The January Doldrums
Hall-of-Famer Bill Veeck used to say, “There are two seasons: baseball and winter.” As we move into the second decade of the first century of the third millennium of the Current Era, we find that to be less and less the case. With the prevalence of the World-Wide Web and 24/7 dedicated television channels, you can find news, stories, activities regarding most human endeavors at any time whatsoever, and that certainly includes baseball. I just finished watching the “40 Best Teams” on MLB Network, for example, and now they are showing Game 18 of the “Greatest Games”, Game 5 of the 1980 National League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies. With its inexhaustible vault of history, there is always something to talk about regarding baseball, and very shortly as we await pitchers and catchers to report next month, we will be treated to the Caribbean Series that will feature some very familiar faces.
No it wasn’t always this way. Once the World Series was over, baseball would recede into the background, television would turn its attention to other things (there were only a handful of channels in any event), newspapers would go days, even weeks without reporting on baseball (there was no free agent movement, and unless a trade occurred or someone was unexpectedly non-tendered, there was not much to talk about), even the magazines of the time such as Sports Illustrated and Sport would at best have minimal coverage of the game during the depths of winter. As for radio, dedicated stations for sports-talk were non-existent; most stations were differentiated by the kind of music they played (in Philadelphia where I grew up WIP and WPEN, both currently sports talkers, were “adult” stations that played “the standards”, e.g., Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole; WIBG (and later WFIL) were the “Top 40” stations; WDAS was the Soul station, WFLN was classical, etc.).
So it’s little wonder that Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post, maybe the best writer on baseball today, titled his 1984 “Why Time Begins on Opening Day”. Fans who are coming of age today will never have the withdrawal pains commonly experienced by fans of the past. I don’t really know if it’s better today, but it’s certainly different, and here I am, for example, discussing this issue regarding the game we love while it’s a gray, 20-degree day outside.
Even Spring Training, which started the annual cycle, was treated as an event occurring way, way over the horizon. Stories would begin to appear in the papers, players would be reintroduced, speculation on who would be coming north with the team would begin, but TV coverage of games was unheard of and even radio broadcasts were intermittent. Today, of course, fans flock to Spring Training, taking their vacations in Florida or Arizona to experience the splendors of the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues and to exchange the bitter blasts of winter for the desert and sub-tropical zephyrs. For me, I know many fans that will partake (and I always wish I could…someday, perhaps, in what would be a “retirement”). I get regular reports from my fellow Phillies Phans some of who even retired to Clearwater, FL to be in the Spring Training Home of their favorite team. For them, Spring Training is a time of renewal when they see many friends who visit from the north, and in many respects it’s even more of a high point than the regular season.
Pitchers and catchers report in four weeks!
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