What a difference a century makes. New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez was accused of bad sportsmanship and worse for trying to slap the ball out of Boston Red Sox hurler Bronson Arroyo's glove in last year's American League Championship Series. But in The Old Ball Game, a breezily incisive look at the sport when it truly was America's pastime, author Frank Deford finds humor in similar antics -- like the way Baltimore Orioles third baseman John McGraw used to hook his finger in the belt of runners hoping to score on sacrifice flies circa the 1890s.
"It's just a matter of trying to get away with what you can, and probably A-Rod would have gotten away with what he did not a hundred years ago, but fifty years ago," says Deford, who will share his insights at the Cherry Creek Tattered Cover on Thursday, April 21. "At the ALCS, there was instant replay and eight umpires, and McGraw was doing it with one or two guys. That shows human nature never changes. And baseball never changes, either."
The surprising similarities between today and yesteryear pulse through Game's narrative, which focuses on the odd-couple friendship between McGraw, who became a Hall of Fame manager for the New York Giants, and Christy Mathewson, a Giants pitcher who actually lived up to his all-American-boy reputation. Deford notes that today's executives denied that baseball had a steroids problem until Congress forced their hand in much the same way that their predecessors shrugged off suggestions that contests were being fixed prior to the 1919 Black Sox scandal. "We look back through this gauze and only see the nice things," he says. "But there was just as much cheating, just as much chicanery, just as much monkey business."
In addition to serving as a National Public Radio commentator and correspondent for HBO's Real Sports, Deford is finishing a screenplay about miler Roger Bannister that will soon be filmed as an ESPN movie. But he's still enjoying the afterglow of his warts-and-all visit to The Old Ball Game. "I enjoyed looking at the nostalgia of it," he says, "but I also wanted to show people the way it really was."