Take Me Out To The Ball Game: On The Cards - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Take Me Out To The Ball Game: On The Cards

Got, got, got NEED! Says Chris Morley.

March 26 of this year was supposed to have brought with it the start of another Major League Baseball season, but thanks to the coronavirus that has now been postponed for the first time since the September 11 atrocities of 2001- last season having seen the first game played on British soil as the New York Yankees & Boston Red Sox brought their rivalry to the London Stadium. The Chicago Cubs & St Louis Cardinals are scheduled to be next in line to do so between June 13 & 14. Let's hope that can still take place. By way of a build up we can take a look to when the pastime was in its infancy even across the pond.

Baseball began to take a grip on America around the nineteenth century, the man popularly supposed to have invented the game having died in the January of 1893. His name was Abner Doubleday, a Civil War officer whose name was put forward as part of an attempt to establish that the national game had indeed originated on its shores & silence the rival claim of an English sports journalist, Henry Chadwick, who had argued that it was a derivative of rounders.

Cooperstown, New York, was said to be the site of the first recorded game - indeed, the National Baseball Museum & Hall Of Fame still stands there. The source of what became known as the Doubleday Myth is a letter from a mining engineer & fellow Abner, Graves, who claimed to have seen Doubleday draw up a diagram of what we would now recognise as a conventional baseball field in around 1839. Pitch forward into the nineteenth century & the game had really asserted itself on the American popular consciousness!

In line with the rise of interest in photography, the first baseball cards began to be printed, team & individual player photos stuck onto wallet photo-sized scraps of paper. Tobacco companies soon issued cigarette cards along similar lines & so began a hobby almost as popular as packing out ballparks to watch the players depicted on them slug it out!

The pastime still has a place even today, fittingly for a league which boasted around 69.6 million spectators as of 2018. It sits in something of an anomaly, though, as Eric Moskowitz wrote for The Atlantic........
“Baseball-card collecting really ought to be extinct. It’s an analog hobby in a digital world, an expression of fandom in a sport whose attendance is in slow decline and whose cultural relevance is in free fall.”
The height of the fashion for it is widely believed to be the Eighties, as several companies began to challenge Topps, the big dog of the market, for supremacy. And on field performances had an impact on a player's value - while playing well their card grew in value, while any sign of a slump could bring their price crashing back down to earth in line with card price guide publications like Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, as put together by statistician James Beckett since November of 1984.

That year's season saw the Detroit Tigers win the World Series by beating the San Diego Padres, the American League champions triumphing over their National League equivalents in the traditional Major League season-ending contest. The Series itself has been played since 1903, the American League holding the upper hand with 66 wins to the National League's 49!

The merger between the two under the Major League banner came about following a period of dispute in the early years of the professionalised game during which players would frequently switch teams & indeed leagues - known as the “dead ball era”. So called for the simple reason that matches weren't particularly high-scoring affairs, relatively few high points or even home runs! This lasted until around 1919 when Babe Ruth emerged & shook things up across a 22-season career, the Sultan of Swat starting out with the Chicago White Sox, winners of the first World Series as the Pittsburgh Pirates were swept aside before moving on to the New York Yankees.

That move has gone down in baseball folklore as the Curse of the Bambino, his former employers failing to get anywhere near their former heights for a mind-boggling 86 years until another World Series win in 2004!

Meanwhile in his fifteen years as a Yankee, Ruth helped them win seven American League titles & four World Series in the process of helping the ball go from dead to live & ushering in more home runs for a trend which continues to this day!

He was also on hand for the resurgence in popularity of the baseball card, production having suffered at the outbreak of the First World War. A 1933 set as issued by the Goudey Gum Company set the template for the cards of today, player photos on the front & personal/playing statistics on the back- also notable for including among its number the bulk of the first inductees to the aforementioned baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Arguably the biggest trough in the history of card collecting came with the cancellation of the 1994 season following a strike over proposed player wage cuts in light of a poor overall financial situation for the game itself, the situation not resolved until 28 March of 1995 & bringing to an end the first such action since 1981, attendances plummeting in the aftermath as fan anger grew against the players themselves as well as the owners of the teams they played for.

The tradition of the first pitch, as thrown by a guest of honour, including several former US Presidents, to start an opening day game dates back to at least 1890 with the majority having done the honours for the Washington Senators, perhaps inevitably!

The first to have a go was William Howard Taft in 1910, Warren Harding unlucky enough to see them lose after he did the honours for them in 1921! Franklin D Roosevelt's attempt in 1940 hit a camera from the Washington Post, Harry S Truman getting two attempts ten years later as he threw one left & one right-handed ball.

Barack Obama was on hand for the hundreth anniversary of presidential pitching in 2010 - though Donald Trump seems keen to end the tradition, having declined even after his playing credentials came to light.

Strike two sees us going out to the ball video game - batter up!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad