Why Is The Foul Pole Fair?: Answers to 101 of the Most Perplexing Baseball Questionsby Vince Staten
Chicken soup for the baseball lover's soul -- the inimitable Vince Staten takes you out to the ol' ballgame and answers all the baseball questions your dad hoped you wouldn't ask.
- Simon & Schuster
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Chapter One: Take Me Out to the Ball Game
I grew up in a neighborhood of boys. Tony and Mike were on one side of my house, Darnell on the other, Lance in back, next to him Michael and Donnie and Bob, then Ronald and Billy, Phil and Eddie, across the street to Tommy, up the hill to Chip and Butch.
All you needed to do on a Saturday morning was take a bat and ball to the field, then start tossing up a few and hitting them; the crack of the bat was siren call enough. Soon, there were six, eight kids, gloves in hand, ready for a pickup game.
There was always a game going in my neighborhood: football in fall, basketball in winter, and baseball the rest of the time. We didn't have a real ball field; we cobbled one together from a couple of backyards, a vacant lot, a garden, and a dog pen. My backyard was the end zone in fall, the backcourt in winter, and the infield in spring. I remember a man whom my father worked with coming by and being greatly distressed at how we neighborhood boys had worn base paths into the grass. "Those boys are killing your yard," the man said. And I remember my father's answer. "Those boys will be gone someday. That grass will grow back."
. . .
I grew up loving baseball. When I wasn't playing it, I was watching it on TV or reading about it in the Sporting News, or talking about it with my best friend Lance Harris. He and I oiled our gloves together, we taped our bats together, and, on the days we couldn't get up a game, we played catch and pepper together.
The only thing we didn't do was go to games together. There was no team in our town, big-league or otherwise. There was a Class D Rookie League franchise twenty miles away, but the big leagues were as far away as my dream of someday playing there.
At the beginning of my eleventh summer, my father announced that we wouldn't be going to the beach that year. It had been a vacation tradition for as long as I could remember. "No, not this summer," he said. Instead, we were going to a big-league baseball game. Suddenly, I couldn't breathe. This might not seem like a big deal to a city kid but, to a southern boy in the fifties, this was better than finding out you'd made Little League all-stars. See, we had no big-league clubs in the South then. The Braves were still in Milwaukee, the Astros and Rangers and Marlins and Devil Rays were all off in the future.
On our way to the distant ballpark that summer we thread through the mountains into Kentucky, then up to Cincinnati for a Reds game against my favorite team, the Giants. I'll never forget that weekend. It was the longest car ride of my life.
It was the dog days of summer when we arrived at the Queen City of the Ohio. Cincinnati is a city that's notoriously humid in the summer, but who knows from humidity when you're a kid? We unpacked in a motel on the Kentucky side of the river, then hustled over to Findlay and Western Avenue, site of the now-legendary Crosley Field.
I loved the hustle and bustle outside my first big-league park. I loved the sounds of the sidewalk barkers hawking pennants and balls and every kind of baseball trinket. I loved the crush of people scurrying to the turnstiles. And, when we finally got through the mob, a Giants pennant in my hand, and hurried up the ramp to the plaza overlooking the field, I couldn't believe my eyes. I was finally there. It was everything I had seen on television and it was in color and it was up close. Even the steel girders holding the upper deck excited me. And when we finally made our way to our seats, which were a classy green with fold-up bottoms, I was ecstatic. There, right in front of me, close enough to talk to, even touch, if I hadn't been so afraid of them, were the idols of my boyhood: Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, Jim Davenport, and Don Blasingame, and my favorite player, Orlando Cepeda.
I'll never forget my first thought: They look just like their baseball cards!
Oh, the sights and sounds that night: "Get your beer, here!" "Peeeeeeeea-nuts! Peeeeeea-nuts!" The roar when Willie Mays sent a ball over the left-field wall. The oooooh when Frank Robinson fanned.
It was a magic moment, one that I can never recapture, only recall.
Years later, when I married and had a son, my hope for him was that he grow up to love baseball. I named him Will...after my wife vetoed Orlando. Will was for two of the best players my team produced: Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. My wife thought it was for her grandfather and my grandfather. She's just finding out the truth in this book.
The winter Will was born I bought season tickets to the local Triple A club, the Louisville Redbirds, and took him to every home game his first summer. (He usually slept.)
