Paul Sullivan: 8 things learned from rewatching classic sports games, including no batting gloves, no score graphics and more candid criticism

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CHICAGO — While my tolerance for watching classic games during the sports shutdown is waning a bit, I still find myself channel surfing for a few minutes from time to time to see what’s being offered.

There have been many changes to the way games are presented, including the graphics explosion that now include news tickers, first down lines, pitch speeds and other screen-grabbing items. But it also is interesting to see the evolution of the games themselves.

Here are eight things I’ve learned, or relearned, from watching reruns of classic games:


1. You really don’t need a new baseball every time it gets a speck of dirt on it.

Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych threw an off-speed pitch during a 1976 game against the Yankees that catcher Bruce Kimm nabbed after it hit the dirt in the batters box. Kimm handed the ball to the plate umpire, who looked at it for a second, deemed it OK and put it back in play.

I don’t remember when it was decided that every ball with a speck of dirt on it had to be put out of play, but it has been going on for many, many years. Of course, if there is a smudge that can’t be easily removed, a new ball should automatically be issued. Otherwise, just wipe it off and let’s go. It’s not as if the balls are 10 years old. They’re all brand new.


2. Some first baseman needs to reprise the Pete Rose spike.

Whenever Pete Rose caught a throw at first for the third out in the Phillies’ 23-22 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field in 1979, he spiked it like a football instead of throwing it to someone in the dugout, as most first baseman do. There was something oddly compelling to it, and, honestly, I don’t remember if it was just a Rose thing or if any other first baseman also did the spike. Either way, it was a cool way to end an inning, and certainly helped turn him into a memorable villain.


3. What’s the score? Who knows?

We’re so accustomed to the instantly updated score bug on the screen that it’s second nature now. But it was refreshing to watch the so-called “Christian Laettner game” (Duke-Kentucky) from the 1992 NCAA Tournament and remember a time when the entire TV screen was graphics-free. The score was updated frequently, but there was no need to have it in your face every second. Maybe we paid more attention back then and didn’t need it? Or perhaps we change channels so much we now need the constant updates?


4. Announcers seemed more candid in their criticism.

Maybe it was the Howard Cosell effect, but during the pregame show of the Mark Fidrych game one of the announcers wondered aloud why Yankees starting pitcher Ken Holtzman was such an “unhappy” man. Meanwhile, they showed Holtzman warming up in the bullpen, oblivious to the criticism being levied at him. It had something to do with a contract issue and was in stark contrast to the usual commentary we see these days in which athletes are not subject to harsh criticism during broadcasts.


5. Look ma, no batting gloves!

Amazingly, batters didn’t always step out of the box after every pitch to adjust their batting gloves. In fact, batting gloves didn’t become popular until Ken “Hawk” Harrelson began using them on Sept. 4, 1968.

Harrelson reportedly blistered his hands golfing and used a red golf glove to protect them, then homered twice in the game. According to an article by the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mickey Mantle bought 20 pairs the next day so the Yankees could tease Harrelson during warm-ups, calling him “sweetheart” and “Mrs. Harrelson.” Nowadays almost every hitter wears batting gloves, and more time is wasted re-adjusting those gloves than anything else in the game. We’ll never go back to the old days, but the game certainly moved along better without the constant adjustments.


6. Crowd control was more lax — and gentler

Celtics legend Larry Bird was shooting free throws during the waning seconds of Game 7 of the 1984 NBA Finals against the Lakers when a few fans walked onto the court to prematurely celebrate. Boston Garden security rushed onto the court and calmly escorted the trespassers off. CBS didn’t cut away to avoid showing the fans, as broadcasts routinely do now as soon as one is spotted on the field or the court. Security now aggressively handle such trespassers, which probably is for the best in these uncertain times.


7. Kudos to the Fab Five.

Can you imagine modern basketball players wearing those short shorts from back in the day? Fortunately you don’t have to, thanks to the Michigan basketball team of the early 1990s — featuring Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard — that brought in baggy shorts that remain in style almost three decades later. If there’s ever a Hall of Fame for sports fashion, the Fab Five deserve to be first-ballot picks.


8. Fans could stay in the stands to celebrate a great win.

Again, this was the Mark Fidrych game, where it appeared as though the entire crowd of 40,000 or so at old Tiger Stadium hung around afterward to soak in the win. It wasn’t a playoff game or even a pennant race, but everyone seemed to know it was a special moment and treated it accordingly.

Nowadays most fans are anxious to leave long before the final out, perhaps because the games are so long or it’s a hassle getting out of the parking lot. The obvious exception is Cubs fans who want to stick around until the last chorus of “Go, Cubs, Go” after a win. Security and ushers encourage fans to leave immediately after games for security reasons and so staff can clean the stadiums. Nevertheless, it was nice to see everyone enjoying themselves in the stands in Tiger Stadium long after the game was over.


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