Monday, June 22, 2009

The Golden Age of Baseball

ESPN columnist Bill Simmons writes that the golden era of baseball was the five year span of 1988-1992. That just so happens to coincide with my introduction to the sport. The era began with me as a ten year old just beginning to scour and memorize the backs of baseball cards. I finally got old enough to stay up late and watch World Series games. I loved my Oakland A's - Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Henderson, Dave Parker, Carney Lansford and Walt Weiss. And of course a pitching staff of perennial 20 game winner Dave Stewart along with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and Bob Welch, who was awarded the 1990 Cy Young by winning an improbable 27 games. Those A's went to three straight World Series from 1988-1990, winning in 1989 against the rival Giants.

But the real treat, and perhaps the moment that truly sucked me in as a baseball fan, was the 1991 World Series. Both the Twins and the Braves had finished in last place the year before, but now they faced off with the winner becoming the first worst to first team in baseball. The Braves had just escaped Barry Bonds's Pittsburgh Pirates in what was an amazing series in its own right. But that was merely the appetizer to the real Series. The Braves had young Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, and John Smoltz. In what was the greatest game I've ever watched, in what many have said was the greatest World Series ever, game seven had Smoltz pitching 9 shutout innings only to be bested by Jack Morris's 10 scoreless. With game seven ending 1-0 in 10 innings, the Series had 3 extra inning games, and 5 one run decisions. The home team won every time, only the second time that had ever happened. Almost every game went down to the wire, and pitching duels were the norm. To this day I prefer a close, well pitched game to a high scoring one.

As this era ended, the steroid induced home run era began. Sadly, two main players from my beloved A's, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, were heavily involved in ushering in the steroid era. I never quite regained the same passion for baseball or even baseball card collecting after that. The game had changed. 1991's pitching duel was replaced by 1993's slug fest between the Blue Jays and Phillies. And the home runs never really stopped for another decade and a half. Only now are things beginning to come back to normalcy in the game.

It's nice to hearken back and remember those early 90's years as a golden era for baseball. Unfortunately it was followed by the era of strikes and steroids. As my son approaches an age where we can sit and watch a game together, my hope is that baseball will be able to clean up the game in time to start another golden era.

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