Baseball And Tradition. Tradition And Baseball

Of all sports — football, hockey, basketball, soccer, hockey, baseball — baseball is the one that people view as steeped rich in tradition.

Not only that, but when talking about baseball, everyone ALWAYS looks to the past to measure things today. Surely we pay attention to the now, but history and tradition with baseball seem entwined to where at times it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins.

During the week of October 10 – 16th, Chicago hosted Chicago Ideas Week at various venues around town. The idea is to bring tons of amazing minds together to discuss innovation and exploration of things. There are discussions and events on just about every topic you could think of. I had the opportunity to attend the talk Baseball & Tradition on the 16th.

The talk on Baseball & Tradition took place at Wrigley Field on a beautiful sunny but windy day. As White Sox fan, I could have been annoyed by the venue, but when the topic is put in context, Wrigley is the right spot for it. You have an old ball park, legendary players present and legendary events took place there.

The talk was moderated by Bob Tewksbury, who talked a little bit about his playing days with the Cubs and that team’s arch-rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. The list of speakers was really interesting to hear and first up was John Thorn.

John is the official historian of baseball. This was a title he gained on March 1, 2011, from Bud Selig. One of the first questions John asked was what use is history for baseball and why does a multi-billion dollar business need or care about history.  I suppose the answer to that is that the history is part of what makes the game so special and different from other sports.

Baseball is the one sport where the offense never has the ball. And while it is a “team” sport, it is also very individual with one batter facing that one pitcher. John said that yesterdays are the best part of baseball. Yet, the best baseball played is the game going on right now. As phenomenal as guys like Christy Mathewson were, he and others would not survive in today’s game. It’s probably even questionable whether they would make a team pitching the way he did.

He also discussed whether baseball is America’s sport. Depending on what metrics you look at, it may not be the most popular, but it is definitely America’s game. If you are a history buff or just really enjoy seeing how things have evolved over time, John’s talk was very interesting. It definitely made me want to go find out more about this great game.

Bob Tewksbury with Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks

After John spoke, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks was up next. Ernie started off his talk by discussing the many things that he learned, such as patience, loyalty, what he wanted to do and teamwork. He said that baseball is too big of a game to be a sport and too big of a sport to be a game.

That was an interesting statement to me. Thinking about how baseball is a game and a sport, yet in some ways not really.

Banks also discussed some of the amazing moments that happened at Wrigley Field such as Pete Rose getting 4,000 hits, the no hitters he saw there (including Sam Jones, who was the first black pitcher to do it in 1955).

Did you know that Mr. Cub was the first player to play his entire career in one city, where there was only one mayor and that all his home games were day games?  I had not realized that and when you think about it, that is quite an amazing thing to know about a player.  With how players are moving around these days, I think we forget that at one point in time, players did spend their entire careers in one place. And they had long careers at that.

On the games at Wrigley, Mr. Cub said that he used to say there was baseball in the afternoon and love at night. I thought this was an amusing statement to make. He also said “[w]hen you play for the Cubs, you never grow up. You’re a little boy all your life.” I think that aspect of the sport is another thing that makes it so incredibly special, no matter what team a guy plays for.

Mr. Cub wrapped up by saying that he realized that he didn’t have to win in order to win while playing for the Cubs. Everyone knows the long and awful history of no championships. But Mr. Cub realized that if he could win the respect of the fans, writers and others, he was still a winner. I really enjoyed listening to Ernie Banks. Despite not being a Cubs fan, you have to admire what he did in the game.

Up next was Gunny Harboe. Gunny is an architect and he talked about the ballpark itself. It has been around for a long time and thus seen a lot of amazing history (such as Babe Ruth’s called shot in the World Series). One thing that Mr. Harboe said that struck true with me was how fans tend to know more about a ballpark than they do their own homes. He showed pictures of some of the changes that occurred to Wrigley over the years as well as pointing out some of the additions that remain today.

After history of the ballpark was discussed, Adrian Bergos Jr.  spoke about Latino contributions in the game. After watching a few hours of MLB Network in the past, especially some of their specials, I was aware of some of the contributions that Latinos have made in the game of baseball.

The context in which Mr. Bergos spoke was the incident where Francisco Cervelli of the Yankees seemed to excessively celebrate and Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Boston Red seemed to take exception to this. While Salty may have thought that the game is changing and some players seem to be lacking respect, Bergos explained that for a lot of players and Latino fans in countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, “excessive” cheering and celebrating, booing, etc., was an acceptable way for the people of those countries to show displeasure with the leadership of their countries.

For the Latin players, it was and is about putting their cultural identity stamp on the game. With the game being played in Cuba, the Cubans ended up being ambassadors of the game in introducing it to other Latin American countries. One thing that I really enjoyed learning was that the professional game in Cuba was ALWAYS inclusive. Unlike in America when it took until the “great experiment” with Jackie Robinson, there was never a problem with dark-skinned and light-skinned players playing together.

Another thing Bergos discussed was the style that was brought to the game by the Latin players. Examples of this were Dave Concepcion and how he would bounce the ball on his throw to first base. At first, people looked at that type of thing as showing off rather than seeing it as it is now: a smart move to get that ball there faster to get an out. This type of innovation is the same as when Vic Power would catch balls at first base with just one hand. Before, players would use two hands and Power was seen as showing off. Now, if you saw a player catching a ball at first base with two hands, you would probably think that guy was nuts and just no good at baseball. It really is amazing how the game continues to evolve and get even better than it already is.

Chad Harbach reading an excerpt from his book The Art of Fielding

Up next was Chad Harbach, who wrote the book The Art of Fielding. Before taking questions, Bob Tewksbury and Harbach had a little Q&A session. Other than Bob, no one had read the book. However, the premise of it sounds very interesting. Something I will need to add to my ever growing list of books to delve into about baseball and other things.

Finally, Dave Winfield spoke more specifically about tradition in baseball. He began by asking what exactly is tradition. When you stop and think about it, it is an interesting question. Sometimes, I think we throw certain words around and then completely “forget” what exactly it is that those words mean.

Winfield talked about some of the great events that happened in baseball, such as the playoff series between the Dodgers and Giants in 1951 and Bobby Thompson’s winning hit. Winfield also talked about how he felt very lucky to have done what he did and how his career had evolved.

He also left us with the five tings that a person needs to succeed. Just as a five-tool player is pretty special, having these five things is also important. Those are: God-given ability; knowing the rules, techniques and fundamentals of whatever you are trying to do; be purposeful and practice; physical fitness to do what you are looking to do; and, finally, mental toughness. You cannot really argue with those five things to have to be successful. And of course you can always work on improving in each area.

Overall, the concept of Chicago Ideas Week is pretty amazing. Getting introduced to new ideas, hearing others discuss things and of course, talking baseball is always. For more, be sure to check out Chicago Ideas Week and you can probably find some webcasts of some of the talks.

Cheryl Norman is the lead writer for the Chicago White Sox at South Side Hit Girl. You can follower her on Twitter or email her at ssidehitgirl (at) gmail (dot) com. 

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