Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

I became a baseball fan when I was about 11 or 12 years old. To this day, I don't know why: my father wasn't a big fan, and I had no brothers. (Back then, the common wisdom was that girls hated sports-- and only pretended to be interested if they had a brother or a boyfriend who played.) And once I discovered baseball, I especially loved listening to it on the radio-- Curt Gowdy and Bob Murphy were the play-by-play announcers in the '50s, and they really knew how to make the game enjoyable. In fact, even though our family had a TV set, I preferred listening to the games rather than watching them. (I was attracted to radio from a very early age-- I loved the deejays, of course, but I loved the sportscasters too.) And if a game went long, and it was past my bedtime, I'd hide my transistor radio under my pillow and listen till the game was over.

But I didn't know a lot of female fans. And when I tried to talk baseball with the guys, they seemed uncomfortable about it, especially if I knew more about the game than a girl was supposed to. So, I dreamed that one day, I might be a sportscaster or a sportswriter (two occupations I was told were not suitable for girls), and I listened to as many games as I could-- whether the Red Sox (my home team) or teams from other cities (late at night, distant signals came in very clearly on AM, and I could hear the Baltimore Orioles on WBAL, as well as other teams, in the major and minor leagues).

I never did get the chance to be a play-by-play announcer, but I did become a deejay (as many of you know) and I've remained a baseball fan to this day. In the late 1980s, when I began researching the history of broadcasting, I was finally able to answer the question about whether there had been women fans in the old days-- as it turned out, yes there were. In fact, in the famous song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the original 1908 version was about a young woman named "Nellie" who was "baseball-mad" and couldn't wait for her boyfriend to take her to the ballpark so she could watch the game.  There were even young women who tried to play baseball, and not just as a stunt: I have a new article about that in the current issue of the Baseball Research Journalhttps://sabr.org/journal/article/marvels-or-menaces-how-the-press-covered-the-lady-baseballists-1865-1915/       

Today, it's no longer unusual to find women baseball fans, women baseball players, women baseball writers, and a few sportscasters are women too. Five years ago this week, I had the privilege of giving a talk at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown about some of the earliest women baseball writers, one of whom (Ina Eloise Young) covered the game as far back as 1906. Among the others I discussed were Pearl Kroll, who covered baseball for Time magazine in the late 1930s/early 1940s-- but the male sportswriters refused to let her into the press box; and Willa Bea Harmon, who covered the Negro Leagues in the 1940s.  It was a joy to tell their stories.  

But unlike when I was growing up, I don't see as many young people-- male or female-- at the ballpark these days. I also don't see many kids playing ball in the neighborhood or at local fields, the way they did when I was growing up. (I even used to go to watch semipro games in the Park League sometimes, and there were lots of young people in the stands.) There are many possible reasons for a lack of young fans: tickets these days are impossibly expensive, most of the games are at night, other sports have grown in popularity (like basketball and football) and overtaken baseball... but as a long-time fan, I would love to see more kids playing ball again. And now that the pandemic is finally receding, I can't wait to once again see some games in person. Meanwhile, I'll keep listening on the radio, and watching on TV. I can't help it: when I think of summer, I think of baseball...  

Sunday, May 15, 2022

A Few Thoughts About Ageism

As many of you know, I turned 75 on Valentine's Day. When I was a kid, folks who were 75 were often called "elderly." There were many stereotypes about the elderly back then-- they were usually thought of as frail, forgetful, incapable of doing what they used to do. Sometimes, they were called senile. The idea that someone in their 70s would still be working full-time was considered unlikely-- after all, folks of that age were unable to remember things, and unable to keep up the pace of younger people.  

Fast forward to today. As you also know, I got my PhD at age 64, and I've been a professor at Lesley University since 2008 (I taught part-time at Emerson College before that). I can't imagine retiring, and I'll let you decide if I'm "frail" or "forgetful" or (gasp) "senile." In many ways, we Baby Boomers have redefined what it means to be in our 70s. A sizable number of us are still working-- some part-time, but some full-time. Some of us are retired but still do volunteer work. Some of us are engaged in a variety of hobbies. And yes, some of us are indeed suffering from various illnesses and unable to do what we used to do.

My point is that everything changes, including our definitions of the "right" age to do X or Y or Z. I know folks who didn't start college till they were in their 40s. I know folks who didn't get married till they were in their 50s. I know folks who are in their 80s and sharp as the proverbial tack, and I know folks who are in their 30s who have no common sense whatsoever. The word "elderly" is no longer our preferred term-- it has a judgmental connotation. We're senior citizens these days-- although I admit I don't like that term any better. 

Meanwhile, let's look at congress, where Mitch McConnell is 80. Nancy Pelosi is 82. Bernie Sanders is also 80. President Joe Biden is 79. And former president Donald Trump is the youngster in the group-- he's about to turn 76. What brought all this to mind is that I saw someone posting on social media the other day that Mr. Biden is "senile." It really irritated me. Just because you don't agree with someone, don't say they are cognitively impaired. I don't for one minute think Mitch McConnell is senile-- and I rarely agree with him on anything. Yes, of course, aging can affect a person's brain, but its impact is different for every person. 

So, let's not return to ageist stereotypes from the past. Mr. Biden is a stutterer, and he has never been a good public speaker, but that is not a sign of "dementia." Alzheimer's is a terrible disease that robs people of their memories-- but not every older person will get it. So, if we can avoid tossing words around that demean and stereotype older people, I think that will be a good thing. As I said, we all age differently. I'm actually impressed when I see folks in their 80s doing what they love. My hope is that I'll be like former CBS News anchor Dan Rather-- he's 90, and still active (and still very much aware of current events). But above all, I hope we can learn to respect those who are older, and honor those who still want to make a contribution to society--whatever their age.