EDITOR’S NOTE: A Baby Boomer’s Nostalgic Recollections of Baseball ‘When It Was A Game’
By Dr. Jim Palermo, Editor-In-Chief // July 17, 2017
RECENT MLB ALL STAR GAME BRINGS BACK MEMORIES
EDITOR’S NOTE: After watching the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star game and associated festivities this past week, I couldn’t help but to reflect back on what the All-Star game was like in the 1950s and 1960s when the event was not a prolonged 4-day spectacle, but was just all about “the game.”
As a kid growing up in St. Louis, the greatest baseball town in the world, the second Tuesday in July was always a magical day. After the weekend series that marked the halfway point of the major league season, the teams were off on Monday for the All-Stars to travel to the mid-season classic’s host city.
The game was always televised and provided a glimpse of many of the stars whom we never had the opportunity to see in the days of no inter-league play, no cable TV, no live streaming and no MLB pay-per-view packages. Except perhaps for the World Series if your home team was involved, the All-Star game was the highlight of the season.
There is a stark contrast between what was in the “old days” exclusively “the game” and today’s circus-like extravaganza with the 5k run, All-Star Zumba, All-Stars future game, Legends and Celebrity Softball Game and, of course, the home run derby, a ticket to which sets you back $200 to $300.
I will admit that this year’s game was entertaining and fairly well played, but from this “old-timer’s” perspective, the iconic stars and future Hall of Famers of the 1950s and 1960s like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Roberto Clemente and Ted Williams, just to name few, set that era of the game apart from all the rest.
Our culture has evolved, and with it, the game of baseball. I wrote the story below in 2005, a time when there was a great deal of turmoil surrounding the impact of performance enhancing drugs on the game, as a feature post on WhenItWasAGame.net, a website that my brother Tom and I felt compelled to establish to contrast the contemporary game of baseball to what we consider the Golden Age of the game.
On the site we also spotlight a very rare collection of MLB game-used bats from the 50s and provide a venue for the many interesting baseball stories handed down by our father from the 15 years he worked for the St. Louis Browns from 1926 to 1941.
Although 12 years have gone by, I believe the message is still relevant and today’s ball players could certainly learn some fundamental lessons from the men who played “When It Was a Game.”
— Dr. Jim Palermo, Editor-in-Chief
Like It Or Not, Professional Athletes Are Role Models For the Youth of America
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA • July 16, 2017 – After walking up the cool, dark ramp to the reserved seats on the third base side of old Busch Stadium, I emerged into the open, and the brilliant, searing heat of the early afternoon July sun in St. Louis hit me full force.
The field seemed vast to a 7-year old in the year 1956 who had anticipated this day for two months: A Sunday double header with the Braves!
Burdette and Spahn going against Jackson and Mizell. Heaven surely couldn’t have provided the pure joy and elation that overwhelmed me as I peered out over the acres of green where Musial, Boyer, Moon, Cooper and company were taking batting practice and Aaron, Mathews, Logan and Adcock were busy at a game of pepper, preparing for a day’s work.
These were my heroes. Don’t let anyone ever suggest, as many athletes do today, that these men and many other ball players of the era were not role models to millions of us classified as “Baby Boomers.” Professional athletes cannot relinquish, off-hand, their responsibility to the youth of America.
Of course, these men were human and far from perfect. However, their personal discretions never threatened the integrity of the game or the well-being of the youth striving to emulate them on the field. It was a time when “the game” was respected by players, owners, major league governance and the fans.
There were no multimillion-dollar contracts, no free agency, no cable TV, no performance-enhancing drugs, no bikini-clad plastic surgery queens extolling the virtue of drinking low-carb, low-cal pseudo-brew, no player’s union and no attorneys interfering with a deal and a handshake.
There were no swimming pools, video game arcades, sky boxes or skytrons within the “friendly confines.” The fare for the afternoon was hot dogs, peanuts and cracker jacks. If you were looking for sushi or burritos you were not only in the wrong place, but in the wrong country in 1956.
The players sported no beards, corn rows, shaggy hairdos or piercings. The only glove used in baseball was a fielder’s, catcher’s or first-baseman’s mitt. Other gloves were used when it was cold or on the golf course.
That was a time when ballparks were called County Stadium, Connie Mack Stadium, Ebbets Field and The Polo Grounds, rather than being named for banks, animal supply outfits or cellular phone companies whose only interest in baseball is to have a venue to market on the “big screen.”
That was a time when the Commissioner of Baseball had some “cojones” and took his responsibility to protect the integrity of the game seriously.
In 1956, major league baseball was not an industry being suckled by hundreds of disparate parasites, performing like a phony professional wrestling troupe and living by the adage: “Show me the money!”
Ball players didn’t come and go at the whim of an agent or owner. The great teams of the 1940s and 1950s maintained their nucleus of star players and earned the adoration and loyalty of their fans.
I always knew that Musial and Boyer would be in the Cardinal line-up; Spahn, Burdette, Aaron, Mathews, Logan, Adcock and Crandall in the Braves line-up; Snider, Reese, Robinson, Furillo, Hodges and Campy in the Dodger line-up; and Berra, Ford, Mantle, Richardson and Howard in the Yankee line-up.
Ask yourself if you, as a fan, are better off now (free agency, dominance of large media markets, minimal regard for cohesive team building by owners, and huge salaries that have led to player’s “excel at any cost” attitude) than then.
That was a time when, while hanging precariously over the railing, if you asked a super star like Musial or Mays to sign your program, they would smile and ask, “Who to?!” – and not expect to be paid $49.99, plus tax.
That’s when the game was played by naturally hard-hitting, hard-driving men who respected the game and it’s heritage, and who didn’t mind taking a minute to make the dreams of a 7-year-old fan come true.
Do you remember WHEN IT WAS A GAME?!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Jim Palermo, a 34-year resident of Brevard County, touched the lives of countless people during his 22-year practice of general, vascular and non-cardiac thoracic surgery.
In 2002 he transitioned from clinical practice, in which his impact was on an individual patient level, and accepted a position as full-time chief medical officer and vice president of quality management of Health First. Dr. Palermo made this career transformation based on his conviction that he could personally have a greater impact on improving the quality of healthcare on the Space Coast by more globally addressing quality and patient safety issues as a physician healthcare executive. During his 10 years at Health First he was instrumental in establishing the patient-centered, patient- safe quality healthcare and service for which Health First is known throughout the Central Florida area.
Dr. Palermo is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Missouri School of Medicine, did his surgical residency in the U.S. Army at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, is a Fellow of the American College of Surgery, and also attained a Masters of Science Degree in healthcare management in 2004 at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Dr. Palermo’s wife Kerry, a registered nurse to whom he’s been married 40 years, partners with him to run the Banyan Tree Ranch in Merritt Island, where they breed, raise and show American Quarter Horses and Labrador Retrievers.
His son, Joe, a well recognized local outdoorsman and Captain-owner of one of the most successful off-shore fishing charter businesses at Port Canaveral for the past 15 years, has a bachelors degree in business, and a masters degree in healthcare administration from UCF, and is a sales executive for an Orlando based healthcare device company that services all of Central Florida.
Dr. Palermo’s daughter, Michelle, was a varsity cheerleader at Merritt Island High School and state champion competitor in High School Rodeo, before attending and graduating with a BS in communications from the University of Georgia. She’s following in her father’s footsteps in the healthcare delivery field and attained her masters degree as a physician assistant from NOVA Southeast in Jacksonville and has worked in the emergency departments of Holmes Regional Medical Center and Palm Bay Hospital for four years.
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