Saturday, August 22, 2009

Baseball Purism: An Old Way of Thinking

By Tony Mazur

Baseball has been subjected to much criticism in the past few years. Mainly, the target of criticism has been the steroid issue, which has become an epidemic since the mid-'80s. But baseball's biggest critics are its biggest fans.

These are baseball purists. They are the people who are unhappy with the direction baseball is heading, and have been for many years. They believe in traditional baseball. According to the purists, the designated hitter, interleague play, and domed stadiums should cease immediately.

As a lifelong fan, there are a some aspects of baseball purism that I agree with. I may have been born and raised in an American League city, I love National League baseball. The designated hitter was instilled in the AL in 1973, and has contributed to many high-powered offenses over the years. While I prefer to see the pitchers bat, I won't lose any sleep if Major League Baseball decides to keep the DH.

Another issue that I agreed with the purists was the popularity of "cookie-cutter stadiums". This fad began in the 1960s where stadiums were built to house baseball and football games, along with rock concerts and religious crusades. The sightlines were always poor, and fans were usually too far from the action. This was a bad idea from the get-go, and the majority of those stadiums have since been demolished. In 1992, Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards was built to remind us that baseball parks are cathedrals, not multi-purpose facilities.

I do not know whose bright idea it was to reward the winner of the all-star game home field advantage for the World Series, but somebody needs a slap in the face. The team with the best record should have home field advantage, plain and simple. Again, I side with the traditionalists.

However, I disagree with the purists on a few angles.

A former co-worker of mine, a self-described purist, told me how much he detests interleague play. He feels that the only time the AL should meet the NL is in the all-star game and the World Series. I comprehend the validity of that statement, but from a marketing standpoint, interleague play is too much of a cash cow to abolish. It brings in fans from everywhere, and it is a novelty to watch teams you only get to see on the recap shows.

NBC Sports' Bob Costas is a devout baseball fan, and he does not believe in the wild card. He feels that it takes away from the other three teams who have won their respective divisions, and the team with the best record should have a bye in the first round of the postseason. I understand where Costas is coming from, but there have been many cases over the years where a wild card winner has won more games that a division winner, but the wild card team contends in a tougher division.

Purists worked themselves in a tizzy now that each team that began play post-1993 have all made it to the World Series. I'm sure they went into a conniption when the Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks took home titles. Personally, I do not mind seeing these teams contend for titles. However, the recent title winners (Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, Phillies) are all traditional teams.

The older purists resent baseball's version of Manifest Destiny. The westward expansion of the 1950s (Milwaukee, Kansas City, San Francisco, Los Angeles), according to the older traditionalist, marked the end of the Golden Age of Baseball. It was bound to happen sooner or later, so I don't see a problem with baseball west of the Mississippi River.

A hot button issue since 1965 is a dome stadium. Traditionalists claim that baseball should only be played outdoors and on a grass surface. While domes are not as trendy as they were in the '70s and '80s, they are a necessity in an wet or sizzling climates. Baseball (or football, for that matter) shouldn't be played in three feet of snow. Target Field, the Minnesota Twins' new ballpark, is an open-air stadium, and it will replace the decrepit Metrodome. However, Minneapolis-St. Paul has an unpredictable climate throughout April and May, which is why they moved in the Metrodome in the first place.

Baseball purists have to except the game the way it is. Just like life, the game changes as well over time. Ebbets Field and Baker Bowl are elements of the past. I love the history of the game, but I find it silly to root against teams that weren't around when Walter Johnson was alive.

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