Double Knits & Astroturf: The Era of Plastic Baseball
Andy Van Slyke: Nothing 'Priceless' About This Plastic
1984 was a wonderful year for me. My employer asked me if I would mind spending Spring in Boston, and the Summer in St. Louis. Hmmm. Let me think about that. Two of the most storied baseball franchises in baseball history, and I'd get to watch 20 or so games in each park. Well, I don't know ... it's really far from home ... I'd be in a hotel ... where do I sign?
Fenway Park was everything I thought it would be. I actually walked past it once not recognizing that a brick and mortar facade could possibly be a baseball park. I walked through the portal and got my first glimpse of the inside of the stadium; it was everybit as glorious and grandiose as I had imagined. The park was so packed that my ticket was marked "standing room only." I could see where Ted Williams used to track down flyballs. And over here is where Vern Stephens became the best hitting AL shortstop for several years in the 1950s. It was quite an experience. I'd take the "T" to the game and enjoy the restaurants and shops before the park opened. It was the Spring of my dreams.
This billboard greeted me as I walked up to Busch Stadium for the first time. The outside vaguely resembled RFK, except the "waffle" was gone in favor of many scalloped arches. The Cardinals double-knit uniforms were in stark contrast to the traditional Red Sox garb.
I was so disappointed when I finally got into the stadium and saw the condition of the Astroturf playing field. The stadium housed both the Cardinals baseball team and the football "Gridbirds" as they were called locally. The Astroturf turned a pale yellowish-green as the sun went down and the stadium lights came on. You could still see the football yard markers.
The most "unbaseball" like thing I ever experienced was the sliding pits in the all turf infield. Thirdbaseman Terry Pendleton and Shortstop Ozzie Smith would simply bounce the ball to firstbaseman Jack Clark rather than throw all the way over. It was a lot like skipping a stone on water.
I enjoyed the type of ball the Cardinals played that year. If I remember, seven of the players had 20 or more steals -- it was certainly an exciting style of baseball when compared To the Red Sox "lumber company" offense of Yastremski, Rice, Lynn and Tony Armas. But in baseball, where a team plays is as important as how they play. The ambience of baseball is baseball. Watching Ozzie Smith, Terry Pendleton, Vince Coleman an Willie McGee run around the bases was reminiscent of watching a pinball machine in a penny arcade. The Cardinals were the empitome of all that was wrong with baseball in the 1980s: doubleknit uniforms and faded Astroturf. Thank goodness that today, baseball's future is nestled firmly in its past.
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