The Evolution of Baseball

Dodger Stadium before game 5 of the 2019 NLDS against the Nationals. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

It was a Saturday afternoon. I was flipping through channels between sporting events. I landed on Roy Firestone’s “Up Close” interview program. He hosted hundreds of great sports personalities and heroes.

Today was a bit different. Damn, one of the most exciting baseball players in the Los Angeles Dodger folklore was talking to Roy; Maury Wills. My childhood memories were raging. I couldn’t divert my stare. I am pretty sure my nose was almost touching the tv screen.

No other player reached first base and heard fifty thousand voices pleading, one hundred thousand feet pounding the cement like one million herds of bison entering Dodger Stadium.

There were no hints of thunder from miles away. The thunder was in surround sound right in the center of the ballpark. Rumbling heard in the distance was a single name: “Maury”. Then a bit louder. Then a few more rambling words. Then you could hear the fans bellow to the gods; “GO Maury GO!

No other stadium had ever heard the frenzy that was started by one man walking or singled to land on first base.

The fans needed Maury to steal second base. Yes they cheered when he arrived at second or third base. But when he agilely stepped off of first base there was a fever pitch never witnessed before in baseball.

Maury Wills was to become (even for a short while) the all time stolen base king (until he was passed by Lou Brock and Ricky Henderson).

No single player, not Lou, nor Ricky heard the thunder.

I started at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1958 and continued to the Chavez Ravine Years of the 1960s and 1970s. I watched Koufax and Drysdale and even Frank Howard. I was at the 1963, 1965 and 1966 World Series. My transistor radio remains the battered lone evidence that I rarely missed a pitch.

At first I was not listening to the interview. I was merely admiring a hero from my childhood. Then Roy asked

Wills if he could ask him a few questions about his private life.

What could he possibly ask him about that I didn’t already know.

Roy said, “so tell me about the rubber suit you wear to bed with your wife”.

My head immediately began bouncing around the room like a rubber racket ball floating in microgravity.

Then the killer question: “So how do you have sex with your wife?” “WHAT??!!” I screamed. “Sex in a rubber suit?”
Wills’ religious obligations ruled the day. He was not allowed to make naked contact. But apparently a hole in the suit was made. I don’t remember what happened to my mind and body the rest of that interview. I just remember some white light and…

When I recall my youthful baseball days, I always feel blessed that I was good at the game. My passion for the game remains intact. But when I think of Roy and Maury, I sometimes think that was the day that changed baseball; The moral compass was jolted. The journalism became broader. The stories went beyond the field and into the private lives.

The circumstances of the bedroom are not necessary. But today they elicit a roar from the stands and beyond. Maury Wills rubber suit is bizarre information that possibly need not be known. Maybe the story induced fans to realize the players aren’t gods but mere mortals.

Trevor Bauer’s predilections in the bedroom also need not be known.  A life and a career may have abruptly ended. Though a judge akin to the first Israelite judge Othniel or Judge Roy Bean who was the law “west of the Pecos” acquitted Bauer: His life as we know it may be over. I do believe he should be allowed to continue pitching. But the story is now Trevor’s behavior not the Cy Young Award he won.

Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, brought tears to my eyes because the fantasy of baseball is so real to me. It is rare that we just look at the game now without wondering if somewhere under the uniform there is a story that is bigger than the performances on the field. We pay lots of dollars to watch a performance. I wonder why we we cannot let the game speak for itself? Why do we  surmise that “Something is rotten in the state of Baseball’s Denmark”.

Everyone enjoys even the tiniest bits of titillations…it is what fires the blood from time to time.

We giggle with delight recalling Babe Ruth’s wild drinking stories. We roll our eyes when we hear about Yankee pitcher David Wells perfect game while still under the influence from the night before. We are somewhat stunned to read that Dock Ellis the Pittsburgh Pirate ace pitched a no hitter while under the influence of LSD.

The game is a game. It is Bocce, Chess and the Ringling Brothers all rhythmically meshed into one: A line drive ricocheted off the rubber of the mound could alter the strategy and score; A managers’ Replacement of a pitcher or substituting a batter is one of the most important chess moves of the nine inning game. We witness and admire the stunning acrobatic circus acts of Willie Mays or Bo Jackson in the outfield; we watch baseball because it is a reflection of the self: We are a clone of “Damn Yankees” Joe Hardy. We rant and pounce around the tv or the stadium. Our minds participate like it is a video game. Baseball is a fantasy game for the fans. But the players are real.

The “Ballpark” is where the game and players should live for the fans.

Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.