There’s a famous image with a sign outside of a ballpark stating Post No Bills.
There was an ethos back in the day that when you stepped through the turnstile, you were
entering a sacred space that honored the game of baseball, and that has changed very little
over the years.
Of course, those were the days when player salaries were in line with blue collar workers and
teachers and players would often have part-time off season jobs. It was actually possible to
have a neighbor who was a pro ballplayer.
When my boyhood hero, Jackie Robinson, signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, his salary
was $600 a month. That wasn’t because he was the first black ballplayer—it was commensurate
with the pay scale in that era.
There were sponsors of radio broadcasts and there were billboards on outfield fences. The
commercialization escalated when television cameras entered the stadium. Noel Jordan, a
former NBC exec and one of my grad school professors, told us that camera operators were
ordered to avoid those billboards if the television broadcast was sponsored by a competing
shaving cream brand.
So you would see an outfielder going back on a fly ball and the camera would only show his feet
as he made the last out of the inning or even the last out of the game so, God forbid, NBC
wouldn’t promote Barbasol instead of Burma Shave.
Last Friday night was Jackie Robinson night throughout major league baseball and every player
in every game wore Jackie’s number 42. That is the only number that has been retired
throughout baseball, although each team can honor their own former stars by retiring those
They were giving out Jackie Robinson jerseys, so I had to buy a ticket and to beat the Los
Angeles traffic, I got to Dodger Stadium two hours before game time.
I didn’t want to miss the opening ceremony that featured Jackie’s widow Rachel and his
daughter Sharon and Dave Roberts, the Dodgers first black manager. The first pitch of the
game by Giants star pitcher Madison Bumgarner was hit into the left field bleachers by Kiké
Hernandez and less than half of the seats were still empty because of rush hour congestion on
the freeways. It was a fun and historic game, especially for Dodger fans, as Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw
bested Giants ace Bumgarner 7-3 and Kiké hit another home run on his second at bat. Dodger
broadcaster Vin Scully, in his final season, was honored as well and many consider him the
greatest in baseball history.
The Dodger uniforms haven’t changed much since my Dad took me to see Pee Wee Reese
night at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for my 10th birthday. And the way the game is played between
the foul lines is still very much the same, as young players are taught to respect the traditions of
game, even if it means sometimes throwing a pitch at someone’s head.
But the atmosphere in the ballpark was so so different than those golden days in Brooklyn or
Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago. The ballpark used to be a wonderful place
to chill out and get away from the hubbub but Friday night, I thought I was in Times Square in
Manhattan and not Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.
From the moment I sat down, the Jumbotron scoreboard was featuring rock videos and the
noise was deafening. I jokingly asked the usher to please turn the sound down and she
laughed and had a look that said “tell me about it!”.
Neon signs flashed commercials everywhere you looked. It felt more like Bladerunner than
I get it. The current owners paid a ridiculous sum of money for the team and players salaries
are enormous—I’m guessing you don’t have a pro athlete living next door. They are doing
everything they can to get a return on their investment and that makes sense to a degree.
But I think they’ve gone too far and this incredible commercialization of America’s Pastime
proves once again that nothing is Sacred!