April 12, 2011
Baseball When You're 10
Joe Posnanski, the best writer in the business, recently started a podcast series (cleverly called "The Poscast") over at Sports Illustrated. His guest this week was his close Kansas buddy, Bill James.
Those two sentences right there should be enough to get pretty much any baseball fan, especially one who reads Baseball Prospectus, to go over and listen to the podcast. Even with all the talk about college basketball, it's as great a listen as you would expect. In his blog post describing this week's show, Joe says:
This week's Poscast I talk with Bill about college hoops, the meaning of bad starts, how well past performance predicts future and a bunch of other fun things. Bill also reiterates my own belief that we all think baseball is at its most perfect when you are 10 years old. Bill, as you might expect, puts it in better words.
"Baseball is best when you're 10-years-old." Or, to more precisely capture the conversation, "Baseball is best when you first discover it." It's not exactly a new sentiment, and it's certainly not exclusive to baseball - cartoons and comics are also best when you are ten, music is best when you're fourteen, etc. - but it's very, very true. Seeing that quote and listening to the podcast got me thinking about what was going on in baseball when I reached that stage of childhood (and I see it affected the guys at Baseball Think Factory in the same way).
I was born in late 1980, so age 10 for me would have been the 1991 season. My (obsessive) love of baseball, however, really took off in 1988 or 1989. I may have been young, but my baseball cards, my older brothers, and the general dominance of California baseball really kept me up-to-date. My interest waned in 1993 or so, giving me a four or five year window that could fit Joe's description.
It wasn't a bad time to be a baseball fan from California. The A's, Giants, and Dodgers made it seem easy to root for a winning team. Orel Hershiser had "59 and counting." Jose Canseco's race to 40/40 seemed to be an everyday update for me (my two older brothers were Dodgers and A's fans, respectively). There were the Bash Brothers, complete with ludicrous-but-awesome posters. Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock's record. Nolan Ryan got his 5,000th strikeout and no-hitters number six and seven. Bo Jackson was the greatest athlete ever. Ken Griffey Jr. was going to break Hank Aaron's record. Roberto Alomar was young, but I knew he was going to be great - and I had his rookie card! Dave Stewart and Fernando Valenzuela, two of the greatest pitchers I had ever heard of, threw no-hitters on the same day, while seven different pitchers threw no-hitters in 1991. Cecil Fielder, Kevin Mitchell, and Terry Pendleton all came out of nowhere to have fantastic years, telling me that the landscape was open for anyone. Kirby Puckett hit a home run in Game 6 while I, thanks to a power outage, was forced to listen to it on the radio. Jack Morris and Game 7. Cal Ripken was my favorite player and he was terrific. Consecutive games, home run power, errorless games, an MVP... I felt pretty smart for having picked him as my favorite player at age 7. The list goes on.
And that's all off the top of my head. What makes it interesting and what proves Joe's and Bill's point is that, while I'm certain that I could come up with a fairly similar list for the last four or five years if I sat here long enough, I know that list would be much harder to put together than this one even though I've never watched more baseball in my life than in the last few years. And it's not that the late-1980s/early-1990s were much more interesting than today. Far from it. The difference is that, as a 10ish year old kid, all of those moments and all of those feats strike you with more emotion, with more awe. They leave a much larger impression than anything ever could fifteen years later, at age 25 or 30. In short, baseball is greatest at age ten because we let it. And there's nothing wrong with that.
What was it about age eight or age ten or even age six that made baseball so special for you? Have you seen anything recently that could top it? I'd love to hear your stories.