As is almost always the case, return trips tend to bring back memories of the first. Especially if they are particularly memorable.
So while making belated plans for another jaunt it seemed only natural to think back to 1974, my first year covering the Orioles in spring training. Never in a million seventh-inning-stretches could I or anyone else even dream I’d be making a similar trip 46 years later.
They haven’t all been the same, or for the same reason, or under the same set of circumstances, but here I am back at spring training camp for the 47th time and wondering, “How did this happen?”
I can’t really answer that question, but thanks to a suggestion by reader Jack Keogh, the idea of a “then and now” column was intriguing enough to bring me to this point. So here I am, on Feb. 29, 2020, the 12th “Sadie Hawkins Day” since my first spring training, without trying to capture the big picture, offering a glimpse of the differences of what I (think) I know and what I (think) I remember about life in and around baseball … in 1974 and 2020.
All these years later what I remember most about leaving for Florida in 1974 is the gas shortage. Back then we were waiting in long lines to buy gas at 55 cents a gallon. Today we gas and go at $2.40 per without blinking an eye.
FYI — by today’s valuation, gas was $2.95 a gallon in 1974, which I guess makes it cheaper now than it was then.
Baseball’s minimum and average salaries in 1974 were $15,000 and $40,839. Those numbers translate to roughly $55,000 and $228,000 today, in case you were wondering. All I remember was my $14 per day per diem from The News American.
Al Bumbry was coming off a Rookie of the Year season and Brooks Robinson was three years away from retirement. And the Orioles were coming off a bounce-back year, posting a 97-65 record that enabled them to win the AL Eastern Division title for the fourth time in five years.
The minimum and average salaries in MLB in 2019 were $595,000 and $4.36 million. (You can look up the math, my work is done there).
In case those previously stated numbers hadn’t clued you in, baseball was still three seasons away from free agency in 1974.
There Orioles are not in bounce-back mode in 2020, with 100-plus losses in the Vegas forecast, but the early days of this camp offer some encouragement that the “rebound” portion of the “rebuild” may be closer than you think.
In 1974 the Orioles were training in Miami, home of one of the best skylines (then and now) in the country. After spending the better part of two decades as spring training vagabonds, the Orioles are spending their 10th spring training in Sarasota, the not quite hidden gem (now and then) on Florida’s West Coast.
In 1974 if there were more than four members of the media on hand for a given day it was either an overload or a slow day for the Colts. Interviews were done on the fly, often set up a day or two in advance. By today’s standards that would mean a dozen or so either overslept or were kidnapped by Twitter deadlines.
There are almost no comparisons in the routines of players today and those of a half-century ago. Compared to today, facilities in 1974 were almost barbaric.
Trainers’ rooms would fit into any one of a dozen equipment closets today. Weight rooms were non-existent. Despite the fact that players used to use training camp to get in shape, compared to today’s athlete who is expected to arrive near full speed, players spent far less time at the park than they do today — primarily because the facilities are so much superior today. In the Earl Weaver era, players were in uniform by 9, on the field at 10 and, before games started, often finished by 1 and on the golf course by 2.
In today’s era, a 7 a.m. arrival is commonplace. Manager Brandon Hyde will have the bulk of his media duties finished before 9, by which time players have usually scattered for various drills. From a reporter’s standpoint, if there’s time for a nap before dinner it’s a short one.
One similarity between the routines is that the squads (almost double in size to near 70 now) are split for the most part, allowing for a “breather” of sorts every other day. As work days ago, it certainly ranks as a diversion from commonplace practice. But fun in the sun, it definitely is not.
Few will believe this today, but the Orioles played mostly midweek home games at night in Miami. This year they will play a handful in Sarasota, and that’s a spike up from previous year.
About the only thing the same between spring training now and the first time I showed up is that they last about the same — six weeks, give or take a few days. Also, the debate that continues regarding whether or not they are too long, which will never be resolved.
We could go on and on, of course, but instead just offer up one other remembrance of that 1974 season.
It was the year of “The Streaker,” and the Orioles played in Boston for the Red Sox home opener, April 11. Chuck Thompson, the late, great O’s announcer, wanted to put together a pool on which half-inning there would be exposure in the bleachers.
The bottom of the seventh, naturally, was the most popular guess. All these years later I’m not sure which inning it was, but I do remember it better than the particulars of the Orioles’ 7-6 win (featuring no-decisions by starting pitchers Jim Palmer and Luis Tiant).
It wasn’t the last “Streaker” to be seen that year — but like a lot of things in life, including spring training, repeat performances always bring back memories of the first.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles