Man, I miss Old Red Guard. He had a transcendent understanding of the game.
But his understanding of people and his wonderful writing style set him apart and made him a legend here.
M2 saved this piece in the archives, and here it is again. Merry Christmas.
By Old Red Guard
Might as well make my jaded commentary on this here thread which could be renamed "The Never Ending Story"
People who don't think we're watching the greatest athletes in baseball history are just wrong - Reds Faithful
Yep. Just about all the players from the 30s wouldn't do squat if they were transplanted into today's game as is. 20 year olds looked about 30, bodies were smaller overall, no one weight trained (Lord forbid that makes you musclebound don't you know). The most popular diet supplement was liquid malt barley in one form or 'nuther. Juiced meant a guy played better drunk, you slept on clanking, rocking, creaking trains and spent weeks on the road, living in pullman's and hotel rooms. Nutritional theory was the more fatty red meat the better and exercise was generally considered only in spring training if you weren't smart enough to get out of it then. If you pulled a muscle or tweaked a hammy you rubbed some homemade balm into it, gritted your teeth, shut your fool mouth and played the game. There was some kid playing out in the cornbelt who was hellbent to take your job and your boss was hellbent to give it to him if you faltered for a second. After all you were making 5 grand a year and he could pay that kid 1200 and a train ticket to do the same thing. You might be better but not if you're hurt - why give the kid any chance at showing his stuff. Keep playing. Sanitation was nonexistent. Well, okay, most guys washed their face once a day and a few bathed more than once a week, but only a few. Uniforms were worn until they could play the game by themselves. Don't tear it either - get a needle and darn it up - if the club has to buy another one for you before midpoint they'd deduct it from your check. Heck that's about 6 bottles of whiskey and a night with a Philly hooker! Players would have made good footballers though with all that weight. Wool uniforms full of sweat and 3 pounds of fermented dirt, heavy leather shoes with razored steel cleats, cotton unders and a patch of leather on your off-ham and you were playing with 20 pounds of itchy, scratchy, buggy, sometimes soggy, baggy mucilaginous fiber clinging to your every move. Compare that to today's featherweight outfits and shoes that weigh 6 ounces! Training equipment consisted of medicine balls, a big field and for pitchers, a wall to throw against. Knocking bottles off posts was a favorite way for kids to practice control, pitching off a concrete stoop and catching the rebounds, tossing at birds or rabbits and hitting rocks as far as you could were other disciplines of rigorous training. Stickball WAS great - it taught incredible bat control and concentration. You try hitting a small ball with a broomstick and see how well you do. Stickball in the streets is overlooked as a way to teach youngsters today. I'm seriuos. That's how I always coached my kids when I was involved in Pony baseball. I'd start out with stickball games and oven mitts for gloves. Bragging now but in twelve years coaching tykes we never once failed to win twice as many as we lost and a ton of my boys made allstar teams every year. Nothing special I did - just the stickball and oven mitts. Catch with an oven mitt and by gosh you WILL use 2 hands. Swing with a broomstick at a little rubber ball half the sizer of a baseball and by the time we played with real bats and balls and gloves the kids hardly missed anything. Easier to straighten out swings when they're hefting a broomstick, too. Helps them select the right weight bat, too. Most kids try to swing way too heavy. Anyway, drifting - back to former athletes.
