A love affair with baseball

Local historian, researcher and orator Mick Chandler continues his lecture series “America’s 140-year Love Affair — How Baseball Became the National Pastime” with Tuesday presentations on May 6, 13 and 20. Tickets to the 7 p.m. lectures, each with different material, are $25. Vintage House, 264 First St. E. 996.0311. Vintagehouse.org.

Chandler’s entertaining presentation is a fascinating line-up of history, anecdotes, interesting characters and pivotal figures, both on the field and off. In a pre-game interview of sorts, The Sun asked Chandler about his own affair with baseball, the state of the national pastime, best nicknames ever, and more.

SUN: How did you become fascinated with baseball?
Mick Chandler: I got interested in listening to my first MLB game on the radio in May of 1959 — and it happened to be Harvey Haddux’s 12-inning perfect game against the Braves! What an introduction. I’ve been hooked since.

SUN: It’s a game, but also something bigger. What does baseball mean to America right now?
MC: Hard to say what baseball means to America in 2014. Certainly it is not central to the national psyche the way it was in 1927, or 1955. Football has caught up, and passed it, as the national obsession. Newspaper columnist Mary McGrory once said, “Baseball is what we once were as a nation, football is what we’ve become.” There seems to be much truth to that statement. Baseball is still huge, and even growing in popularity — look at the Giants attendance figures. But I think now it is just another part of the national consumer/entertainment industry, rather than being something central to our national identity.

SUN: ‘National pastime’ is a wonderful phrase. Does it still describe baseball?
MC: The vast expansion of televised sporting events in recent decades definitely has changed the place baseball occupies in our minds. Now it is just one of many choices the viewer can make, along with football, college basketball, car racing, hockey, soccer, etc. So, no, it is probably not the real national pastime anymore. I think that goes to football. I saw recently that of the 50 most viewed sporting events on TV last year, 47 were NFL games, one was a college football game, and one was a college basketball tournament game. It may be that betting has a lot to do with this shift in viewing patterns. The NFL is a weekend casino phenomenon, with millions wagered each week. Not so in baseball. You’d be a fool to bet on baseball! Any game can go either way.

SUN: What does baseball teach us?
MC: I’d say patience — the ability to wait for subtle developments. Football relies on big, violent hits, and spectacular plays. Lots of sex and violence in a football telecast, and in person it seems like drinking is part of football’s appeal. Baseball is still more laid-back, casual, less frantic.

SUN: What, for you, have been some of the more formative events in the sport’s history?
MC: I’d say the most significant formative event in baseball history occurred when teams started moving to new population centers in the 50s, and then expanded in the 60′s. That brought baseball to the Sun Belt and the West, whereas it had been mainly an East Coast sport before that. Also significant was the change in pitching patterns, to much shorter stints for pitchers (100 pitches max), the expanded use of situational relief pitchers, endless righty-lefty matchups.

SUN: Share a few of your favorite pieces of trivia.
MC: One thing is, the fact that the “complete game” is now virtually a thing of the past. Only a few complete games by pitchers each year. Not that long ago, I think Tom Seaver completed 25 of 38 games he started one year, and that was not unusual as late as the 70s. Mickey Lolich threw 373 innings one year in the 7′s; nowadays 200 innings is considered a heavy workload.

SUN: Best nickname ever?
MC: Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Ducky Joe Medwick, Leo “the Lip’ Durocher, Eddie “The Brat” Stanky, and of course “Oil Can” Boyd.

SUN: Mays or Bonds?
MC: I’d still go with Willie Mays because he could do it all; better fielder and base runner. But Bonds is probably the best pure hitter I’ve ever seen. But of course, what with the steroid use, we’ll never know how much of that was “real” and how much due to “better living thru chemistry.” For the best pure hitter ever, I might go with Ruth or Ted Williams. Ruth is still the gold standard for the sport in most people’s minds.


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