I love baseball, really do. Been a devoted follower nearly my entire life.
But when I watch old baseball movies, and all the bean balls, trash-talking and conflicts that go with them, I long for a return to nasty.
I mean, where has nasty pitching gone?
Growing up, my dad always talked about St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson. Ask my dad, and you would think Gibson was the Antichrist.
But I noted my dad’s eyes always lit up when he talked about this filthy pitcher.
I also remember my cousins talking about Dwight Gooden as though he threw less of a fastball and more of a rocket-propelled grenade.
Personally, I remember seeing Randy Johnson pitch at Tiger Stadium in the 1990s. This was back when he pitched for the Seattle Mariners.
I will not lie: I was straight up terrified of this man.
Call me a wuss. Call me what you will. But when you are 11 years old and you see a near 7-foot-tall freak of nature with long hair with a mad-as-hell-at-the-world demeanor step onto the hill, it is a pretty scary experience.
Johnson was like the undertaker blended with some deep-woods lumberjack taking vengeance for not getting many hugs as a child.
I wondered how hitters felt staring down the barrel of this imposing creature’s super-long left whip.
Johnson was especially intimidating when one considers that he did not exactly define pinpoint accuracy—as Philadelphia Phillies first baseman John Kruk once discovered during the 1993 All-Star Game.
Johnson was sure fun to watch, though. He was intimidating, and at times he could be downright nasty.
But Johnson was also well respected, and he added a different dimension to the game that fans loved.
Texas Rangers fireballer Nolan Ryan was another player I loved to watch. A chest-high leg kick followed by a soul-jolting smack of leather, who can ever forget the time he introduced Chicago White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura to his own blood?
And who can forget Roger Clemens?
Sure he is infamous for, among other things, the steroid controversy and firing a shattered bat at New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza.
But it is impossible to argue that Clemens was not an electric figure during his long and storied career.
Then there was Pedro Martinez.
Known not only for buzzing human towers without apology, as well as his infamous fight with New York Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, this guy was an amazing pitcher.
Blend Cincinnati Reds gunslinger Rob Dibble’s brawls with Lou Piniella and Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker’s battles with wildness (and himself), and one has the makings of some memorable ballgames.
But today it seems as if nasty pitching has been all but stripped from the game.
Sure, fans have seen Phillies hurler Cole Hamels warn Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper not to wink at big league pitchers, as he did in the minor leagues.
But fans also saw Hamels get slapped with a five-game suspension after admitting he rudely welcomed Harper to the show.
Fans have also seen superstar hitters gripe about pitchers' throwing inside on them, only to watch a respective batter smash the hurler’s next pitch out of the park.
Bloody socks aside, when was the last time baseball fans saw a good bench-clearing brawl? And by good, I do not mean two teams involved in a light shoving match.
Not that I condone violence, but I have to ask the question: What is it that makes the NFL so popular?
It sure is not two-yard runs up the gut on the team’s own 20-yard line. People crave the NFL because it is violent.
It is nasty.
And it has dramatic, soap-opera-like storylines that give men and women something to talk about come Monday morning.
Not to mention that the NFL features head coaches that willingly shed 20 years off their lives, toiling to herd entire rosters of type-A-plus personalities toward ultimate glory.
But somewhere along the line, perhaps after the steroid era, baseball has gotten tamed by forces that counter nastiness.
That said, let’s be honest: How many big league pitchers truly strike fear into foes and fans when they take the mound these days?
Sure, there is Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who has lit the world on fire. Sure, there is Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who has the ability to throw a no-hitter on any given day. Sure, there is Cincinnati Reds flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, who can bruise catcher’s hands with 100-mile-per-hour fastballs.
But these guys—Brian Wilson included—are few and far between.
And frankly, this pitcher’s era without nasty pitching boggles the mind.