Sam

Fans and players – then and now

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2011 at 11:43 pm

One of my pastimes is collecting vintage sports photos, some of which you see here on the Sports Purist. I recently bought this photo of Reggie Smith taken in the mid 1960s. When I look at this wonderful picture I cannot help but think how sports in America has changed over the last 40 years. Is there any ballpark in America nowadays where you could find a crowd that resembles this wholesome vignette of Fenway Park circa 1966? The answer is, of course, no. Crowds at ballparks and stadiums nowadays are often rude, inebriated and sometimes violent -witness the Bryan Stow beating at Dodger Stadium at the beginning of this season or the shooting of two fans following a 49ers exhibition game this past summer. In fact, I found it very interesting that after the Stow incident many longtime Dodger fans said they no longer attended Dodger games because the gang presence at Dodger Stadium had become too ominous. Needless to say, it is hard to reconcile my image of picturesque Dodger Stadium over the years with the reality of the place nowadays. Many of the other parks are no different.

The other thing that struck me about this photo is the proximity between player and fans, the physical proximity but the emotional proximity as well. Smith seems genuinely at home with the fans as they do with him. Maybe this is because Smith’s income, when this picture was taken, was probably at or around the MLB minimum in 1966, under $ 10,000 a year. In other words, what the average American was making back in 1966. The only thing that sets Smith apart from everyone else in the photo is the fact that he is wearing a uniform and they are not. Yes, he is black and they are white but even race does not register in this photo. Looking at this image one cannot help but feel that there was once a unique closeness between players and fans, a closeness which no longer exists.

Finally, one other thing that makes this photo so wonderful: when is the last time you were in an American ballpark or stadium and did not see a tattoo?

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