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Brat-ball: MLB’s Maturity Gap

Brat-ball: MLB’s Maturity Gap

Ask “Ray Babbitt” about the state of baseball and you might hear something like this: ‘Definitely, definitely not your father’s baseball…definitely not……definitely not.’

“Rain Man” would know, being an original saberhead and a big, BIG Redlegs’ fan.

Much has changed since, say, Jackie, Branch & Larry blazed a brighter path in late 40s.

For starters, there are the notable rule changes.

Most come in a 4-year span (’69-73) during reign of proactive, polarizing Commissioner Bowie Kuhn: lowered pitcher’s mound (5”) & tapered strike-zone (‘69); batting helmets (‘71); the game-changer DH (’73 AL) and in August ‘08, Bud Selig opens the Pandora’s box called instant replay to placate that whiney segment of fandom & media who demand exactitude in sport like it were an engineering schematic (dates:

Night games are now the norm and mandated in post-season.

Indoor arenas and plastic turf (Poly® / Astro®) put fresh-air & green grass on endangered species list, but tradition & style made a comeback and now have domers (Tropicana) looking to go way of the Dodo bird.

The supplement craze has run the gamut from alcohol to “greenies (“Ball Four” ‘70),” killer cocaine & “Mary Jane” (60s – 80s) and since sometime in the late 80s, PEDs.

Money has been plentiful ever since MLB got the Federal League bounced (Landis ‘15), now it practically ‘grows on trees’ for anyone connected ($5B ‘12), while the high price of attendance is turning the national pastime into another sport of kings (horse racing), or at least, R&R for the landed gentry.

Some of that moolah is international currency from Hispanic America and Asia, where baseball took hold in the 1930s. Too bad cricket, a British Commonwealth fave, didn’t evolve along the same lines or we’d have one heck of a World (something) Classic.

Baseball will never rival soccer’s popularity but then it’s not that kind of religion, where people can still, sadly, be sacrificed to the sporting gods (Brasil). Stateside, the hooligans hover ‘round parking lots (LA ‘11). Let’s hope the powers-that-be get in the ballgame, stop hiding behind legal precedent and pay for all of Bryan Stow’s recuperative therapy.

Uniforms, like turf, had been trending plastic (polyester) & tight in the 70s but took a U-turn in the 90s to natural blend and mas material (Get a’ load a’ those pants, yikes!), accommodating the explosion in muscles (PEDs), while batsman accessorized with body-armor that, like wedge-putters, seriously skewed the (pitcher / hitter) balance.

Catching the game: My grandfathers had radio (MO / WI), I grew up on free TV (WGN) and today it’s satellite, cable and whatever it‘s called on hand-helds. More expensive, but more choice, too.

Expansion: MLB, like all majors, added a dozen clubs by the 70s, settling the West (58), the South, and then North to Canada, first Montreal (‘69-04), then Toronto (‘77). More teams = more dreams and in ‘69 it expanded the franchise with Divisional playoffs. The biggie came in 1997 as MLB broke with 100 year tradition and began inter-league play.

Where some sports added playoff participants like one who grows love-handles (NBA / NHL / NCAA), MLB and NFL expanded their PS-waistlines as that man who fills-out expectedly with age, a few pounds (teams) at a time.

And the biggest change? Baseball’s gone bratty. Got Maturity?

I have no doubt, individually, most ball-players are mature, ambitious, hard-working, responsible guys that’re good friends, husbands, fathers, sons, neighbors and teammates. But as a group, on the diamond, too often it turns into Goof-ball Country.

The 6 Sillies (& 1 Sin*)

1) home run derby

When other sports are running from exhibitions & kiddie contests (NFL just wishes Pro Bowl would die already, while LeBron sees dunk thing for what it is, small playground kicks), MLB gives the All Star game a big, wet kiss, dolls it up with Derby (and its steroid-baggage) and now it’s their biggest event of the year…of the year. Incredible.

All Star break was meant to be a respite for players, coaches and fans alike. A player invested (Rose), or not, at their own risk. Then a tie-game in Milwaukee, a baseball town, 500 chuckleheads throw a collective conniption fit, litter Miller field with beer bottles and the same brilliant idea-department which gave us Derby decides the game will “matter” by awarding Series home-field to the winner, which nobody likes.

2) Fun-zone (F-Z): Walk-off bunny hop, shave-cream pies, player-pantomime & Gatorade®

Cele-brat-ing every come-from-behind win as if each were a World Series clincher. Then the hero gets a creamy towel or sticky bath. Thanks. Even ESPN pros are rolling eyes.

