As the century went on, the sport made sporadic efforts to self-police. The most notable examples, often forgotten these days, were Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, both long since retired, being banned for life by Bowie Kuhn for taking jobs at Atlantic City betting rooms as PR flacks and autograph signers. A casino, Kuhn opined, was “no place for a baseball hero and Hall of Famer.” (Both were soon reinstated by Peter Ueberroth.)
Since then, however, the game has taken a more conflicted stance in relation to gambling. Clubs are now allowed to accept ad money from casinos, Abrams points out. “Gambling is legal everywhere,” he quotes Bud Selig as saying. “So as life changes and society changes, frankly we have also made some changes.” If those changes also make you lots of money, all the better.
6) Corporatization, Yuppification, Dumbification
Jack Murphy Stadium, erstwhile home to the San Diego Padres, was named after the late local sportswriter who helped bring the team to town — until it was renamed Qualcomm Stadium. (Rolls off the tongue, no?) In Houston, beloved and historic Enron Field offered fans the chance to forget, for a few hours, that they’d been swindled out of their life savings.
Such is the way of life in today’s game. Remember when they wanted to emblazon ads for Spiderman 2 on the bases? Ads in stadiums are nothing new, mind you. Just think of all the ads for cigarettes, gin, and razor blades that used to spangle the Green Monster. But these days things are different. “The ancient builders of the sport might be mystified by the dreadful din blasting from the loudspeakers or the air-conditioned luxury boxes separating the shrimp-eaters and wine drinkers from the actual fans,” Vecsey writes in Baseball.
This evolution of the game is to its detriment, says deadspin.com editor Will Leitch in his book God Save the Fan: How Preening Sportscasters, Athletes Who Speak in the Third Person, and the Occasional Convicted Quarterback Have Taken the Fun Out of Sports (And How We Can Get It Back) (Harper). The baseball-watching experience, on TV and at the ballpark, has been degraded, he writes, be it by beer advertisers who “not only think [men are] morons, but also that we’re monsters,” or by brainless fans in the stands. (“If you have a sign that spells out the name of the network showing the game, you are a douchebag.”)
Singled out for contempt: Yankee Stadium. “There’s not a stadium in sports that’s a less enjoyable place to watch a sporting event,” Leitch writes, likening it to a “wealthy uncle’s house, the one who never talks to you, [and] works for some evil law firm somewhere.” (The “ASS-HOLLLLE!” chants are charming, too.)
Soon, Stade Fasciste will be demolished. But rejoice not — it will only be replaced by a gargantuan, gleaming edifice that’s just like its old self, but more so. More boorish fans. More nauseating symbols of arrogance and entitlement. Louder loudspeakers for “Cotton-Eye Joe” and “God Bless America.” God help us all.
7) Performance-Enhancing Drugs
Don’t piss off Jose Canseco. Not because he’ll fly into a veiny, red-faced rage, shirt torn in two by his massive biceps as he grabs the nearest Louisville Slugger and smashes all he sees to smithereens. (Although it’s not hard to believe that’s possible.) No, it’s because when Jose feels slighted, Jose names names.