Andrelton Simmons ranges to his right, bows on one knee, backhands a sharp grounder, and from a squatting position throws an off-balance 98 mph strike to Freddie Freeman at first base. Simmons is 24-years young and plays shortstop for the Atlanta Braves.
It’s easy to imagine him flashing that same grace one hundred years ago as he does today. Memories and imagination are very kind. They provide instant access.
A common complaint about today’s game is that it takes too long to complete one. In the 1940’s, games finished in just under two hours. By the 60’s that number ballooned to 2:38 and today it’s closer to three hours. There are some good suggestions of how to shorten games, but the only one I can digest is minimizing advertisements between innings.
I enjoy manager’s changing pitchers and batters working a count, fouling off pitches and demonstrating discipline. I cherish the psyche out games; the Mike Hargrove human rain delays and Pete Vukovich herky-jerky around the mound. I guess I have nothing better to do and wouldn’t mind games lasting four hours. I wouldn’t mind at all.
I need baseball like I needed my grandfather. He grew up in Pittsburgh and rooted for the Pirates in the early 1900’s and many years later escorted me to Bradenton, Florida to see Barry Bonds and further south to Port Charlotte to see Toby Harrah. He appreciated the graceful swan that Bonds was and the charismatic personality of Harrah.
Grandpa also spoke about Ted William’s swing with the same gushy enthusiasm as he did Ken Griffey Jr.; slow and easy; almost perfect.
Grandpa watched the Dead ball era give way to a live one. He watched neighborhoods and stadiums get destroyed. He experienced ugly financial realities, astro turf, domes, free agency.
And none of that cooled his enthusiasm. He loved the game on the diamond where it hadn’t really changed. Yeh, the mounds were lowered in 1969. The American League only DH was added in 1973. The spit ball was supposedly banned and so on. But the bases were still 90 feet apart. There were still three outs to an inning, four balls for a walk and a late inning home run still inspired goose bumps. They still do.
But before my grandpa, before Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb….now that was different; the days of Cap Anson and King Kelly, the Philadelphia Quakers and Cleveland Spiders. But names aside, it was the rules. Nine balls for a walk. Then eight, six, five and finally four in 1879. Pitchers throwing underhand or side arm until 1884 when the modern overhand motion was no longer banned.
The Vintage Baseball Association-VBBA plays by 19th century rules and that includes “equipment, uniforms, field specifications, customs, practices, language, and behavioral norms of the period.”
Sounds like a Renaissance Fair situation; part theatrical, part baseball. Good ol’ fun playing a game like it was when we were kids; wasting away entire days and still wanting more, so we pretended the score was tied and slipped past the sunset into extra innings.
That desire to play one more inning, to drink one more beer at bar time has shaped my life as a baseball fan.