Today's players are far better athletes. Work regimens are religiously adhered to, scientific principles are utilized, professionals in kinesiology, nutrition, conditioning for specific functions, flexibility, even psychology are employed to help players train. In the 30s and 40s you were too busy at your 2nd job during the offseason to train much. During the season some guys main exercise consisted of bouncin a different Betty in every town you visited and brawling in saloons. There were lots of "good" guys, too, that had families and religion. They loafed around the hotel reading, writing letters and playing cards. Not every player was a hell-raiser but the ripsnorts probably got more exercise viz less sleep. Top it off with the fact that communicable diseases were widespread, nutrition from the cradle to grave was sometimes good but inconsistent. Food followed the economy - lots of people ate thin soup and litle else when times were slow. For lots of kids times was always slow. Then as now the greatest weapon against poverty was hard work but then as now there were lots of folk who ignored that fact. There was no foodstamps, no unemployment checks, no welfare boards to take up the slack for the children. If your parents were unlucky, or bums, or down and out, then you didn't eat much. You spent your hours in the streets, playing stickball, pitching against that stoop, playing burnout with your buddies and breathing, sleeping, dreaming baseball. Then you're 16 and good - you play on a town team or maybe a factory boss pays you 3 bucks a game to play on their team and gives your old man a job to boot. You learn the game the hard way against guys who'll spike you, crash into you, trip you and rag you unmercifully -nothing sacred, mothers not spared. You small and young and facing a hulk of a pitcher who throws 85 ( fast enough back then) and spits tobacco with every pitch. He's dug a rut 6 inches in front of the rubber, too and pitches from there - the umps are scared of him so who's going to stop him? You know you can't pull him so you slap at the ball and poke it into left with a bit of spin - the ball caroms off into foul gorund after striking fair and you run like a jackrabbit, skipping over the first baseman's extended foot, ducking the elbow aimed at your ribs the 2nd sacker points your way and you slide into third with your spikes up and slashing. Not trying to hurt the guy, just keeping him from getting close enough to stomp on you when he sweeps the tag.
A couple years of this and a scout sees you and signs you for a ticket and fifty bucks and sends you to Red Oak, Iowa to play. You're 18 and weigh 140 sopping wet. Your face is drawn and you look 30 by today's standards but everyone in Red Oak calls you Cheeks because they think you have a "babyface". You're scrawny, undernourished, wiry strong but no one today would call you an athlete. Didn't then, either - you are a ballplayer. Big difference. Athletes are born - ballplayers are forged from runny gruel, concrete stoops, bouncing balls, broomsticks and hard knocks. You know all the dirty tricks - better known as essential survival techniques. At 21, you make the show. You do well, you're a 2nd baseman. You get on base any way you can, you holler at the pitcher, you steal when you can but only when its necessary. Go the other way, bunt, squeeze, and you've learned to swing from the heels when the pitcher is predictable. You use whatever you've been given, and you learn everything you can, every nuance possible. You are successful and your twetnies are golden years. Then you're 30. Within 2 or 3 years your career will be over. Your joints hurt, you've lost a couple of steps. You've played through aches and strains, and punished yourself for a decade to fend off the stream of prospects trying to unseat you. And now it happens. You're traded for no one inparticular to a terrible team. You play a couple years, your numbers aren't that bad but thwe little things are gone. You can't steal anymore, triples are doubles and doubles are singles and that kid up from Tuscaloosa that throws 92 just blows it by you. You retire at 33. You are old, ancient by baseball standards. You've never touched a weight set, never taken a vitamin or mineral supplement, never even heard of yoga or yogurt, never had a personal or team trainer, you have the beginnings of gout, and have had chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella, and a variety of flus during your career. Mostly you played through it all and let your natural vitality cure it. You have a permanently bent finger from the time you broke it on a ball that jammed it, then you taped it, grimaced and played on. You have hammer toe because you played in second hand shoes for all those early years and the toe was too tight. You don't even know its why you couldn't run worth a damn anymore when you were just 30. You were a ballplayer. Now you're 33 and you're nothing. No job, no other skills, no player's association to write you a check. You take a job as a coach. You'll teach the same misguided theories and scoff at new advances in nutrition and training for years, delaying major advances in your sport until the mid to late 60s when rising salaries and advancing knowledge begins to change the way athletes take care of themselves and baseball begins to scout athletes for their potential instead of ballplayers for their skills. The theory is you can teach skills but you can't teach speed or genetics. In the back of my mind, this old man realizes they are right, but I miss the pure ballplayers. The ones who raised hell and tripped guys as they rounded second. The ones who took whatever you gave em and used it against you. When I was a child I watched ordinary men with extraordinary skills playing a game I loved. Today, I watch demi-gods of athleticism with lithe, muscular bodies play my beloved sport. The hope for the everyday joe, who works hard, who hones his skills fanatically, to play at the highest level, is almost gone. Yes, today's athletes are incredible and outclass their counterparts of yesteryear. They are not nearly as much fun to watch or follow.