A day at the ball­park, 65 years ago

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Opinion - JOHN M. CRISP John M. Crisp, an op-ed colum­nist for Tri­bune News Ser­vice, lives in Ge­orge­town, Texas, and can be reached at jcrisp­columns@gmail.com.

Be­fore we put baseball to bed for the win­ter, let’s con­sider this only slightly face­tious ques­tion: Do we cheer too much at baseball games?

As a long-time Astros fan, I took some plea­sure in this year’s World Se­ries, an ex­cel­lent seven-game con­test be­tween wor­thy op­po­nents, cul­mi­nat­ing with a 5-1 vic­tory by the Hous­ton Astros over the Los An­ge­les Dodgers. I watched ev­ery game, as well as the 11 play­off games that brought the Astros to the Se­ries.

The Se­ries had many dra­matic mo­ments, but I was struck by how much time the fans spent on their feet, yelling loudly and wav­ing hand­ker­chiefs. In fact, it seemed that ev­ery time the home­town pitcher man­aged to get two strikes on a bat­ter, the fans were stand­ing, cheer­ing for the strike­out.

I’m not say­ing this is a bad thing. But sus­pect­ing that it’s a mod­ern phe­nom­e­non, I de­cided to watch Game 7 of the 1952 World Se­ries, which is read­ily avail­able on the in­ter­net. It pit­ted the New York Yan­kees against the Brook­lyn Dodgers at Eb­bets Field on Oct. 7; the Yan­kees won, 4-3.

I rec­om­mend watch­ing this game for a num­ber of rea­sons. Much of it will look fa­mil­iar to the mod­ern fan, but the sub­tle dif­fer­ences are in­ter­est­ing. For ex­am­ple, even though the game fea­tured some of baseball’s great Hall of Fame slug­gers such as Mickey Man­tle and Duke Snider, there was much more bunt­ing for base hits. There was no des­ig­nated hit­ter, and in­field­ers and out­field­ers caught ev­ery fly and popup with two hands.

The play­ers looked a lit­tle dif­fer­ent in 1952. Many were lean and rangy rather than mus­cu­lar, and their uni­forms were bag­gier. Bat­ting gloves were un­known.

And both teams were ex­tremely white. Jackie Robin­son broke through baseball’s color bar­rier in 1947, and he was start­ing at sec­ond base for the Dodgers in 1952. But many of the best Amer­i­can ballplay­ers were still in the “Ne­gro leagues,” and the only ap­par­ent His­panic on ei­ther team was Cuban-born left fielder, Sandy Amoros. How things have changed, and for the bet­ter.

The fans look dif­fer­ent, as well. For one thing, nearly ev­ery man is wear­ing a coat and tie and many are wear­ing hats. A few women are wear­ing furs. Peo­ple dressed up to go to the ball­game.

And in nearly all crowd shots, the fans are sit­ting down, watch­ing the game. The tele­cast’s back­ground noise ranges from a low, steady mur­mur to loud cheers that are in sync with the ac­tion on the field.

Much of the dif­fer­ence be­tween 1952 and 2017 is that baseball has fol­lowed the lead of foot­ball to­ward the use of elec­tron­ics to reg­u­larly rev up the fans’ en­ergy and noise through­out the game. When the ball­park’s elec­tronic dis­play en­treats fans to “Make Some Noise,” they re­spond.

In fact, Hous­ton’s Minute Maid Park is get­ting a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the loud­est ball­parks in both leagues, es­pe­cially when the roof is closed. In 2005 — the last sea­son the Astros reached the World Se­ries — I smug­gled a deci­bel me­ter into Minute Maid for a game against the Milwaukee Brew­ers and dis­cov­ered that the deci­bel level reg­u­larly reaches the up­per 90s; per­ma­nent and cu­mu­la­tive hear­ing loss be­gins at around 85 deci­bels.

But ap­par­ently the noise works: the Astros were 9-1 in the postseason at home this year. Astros pitcher Lance McCullers says, “When Minute Maid gets rock­ing there’s no place louder. So credit to our fans, and we re­ally feed off that en­ergy.”

So maybe a lit­tle hear­ing loss is a small price to pay for a Se­ries cham­pi­onship. Be­sides, the game has to evolve. In 1952 bat­ters were step­ping up to the plate with­out the pro­tec­tion of bat­ting hel­mets.

Still, you don’t have to be a com­plete cur­mud­geon to envy the fans of 1952, who con­trolled their own re­sponses as they saw fit. They cheered ac­cord­ing to the rhythms of the game and talked about the game dur­ing lulls in be­tween. And they didn’t have to worry about some­one stand­ing up in front of them wav­ing a hand­ker­chief just be­cause the bat­ter has two strikes.

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