By Terry Boers–
Tampa, Fla. (CBS) — With all due apologies to the good folks at CBS Sports and The Masters, if you’re looking for a tradition unlike any other, don’t think golf. Think Major League Baseball’s Opening Day in the park nearest you.
Why? Because it’s a 100 percent guarantee that in the wide, wide world of sports, there’s nothing that can quite match what a significant place in our heart and history MLB has carved out.
Maybe it’s because spring has come to mean so many things to all of us from northern climes, that winter is over (at least in theory), that soon the plants and grass will grow, that temperatures will steadily improve and that maybe your team isn’t as bad as you thought it was. Or, maybe it is. I’m talking to you, San Diego.
For many of us, the summer game has been part of a yearly rhythm. I know the pace is too slow for many, but to me, that’s the beauty of it. And yes, I remember the kids over the last several years who are either yawning or sleeping their way through playoff games. Funny, I didn’t hear anyone complaining last year when the Cubs were winning the championship.
Truth is, nothing is quite as symbolic as baseball’s first couple of days, even here in Tampa where the Rays sold out Sunday’s home opener against the New York Yankees. This was the 12th straight year that’s happened, so it isn’t just a Yankee thing.
I understand that may not be a big deal in most cities, but it is here. The Rays aren’t all that likely to sell out another game this entire season, but even the somnambulant locals, who have the same opinion of the Trop as they do the Zika virus, get this much.
Here’s how I look at it. If you had your chance to go back in time and watch any sport your little heart desired, wouldn’t baseball be the sport?
How can it not be? Are you interested in watching NBA games from the ’40s or ’50s? Not unless George Mikan’s hook shot gets your juices flowing. Or how about the tape of Mikan jumping over a dime. I’m kidding, but you get the point. Today’s high-flyers would feed Mikan a steady diet of leather sandwiches. And I love it.
Or how about the NFL? It has been labeled the sports gold standard by those who purportedly know best, even though the league was perfectly at ease with lying to its players as long as humanly possible regarding long-term damages from head trauma.
Sorry, but my idea of good business isn’t some creepy dude running around in a lab coat telling people that everything is going to be just fine, that everything is under control.
Beyond that, does Slingin’ Sammy Baugh really light your fire? Didn’t think so. Even the great Bronko Nagurski doesn’t do it. Not taking away from anyone’s accomplishments, but the world is full of bigger, stronger, better athletes than ever. I’m not kicking around the game’s trailblazers, I’m just saying.
Now you might say the same thing about baseball, and you’d be correct.
There’s no question that the players of today are better trained, better conditioned and better prepared than the baseball players of old. That’s not up for argument.
But, it still took the steroid era to turn many of the most cherished parts of the record books into rubble, led by King Juicer Barry Bonds and a host of others during the early part of this century.
That took plenty of getting used to, but it seems now that most have been forgiven or at least appear to be heading in that direction.
I’m learning to live with that. It’s not easy, but I’m trying.
Despite all that, tell me you wouldn’t have loved watching Boston’s Babe Ruth pitch in the 1917 season opener at the long gone Polo Grounds. All Ruth did that day was beat the New York Yankees 10-3, allowing just three hits. The 22-year-old Ruth went 24-13 that year with 35 complete games, six shutouts and finished with an ERA of 2.01.
He also batted .325, with two home runs. I can’t help you with his spin rate, but there was a delicious little twist to that season.
Ruth let all his success get the best of him, according to a report from New England Historical Society, just as it does some of today’s biggest stars.
The account goes on to say that Ruth began to battle with the umpires about the strike zone (some things never change). It all came to head on June 23 of that year when Ruth, seething after throwing four straight called balls, charged home plate umpire Buck Owens (not the singer) during a game with Washington and punched him in the head.
He was promptly thrown out of the game and suspended for 10 days.
Seems light by today’s standards. But then Ty Cobb was known to punch just about anyone in sight, including a guy missing all of one hand and part of the other in a game against the New York Highlanders, as they were known in 1912. While fans were screaming at Cobb about beating up a cripple, Cobb reportedly yelled back that he didn’t care if the man had no feet. He was going to pay for the things he was screaming.
That’s enough for now as I watch the defending champion Chicago Cubs start their season against old buddy Dexter Fowler and the St. Louis Cardinals.
One more note: I think it’s safe to say that no man alive had ever typed in the words “defending champion Cubs’’ before last November.
Feels pretty good.
Terry Boers was a longtime sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and a host on 670 The Score from the station’s inception in 1992 until he retired in January 2017.