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Archive for the tag “baseball”

Take me out coach, I don’t know how to play

Songwriters write about the things they know, which can cause some difficulties when the song is heard by people of different cultures. I was one of many people who had to learn what “vegemite” was when Men at Work’s “Down Under” became popular in the United States. (In a similar fashion, when Midnight Oil sang about “45 degrees” in “Beds Are Burning,” it took me a while to realize that the band was talking about very hot temperatures.)

But what of the effect of time on song lyric interpretation?

In the early 1970s, Joe Walsh composed and recorded a song called “Rocky Mountain Way.” His European fans were presumably puzzled by some of the lyrics:

Bases are loaded and Casey’s at bat
Playin’ it play by play
Time to change the batter

Even those Americans who were not familiar with the 1888 poem “Casey at the Bat” still knew what sport Walsh was discussing. And although there was no major league baseball team in Colorado at the time – the Rockies would not come until much later – the Triple A Denver Bears were playing in the state in 1973, the year the record was released.

Since 1973, there has of course been one famous song that referenced baseball – John Fogerty’s “Centerfield.”

But what about today’s music? How often does the beloved national pastime crop up in 21st century songs?

I thought of this when listening to a Los Angeles Sparks commercial on the radio. The Sparks, of course, are a team in the Women’s National Basketball Association, and unlike the men, they play on a summer schedule. So when advertising on Los Angeles sports radio, and bearing in mind that the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers had been eliminated from the NBA playoffs, and the Los Angeles Kings had been eliminated from the NHL playoffs, the Sparks chose to advertise that they are now “the only game in town.”

And for many in Los Angeles, the Sparks truly are the only game in town. The Los Angeles Dodgers, and Rita Moreno of Arte’s baseball team down the freeway, have no meaning in their lives.

Don’t believe me? Look at the statistics. Brad Wells wrote the following in October – yes, October – 2010.

Last night, a boring Monday Night Football contest between two back-up quarterbacks in the city of Jacksonville drew a better TV rating (7.2 percent) than the American League Championship Series (ALCS) playoff game between the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers. That game drew a terrible 6.5.

And according to a 2003 report from Gallup, baseball has long since disappeared from the national consciousness:

For many years, Gallup has asked Americans which sport is their “favorite sport to watch.” Baseball, long known as the national pastime, easily topped the list from 1937-1960, with slightly more than one in three Americans naming it as their favorite sport. But a 1972 Gallup Poll showed football overtaking baseball as Americans’ favorite sport, a distinction it continues to hold today. Meanwhile, the percentage claiming baseball as their favorite sport has continued to decline, while basketball and auto racing are increasing their popularity. Gallup’s most recent data, from December 2002, show 37% of Americans saying football is their favorite sport, followed by basketball at 13% and baseball at 12%.

And considering the steriod issues that plagued baseball after 2003 – things to which Wells alluded in his article – I suspect that baseball’s popularity has not reversed its course.

So if you want to speak cryptically among today’s youth, sprinkle phrases such as “bats four hundred” and “three and two” into your conversation. They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.

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Go west, young sportsman

It took over a century for the western United States to be politically incorporated into the country. Initially a set of territories, portions of the West eventually achieved statehood, with the last two states in the continental western United States joining the country in 1912.

Integration of the region into the country’s sports landscape took a little longer.

Over thirty years after Arizona and New Mexico joined the union – and nearly a century after California joined – the so-called National Football League had no team west of Chicago, Illinois. As of 1945, the Rams were still in Cleveland, and even the Cardinals were still in Chicago. But the NFL moved with lightning speed compared to the other major sports.

Twelve years later, in 1957, the NFL had teams in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But in major league baseball, the Dodgers and Giants were still New York teams. But baseball was beginning to penetrate the West and the South – the Athletics had moved to Kansas City, and the Braves had moved to Milwaukee. The southern team in Major League Baseball was the Washington Senators. Of course, this would change over the coming years, as the Dodgers and Giants moved to California, the Athletics to Oakland, and the Braves to Atlanta.

A couple of years later, the 1969-60 National Basketball Association was miniscule compared to the NBA of today. The entire league consisted of eight teams, divided into Western and Eastern Divisions. Of the four Western Division teams, only the Detroit Pistons (now in the Eastern Division) have remained at their original location. The Minneapolis Lakers relocated to Los Angeles, the St. Louis Hawks to Atlanta (again penetrating the South), and the Cincinnati Royals underwent a slight name change – they are now the Sacramento Kings. (This week.)

Of the four traditional major sports leagues, it took hockey the longest to establish a western presence. As of 1966-67, this multinational league did not have a team west of Chicago. Of course, the National Hockey League only had six teams at the time. It wasn’t until the league doubled its size in the following year that you could see hockey out west.

It’s hard to conceive of a time in which there was no major league baseball, football, basketball, or hockey in my home state of California. But then again, Los Angeles has not had a football team since the mid-1990s. Now try to imagine Los Angeles without Angels, Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, Kings, or Ducks, and you’ll have an idea what the city’s sports landscape was like in the 1940s.

We didn’t have Sundaymania, did we?

Continuing on the sports theme, I want to talk about a popular sports figure. Not popular because of his sports prowess – frankly, he’s not that good – but because of other characteristics related to his religious beliefs. This part-time baseball player –

What? Did you think I was talking about a football player?

I was talking about baseball player turned evangelist Billy Sunday. Some excerpts from his Wikipedia article, which references several sources including Wendy Knickerbocker’s Sunday at the Ballpark: Billy Sunday’s Professional Baseball Career 1883-1890.

Sunday struck out four times in his first game, and there were seven more strikeouts and three more games before he got a hit. During his first four seasons with Chicago, he was a part-time player, taking Mike “King” Kelly’s place in right field when Kelly served as catcher.

Sunday’s speed was his greatest asset, and he displayed it on the basepaths and in the outfield. In 1885, the White Stockings arranged a race between Sunday and Arlie Latham, the fastest runner in the American Association. Sunday won the hundred-yard dash by about ten feet.

Sunday’s personality, demeanor, and athleticism made him popular with the fans, as well as with his teammates. Manager Cap Anson considered Sunday reliable enough to make him the team’s business manager, which included such duties as handling the ticket receipts and paying the team’s travel expenses.

While the parallels are uncanny, there is one important difference between Billy Sunday and Tim Tebow. Tebow became a Christian long before he ever got to the NFL. Sunday became a Christian midway through his baseball career.

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