3) Mitt-face

Nobody cares about your classified conversations. If anyone does steal a sign, just pull a John McGraw next time you cross paths with the thief in the tunnel. Problem solved.

4) *PEDs: Cheaters are bad behaving children.

5) Challenging hot hitters

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again? Nyet. More pitchers are stubbornly refusing to pass on hot hitters who’ve burned ’em before, putting ego ahead of team. Discretion, and the win, can be better part of valor. “That’s why…we play…the game. (Edwards).”

6) Sabermetrics

Numbers & baseball have been inseparable since 1869 (Chicago), providing a necessary measure of worth and historical touchstones (Quizer: .440, 61, 511, 755, 1.12, 191, 262, 59). But assessing play / value in strict adherence to numerology at exclusion of human element is a talking-point perversion of a sacrosanct aspect of baseball and smacks of a mindset which doesn’t fully grasp the entirety of the game. Mr. “Moneyball” might agree.

7) Bench brawlers

The chess-match worked by pitcher & batter is baseball’s key component. That tempers can flair over ownership of home-plate, prompting fisticuffs, is to be expected. But if teammates can’t control the urge (NHL) to leave the bench and join the melee in some school-boy display of loyalty, MLB must stop it with sufficient deterrent.

All Star week brings out talk of storylines: what’s happened so far, what lay ahead.

In truth, it’s been the same storyline every season the past 30: baseball’s tanking.

It’s the best scene in one of the best films ever made, and that’s saying a lot ‘cause this one had a ton. In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest (‘75),” Jack Nicholson plays inmate and baseball fan “R.P. McMurphy” who re-creates from his own mind the telecast of the ‘63 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers, to the raucous approval of fellow trustees and the utter annoyance of in-charge nurse “Miss Ratched (Louise Fletcher).”

That’s how it was. The loonies were in the bin, most the dangerous ones, anyway, and baseball was king. America would stop, listen & watch. It was a national passion.

If players & owners want to reverse their game’s steady slide toward less irrelevancy ($5B monopolies don’t go bust) and get back out front of football, they need to do four things:

1) Bring back afternoon World Series

No decision, not DH, not inter-league nor a blinds-eye on PEDs has done more to take the heart & soul out of baseball than under-the-lights WS. I get the sell: more viewers, more pizzas in the PM, but: 1) there is now much more competition, choice at night for viewers than the 80s; and 2) night play starts / runs so late, most fans, most games, bail by the 7th.

While other day-timers like football & auto-racing can keep fans fixated until wee hours, baseball’s slower, more measured cadence won’t afford such patience long into the night.

And who else could hold 4 to 7 championship games in the light of day, giving millions excuse to cut classes & close shop early? Be bold, and in time, it’ll pay dividends.

2) Close window on PEDs…tight

The pro game has always had a seamy-side or at least competitive crudeness, but muscle bound PED users speak to kids in a persuasive voice that the game-fixer and sign-stealer never could. Because MLBPA leaves that window of opportunity ajar for cheats by not drawing every player’s blood twice each year (spring & in-season), we fans are put in limbo, not accusing hot players (C. Davis / Mi. Cabrera), but not daring to trust, either.

Ruffian rounders got class when Landis got tough (1920). MLB needs that again.

3) Stop pandering (Ditch the Derby & ASG home-field)

Whether it’s the home run derby, freaky mascots and fantasy fun for kids, or inter-league, instant replay, playoff expansion and “God Bless America” for adults, MLB marketing mavens are always working an angle, slowly but surely removing baseball’s century’s old patina of tradition, style & substance in the process of profiteering.

As for GBA, American ball-parks are no place for religious & political chest-thumping. Might as well put out ‘Members Only’ signs at the ticket windows. In its place, and that of the “Star Spangled Banner,” sorry Francis, should be “America the Beautiful.”

Course, if you see any “Angels in the Outfield (‘51),” that’s a whole ‘nother ball-game.

4) Grow-up

I’m no child psychologist but kids don’t want MLB dumbed down. They want to look up to ball-players, emulate them, just like the days of Ruth & Johnson, Clemente & Koufax, Ripken & Gwynn. They don’t want to see their heroes acting like, well, like them.

Baseball’s not alone. Immaturity abounds.

TV is officially the “wasteland” presaged (Minow), canines are promoted as club couriers to double as billboards (RIP: Chase), winner trophies are engraved before play is completed (British), avalanches triggered by cool board runs and stadium ball-hawks grab at believed booty with reckless abandon, sometimes to disastrous results. Immaturity never looked so greedy, and vice versa.

