Spring Training is in full force, my friends – a time for tweaking your batting stance, working on your curveball, and writing a research paper. The latter is what 19-year-old Josh Hart of the Baltimore Orioles had to do earlier this week. Hart, an outfielder who was selected 37th overall in last summer’s amateur draft, was introduced to Hall of Famer Frank Robinson during a Spring Training practice, and Hart did not know who Robinson was. So Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter told Hart to write a one-page paper on Robinson and have it on Showalter’s desk the next day. Hart complied, and is now vastly knowledgeable in all things Frank.
With this story fresh in my mind, I decided to do my own little study to see if kids approximately the same age as Josh Hart had any knowledge of who Frank Robinson is. I asked several students at Governor Thomas Johnson High School, and was disappointed to see that most of them had no clue. 18-year-old Jacob, a very smart Senior who wants to attend Duke University to study engineering, said “The name sounds familiar, but I don’t think I know who he is.” Mickey, 17, asked “What class does he teach?” The closest was one of our military academy hopefuls, who said "He's what that movie '42' was about." To the defense of my students, some of the kids I questioned admit to not following baseball too closely, and they’re not being paid crazy amounts of money to wear a uniform and play 162 games a year.
So how important is it for current Major League baseball players to know the history of the game and the names of the greats? I think if you’re going to have a job with such a high-paying salary, you should have an idea of who came before you, stood on the same field as you, and had a locker in your clubhouse that could even be the locker that you’re currently using (especially if you play in one of the older ball parks, like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, or Dodgers Stadium). These millionaires need to feel humbled by the greats who played before them. Guys like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout need to appreciate the leaping catches that Kirby Puckett made in center field. Sluggers like Miguel Cabrera and Michael Cuddyer should feel small next to Pete Rose and Joe DiMaggio. Jacoby Ellsbury and Eric Young should take base-stealing pointers from Rickey Henderson or Lou Brock.
Here is what I think Major League Baseball should do: They should have the annual player draft in Cooperstown, NY, so that prospective players and their families can tour the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and get a lesson in baseball history. Most of these guys haven’t been to the Hall, so they haven’t seen the majestic room full of inductees’ plaques, the museum with the Babe Ruth room, and the movies and interactive displays that take you from the game’s beginnings to the record-breakers of the modern era. Cooperstown is in the middle of nowhere, so your typical draft candidate probably hasn’t made the trip there before, but if he has the potential of being signed by a Major League team and can learn a thing or two about the game’s history, you bet he’ll take the trip to New York!
You don't like that idea? Then how about Major League Baseball send me to visit all 30 teams so I can give the players a history lesson? I can have Power Points and handouts and trivia questions and everything! I like that idea better!
I know a lot of the current young players were born in the 90s, a decade full of PEDs and not much excitement. They probably looked up to guys like Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire, and maybe even great players like Greg Maddux, Wade Boggs, and Ken Griffey, Jr. But just like high school students have to learn about what happened in history 200 years ago, current baseball players should have some basic appreciation for the men who played before them. They don’t need to rattle off the names of all the baseball commissioners (not even I can do that without some deep thinking and a check on Wikipedia), but they should have a general knowledge of the players from the past – Cobb, Ruth, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Clemente, Koufax, Seaver, Aaron, and Robinson (both Frank and Jackie).