If you’re reading these words, chances are—like me—you’re a baseball lover.


You may be a proponent of the designated hitter rule (I’m not), you may enjoy high-scoring four-hour marathons (I prefer low-scoring pitching duels that are played in under two-and-a-half hours), and you may think Ruth the greatest player of all time (I could give you a half-dozen reasons why Cobb is).


But I’d wager that what draws us both to this beautiful game is simply the sound of the ball hitting a bat: crrraaack!


Basketball has squeaking sneakers, hockey the sound of skates hissing across ice, football the sound that results from a running back lowering his shoulders to hit a linebacker plugging the hole through which he needs to pass in order to find three yards for a new set of downs; but in all of sports there is perhaps no sweeter sound than that of a baseball on wood.


And it differs, too. A foul popup behind the plate sounds different than a laid down bunt, which differs in timbre from a ground ball, which itself differs from a Texas league fly ball, which in turn differs from the sound of a Miguel Cabrera homerun nearly to the hall of famer statues in center field at Comerica Park.


So is it any wonder that I was struck the other day when my hometown favorite Detroit Tigers were in Kansas City to, sadly, drop two of three games to the Royals—a team that the past few years, from the cellar of the Central Division, always plays us with the confidence of the New York Yankees—and the sound of the ball off the bat was a dull thud.


Maybe it was the acoustics of Kauffman Stadium; perchance it was only the sound crew, but it didn’t seem to matter whether it was a ground ball or a Brennan Boesch homerun, the ball’s excitement over being hit anywhere seemed, somehow, subdued.


This got me to thinking of my youth—having grown up in the 1960s, before cable TV, when the majority of games were radioized rather than televised. Imagine growing up at a time when the only games shown on TV were Saturday and Sunday afternoon affairs, a time when the best in the AL faced the best in the NL in the World Series, with no playoff format let alone wildcard teams.


It was tough, but I lived to see the new millennium, in addition to seeing Hank Aaron’s all-time homerun record broken, as well as Roger Maris’s single season record for homeruns broken. I also lived to see the use of steroids tarnish this game that I love so much.


How did I survive listening to games on my crystal radio (that I built from a kit) through an earplug nestled in my ear?


It helped that legendary Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell was calling Tigers games at that time—“Strike three called, he stood there like the house by the side of the road;” and “Catcher Bill Freehan is out to the mound to hold a confab with Denny McClain.” Harwell was always a treat to listen to.


But listening to a ballgame is a far cry different from watching one on the tube—no instant replay, no slow-mo and certainly no X-mo. One has only the sound of the announcer’s voice describing the action—“Kaline digs in to the batter’s box to face the ace of this Baltimore Orioles staff, Dave McNally, winner of 22 games last season”—and the sound of the ball off the bat. One might as well have been born with no eyesight.


Even after we got our first TV set—a 24” black and white Magnavox—I preferred listening to games. I’d seen my first ballgame at Tiger Stadium, under the lights, the year before, and let’s face it, how could a black and white image compete with attending a game played under the lights?


Today I can’t help but feel that much of the game is lost, even with high definition, that I enjoyed so much those many years ago when I had but Ernie’s comforting Southern drawl calling the action and the sound of a piece of rawhide striking wood to which to listen.


Sometimes the good old days really are just that.


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