Citing irreconcilable differences, I have filed for divorce from Major League Baseball. Rob Manfred, baseball’s chief bean counter, thinks fans want more excitement, e.g., more home runs, shorter games, automatic intentional walks and, under consideration, starting extra-inning games with a baserunner on second. But I’m from the era when baseball was considered the thinking man’s game, a walk is as good as a hit, the hit and run was a key part of a manager’s strategy and the suicide squeeze was an effective way to score a run.
My amicable divorce from baseball saddens me. For more than six decades, baseball and I had a perfectly loving relationship. I bought tickets and the league’s made-in-China junk. In turn, baseball provided me with reliable entertainment. I devoured the morning-after box scores. But gradually we drifted apart. I’ve opposed every bureaucratic-imposed change in baseball since the 1961 expansion.
As with every teetering relationship, a point of no return arrives that kills the once passionate romance. For baseball and me, that moment was the 2019 Home Run Derby. No doubt I’m missing something, but I don’t get the fascination. A citizen lobs a cookie into the batter’s pre-identified wheelhouse. Then, the batter hits a jacked-up ball 425 feet, and the awestruck crowd gasps. Suddenly, I saw the light. Manfred’s vision for baseball’s future is that every game will be a modified home run derby.
If Manfred wants more home runs, he’ll get them. MLB owns Rawlings, the leading baseball manufacturer. No need to summon Sherlock Holmes to figure out how in 2019 MLB is on a record-breaking home run pace. The June 10 Diamondbacks’ 13-8 win over the Phillies that featured 13 homers may be Manfred’s ideal, but to most it’s boring. As Justin Verlander said about Manfred’s foolish insistence that the ball isn’t jacked, fans aren’t stupid.
For years, I’ve been telling friends that given a choice between spending five hours and a small fortune at an MLB game or staying home with my baseball history books, I’ll take the latter every time. As good luck would have it, an outstanding book that took me back to my childhood, and the old Pacific Coast league, has just been published, “Left on Base in the Bush Leagues,” authored by veteran sportswriter Gaylon H. White.
In those days, the PCL had a handful of teams: the Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Seals, Oakland Oaks, San Diego Padres, Seattle Rainiers and Portland Beavers. From those squads came many outstanding major league players like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Luke Easter, Billy Martin, Bill Mazeroski and others less well known, but still solid.
White has written a fascinating account of a better time in baseball, the minor leagues during the 1950s and the 1960s where any town that was big enough to have a bank was large enough to have a ball club. During the minor league’s heyday, there were 59 leagues that fielded a total of 464 teams.
My team back in the 1950s was the Hollywood Stars, so called because ownership consisted of a silver screen syndicate of Tinseltown personalities that loved baseball. An evening spent at Gilmore Field, the Stars’ home ballpark, was certain to include a Clark Gable, Natalie Wood or Gregory Peck sighting.
The stars were accessible and exchanged friendly words with the fans. Then, there was the 1955 day when Jayne Mansfield was crowned Miss Hollywood Stars. When a barely clad Miss Mansfield emerged from the dugout, the crowd gasped in unison. But rough-and-tumble baseball was always the main attraction, and to the fans’ delight, as many as 200 games each season were played up and down the West Coast with visiting teams staying in town for a week.
For fans that missed out on minor league baseball’s magic, White’s book will fill you in. For fans like me who were part of the scene, “Left on Base in the Bush Leagues” is a happy reminder of baseball’s better days.