Together, we watched the Cubs on television most afternoons and the Braves most evenings. (He preferred Thundercats cartoons.)
I signed him up for T-ball. (He hated it and spent most of his time in the outfield picking dandelions.)
For his eighth Christmas, I bought him a baseball-card album that included an assortment of cards. (He never even took the cellophane off.)
Then, came spring of his eighth year. One day after Harry Caray began bellowing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," he went up to his room, dug out the album kit, and tore into it. Two hours later, he had all the cards neatly tucked into the polyurethane pockets. He needed more cards, he announced.
Now, he wanted to go to the Redbirds games, he wanted to get on a Little League team, he wanted to join a fantasy league. It was all happening almost too fast.
I knew what would be next: A big-league game.
I called the Reds box office. My first game had been in Cincinnati, albeit at Crosley Field; his first big-league game would be in Cincinnati, at Riverfront Stadium.
Baseball had a new fan.
Over the years, we went to games together, we operated a fantasy-league team together, we played catch in the backyard, and I pitched to him at the local field.
Then, something happened. He didn't want to go anywhere with me. He was embarrassed by my wardrobe, by my haircut, by pretty much everything about me. It's called the teen years. As he got over the embarrassment of having a father, he drifted into a new phase. Now, it wasn't that he didn't want to go to a ballgame with me, it was just that, well, Steve wanted him to play golf and Drew wanted him to bowl. And there were the calls from girls.
Now, something else has happened. His friends are all heading off to college but, because his school starts later, he's willing to hang out with his dad.
So, for the first time in five years, we are going to a big-league game together. To Cincinnati, of course. Scene of my first game, and his, too.
I just have to get us tickets.
In the beginning, it really was a game. There were no tickets; there was no need for tickets. It was just a gang of kids gathered in a field, playing a game. In some areas of this country they called it rounders, after the British game of the same name. Other places called it old cat or stool ball. It was a time in America when pilgrim wasn't just a name John Wayne called his rivals, and Indians weren't just from Cleveland. It was the eighteenth century.
Whatever this early game was, it certainly wasn't baseball. The only real similarity to the modern game was the bases. Kids would take turns running the bases while other kids tried to put them out by hitting them with a ball. It's always been fun to throw stuff at other kids.
(Incidentally, getting an out by hitting a player with the ball isn't as outlandish a rule as you might think. When I played backyard baseball in the fifties, there were days when we couldn't get up enough kids for a regular game. Sometimes, we'd play with as few as four guys. In the field, you had a pitcher and a shortstop. To get a player out, you'd hit him with the ball. And, yes, it did make you want to run faster.)
Over time, these eighteenth-century ball games evolved into what was once called base ball.
The first reference to a baseball-like game in America comes from a Christmas Day 1621 diary entry by Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Plantation, who notes some of his subjects "frolicking in ye street, at play openly; some at Virginia pitching ye ball, some at stoole ball and shuch-like sport."
John Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, an alphabet instruction booklet published in 1784, offers the first picture of American baseball, a woodcut showing boys playing "Base-Ball."
The ball once struck off away flies the boy
To the next destin'd post and then home with joy.
The bases of the title are posts stuck in the ground. There is no bat in the scene, but one boy appears ready to pitch underhand to a second boy standing, hand on post.
It was left to a group of young New Yorkers to synthesize all the disparate elements of rounders and cricket, town ball and stool ball, and formalize the rules of this new game. These professionals had been meeting regularly since 1842 on a field at 4th Avenue and 27th Street in Manhattan to get a little exercise playing this game of base ball. In 1845, one of their number, a twenty-five-year-old stationer named Alexander Cartwright, suggested they form a club. He even had a name for it, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, a name derived from the Knickerbocker Engine Company, where Cartwright was a volunteer firefighter.
So, they made it official, this gentlemen's club, composed of seventeen merchants, twelve clerks, five brokers, four professional men, a bank teller, a "Segar Dealer," a hatter, a cooperage owner, and several "gentlemen." They elected Daniel L. "Doc" Adams, a physician, their president.
This was not, however, the first baseball club in New York. Baseball historians Thomas R. Heitz and John Thorn unearthed an interview Adams gave in 1896, in which he admitted to having played baseball in the city as early as 1839. "I began to play base ball just for exercise, with a number of other young medical men. Before that there had been a club called the New York Base Ball Club, but it had no very definite organization and did not last long. Some of the younger members of that club got together and formed the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club."
Adams said the players were all professional men "who were at liberty after three o'clock in the afternoon. They went into it just for exercise and enjoyment."r
As president of the newly minted Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, Adams saw a need for a set of formal rules, so he put together a four-man committee that included himself and Cartwright, and sat down to write a set of by-laws. Only those four know who wrote what, but Cartwright, with his drafting skills, was called upon to draw the playing field and, as a result, his name has come to be attached to the rules, so much so that he is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The rules they came up with would pass for baseball even today. No more outs by lethal throw. No more twenty-five men out in the field at one time. They created the diamond-shaped field, decreed three outs per turn and invented the foul ball.
Their document was published on September 23, 1845, as the "Rules and Regulations of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club." There were twenty rules, a sort of ten commandments times two.
Some had nothing to do with baseball, but with procedures for the club:
"1st. Members must strictly observe the time agreed upon for exercise, and be punctual in their attendance."
(Obviously, the club was having an attendance problem.)
"2nd. When assembled for exercise, the President, or in his absence, the Vice-President, shall appoint an Umpire, who shall keep the game in a book provided for that purpose, and note all violations of the By-Laws and Rules during the time of exercise.
"3rd. The presiding officer shall designate two members as Captains, who shall retire and make the match to be played, observing at the same time that the player's opposite to each other should be as nearly equal as possible, the choice of sides to be then tossed for, and the first in hand to be decided in like manner."
On the sandlot we tossed for sides, too: We tossed a bat. One captain caught it, each putting his fist above the other 'til one or the other could cover the knob with his thumb, thereby giving him first choose. That was how we made the sides "nearly equal," by picking back and forth.
By rule four, the Knickerbocker Club was onto something:
"4th. The bases shall be from 'home' to second base, forty-two paces; from first to third base, forty-two paces, equidistant."
Figuring three feet to a pace, that's 126 feet from home to second. The current rule book for Major League Baseball, in section 1.04 "The Playing Field," specifies, "When location of home base is determined, with a steel tape measure 127 feet, 3 3/8 inches in desired direction to establish second base." But, no one figured three feet to a pace in 1845: Heitz and Thorn found a contemporaneous dictionary that tabbed a pace at 2.5 feet, meaning the first fields were smaller, with base paths more in the range of 75 feet, closer to a Little League field. Those dimensions stand to reason, as the bats and balls were different too, making a smaller field necessary.
Rule 8 set a game at 21 aces, or runs -- first team to 21 wins. (We used to play that on the sandlot.) Some of the other rules hint at a move in the modern direction.
"10th. A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of the first and third base, is foul.
"11th. Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught, is a hand-out; if not caught is considered fair, and the striker bound to run.
"12th. If a ball be struck, or tipped, and caught, either flying or on the first bound, it is a hand-out.
"13th. A player running the bases shall be out, if the ball is in the hands of an adversary on the base, or the runner is touched with it before he makes his base; it being understood, however, that in no instance is a ball to be thrown at him.
"14th. A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base, is a hand-out.
"15th. Three hands-out, all out.
"16th. Players must take their strike in regular turn."
Adams, Cartwright, and company took a children's game and gave it a design that enabled adults to play it.
You don't charge admission to a game until you need to and, at first, there was no need: Baseball was a social event. And, as noted in the first rules, a way to get a little exercise.
. . .
For better or for worse, the very setting down of a set of rules changed the game. Baseball was now -- and here's the ugly word -- It was no longer strictly a playground game.
Two weeks after publishing their rules, the Knickerbocker boys played the first recorded game under these guidelines, at their club ground, Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, a short ferry ride across the Hudson from Manhattan.
It must have been a hit because, soon, baseball clubs were forming all around the city; within a decade there was enough interest for a convention! Adams presided at the formation of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) in 1858, with twenty-two clubs from the New York area participating. Heitz and Thorn note, "It was no longer merely an amusement for exclusive, socially oriented clubs of young professional men. Workingmen were discovering the sport, and they didn't necessarily subscribe to the 'it's only a game' attitude that had been adopted from the British sporting class."
It was more than a game; it was a competition.
And, with a competition, comes rooting and fans. And following along shortly is the admission fee.
Early baseball has numerous watershed events: When the bases were established at ninety feet, when the pitcher began throwing overhand, when someone had the good sense to provide the catcher with a cup.
But no moment in the history of organized baseball is bigger than the one of July 20, 1858. It was on that day that members of the American public first paid to see a baseball game.
According to baseball historians, it was at Fashion Race Course on Long Island -- at National Avenue and 102nd Street in present-day Corona -- where opportunistic entrepreneurs charged fifty cents per head for a game between the New York All-Stars and the Brooklyn All-Stars. If an 1866 Currier & Ives print is to be believed, spectators stood on the sidelines and in the outfield to watch this all-star event. Fifteen hundred folks paid what would be the equivalent of $9.13 in 2001 dollars to watch the event. Among the spectators -- history doesn't record if he paid or if he got the very first press pass -- was Henry Chadwick of the New York Mercury, who would chronicle this embryonic sport for the next half century.
History also fails to record if William H. Cammeyer, a shoe merchant, was at the game but, if he wasn't, he certainly read about it and learned from it. Three years later, he leased a hollow of land in Brooklyn bounded by Harrison Avenue, Marcy Avenue, Rutledge Street, and Lynch Street. He surrounded the site with a six-foot-high board fence, named it Union Grounds, and opened it for baseball games in the spring of 1862. He allowed teams to use the field free of charge, but collected a dime admission fee at the gate from each spectator. That's about two bucks in modern money.
Enter another ugly word: greed. "Why should Cammeyer profit from our sweat?" the clubs asked. By 1864, he was splitting gate receipts with teams and the players, who felt they, too, should share the riches.
With everyone demanding their share, baseball was heading toward becoming a business; bills to pay, therefore admissions to be charged. And that, friends, is why I am preparing to call the Reds box office and buy a pair of tickets for my son and me.
It is only appropriate that I should be shelling my cash out to a Cincinnati professional club, because it was in the Queen City that professional baseball really began.
Players had been taking payments -- in the form of cash under the table (or behind the dugout) or a job on the side -- for a half-dozen years, when a group of Cincinnati businessmen headed by Aaron B. Champion (what a wonderful name for a baseball-team owner) decided to bring professionalism out in the open. In 1869, he created the Cincinnati Red Stockings, selling stock in the Stockings to his friends. He hired ten players -- from teams in Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, with only one player, first baseman Charlie Gould, from Cincinnati -- and a manager, and put them on the road for six months. Manager Harry Wright was sure the team would score big, telling a local newspaper that people pay "seventy-five cents to a dollar-fifty to go to the theatre, and numbers prefer base ball to theatricals."
The Red Stockings were a smash hit on the field, winning all sixty games they played, but were less of a hit on the ledger books. Team payroll was $11,000, with star shortstop George Wright -- Harry's brother, natch -- drawing the top salary, $1,400 ($17,895.15 in today's dollars). After travel expenses, which were enormous, because the team traveled all the way to San Francisco for one series, the team netted $1.39 in profit. That's right, for their capital and labor, the owners of the Red Stockings made all of a buck and change. Even converting to today's dollars, it's not much. Would you work all year for seventeen dollars?
We don't know if Arthur Andersen was responsible for that accounting but, whatever the profit, it wasn't much, because stockholders voted the next year to return the team to amateur status, which meant that all the players left.
This is sounding more and more familiar every day.
So, that's how I have come to be on the telephone today, calling for Cincinnati Reds tickets. Except that I don't have a Cincinnati phonebook, or a Reds schedule, or any of the things I need to buy tickets.
I do have a computer.
When my dad took the family on our first baseball vacation in 1959, I was in charge of tickets. I sat down at the dining-room table and, in my best cursive, wrote a letter to the Ticket Manager, Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati, Ohio. I asked when the Giants would be in town, how much tickets cost and what seats were available for the games. I licked a four-cent stamp and my father mailed it from work the next day. Two weeks later, I got a neatly typed reply. I answered it that day and, in another two weeks, we had our tickets.
From start to finish, it took a month to get tickets.
It won't take a month this time. Try five minutes.
. . .
Buying tickets to a Reds game is a snap these days; I bought ours on the Internet. I went to the Reds website, found Tickets, clicked on it, and was guided through. I could pick either the $32 blue seats, the $24 light blue seats, the $16 green seats, the $15 yellow seats or the $14 red (upper-deck) seats. I started with the $24 light blue seats. The computer told me I could have seats 8 and 9 in row 19 of section 145. "We have reserved these tickets for ten minutes. If you do not wish to purchase them, they will be released." I called up a stadium map that showed me the exact location of the seats, in left field, just a few rows past the end of the visitor's dugout. Good enough. I clicked on "Purchase."
I had our ducats (that's an old word for tickets) in less than five minutes. Well, I had purchased them, that is.
Buying tickets to any major-league game is a breeze today compared to even ten years ago. When I took Will to Cleveland for a game at the new Jacobs Field in 1994, I called the box office only to discover that the game was a sellout, but they would have standing-room-only seats in left field, the lady told me.
I had no intention of standing for an entire game, not at my age.
I boasted to my family that I had never been to a game where I couldn't score tickets outside; I haven't made that boast since. You cannot buy tickets outside Jacobs Field. There are signs everywhere informing you that scalping tickets is a corporal, if not a capital, offense. And there are more cops than there are signs. I didn't even get a furtive glance from a potential scalper.
So, I went to Plan B: standing-room-only tickets. I approached the box-office window with that hangdog face. "I need two for today's game," I said to the pleasant woman inside, a woman who was about to get even more pleasant.
"You just got lucky," she said. "They just turned in the scouts' tickets."
I didn't know exactly what that meant but she explained that each club holds a number of tickets in reserve at each game for scouts from other teams. They always hold extra tickets, then sell them to the public at the last minute.
That day we were the lucky public. Field-level seats right behind home plate, surrounded by older men with radar guns and World Series rings.
I'm not willing to take that chance for our Reds game. You just can't count on luck. So, I buy blue seats, section 145, row 19, seats 8 and 9.
Our tickets are $24, plus a $3.58 City of Cincinnati admissions tax each, plus a $2.50 service charge for shipping and handling, even though our tickets will only be handled (we are picking them up at the Will Call window), bringing the total to $57.66.
The Team Marketing Report, a trade magazine that surveys ticket prices annually, says the average ticket to a Major League Baseball game cost $18.31 in 2002 (before local hotel, motel, and entertainment taxes, not to mention mailing, handling, and shipping surcharges).
We must be getting pretty good seats.
. . .
According to Crosley Field: The Illustrated History of a Classic Ballpark by Greg Rhodes and John Erardi, my father would have paid $2.50 for our box seats in 1959. (Grandstand general admission was $1.50, and sundeck seats were 75 cents.) He got a great deal; in 2002 dollars that's about $15 a ticket. I'm paying $24 for comparable seats today. But, deal or not, we've got our seats, so, Riverfront Stadium, here we come.
Except they don't call it Riverfront Stadium anymore: It's now Cinergy Field, joining a growing list of major-league parks with for-pay corporate names, like 3Comm Park, Tropicana Field, Bank One Ballpark, even, for a brief time, Enron Field.
Cinergy is a relic of Cincinnati Gas & Electric. Its corporate report says Cinergy was created October 24, 1994 from a merger of Cincinnati Gas & Electric and PSI Energy, the largest electric utility in Indiana. Cinergy is, it brags, "one of the leading diversified energy companies in the U.S. [with]...a balanced, integrated portfolio consisting of two core businesses: energy merchant and regulated operations." (I have no idea what that means, either.) The report goes on to laud the company's "profitable balance of stable existing customer portfolios, new customer origination, marketing and trading, and industrial-site cogeneration."
Still, for most people, Cinergy is a ballpark in Cincinnati.
It's exactly 100 miles from my house to Riverfr...er...Cinergy Field. I live on the outer edge of Reds country; farther west belongs to the Cardinals. For years, western Kentucky baseball fans listened to Cardinals games on KMOX radio. Head south and you start getting into Braves territory, turn north and you get into Cubs country.
It's all interstate to Cincinnati, a drive through the country that doesn't end until you hit the suburbs. Now, it's time to start worrying about parking.
That apparently is something the average major-league club doesn't worry much about.
Rod Sheard, senior vice president of HOK + LOBB, the architectural firm that has designed many new baseball stadiums, including Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Jacobs Field, and Coors Field, recommends a minimum of one parking space for every ten to fifteen spectators.
Cinergy Field holds 40,008. (It had a capacity of 52,952 until they tore out the left-field stands to make way for construction of the new Reds field, slated to open in 2003.) A quick computation with the calculator, giving Cinergy the benefit of the doubt by using the larger number of spectators per car, it looks like Cinergy should have 2,667 spaces. Before construction, it had 2,500 parking spaces on three levels, but that has been reduced considerably. There are a couple of open-air lots next door with 1,800 spots. Because of Cinergy's proximity to downtown and downtown lots it really isn't a problem finding a parking space. A close space, yes; a space, no.
Sheard also recommends the distance from the car to the stadium should be no more than five hundred yards and an absolute maximum of a mile. Will and I arrive early enough to get in an open-air lot next door, a walk of maybe a hundred yards.
It's six bucks to park, which is below the league average of $8.79. We'll spend our savings on popcorn.
As we make our way from the parking garage to the stadium, we are accosted by a parade of strangers offering to sell us tickets. And, when we shake our heads in the negative, they offer to buy our extra tickets. Some even have professionally printed signs: i need tickets.
These are not poor souls who drove down from Dayton hoping to score good seats behind the Reds dugout. These are professional scalpers: guys -- I saw one girl today -- who try to turn a profit buying and selling tickets. In Cincinnati, it is perfectly legal to resell tickets -- resell being the nice term for scalping. There are only two provisions: It's illegal to resell tickets on the plaza outside the ballpark, so scalpers must stay on the sidewalks at street level. And if you're a dealer in tickets you must have a vendor's license. All the scalpers I saw were away from the plaza level, although a couple were on the steps. One had parked atop an empty newspaper box on the road to the stadium. None displayed a vendor's license.
It's that way at ballparks everywhere. The i need tickets guys aggressively pursue customers. And these guys generally aren't, despite appearances, poor working stiffs just trying to make an extra buck: A 2002 Boston Herald investigation found that all the ticket resellers outside Fenway Park were professionals, many with ties to the mob. In Massachusetts, resellers can mark up a ticket two bucks over permissible costs of acquiring the ticket, meaning they can charge whatever the market will bear, and amateur ticket resellers need not apply. The Herald observed four members of the scalping ring beat up a nonaffiliated scalper.
The sign I NEED TICKETS has as much meaning as a Don't Walk sign on a Manhattan street corner.
There should be a translation in small letters below: I SCALP TICKETS.
We make it to the plaza without being physically forced to buy tickets. After a quick stop at the will-call window, it will be on to the game.
Except that it's not a quick stop at will call: There are four will-call windows open today, three divided alphabetically by last name, and a fourth for passes. The S-to-Z line, my line, is, of course, longer than the others.
I am twelve people from the front, although I think there are at least three sets of couples, which means I am only nine slots from picking up my tickets.
Because it is a reasonably short line, I can see the transactions ahead. They are not going smoothly. There is no ticket agent at my window; she seems to be in the back looking for something. This happens to me all the time in the grocery store: "Price check in Vince Staten's lane! Let's hold him up as long as possible!" I am used to it.
These are boring lines and, even though we are in the shade, you can feel the frustration building. People are looking backwards with that disgusted face that says, Why is that idiot at the front delaying me?
It is obvious the Reds are not familiar with queuing theory.
Queuing theory explains why folks will stand in line for thirty minutes at Disney World and arrive at their ride with a smile and stand in line only five minutes at Burger World and arrive with a frown. Queuing is the British term for waiting in line. The average American spends 134.5 hours a year, or about twenty minutes a day, waiting in line.
Waiting in line is one of life's inevitabilities: Rod Sheard, author of Sports Architecture, says, "No public assembly building, least of all a large stadium, can ever hope to serve all its customers simultaneously. A spectator attending an event must inevitably stand in a series of queues, for entry at the stadium entrance, to be served at the bars, eating places or at the shop counter, to use the toilets and finally to make their exit."
So, obviously, I expected a line. Still, I am a little frustrated. After all, I'm just picking up tickets I've already purchased. If I were in line to buy tickets that would be a different matter. I would expect to wait longer if I didn't have the good sense to buy my tickets ahead of time.
Obviously, your mental state plays a big factor in how you survive waiting in line.
