Archive for Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Early days of baseball

May 8, 2013

On one of the first really nice Sundays of the year, I was among 22,000 Kansas City Royals fans attending a game at Kauffman Stadium. I couldn’t help but think how lucky baseball fans are with modern, convenient and attractive venues to attend baseball games.

Driving in and out of the Truman Sports Complex is relatively easy with access to Inter-State Highways. For folks like me, there is adequate handicapped parking and facilities that make it easy for those of us who are a bit physically challenged to attend a game. The re-furbished stadium is a panorama of color with a variety of light displays. There are a variety of concessions which are tasty. For those of us who are die-hard fans, this appears to be a good year with the Royals winning. A trip to the baseball game is quite simply a fun event for all ages.

That certainly hasn’t always been the case for fans. The game and the amenities at ball parks have changed dramatically. I got started doing some research on fan experiences after reading the book, “Fifty-nine in ‘84” by Edward Achorn. The book chronicles the unbelievable 1884 season turned in by Charles (Old Hoss) Radbourn who pitched 59 victories for the Providence, Rhode Island, champion Grays’ professional baseball team. In a modern day of relief specialists and pitch counts, it is a record which will never be broken. In fact, it is a record that will never be challenged. It is hard to imagine a modern pitcher even being able to handle the arm strain and pain that Radbourn had during that long summer. Overall, Radbourn had a record of 59 wins and 12 losses. He pitched in 75 games and started 73. He pitched 678.2 innings and struck out 441 batters. It is a truly a super human performance. Scores of old-time baseball men call Radbourn the best-ever pitcher.

In those olden, but certainly not golden days, there were only 14 players on a major league team with two being pitchers. Pitchers worked every other day in most cases. However, when the National League Providence team lost a pitcher who was banned for bad behavior, they had a real problem. Radbourn, who was described as irascible, was already suspended and the team almost folded. However, they made a deal with “Old Hoss” to come back and paid him the highest salary in baseball - $4,000 and he pitched every day for the rest of the season. In those days, pitching was tougher since foul balls weren’t counted as strikes.

Certainly baseball was different in those days – it was played barehanded. The only way a player could be taken out was if he was so badly injured that he couldn’t continue. Only one ball was used in most games and if a fan caught a foul ball he had to return it or face theft charges. The only therapy for a sore arm was a stiff shot of whiskey. Incidentally, players not in the line-up were expected to sell tickets and concessions.

The fans had to be a hardy bunch, too. Getting to the ball park could be an adventure, trying to cross busy streets, dodging horse-drawn conveyance and piles of horse manure. Tickets were priced at 50 cents and 75 cents for the privilege of sitting on wooden plank stadium. There was only one umpire and on several occasions, the ump needed police protection to get out of the ball park. Drunks and fights were often part of the “fan experience.”

Yes, I’m a die-hard baseball fan, but I’m not so sure that I would have been tough enough to follow the game in 1884. As far as I’m concerned I’m happy with the modern era and fan-friendly baseball stadiums.

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