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Dispatches From The Good Old Days

One of the great sportswriting cliches is to complain that today's players are soft, and the most common sub-genre is the complaint that baseball pitchers are soft. (See for example this.)

Of course, it's a pretty venerable complaint. How venerable? Check out this 1947 Baseball Digest article by old-time pitcher Kid Nichols, titled, naturally, "Pitchers Are Sissies Now." In the article, Nichols complains that modern pitchers (that is, those playing in the 1940s) feel proud for winning a mere twenty games:

A big league pitcher who wins twenty games today becomes the toast of the baseball world and is given a fat raise in pay. In my day—the Nineties—if you won only twenty games the club owner would say, ‘You didn’t do so good this year—we are going to cut your salary next season.

Nichols recounts how he used to pitch on two or even three consecutive days. And that wasn't all he had to do:

Pitching wasn’t the only job pitchers had in the Nineties. The day after we had pitched a game it was our duty to stand at the gate, and afterwards to count the tickets. I remember counting 30,000 tickets one day at the Polo Grounds in New York.

And what about these modern pitchers getting "elbow surgery"? Back in the good old days, the treatment for a sore arm was to keep throwing until the soreness went away:

And did you ever hear of Amos Rusie, Cy Young, Radbourne or Mathewson having an elbow operation for the removal of chipped bone? Such operations were unheard of until recent years. If the arm got sore, we went out and pitched until the soreness left -- we had to, or we would have been dropped from the team. Nothing short of a broken leg could have kept us out of uniform.

Naturally, Nichols curses the fact that modern players make too much money and have lost their love of the game:

The game of baseball hasn’t changed much in the past fifty years, but the players have a different philosophy toward the game. They want to make a lot of money and retire. I played the game at a time when the league had a salary ceiling of $2,400-the fabulous salaries later to be drawn by Ruth, Greenberg, Newsom and Feller were undreamed of. We played for the love of the game; there were few holdouts. We wanted to pitch every day; to win more games than the other guy-not for the money, but for the glory of winning.

It’s different today.

It always is.

--Jonathan Chait