One reason for my frustration is the system the Reds use. Danish engineer A. K. Erlang, who published the first paper on queuing theory back in 1909, called it the multiple parallel queue system. Most fast-food joints gave up on it years ago, because studies showed that people didn't like it -- it's the old fairness factor. With a combined queue, as Erlang called it, there is one line and several ticket sellers; once you reach the head of the line, you go to the first available window. With the multiple parallel system there are several lines and several sellers. Your trip to the front depends on the speed of your seller, the complexity of the orders in front of you, and pure dumb luck. Studies show that people prefer the single line system even when it means a longer wait.
Instead, the Reds use parallel lines. That way, you watch someone who arrived later than you get to the front of their line ahead of you. And you simmer. Queue theoreticians have a name for it: queue rage.
Another of my frustrations is what sociologists call empty time. I'm just standing here, doing nothing, waiting impatiently.
People at Disneyland often wait half an hour for a two-minute ride. How does Disney do it -- get spectators to wait this long, then turn around and wait in another equally long line for the next ride? Sheard says, "They transform the queuing experience into a pre-event, first by ensuring that people are as physically comfortable as possible and second by enlivening the experience with interesting and attention catching diversions."
That can involve having TV sets to watch: most baseball teams have figured that one out, positioning sets where people in the beer lines and the peanuts lines can watch game action while waiting to get a brewski.
It can involve diversions: Disney sends clowns and jugglers to the queuing areas to keep visitors entertained. The Federal Republic National Bank of New York provides live music in its branches on Friday between 10 A.M. and 2 P.M., the heaviest banking hours. Customer feedback told the bank that people didn't consider the time waiting as lost time, but as time during which they were entertained.
It can even be something as simple as routing people through ropes that twist and turn, giving visitors the impression they are closer to the front of the line than they really are. "Hey, it's only a few feet away." Of course, there may be fifty people ahead, but those in line can at least see the attraction. They can look at each other, joke with each other.
That's why everyone from Disney World to Wendy's uses queuing ropes or chains to snake the crowd around. If a Disney World line were allowed to extend naturally away from the gate, it might be a hundred yards long. Those in the back would give up because the wait would seem interminable. By snaking the crowd, the park makes guests think they are closer to the entrance than they really are.
This can all be important for business. If the fan gets bored, stressed out, or aggravated from waiting in line, he's not going to enjoy the game wholeheartedly. He won't stay as long, won't spend as much money, and may not come back.
Of course, it depends on what you are standing in line for. A study by Thierry Meyer, published in a 1992 edition of the Journal of Social Psychology, found that people who were excited about the event estimated there were fewer people in line ahead of them than people who were only lukewarm about attending. He also found that the excited people were in a better mood.
If I were waiting in line to pick up tickets for the Rolling Stones, I might estimate the line to be much shorter. Conversely, if I were waiting for tickets to a Saved by the Bell reunion, I might be really irritated.
Waiting in line does play with your head. Several years ago, the Houston airport found it was receiving an inordinate number of complaints about the baggage wait, even though it never took more than eight minutes to go from getting off the plane to grabbing the suitcase. The problem was that it was a one-minute walk to baggage and a seven-minute wait for luggage to come rolling into the baggage carousel. The airport had a simple solution: Baggage was moved farther from the terminal. It was now a six-minute walk and a two-minute wait. The complaints stopped.
Cinergy Field has ten gates. Our tickets say, enter gate four.
Gates open ninety minutes before game time weekdays and two hours before the game on weekends. At 12:15, exactly one hour before game time, we hand our tickets to the ticket taker at Gate 4 and, as he tears off the stub, Will and I push through the turnstiles.
Turnstiles are God's way of letting you know you are getting fat. I can still ease through, but the man in front of me must turn sideways.
The primary purpose of the turnstile is crowd control. This way, the team ensures that no one without a ticket gets in. The turnstile also keeps a spectator count
Stadium architect Rod Sheard says a stadium needs one turnstile for every 500 to 750 spectators. If the Reds are expecting a crowd of 25,000, which is about average for a Saturday afternoon game, they need at least 33 turnstiles, three at every gate. Our gate has four.
The downside to turnstiles is they are expensive and slow down entry to the stadium. Your basic turnstile, featuring registering, guide rail, and floor tread, will run you $2,615, plus shipping. The average turnstile allows about 750 fans to pass through per hour.
The turnstile has its origins on English farms of the first millennium.
