Baseball BeatMay 29, 2005
Final Exam
By Rich Lederer

Ahh, the wonders of the Internet. A freshman from Canton High School in Plymouth, Michigan sent me an email yesterday, asking if he could conduct a personal interview concerning baseball history and opinions as part of a report used for a final exam in his Language Arts class. I told him "yes" and he sent the following 11 questions to me earlier today. I hope he gets an "A" on this project.

Q: Have you played baseball? If so, how far did you go? Are you involved in baseball today?

A: Yes, I played baseball. I played all the way through high school. I was a pitcher, catcher, and first baseman in Little League, Pony League, and Colt League but was a pitcher only in high school. I also was a fast pitch softball pitcher into my mid-20s. Our team won the city of Long Beach "A" league championship, the highest level.

I'm not involved in baseball in any official capacity today. After coaching my son in Little League during the late 1980s and early 1990s, my involvement has been as a fan, a long-time fantasy baseball participant, and, most recently, as a baseball writer/analyst but only as a hobby.

Q: Who is your favorite baseball team?

A: My favorite baseball teams are the Angels and the Dodgers. I live in Long Beach, California, which is almost equi-distant between Los Angeles and Anaheim. Furthermore, my Dad was a sportswriter who covered the Dodgers from 1958-1968 before becoming Director of Public Relations and Promotions for the then California Angels from 1969-1978.

Q: Who is your favorite baseball player? Why?

A: My favorite baseball player of all time is Lou Gehrig. I admired him from the first time I read his biography and watched the movie "The Pride of the Yankees" as a kid. I idolized him not only for his baseball prowess but for his consecutive game streak and the courage and dignity in handling his illness and retirement. Educated at Columbia University at a time when so few people went to college, he showed up for work every day and gave his best. No excuses. He showed a sense of duty to himself, his teammates, manager, employer, and the fans. He was and remains a true, genuine hero in my book.

Q: Which stadium do you like the best? Have you been there in person?

A: Well, Dodger Stadium was the prettiest and the cleanest back in the 1960s when I was regularly going to Dodgers games. It has lost some of its luster over the ensuing years. I was fortunate to catch a Red Sox-A's game with Roger Clemens pitching back in 1988 on a business trip. I went to the game by myself, walked into the office to pick up my ticket, and was ushered down to the first row behind home plate. I don't know if Fenway is the "best" stadium, but it sure is one of the oldest and has a lot of history attached to it.

Q: Do you think that the whole steroid issue has been taken too far?

A: I have tried to stay out of the steroid debate. I think there are too many voices already, many of whom lack knowledge or expertise on the subject.

Q: Do you think that if Babe Ruth was playing today, he could out hit some of the major leaguers today like Mark McGwire, or Barry Bonds?

A: I don't know, Babe Ruth would be 110 years old today. That would be a tough thing to do.

On a more serious note, if Babe Ruth was playing today, he would be a great player. However, I don't think you can say players of the past would be better or worse than those today. It's an apples and oranges type of comparison. Like society as a whole, players today, generally speaking, are bigger, stronger, and faster than those of yesteryear.

I like comparing players against those from their era. In that regard, Ruth was the best player ever. He dominated the competition more so than any player in the history of the game. Did you know that the Babe hit 54 HR in 1920 at a time when all of the other players in the league hit only 315? Ruth hit more homers than every team (yes, TEAM) in the league other than the Yankees.

Q: Do you think that curses exist in baseball?

A: No.

Q: Do you think that some players get overpaid?

Yes, just as some actors/actresses, rock stars, doctors, lawyers, accountants, truck drivers, and longshoremen get overpaid. Every profession has its share of underpaid and overpaid people. I don't get hung up on that point. In a free market, capitalistic economic system, people are generally worth no more or less than what they make because it takes both sides to agree on a contract, salary, or wage. We may think people make too much or too little, but they get paid what the market will bear.

Q: How do you think the game has improved equipment-wise (bats, balls, playing field, gloves)?

A: The equipment is much better today than ever before. The bats come from the finest and hardest wood available. The balls are livelier today than in the Dead Ball era (pre-1920) and perhaps even more than in the not too distant past of the 1970s and 1980s. The playing fields, thank goodness, have gone back to natural grass after a growth spurt in artificial turf during the late 1960s through the 1970s. The gloves are bigger and better than ever before although there hasn't been a lot of advancement in that area for the past 30 or 40 years.

Q: What team do you think has the best uniform?

A: I like the classic look of the Dodgers the best. The uniforms are essentially the same as what Jackie Robinson wore when he played on the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s. You can say the same for the Yankees, too, although they lack the color of the Dodgers blue lettering and the small red numbers on the front. I didn't care for the Astros uniforms or some of the other teams during the 1970s and 1980s because they reminded me of softball uniforms.

Q: What is one thing you would change to better baseball?

Being a traditionalist, I would get rid of the designated hitter in the American League. I'm also not a big fan of the wild card although I realize it has given more teams (and fans) hope throughout the season. We just need to come to grips with the fact that the "best" team doesn't always win the World Series. Many times, it is the "hottest" team that wins. To wit, did you know that the last three teams to win the World Series (the Angels in 2002, the Marlins in 2003, and the Red Sox in 2004) weren't even good enough to finish in first place in their divisions during the regular season?

Baseball is a great game and, despite its labor problems and other controversies from time to time, will outlive us all.