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Doug Wolter: Trust me, the game has changed

I am suitably excited about the return of major league baseball, and as a lifelong fan I know the lure. Baseball is as regular as the coming of spring and -- its disciples remind us -- just as unchangeable.That's not exactly true, of course. Base...

I am suitably excited about the return of major league baseball, and as a lifelong fan I know the lure. Baseball is as regular as the coming of spring and - its disciples remind us - just as unchangeable.
That’s not exactly true, of course. Baseball has undergone many important changes over the last century and a half. It’s not even the same game as it was when I first latched onto it as a kid.
In 1967, the first year I remember following the sport on a daily basis, major league baseball consisted of 20 teams - 10 in the American League and 10 in the National. Now there are 30.
In ‘67, leagues had no divisions. Only one team from each league qualified for postseason play, and that was straight to the World Series. There were no such things as playoff series and wild cards. It was a pure game. You knew who deserved to play for the world championship - it was the team that finished in first place.
Now both leagues have three divisions. Wild cards have made it so teams barely above .500 can win a World Series if they get hot at the right time.
There was no interleague play during the regular season. When the American and National League champs met for the World Series, they literally met for the first time that season, which only added to the sense of drama.
In ‘67, the game was played a little differently than today. More players knew how to lay down a bunt back then. When they barreled into the catcher at home plate, that was considered part of the game. When they slid wide of second base to break up the double play, nobody made a federal case out of it.
There were no steroids 50 years ago. There was no cause to complain that home runs were cheapened.
Collectively, the American League batted .236 in 1967. A year later, it was a paltry .230. So the league lowered the pitcher’s mound to improve the offense.
There was no designated hitter rule in the American League when I was a kid. Pitchers had to hit. That usually meant an automatic out, but it kept strategy in the game.
Back then, if someone had advocated bringing instant replay to baseball - even on the heels of egregious umpire mistakes - they would have been laughed at. No longer.
Baseball’s many changes have not been ushered in only due to rules changes, however. Society, too, has changed.
I thought of this after learning of Tuesday night’s 3-2 Toronto loss to Tampa Bay, when Jays manager John Gibbons complained about how the new slide rule was enforced against his player attempting to disrupt a Tampa Bay infielder’s atte mpt to complete a double play.
Under the new rule designed to legislate deliberate contact out of the game, the Toronto baserunner was rightly called out when he reached out to attempt to trip his rival.
But a bigger controversy hit the fan on Wednesday when Gibbons (obviously not a proponent of the deliberate contact rule) was roundly called sexist for complaining, “Maybe we’ll come out and wear dresses tomorrow.”
I don’t know if the day will come when ballplayers will appear in dresses. But after all the changes I’ve already seen, I’m not going to say it could never happen.

 

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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