A farmer had his crop field and his livestock field, and never the twain should meet, otherwise the livestock would eat the crops. So, he separated the two with a stone fence. After tiring of climbing over the fence to go from vegetables to meat, he built a stile in the wall. There might be a couple of steps up, a short platform, and a couple of steps down on the other side, but climbing steps would get tiring.
The next step was to tear down the stile, put a post in the ground and mount a cross of wood on top, sort of like the propeller on a plane. The farmer could go from crop to livestock without climbing or bending, but merely by walking through this propeller, which was wide enough for his torso but much too narrow to allow a cow through (that is, if a cow was smart enough to figure out this new kind of gate).
The farmer's old stile had been replaced by a turnstile.
It would be a thousand years before anyone made an improvement on this simple turnstile. In 1928, a pair of New Englanders named John Perey and Conrad Trubenbach designed a mechanical turnstile that looked like a three-legged stool on its side. Push against the top leg and it releases while the second leg shoves you on through from behind. It's a concept that's still working three quarters of a century later, and the company founded by John Perey to manufacture turnstiles is still one of the industry leaders.
In the twenties, Perey and Trubenbach patented the two most popular styles of turnstiles: the three-wing full-height turnstile, which the company calls the Roto-Gate, and the three-arm waist-high turnstile, the Passimeter.
Today, there are all sorts of variations on these original designs, including the optical turnstile, which has no arms at all, but the basic turnstile is still the entry gate of choice for almost every ballpark, theme park, and racetrack.
Why? The Perey Company says, "There is still only one absolutely reliable way to ensure ONE entry per ticket and ONE count per person; that is the venerable turnstile."
The initial investment may be steep: forty turnstiles can run a ball club over a hundred grand, but turnstiles are durable: The average service life is thirty-five years. (Churchill Downs only recently replaced the turnstiles it purchased in 1938.) Turnstiles are virtually maintenance free, requiring only a squirt of oil every eighteen months or so. Modern turnstiles are manufactured so that you don't have to replace the entire machine; you can upgrade.
The Reds use basic Perey turnstiles. The turnstile industry is on the cutting edge today with such products as Tomsed Turnstiles, "Mantrap Turnstile," a full-height, high-security turnstile with a two-stage entry process that includes a biometric identity verification device, all for only $13,036.
We don't need this at the ballpark, at least not at any ballpark I want to go to.
As the usher hands me back my stub, I look down at it. Once tickets were a thing of beauty, gorgeously printed, something you could frame and hang on the wall. My little two-inch by three-inch remnant features cheap computer printing with only the basics on it: date, game, seat number and price. No lithograph of the field, not even the Reds logo. It resembles the cash register tape you get at the grocery store. There's even a buy-one-get-one-free Subway coupon on the back.
Somewhere in my mother's house are the tickets to that long-ago Reds game. They had the little Redlegs man with a bat, printing in multicolored ink so you could differentiate seating information from all the notices and warnings and information. Simply put, they were pretty.
My ticket today is a muddle of gray and black.
This ticket would make William Gillenwater's heart sink. Gillenwater was the president of Arcus-Simplex-Brown, Inc., which was, in 1959, the world's largest ticket printer. When Gay Talese of the New York Times interviewed him in his office that year, the writer remarked on all the framed tickets on the wall, for everything from World Series to prizefights to Broadway shows.
Gillenwater was proud of the craftsmanship of his tickets, proud of the look, and of the printing technology that meant none of his tickets had ever been counterfeited.
"When you tear apart one of our tickets you'll notice various colors sandwiched between the layers of the cardboard," he told Talese. "Well, we change those colors each time. Sometimes we'll have three colored layers of paper inside the ticket. Ticket takers look for this when they rip your ticket."
All that beauty, all that security and yet, he said, each ticket costs less than one cent to make.
Disappointingly drab tickets in hand and the turnstiles behind us, it's time to find our seats!
Copyright © 2003 by Vince Staten.
Meet the Author
Vince Staten is the author of ten previous books, including Do Bald Men Get Half-Price Haircuts? and Do Pharmacists Sell Farms? (Did Trojans Use Trojans? in paperback). His articles have appeared in the Saturday Review, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Kentucky Monthly, Bon Appetit, and others. He teaches feature writing at the University of Louisville and lives in Prospect, Kentucky, with his wife, Judy, (their son, Will, is a freshman in college), and a cat, Lassie.
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