Armour: This year in baseball, 1969

From SABR member Mark Armour at The National Pastime Museum on April 19, 2016:

“Baseball reminds me of a guy with an ice pick in his inner ear. His equilibrium is shot. He walks like a punch-drunk pug. Any minute you expect him to fall on his face. And when baseball finally does fall, do not weep. Just throw some dirt over the body. Take the dirt from the pitcher’s mound. That’ll be appropriate. Pitching is the name of the guy who stuck the ice pick in baseball’s ear. Though the pitchers have had their accessories. Lots of them.” Arnold Hano, in the November 1968 issue of SPORT.

Hano’s view was widely held. After mistakenly enlarging the strike zone in 1963, baseball’s scoring began a steady plummet that reached ridiculous levels by 1968. How ridiculous? A full 21 percent of all Major League games were shutouts. The American League hit .230 (the Yankees managing .214). No-hitters, long shutout streaks, batters hitting below .200, pitchers with ERAs below 2.00—none of this was unusual, or special, any longer.

Making things worse, in the hearts of most young people baseball had clearly fallen behind football, which was seen as more exciting and hip than the boring sport of their fathers and grandfathers. The average attendance at a big league game in 1968 was 14,217, down 11 percent since 1960, and several teams had either recently moved or were threatening to. “The majors are caught in a kind of pincer movement,” wrote Shirley Povich, “comprised of its own aspects of boredom on the one hand, and the challenges of pro football, with all its thunk, on the other.” In December 1968, the owners fired their beleaguered commissioner, William Eckert, and a few months later replaced him, on an interim basis, with Bowie Kuhn, the National League’s lawyer.

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Originally published: April 19, 2016. Last Updated: April 19, 2016.