Since I was a kid, I have liked the game of baseball. Our parents, Allen and Collene Spencer, figured that with five girls, they had enough for a makeshift game of baseball whenever we went camping, and we all usually liked to play. That was really my first experience with baseball and with sports of any kind, I guess. I was not destined to become some great player, nor did I have any big aspirations in that area, because my interests went a different direction as I grew up. Nevertheless, I still enjoy watching a good game of baseball, and my favorite team is the Colorado Rockies. I suppose my dad…a Yankees fan to the core…probably wondered what I saw in the Colorado Rockies. Still, that was and is my team, and the team of my husband, Bob Schulenberg too. To many baseball fans, I suppose I would not be considered a die hard fan, because I don’t watch every game the Rockies play, but I watch enough to know who I like.
The really die hard fans have their heroes I’m sure, and that makes sense. Every sport has the spectacular players that people follow no matter what team they move to. They are just that good. I suppose that is what originally made baseball fans or the heads of the MLB decide that baseball needed a place to recognize their great players. The idea of a Baseball Hall of Fame began gathering steam in 1935, when members of the Clark Foundation in Cooperstown sought to revive business and tourism after the Depression. The idea took hold, and as most people know, every year new and amazing players are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While the Clark Foundation told a “white lie” to get things started, by saying that U.S. Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown. The story was a phony, and they had a hard time living down the lie. The baseball officials were eager turn the idea into a reality. They backed it…so we have the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Of all those people who have entered into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s my guess that none were more exciting than the first ones. In fact, on January 29, 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame elected its first members in Cooperstown, New York. The first inductees were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson. In preparation for the dedication of the Hall of Fame in 1939 which many people thought was the centennial of baseball, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America chose the five greatest superstars of the game as the first class to be inducted. Ty Cobb was the most productive hitter in history. Babe Ruth was both an ace pitcher and the greatest home-run hitter to play the game. Honus Wagner was a versatile star shortstop and batting champion. Christy Matthewson had more wins than any pitcher in National League history. And, Walter Johnson was considered one of the most powerful pitchers ever to have taken the mound. Today, there are 225 players, 17 managers, 8 umpires, and 28 executives and pioneers who have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it hosts 350,000 visitors per year. It’s all about baseball.
As we start football season, I recalled a picture that I had seen among my mom’s old family pictures. It was a football practice session most likely at a local school. That reminded me of something I had read a while back about the changes in football gear over the years. As we all know, football can be a dangerous game. Sometimes, the players are hurt slightly and sometimes, quite badly. Unfortunately, it was those injuries that have founded the need for better protection, and therefore, better gear. When American football appeared on college campuses in the 1870’s little was known about the brain damage that could occur from some of the impacts that are a natural part of the game.
In those early years, head protection was rarely worn. As far back as the 1900’s, they had the “head harness” which was a soft leather version of today’s helmet, but it was mainly to protect the ears. I suppose it did, but it also made it difficult to hear, so not many players wore them. Newer versions of the helmet appeared as the years went by, featuring holes for the ears, so they could hear the plays and movement around them. They were made out of plastic, and featured a suspension system to keep the helmet from sitting directly on the player’s head. This also provided a little bit of cushion for their head. Of course, we now know that those older versions did not provide enough protection from concussion, and the newer versions probably don’t do enough either, but they are much better than their predecessors.
In the early years, players were subjected to ridicule for putting padding in all the necessary areas that we now know need protection. It was treated as…well, wimpy back then. Now plastic is a part of shoulder pads and pants. It isn’t a perfect solution, but the key here is to keep the players in the game, if possible, because we all know that one of the best things about fall is football…to some people anyway.