Scott Gray Sports Commentary: Baseball in Mark Twain Times

“BASEBALL IN MARK TWAIN’S TIME”

Do you think this is all new? Do you believe the troubles in the sports world are unique to our era?

This week the NFL Players Association is expected to approve HGH testing, the latest step in combating a drug issue that certainly is not unique to football, as baseball will forever be tainted by it’s “Steroid Era”. Anyone who remembers Lyle Alzado knows steroid use in sports probably didn’t start in baseball and the NFL is late to the testing party . As far back as the 1960’s witness after witness talked about open drug use, bowls of pills on clubhouse tables, reds and greens, pep pills and downers, one to get you up, one to calm you down.

To today’s sports fans free agency is just business as usual. Baseball fans in their 50’s remember a time when players were little more than indentured servants, working for one owner who paid wages dictated by the owners to keep the profits of the game with the owners. In the early 60’s Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith and Catfish Hunter changed all that. But even fans who remember the door that era opened on today’s exploding salaries might be surprised to know that free agency wasn’t new to that time. They might be surprised to hear about a pre World War II exodus of major league players to the Mexican League as leverage for higher pay here in the states.

Baseball is the oldest of the major league sports in the United States and the more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same. A child of diversion born out of the Civil War, “When Johnny Came Sliding Home”, Bill Ryczek titled his history of the game from it’s 1865 roots, baseball has suffered many growing pains in it’s century and a half life span.

That’s the subject tomorrow night at 7:00 at the Mark Twain House and Museum Museum Center in Hartford, as Ryczek is joined by Hartford baseball expert Gary O’Maxfield, Connecticut Major League Baseball historian David Arcidiacono, Joe Williams, chairman of the Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends Project, and John Thorn, a major contributor to Ken Burns’ sensational PBS presentation, “Baseball” and the official historian of Major League Baseball.

It’s “Baseball in Mark Twain’s Time” and the conversation will not only be informative, today’s sports fans will find it surprising to learn the problems in sports that seep into society at large are not unique to our era. It’s a free presentation but the capacity of the Mark Twain Museum Center is limited so it requires advance registration at http://www.marktwainhouse.org.

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” This is sports history that, in light of events that have been repeated several times through several generations, is important to understand.

With a heads up from the sports world, that you just may thank me for, I’m Scott Gray.

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