By Mark Yost
Houston, TX, USA
I’ve always wondered when I was going to start sounding like my parents. This essay may be my moment.
My question is simply this: What happened to the sounds of baseball?
(Or, as my dad would have put it: “What the HELL has happened to baseball???!!!”)
If you’re 30 or younger, you’re thinking, “What is he talking about?”
If you’re, say, 45 or older, and give it some thought, you understand exactly what I mean.
I’m not sure why this hasn’t bothered me before. Maybe it’s because tickets are so
expensive that I don’t sit down
near the field that often. I mostly buy the cheapest seat I can, wander around
the main concourse, sipping a beer, and maybe find a seat somewhere around the fourth
Well, I sat down front recently – seven rows off the field, halfway between third and the foul pole – to watch the Dodgers play the Brewers in Milwaukee. Great game. Kershaw struck out 14. The other guy struck out 11. Game went to extra innings and the Dodgers won it 3-2 after 12 frames.
About the third inning, my son George, who was sitting right next to me, said something and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I’m not deaf – not fully, anyway. And he does sometimes mumble. But over the next couple of innings, I realized that I was sitting close to the field and I couldn’t hear what I once knew to be the sounds of baseball.
The kids who are 25…. Who am I kidding? Kids don’t read anymore. I was about to say…the 25-year-olds are thinking to themselves, “What’s he talking about?”
Those of you who are a little older and remember baseball how it used to be are quietly nodding your heads.
When I was a kid – there it is. I sound like my parents…or my grandparents!
When I was a kid, baseball had a unique sound.
It wasn’t football, it wasn’t hockey, it wasn’t basketball. Which all had their own distinctive sounds.
It was baseball.
Baseball was remarkably quiet, even in Yankee Stadium, where I watched most of my baseball from about 6 to 36, from the late-1960s to the mid-1990s.
People would quietly file into the stadium, find their seats, get a hot dog or a drink that wasn’t obscenely overpriced, and maybe read the program – which, again, didn’t cost $15 – or maybe the afternoon paper to read the game previews.
Yes, people talked at the game. It wasn’t study hall or detention. It was a baseball game. But the fans knew when and how to talk.
“We’d talk,” recalls my buddy Angelo, who’s been going to The Stadium since the mid-60s.
(And that’s what we called it back then, simply “The Stadium,” capital T and capital S.)
“We’d talk,” Angelo said, “but it was always about baseball. And when the pitcher went into his windup, you’d stop talking.”
Today, people don’t know when to shut up. Part of the ambient noise that was so annoying me at that Dodgers-Brewers game was all the chatter going on around me. And it was mostly chatter about nothing.
|George and Mark Yost|
I’ve probably told this story in these pages before, but my son and I were at a Pirates-Cubs game at Wrigley Field once. There’s an old knock on the place that’s still mostly true today: It’s the biggest bar in Chicago, there just happens to be a baseball game going on in the middle.
Most of the 20-somethings there could care less about baseball. They’re just there to enjoy one Chicago’s meager 27 days a year of blue sky and sunshine and to get drunk.
So we’re watching the Pirates game and A.J. Burnett is throwing a no-hitter through seven innings. Finally, the Cubs get a hit and there’s a smattering of applause throughout the stadium, mostly for the hit, not an acknowledgement that the Cubs just broke up a no-hitter.
A young girl, maybe 25, who’s been chitchatting about her hair stylist, her job and the quality of her orgasms with the moron sitting three seats away from her, turns around to us. These fans always look at us because we keep score.
“What just happened?” she asked.
I said: “Robby Gould (the Bears kicker) just kicked a field goal.”
She smiled and said “Thanks” and went back to talking about how she can’t find a good pedicure in the city for under $40.
Then there’s the music. The booming music that accompanies almost everything.
The batters have their own walkup music now.
There’s music blared from the PA between innings – or commercials.
There’s music telling us when to stand and cheer.
“It’s not so much the music,” said another buddy, Bob Boyles, who has been going to baseball games longer than Angelo and me. “It’s the volume. The last sporting event I went to (a Pittsburgh Penguins game in Phoenix) I wished I’d brought earplugs.”
We had music back in the 1970s. It was called an organ. And it very rarely took center stage.
There were exceptions. For example, the Yankees had a catcher in the early ‘80s named Rick Cerone. An Italian kid from Newark who played college ball at Seton Hall. A few pitches into his at-bat, Yankee organist Eddie Layton would sometimes play a few bars of the Tarantella. This would always prompt Phil Rizzuto, the longtime Yankees broadcaster to say to his partner, “Ya know White, whenever they play that Italian music Cerone usually gets a hit.”
But that was it. The organ wasn’t always playing, prompting you to stand and cheer.
Then there were the vendors. You could actually hear the vendors when they were three or four sections away. I can’t tell you how many times I said to Angelo, “Hey, the hot dog guy’s coming. You want one or two?”
Today, you can’t hear the vendors until they’re in your aisle. Then you have to decide these weighty questions right on the spot, fish out your money, hold up fingers to indicate how many you want, then pass your $50 bill across the aisle, hoping that’s enough to cover what would cost you $5.50 in the grocery store.
And then there’s the between-innings entertainment: the sausage races in Milwaukee, the subway train races in New York, the former presidents races in D.C. They shoot t-shirts into the section of the grandstand that yells the loudest. Most places play a second song during the seventh-inning stretch; in New York it’s this ridiculous “Cotton-Eyed Joe” cowboy parody, in Houston it’s “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
It’s as if today’s fans aren’t entertained enough by baseball, they need more stimulus to keep them interested and coming back. That’s just sad.
“The problem with sports today,” Boyles said, “is that every league thinks more is better. When, in reality, it’s not.”
I also have to add in, although somewhat unrelated, that in addition to shutting up and watching the game, people today don’t know baseball etiquette. Maybe it’s because they’ve never been taught that you don’t get up to go to the bathroom or come down to try and find your seat in the middle of the inning. Yes, as I get older I understand urgent bladders and the like, but it used to be a matter of simply being polite. Now, cutting across the aisle when Kershaw has a batter at 3-2, 2 outs, is something akin to a passive-aggressive middle finger.
But my bigger point is this: There was a time long ago, in a galaxy now far, far away, when you could actually hear the game.
“What do you mean hear the game?” the kids are asking.
You could hear the pop of the mitt when the pitcher threw a fastball.
You could hear the crack of the bat – like you do today on TV but without it being miked up.
You could hear the umpire calling balls and strikes.
You could even hear the players and coaches sometimes – especially Billy Martin.
And, yes, the crowd roared, but not because they were prompted to by the electronic scoreboard.
People actually paid attention to the game instead of to their cellphones.
“You had the vendors, the organ, people talking about the game, and of course, the sound of the game,” Angelo said. “And that was it.”
I miss that game.
Mark Yost is the author of five books in the Rick Crane Noir series and a frequent
contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.
contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.