Like the world around it, baseball has changed over the years. Equipment and uniforms get better, habits and routines come and go, and some of the old ways of doing things seem to fade away. Here are a handful of changes to the National Pastime that you may have—or may not have—noticed.
Seen many stirrups?
What are stirrups? Just catch a picture of an MLB player from the 60s through the 90s and you’ll see a white under sock under the colored team sock…the stirrup. In the old days, you always saw plenty of the white sock (called the “sanitary”). Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and those guys looked great in stirrups. Little Leaguers used to feel like big leaguers when they put on stirrups. But for the past several years, MLB players seem to opt for long pants that run down to the bottom of the heel. Manny Ramirez seems to be the picture of the fashion. Baseball purists miss the stirrup look terribly, calling it the best fashion statement a player can make. There’s not a baseball rule or even a team rule; so a player can wear stirrups if he wants, and a few are doing that and looking sharp. But overall, the long pants are covering up the stirrups.
Who stole the bullpen cart?
How many baseball fans today have ever seen a bullpen cart in action? They’re truly history, and not a single team has used a bullpen cart for decades. When it was time for the relief pitcher to come in, he’d get a free ride from the pen to the mound in a vehicle that usually looked like a baseball on wheels. But some pitchers (who sit around all game only to pitch an inning or two) skipped the ride and ran out to the mound instead. Reliever Mike Marshall of the 70s Dodgers (a fitness buff) refused the lift. That’s what caused the bullpen cart to run out of gas. The New York Mets’ bullpen cart, last used in 1986, was sold in auction for $112,000 in 2015…about $80,000 more than was expected.
Let’s NOT play two!
The way the games have slowed down, can you imagine sitting through two baseball games on the same day? MLB teams rarely (almost never) schedule doubleheaders as part of the season. They haven’t disappeared…there were about 30 double headers in 2015…but they were caused by a rainout of a regular game. But in the 40s, 50s and 60s, doubleheaders were part of the game. The great Cub Ernie Banks is famous for the quote “Let’s play two!” So, how many double headers do you think Mr. Cub played in? Try 318, as in two games on the same day 319 times! Yogi Berra caught both games of double headers 117 times. Looking back on schedules from the past, teams in the late 50s could have 20 doubleheaders scheduled for a season! Those days are gone. Although many managers would like a shorter season, all owners and most players aren’t eager to bring them.
There’s no frying in baseball!
Richie Allen, former MLB star outfielder, had this to say about Astro Turf: “If a horse can’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it.” Artificial grass was introduced to Major League Baseball in 1966, when the Houston Astros rolled out the carpet, so to speak, to open the 1966 season. They had no choice: grass couldn’t grow in their new covered multipurpose (football, baseball, etc.) domed stadium. As other multipurpose domed and not-domed venues sprung up in the 70s, the AstroTurf became the playing surface of choice, primarily because it didn’t get worn out the way grass and dirt would with year-round professional use. In the early ‘80s the Astros, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Expos, Mariners, Phillies, Pirates, Reds, Royals, and Twins were all using artificial turf. It changed the game in a few ways as well. On very hot summer days, the temperature of artificial turf could reach 175 degrees. The fake grass also affected the play on the field. It’s said the ball had a more predictable bounce off the turf; shortstops used to bounce their long throws to first, feeling it got the ball there faster. But times change. Round, look-alike (and ugly) multipurpose facilities gave way to true baseball parks with a cozy, throw-back atmosphere…and real grass. As of opening day of the 2015 season, only two Major League teams were playing on artificial turf, the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. Ah, the smell of fresh-cut grass!
Not even a pinch of pepper
A dad of three little leaguers said it like this. “In 15 years of watching league ball, I’ve never seen one of my kids play pepper. In fact, they don’t even know what it is or how to play it.” In case you don’t know, pepper is a simple drill with a batter and three or more thrower-fielders, standing about 20 feet away. It’s not necessarily a skill-building drill, but it’s fun. Supposedly, Stan “The Man” Musial—the Hall of Famer who played for the Cardinals—loved it. He played pepper with left-handed throwers, saying that “practicing against lefty throwers helped me tremendously.” Almost all baby boomers played it as kids. The main reason given for the disappearance of pepper at the Major League level? Groundskeepers. With baseball diamonds so lavishly manicured by a field-maintenance crew, with fancy lawn-cutting and intricate patterns, there’s no room for potential worn-out patches caused by groups of teammates playing pepper. Pepper is simply not allowed on any baseball diamonds. Call it part of the new ground rules. What would Stan Musial think?
These are only a few facets of the game that aren’t as common as they used to be in Majors, and chances are, they won’t be making a full comeback.
But you never know.
There was a time when AstroTurf was hot, in the popular sense, and it looked like the future. But it became too hot, in the temperature sense, which was one reason players were glad to see it go. But now there’s a next generation of AstroTurf in use and Division I college baseball teams are using it in their top ballparks, so you never know.
The big question is...will they allow a game of pepper on it?