- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
BOY, HAS THE DRAFT EVER CHANGED
THE DRAFT BACK THEN: The first player drafted in the whole country in 1981 (pitcher Mike Moore) signed for $100,000. His agent was, well, himself. He never once threatened to hold out and flee to the Northern League.
THE DRAFT NOW: The first pick in the latest draft (high school shortstop Justin Upton) just signed about 15 minutes ago -- for $6.1 million. Moral of that story: The draft sure isn't what it used to be. The big turning point? The 1991 draft, when high school pitcher Brien Taylor hired Scott Boras as his agent and came away with a record $1.55 million bonus. The draft has been one big swamp full of agent power plays, Drew-brother holdouts, loophole hunts and "signability" picks ever since. One good thing that happened 25 years ago: The first draft featuring more college players in Round 1 than high school players.
THE SUN DON'T SHINE ANYMORE
THE WORLD SERIES BACK THEN: As recently as 1984, it was still possible to play two World Series games every year without turning on a light bulb. Imagine that.
THE WORLD SERIES NOW: We've now gone 17 straight World Series without a day game. So anybody sense a trend here? MLB can justify this by citing ratings, prime-time ad rates and a deep empathy for the Pacific Time Zone. But who knows how many kids back East have never seen an entire Series game? And that's a cost we can't measure with a cash register.
DAY AND NIGHT
THE SCHEDULE BACK THEN: In 1981, believe it or not, 43 doubleheaders actually were etched on the original schedule, without a raindrop even falling. Thirty of them were good old-fashioned Sunday doubleheaders, just how it used to be in your grandpa's day.
THE SCHEDULE NOW: No free lunch. No free cocktails. No free baseball. By 1986, we were down to nine scheduled doubleheaders. By 1991, we were down to one. And over the last six seasons combined, there have been two (the most recent, in 2003, for nostalgia purposes at soon-to-be-imploded Veterans Stadium). Nowadays, you can't even rely on a hurricane to get you two for the price of one, thanks to the dreaded day-night "doubleheader." (We've seen 19 of those the last two years.) Is this greed or economic reality? Raise your hands.
(WHY WE LOVE THE MINOR LEAGUES)
THE MINOR LEAGUES BACK THEN: Your basic bush-league scene from yesteryear: A couple of thousand people a night, hanging out in mostly rickety ballparks, reminiscing about how they once saw Duke Snider hit a home run right here in 1946.
THE MINOR LEAGUES NOW: Think this isn't big business? Minor-league attendance has exploded -- from 12.3 million in 1980 to (gulp) 43.3 million last year. And that doesn't even count the independent leagues busting out everywhere from Newark to Winnipeg. The minor leagues are now officially cool. And getting cooler. We can't lay all of that on Crash Davis, Nuke LaLoosh and Annie Savoy. It does have something to do with those $39 big-league tickets to sit in the upper deck. But since "Bull Durham" hit the screens in 1988, minor-league attendance has doubled. Aw, probably just coincidence.
HOME RUN DERBY (HOW THE ALL-STAR GAME BECAME AN ANTICLIMAX)
THE ALL-STAR GAME BACK THEN: Nine innings of interleague intrigue, surrounded by two days of dead air.
THE ALL STAR GAME NOW: In the midst of a three-day baseball bombardment, more people now watch Bobby Abreu hit 43 Mars probes in the Derby than watch your average Division Series game on ESPN. And many people remember those magical Derby moments more than anything that happens in the All-Star Game itself. Once, this game felt like baseball romance. Now, it feels more like Woodstock. Just one thing we can't figure out: Is that good?
BEST OF THE REST
• Thank your lucky stars (All-Stars determine World Series home field)
• Slip 'n' slide step (No more Vince Colemans)
• Poetry in motion (Pitchers keeping DVDs, not little books)
• Legends Field (Spring training as big business)
• Maple syrup (Bat technology takes off)
• We open in Tokyo (Globalization hits the road)
• Dancing in the dark (Lights at Wrigley)
• Hello, QuesTec (The new strike zone)
• Saga of MLB's trip to D.C.
• Reinventing the box score
• Ballpark food besides hot dogs
• Organs out, real music in
• The autograph/memorabilia biz
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Jayson Stark lists the 25 most significant innovations of the last quarter-century.