Opening Day in the *Real* Old Days

The whole “that’s not what it was like in my day!” mentality that we see everywhere these days (especially from the older newspaper columnists) can be a little tiresome. The world is moving forward, and a whole generation of fans is looking at the game in a whole new level. It’s not a bad thing, so please quit trying to convince me otherwise.

But if that mentality is coming from something forty years old, my opinion of it changes. Something about it makes it quaint and enjoyable when the lens of history is so wide. An interesting example of this can be found in the April 1971 issue of Baseball Digest in an article by Warren Brown:

It is my thought that down through the years, the Opening Days in the early part of the century had something that hasn’t been going for them since the coming first of radio, and especially of television.

In the good old days, the stay-at-homes had to glean what they could from newspaper stories from the training camps and from the cities in which spring exhibition games were played. Vaudeville was up and at ’em in this period, and every once in a while the newsreels might show glimpses of what was going on in training in the South and far West. Otherwise photographic representation was limited to newspaper stills, and color just wasn’t.

As a consequence, Opening Days served as the only medium to satisfy the normal curiosity about what the home guard and its opponent of the moment might have to offer.

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In recent years it is commonplace for television, either direct or taped, to send back coverage on a par with that of the regular season. The commentators, both television and radio, not only leave little to the imagination of stay-at-homes about the game and play in training camps or on the spring exhibition whirl, but they also go in for interviews with and comment about managers, coaches, and players off field, by day and by night.

Any stay-at-home who cares to, can have a reasonable apprecition of what the local nine really is, long before Opeing Day.

Obviously the real fans, such as those who used to haunt Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, or the Cubs’ Bleacher Bums, are going to be out on Opening Day, to make up their own minds. On the day when one of these sterling characters concedes that any redio or television commentator, or any baseball writer can possibly know all, chaos will have come again.

There are two things worth pondering here: the first is the notion that Opening Day used to be the public’s first chance to see any baseball whatsoever since the previous season ended. I don’t know about you, but a key reason for my excitement about Opening Day is often because it’s my first opportunity to see real, meaningful baseball in six months. But, of course, it’s not the first actual baseball I see. With a month of spring training and loads of cable and interent viewing options, it’s easy to get my fill of baseball in the winter. I can’t even imagine, then. what it’d be like to be completely blind about the squad until I sat in my seats and watched the team take the field on that first day. A strange feeling, indeed.

The second is that age-old complaint about the “stay-at-homes”, who are not the “real fans” and who are just one step away from never having to watch or listen to the ballgames again? For those of us in the sabermetric community, does that sound familiar? I didn’t know there were bloggers in 1971…

It’s always interesting to go back and see how people looked on the world 20 or 40 or 60 years ago. The differences are small-but-significant as often as they are big-and-jarring. But it’s the similarities that are usually the most intriguing. Warren Brown is just the most recent example.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.