Sport will mirror society. Coincidental, maybe, but ever since Michael Jackson’s “We are the world, we are the children (85),” business has youthenized most every facet of the consumer market. NFL and NBA seek young fans as well but their athletes show much less tendency towards to F-Z.

It’s time MLB reclaimed its manhood. Dad and plenty a’ players too, would agree…definitely.

Steven Keys

Can o’ Corn

Photo Credit: SD / Y.Alonso / W.Venable / K.Crull / Chris Hanewinckel USAT / 5-29-13

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A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.

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In response to “Brat-ball: MLB’s Maturity Gap”

  1. Steve Massey Jul 23 201312:27 am


    Steven, let me start with the quiz: Duffy .440, Maris 61, Young 511, Aaron 715, Gibson 1.12, Wilson 191, Ichiro 262 and I couldn’t even name one of the four with 59. In the interest of full disclosure I looked Duffy up after erroneously guessing George Sisler.

    You are absolutely right in declaring baseball as driving slow in the driveway, or as Randall Murphy might say: “Baseball’s in trouble now, boys, big effing trouble!”

    I like some of your points to get it back on point, particularly on PED’s and day games in the series. Canning the derby and the home field advantage is valid too.

    I do miss the double header, and the occasional old-timers game. “Let’s play two” (Banks).

    I like the idea that our national pastime can recover some of its former glory, but I do wonder if the world hasn’t changed too much for that to ever happen(?)

    Like you said, 5 billion don’t go bust, but I think I hear Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley singing about a lost loving feeling right now; I like the Star Spangled Banner better, not to mention America the Beautiful for a game opener.

    What can save this game we loved with our fathers? Maybe what you’ve suggested here, or perhaps a viable version of fantasy baseball…I’m just saying, it did wonders for the NFL.

    Great article, as usual. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work soon.

    1. Steven Keys Jul 23 20132:06 pm


      You did so well on the quiz, Steve (59: Hershiser’s scoreless-innings streak, ’88), reward yourself by taking the rest of the day off to watch a ball-game on the tube, or wax-nostalgia and go radio. You’re in Cardinals country?

      You’re right about things having “changed too much” for MLB to get back its ‘old glory,’ so to speak, but maybe it can carve-out something special for itself, America, by going “Back to the Future” a bit with one or two day-time Series starters. At this point I don’t think it could hurt to try. And I know the Derby’s not going anyway, either. I dream out-loud sometimes.

      Thanks for reading & the comment.

  2. Steve Massey Jul 23 20133:59 pm


    Hershiser…doh! That’s extra points taken away because I thought the 59 was for doubles (Speaker, Helton and a couple others).

    Oh well, I’ll dress it up ala Mr. Baseball in Major League and call that one, “Juuust a bit outside.”

    I believe you and that guy may have shared a zip code once upon a time.

    1. Steven Keys Jul 23 20139:33 pm


      “(D)oubles?” C’mon, Steve, I wouldn’t do that to readers. Now, triples, that’s a good one, single-season mark: initials OW, played for…Pirates (?), in 20s or 30s, tallied something like, 38 (?) in a season.

      Don’t remember “Major League,” except clip of Charlie Sheen they show a lot. Saw it once, I think, when it went to video. Probably seen “Bull Durham” about 10 times.

  3. Steve Massey Jul 23 201311:39 pm


    I think the guy’s name was Wagner, and the number was 36…Pirates is right. I thought his name Christian name was Jack, but that don’t jibe well with the initials you’ve provided.

    Bob Uecker was the guy calling the plays in Major League, and true to form he provided much needed comic relief for a subpar baseball movie…I’d say Bull Durham may be the best I’ve seen.

    Impressive would be the best single season total for taters by one Frank “Home Run” Baker (without research, of course).

    1. Steven Keys Jul 24 20133:40 pm


      Frank Baker, part of Connie Mack’s $100,000 in-field (Eddie Collins, ?, ?). I’ve seen Frank’s MLB homer mark a few times, it’s pre-Ruthian. I’m gonna’ say, 10 (?). A pretty good number in early-1900s. Some of those ball-parks, I think, didn’t have center-field walls or fence-work, making retrieval more possible and fleet-of-foot more helpful.

      I think Uecker is still doing Brewers’ radio.

  4. Steve Massey Jul 25 20136:18 pm


    I know you’re getting on in years, but I suspect you never saw him play. :-) He tagged a staggering 12 dingers sometime before Ruth rewrote the game we know.

    I didn’t know that bit about the $100,000 infield. Cool.

    Uek is still doing 6 innings a game; I recently read a nice feature on him in SI.

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