It seems everywhere I go these days, some young fella's jibber-jabbering about how great some ballplayer of today is. It's always Mark McGwire this or Sammy Sosa that. Well, of course they're the best. These modern big leaguers, with their blinding speed, cannon arms, and towering home runs–they've got it all. Back in my day, ballplayers were for shit!
I'll never forget my first big-league ballgame. It was 1931, at the old Polo Grounds in New York. Giants versus the Reds. Dad by my side and Crackerjacks in hand, I took my seat in the grandstand on a glorious Saturday afternoon. That's when I first laid eyes on him. Out there patrolling the grass in center field for the home-team Giants was Ducky "Lead Legs" Cronin. Worst ballplayer you ever saw. Christ, did he suck.
The very first batter up to the plate hits a lazy fly ball right to Ducky. He settles under it, and it bounces right off the heel of his glove. The boos cascaded down from the bleachers like rain! Two at-bats later, Reds second baseman Charlie Frisch–not a very good player in his own right–hits a ball to shallow center field. The moment he hears the crack of the bat, Ducky's on his horse. He charges in on the ball as hard as he can, but he can't get to it. Too slow.
That's the thing about the old ballplayers: They were very slow! Today, it's like a track meet out there. Players are flying around the bases like gazelles. But in my day, the players lumbered around in their heavy woolen uniforms like President Taft after a big meal. The slowest of them all was Harry "Three-Toed" Vaughan, a first baseman with the Washington Senators. Legend had it, he could turn off a lightswitch in his bedroom and be in bed 35 seconds later. A guy like that wouldn't stand a chance in today's game.
It's sad. Nobody has a sense of history anymore. The modern fan could tell you Barry Bonds' on-base percentage with two outs and runners in scoring position during night games on the road, but he's never even heard of the old St. Louis Browns shortstop Walter "Shitty Batter" Dugan. They called him that because he was a real shitty batter. He'd swing at anything, Dugan would. I swear, I once saw him swing at a throw the pitcher made to first base. But he wasn't the only undisciplined hitter of his era: There was Rocky Evers, Herman Doerr, and Alvin Crow. Guys like that just didn't take the art of hitting as seriously as they do today. They wouldn't have lasted two seconds in the batter's box against a Pedro Martinez. Shit, he'd mow them down. In fact, I would put money down on a bet that Martinez wouldn't even have to break a sweat to do it.
These are tough sons of bitches, these ballplayers of today. Cal Ripken plays in more than 2,000 consecutive games. You think any of the old Brooklyn Dodgers could have done that? No way! Fred "Big Pussy" Delahanty used to scratch himself from the lineup if he had a blister on his pinky. One time, an hour before a crucial late-season doubleheader against the Pirates, he checked himself into a hospital with gastroenteritis because he burped. Talk about gutless.
And they were rude! Go to a game nowadays, and it's all "Yes, ma'am," "No, ma'am," and "I'm just trying to do what I can to help the team." Today's players are constantly making charity appearances, and they'll sign autographs until their hands fall off. But try getting an autograph off a guy like Frankie Medwick, the bad Chicago Cubs pitcher from the '40s. He'd have torn you a new asshole! And if you were black, well, let's not even think about that.
I was at the barbershop Monday, getting my usual weekly shave and a haircut, when I hear this young whippersnapper in the chair next to me jawing on about that newfangled Mets catcher Mike Piazza. "Did you see that shot Piazza had last night against the Marlins?" he asks Gus, one of the barbers. "It bounced off the Shea scoreboard, 522 feet from the plate. And he broke his bat on the play! Do you have any idea how strong you have to be to get a 522-foot broken-bat homer? I'm telling you, that guy's the greatest hitting catcher in major-league history."
I swear, it took every ounce of strength I had to keep me from standing up, walking over to that kid, and totally agreeing with him. Of course Piazza's the best! The old catchers blew! And so did the pitchers! And rightfielders, too! They all stunk! Buncha slow, fat, selfish, mean whiteys. I tell ya, they didn't used to make 'em like they do now.