This week in baseball

Andy Zides

I was fortunate enough to come across a copy of a Feb. 1937 Life Magazine. Inside was an article about that year’s spring training and the state of baseball in America.
There were five points of interest in the article that amazed me. This was because the points made then, 64 years ago, still affect the game today.
The article mentioned spring training in Mexico and Cuba. Since 1998, Opening Day has been played on foreign soil. This included two Opening Day games in Mexico, one in Japan and this year’s will be played in Puerto Rico.
In 1999, the Orioles staged an exhibition game in Cuba against the Cuban National team. Though American/Cuban relations in 1937 were much better than they are now, Major League Baseball continues to reach out to Latin America.
Two players today, Ivan Rodriguez and Roberto Alomar, both of Latin American origin, are arguably the best at their defensive positions in Major League history.
The article also brought up baseball’s escalating salaries: “Baseball writers began to fill up their columns with reports of high-priced players who were holding out for enormous salaries.”
With this year’s $252 million contract for Alex Rodriguez, once again it is easy to understand that baseball has not changed.
Dizzy Dean was cited as one of the players who wanted a high salary. Dean, a Hall of Famer and the National League’s best right-handed pitcher in the 1930’s, held out the entire 1936 season because he wanted a $50,000 yearly salary.
Dean was only making $25,000 at the time.
Unfortunately for the colorful, legendary pitcher, in the 1937 All Star Game, future Indians Hall of Famer, Earl Averill, hit a line drive off Dean’s foot, breaking it.
Later, in order to compensate for the injured foot, Dean altered his pitching motion, which in turn gave him arm problems.
By 1938, the Cardinals had traded him to the Cubs, and he was never the same. He also signed for $25,000.
In perhaps the most ironic or humorous point made (Yankee fans are going to love this), the article mentioned the inefficiency of the Red Sox.
“Thomas Yawkey bought the Boston American League team in 1933 and spent $1.2 million on star players in three years, yet he has never come close to winning a championship.”
Though the next season, 1938, would bring great changes to Boston in the form of Jimmie Foxx, followed by Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams in 1939, the Red Sox have still not won a championship.
Finally, the article begins to end with a reflective type attitude. There is mention of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and how “current favorites like Dean, Gehrig and Cochrane,” will one day be immortalized like Ruth and Cobb. This is, of course, was very true.
Yet, in perhaps the most amazing point made in the entire article, the writer says when talking about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
That phrase, which has been molded through the years into, “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” was the underlying theme in the 1988 movie, “Eight Men Out.”
Those words were muttered by a broken-hearted White Sox fan on the steps of the courthouse in Chicago when Shoeless Joe Jackson left the court, apparently after confessing to his crooked ways.
The confessions later were stolen and as a result, the eight crooked players were found innocent in the court of law.
Major League Baseball however banned them all for life shortly after the verdict.
The points this 64 year old article made still hold true today. The problems facing baseball then and now are exactly the same.
The Yankees were baseball’s champions in 1937 and there was a clear line between baseball’s “haves and have-nots.”
Salaries were rising, which scared the owners, the Red Sox were buying star players like Rick Ferrell and Joe Cronin, but had nothing to show for it yet, but the public treated the game as the national pastime because of its rich history.
Sixty four years later that history is even greater. Ruth, Cobb, Dean, Gehrig and Cochrane are baseball gods, forever enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Today we have the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds, both of whom will be looked upon as legendary figures in the future. Spring Training begins in less then one week.
In 2001, watch the way Pedro Martinez pitches so fluidly and the way Sammy Sosa swings his bat. One day your children will be asking you about the way it was.