Sports world has changed, not necessarily for better

John Steadman

July 31, 1991|By John Steadman

How sports have changed, a mere sampling . . .

Now: A heavyweight boxer named Mike Tyson who finds trouble almost everywhere he goes.

Then: Joe Louis, with a regal presence, conducting himself as a gem of a gentleman, approachable and considerate of others -- even his opponents.

Now: Twenty-eight major-league teams but half of them couldn't win in the Epworth League.

Then: Sixteen major-league teams packed with talent and capable players stocked in "inventory" down on the farm.

Now: Athletes selling autographs, jerseys, headgears, bats, balls and anything else the public will buy.

Then: Jimmie Foxx, the Hall of Fame power hitter, giving two of his Most Valuable Player awards to a fan he never met before, just because the man was his boyhood hero.

Now: Golf reaching unprecedented heights of popularity at every level of play with no sign of a slow-down, encompassing men and women of all economic strata.

Then: When golf pros were considered second-class citizens and, at some country clubs, prohibited from even entering the dining room.

Now: Tennis has become an all-out power game.

Then: Defensive-type players, such as Bobby Riggs, returning almost anything that was hit as they waged counter-punch strategy while waiting for the rival to commit a mistake.

Now: Boxers getting title shots after fewer than 10 fights.

Then: Archie Moore campaigning for 18 years before he got a championship chance.

Now: So-called superstars flaunting the luxury of wearing three gold chains around their necks even if it slows their reaction time.

Then: John Unitas hitch-hiking home from training camp after being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers so he could save the bus fare.

Now: The Pittsburgh Pirates continuing to assert themselves as the best team in baseball.

Then: If the New York Yankees weren't a perennial No. 1 then it was the St. Louis Cardinals or Brooklyn Dodgers.

Now: Hialeah, the second most scenic of all race tracks and once highly successful, now overgrown with weeds but struggling to make a 1991 wintertime comeback.

Then: When there were race tracks called Narragansett, Suffolk Downs, Jamaica and Havre de Grace all but faded from memory.

Now: Home runs are referred to as simply that, which is as it should be.

Then: Home runs were called "Wheatie Hits," a "Ballantine Blast," a "Flying Red Horse" or whatever it took to get the sponsor's name identified.

Now: Pitchers are pounded on the back, their names written in banner headlines and they think in terms of making millions of dollars if they last six innings.

Then: A pitcher who couldn't finish what he started needed seasoning in Toledo or Kewanee.

Now: Pro football teams exchange exhibition game sites with each other rather than travel to neutral locations, all in the interest of making more money.

Then: Places such as Little Rock, Shreveport, Omaha, Louisville, Roanoke, San Antonio, Lubbock, Tulsa and Rochester hosted the NFL in summertime but, no, not any more because they can't offer high enough guarantees.

Now: Athletes are instructed to consume as much water as possible on hot days.

Then: If a player drank water during practice or a game it was considered a deterrent to getting in shape.

Now: Important boxing bouts are held in casinos.

Then: It was Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Soldier Field, Griffith Stadium or any place outdoors for a major fight during the summer.

Now: Basketball players are the highest salaried of all pro athletes and travel in the first-class cabin.

Then: Basketball players were the lowest paid team athletes, behind baseball, football and hockey, plus having to carry their own shoes and uniforms on road trips.

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