteen years with the Cincinnati Reds
The New York Mets won their first franchise game on April 23, 1962, their tenth game of the season. Jay Hook pitched a five-hit complete game as the Mets defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-1, at Forbes Field. What’s more, they also broke the Pirates’ ten-game win streak with the victory.
The Yankees faced off against the NL expansion team Mets for the first time on March 22, 1962 for a spring training contest. Mets manager Casey Stengel, formerly the manager of the Yankees, set out determined to beat his old team. With the Mets leading 3-2 going into the ninth inning, Stengel sent his best pitchers to the mound. When the Yankees nevertheless managed to tie the score at 3-3, Stengel pinch hit veteran outfielder Richie Ashburn, who pulled off a ninth-inning pinch-hit single, giving the Mets a dramatic walk-off 4-3 victory at Al Lang Field in Florida.
As a cat owner, I’m glad to know this isn’t based on a true story (I hope). Behold the strange power of bronze, and the potential tragic comedy that could come of it in the wrong hands.
A man from Atlanta moved to New York. As he wandered the streets he stopped at an antique shop and decided to go in. On looking around he noticed a very strange looking bronze cat which had a tag on it saying, “Bronze Cat $30.00, Story $150.00.” The man was very curious and asked the salesman to explain. “Well” said the man, “its just like it says, $30 for the cat and $150 for its story”. “I’ll just take the cat,” said the man.
“Very well, but you will be back,” said the salesman. The man left the shop with the cat in his pocket. As he walked down the street he heard a strange mewing sound. On turning around he noticed there were a couple of cats following him.
The further he walked the more cats seemed to follow him. As he got to the Brooklyn Bridge he turned to see thousands of cats behind him. “Screw this!” he said to himself and threw the bronze cat into the river. All the cats jumped into the river too and were drowned. The man returned to the shop where he bought the cat. “I knew you would be back. $150.00 for the story,” said the salesman. “Forget the story,” said the man. “Have you got a bronze Mets fan?”
A week ago, I posted Ken Griffey, Jr.’s HOF induction speech. So it seems only fitting for me to also post Mike Piazza’s speech. Unfortunately, this is the best video I was able to find. If you are the type of person who gets motion sick, you might consider passing on watching and just give it a listen.
The New York Mets made their National League debut on April 11, 1962 in St. Louis. The game finally took place after being rained out the previous night. The Mets lost to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, 11-4. Gil Hodges and Charlie Neal did, at least, provide a positive side for the Mets, hitting the first two home runs in the new franchise’s history.