August 31, 2009
This might be a blasphemous admission, but I've never really understood the allure of playing pepper before a ballgame.
To me, the traditional baseball pastime has always earned a level of romanticism it never deserved. The great benefits of the exercise have never been clear to me and I've yet to understand its main point.
Playing a mini-version of baseball that's zero percent fun and keeps no score? Pretending what it'd be like if each ballpark were the size of a front yard in the city? Publicly rebelling against all those "no pepper" signs?
At any rate, legendary Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell doesn't feel the same way about pepper, which again makes me feel like I'm missing out on something everyone else likes ("True Blood" and "Friday Night Lights," for example).
"I remember newsreels of the St. Louis Cardinals playing pepper before their 1934 World Series games against the Tigers. The Cards were acrobatic, adding all kinds of tricks and gimmicks to their games. Fans loved to watch. And the players also seemed to derive a lot of enjoyment.
"Why did pepper disappear? The main reason is that ballclubs began to schedule such structured practice regimes before their games that there was hardly time left to squeeze in a game of pepper. Also, the modern players now can relax before each game in a luxurious clubhouse with their own café — something more tempting than another kind of pregame exercise."
Harwell goes onto details other reasons for pepper's demise without turning it into a bitter rant on the decline of society in general and his always lyrical take is worth checking out (as is Rob Iracane's take on Harwell's take).
As for yours truly, I'll keep insisting that pepper — like lusty vampires and lusty high school football players from Texas — might be for others.
But it's still not for me.