Money Talks and Fans Walk

Salaries, strikes, and TV have changed everything about baseball since 1975
By BILL SIMMONS  |  December 14, 2011

This article was originally published in the September 29, 1995 issue of the Boston Phoenix.


The 1975 World Series feels like baseball's last true hurrah. When Carlton Fisk happily circles the abases after his game winning home run in Game 6, nobody would have believed the Red Sox would cast Fisk loose five years later because he wanted too much money. And when the Series ended with Cincinnati winning four our of seven glorious games, nobody would have believed that the Sox and the Reds would be raped, pillaged, and gutted within four years. Boston had a strong base of young stars like Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Rick Burleson, Carlton Fisk, and Dwight Evans. Cincinnati had an older base of future Hall-of-Famers like Johnny Bench, Peter Rise, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez. The two best teams in baseball, it seemed certain they would meet again.

They never did.

Twenty years have passed. And everything has changed. And baseball is simply a professional sport, one of many, something to pass the time.

When heroes were heroes

1975 was different. We were different. Our heroes were simply heroes, nothing more, as we judged them by their performances, not their salaries. Memorabilia was collected, not created. The only agents we knew were in the KGB. Players played on the same team for decades, not weeks, and they didn't jump from place to place like Blockbuster video rentals. We watched a player rise through the minor leagues, struggle in his rookie season, blossom into stardom, and then vainly hold on as his skills eroded. And we cared about that player because he was on our team, which meant he was ours.

Now we cheer laundry. We're cheering our favorite shirts, caps, and pants because the people wearing them change every year. There's no sense of continuity, no sense of loyalty, and no sense of commitment. Everyone's as good as the latest contract. Everyone's out for himself. Owners, players, agents care so little about fans that they've teamed up for four labor stoppages in the past 14 years -- including the worst nightmare of all.

A cancelled World Series in 1994.

Think about that. Both sides were so greedy and so shortsighted that they took away the one thing we needed most from their sport: continuity. Over the past century, baseball enjoyed a clear advantage over other professional sports because it mirrored society. Football became popular only in the 1950s, the NHL had four teams in America until the 1960s, and basketball never really caught on until about the same time. But baseball was always there, for better and for worse. Spring training. The season. The World Series. Ballparks that never changed. Players who never changed teams.

It reflected society in other respects. Baseball lost many of its players to the two world wars, but the sport gamely rolled on. When the black civil-rights movement started to make gains, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, in 1947, paving the way for blacks to play in the major leagues. When television began to have an impact on our culture in the 1950s, baseball was the first team sport to take advantage of its power. When our Eastern/Southern-based economic structure began to shift West, baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants jumped to California, each in 1957.

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Baseball, Sports, Dwight Evans,  More more >
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