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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

CONNECTION ISN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE

Super storm Sandy certainly made a drastic impression on the East Coast over the last week.  Many of us are still feeling the effects of her wrath even today.  One of my co-workers made a comment to me about how people from the 1800-1900s made it through many storms, quite well, because the expectations were much lower and yes, there were less trees because they cut them down to heat their homes. 

This got me thinking about baseball and players from the early years.  It also got me thinking about the unique relationships that these players had with their fans.  Like it or love it, the 1988 baseball flick “Eight Men Out” demonstrated these sort of connections that the White Sox players had with their fans.
 (In photo: George "Buck" Weaver)

The one scene in particular that strikes a chord with me is when the little boy Bucky, who was named after Chicago White Sox third baseman George “Buck” Weaver, asked Buck Weaver to show he and his friend some baseball tricks.  Buck, who was walking home, after the game obliged by playing catch for bit with the two boys on the streets of Chicago.

So I ask you… What happened to that time when life was simple and contracts were not the reason why a player played for a particular team?  There was different kinds of stress back then like war and depression, but certainly not the stress of autograph contracts and exorbitant signing bonuses.  There was something unique about baseball in the 1920s and 30s when baseball was in fact America’s pastime and people didn’t think about steroids when it came to talent on the field, they thought about how great Babe Ruth played or how Sweet Lou Gehrig’s swing was. 
Fans stick with their players and they stick with their teams, sort of the same way we stick close to our kids, keeping a close eye on them.  "At a basic level -- perhaps even instinctive level -- people identify with their groups; they feel as though they are part of the team, even though they are only spectators," (he says.) "But, as identification increases, good feelings start to flow when points are scored, games are won, and opponents are vanquished,” said Dr. Don Forsyth, professor of psychology and sociology at the University of Richmond in an article posted in the Post Game on November 7th (HERE).   We as fans feel close to our favorites even if they are not so close to us. 

“I think people like watching it. Baseball's like a soap opera every day,” said Derek Jeter in “Why We Love Baseball”, an MLB.com article published a few years ago.  We  enjoy the drama, we enjoy the energy, and we enjoy the competition.

Not that back in the day, they didn’t enjoy the excitement of winning, they just didn’t take it to the level we do today.  And getting to the game, was not a highway, a bridge, and 30-mile traffic jam on the Deegan.  Back in the day Ebbets field was build on the site of a former garbage dump.

(Courtesy of BYB in a piece titled 1912: HIGHLANDERS TOP RED SOX 6-2)
Fenway Park still sits right in town on Yawkey way in Boston, the same as it did when it opened in 1912. The difference today is there are layers of security and gated designated areas, much different than it was back in the day.
(In Photo: Nick Swisher in Cleveland)
So, I ask you, are baseball players disconnected from their fans?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Actually, Major League Baseball has another way for players to connect with their fans- “Egraphs”.  Former major league baseball player Gabe Kapler is the director of this new electronic autograph company, which touts the ability of players being able to “interact with fans in this personal way at a time that is convenient for them. For some players and fans, the message can be quite serious and meaningful.”(Read HERE)


Yikes, convenience?  Really?  Was it convenient for Babe Ruth to push my grandmother in her wheelchair down to the chapel when they shared time in the same hospital back 1920s or was it something he just wanted to do for a fan?  And by the way, she said “thank you, Mr. Ruth,” not “can I have an autograph, Babe?”  So maybe players are not the only ones who lost the simplicity of the game… maybe we lost some of that connection too because we expect to much- Interesting, don’t you think?


--Suzie Pinstripe, BYB Opinion Columnist
Twitter: @suzieprof




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