"The great trouble with baseball today is that most of the players are in the game for the money and that's it, not for the love of it, the excitement of it, the thrill of it."
"(I'll) crush every bone in my crazy opponent's carcass and pound his flesh to a pulp!"
Those quotes sound like something torn of out of today's headlines, maybe an old baseball veteran lamenting the state of the game or a boxer engaging in hyperbole before a fight.
And yet the baseball quote is from Ty Cobb in 1925. The boxing quote is from Epeus, a soldier and boxer in Homer's Odyssey, which was written between 900 and 700 B.C.
Bill Baker, a sports historian who lives in Maine, says, "By and large sports have always been a commercial enterprise. In my view there is no golden past. It does a disservice to us all to mythologize the past and make it glow with innocence and amateurism. Such a view is simply not true. We've had professional sports since the beginning."
In his book "Sports in the Western World," Baker writes about the early Greek Olympics.
"For the first 300 years or so, the Games were dominated by athletes from wealthy families who could afford trainers and coaches, a proper diet (plenty of meat), full-time training and travel.
"Around 450 B.C., however, lower-class athletes began participating financed by local patrons and public funds drawn from taxes on wealthy citizens, they ran and fought to bring honor to their city-states as well as to themselves. Their city-states, in turn, rewarded them with cash prizes, free food and lodging."
These athletes eventually organized into guilds around the second century B.C., similar to organizations like the NFL Player's Association of today. Baker finds these Greek athletic guilds began to engage in bargaining for a say in such things as scheduling of games, travel, and pensions.
Critics of athletics applied the "dumb jock" stereotype to athletes such as Milo of Croton, who won the wrestling gold medal for six successive Olympiads. Milo gloated that no man had ever brought him to his knees and was known for carrying a bull carcass around the stadium before eating it.
"We don't whether he was a dumb jock because he didn't write and there are no interviews of him," Baker said. "But he was a convenient symbol for the poets and philosophers of Greece to point to the over-muscular, overzealous athletic type who couldn't do much else than grunt and hit people."
In the days of the Roman Empire, gladiators enjoyed a celebrity status for their fighting exploits.
"Gladiators were mainly slaves and criminals, but they were adored by many women," he said. "It was the machismo, the strength and the skill that made them celebrities. But look at sports in today's world.
"This past week hardly any of the women who cheered for Dallas' quarterback Tony Romo have any personal contact with him, but many interviewed would like to marry him. It's not just that he makes buckets of money. He's an alpha male. There's a similarity between that and the gladiators. It's the celebrity context.
"Many gladiators enjoyed celebrity status. People knew their names. The more they won, the better they ate and the more prostitutes they had. But their great success was mere survival."
As Baker chronicles in his book, the evils of sports gambling were denounced by the Puritans in late 1500s England. In the vein of "Rocky Balboa," English boxer Jack Broughton came out of retirement at age 46 in 1750 to take on a younger challenger.
Issues like franchises moving between cities are nothing new. The Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869 raided the rosters of the Washington, New York and Brooklyn teams for the best players but the roster was saddled with large salaries. The team couldn't make a profit. Manager Harry Wright took the best players with him to Boston. The nicknames of the Reds and Red Sox came to be traced back to this action.
Making more money outside of athletics than actually playing the game didn't start with Michael Jordan. In the late 1800s, boxer John L. Sullivan made $100,000 in the ring and more than $1 million from theatrical tours and lectures.
The notion of overpaid athletes didn't begin with free agency. When Babe Ruth held out for $80,000 in 1930, he was asked why he wanted more money than what President Herbert Hoover was making. Ruth said, "I had a better year than he did."
And yet, for all the similarities people exhibit throughout the centuries, it can also be said that humanity has taken a forward, progressive approach toward one another as the years have gone by.
Earlier in 2006, before Negro Leagues baseball star Buck O'Neil died, he came up short in a special election to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. O'Neil harbored no ill-will after learning the news.
"Don't shed any tears 'cause I'm not going to the Hall of Fame," O'Neil said. "You think about this. Here I am, the grandson of a slave. And, here the whole world was excited about whether I was going into the Hall of Fame or not. We've come a long ways. Before, we never even thought about anything like that.
"America, you've really grown and you're still growing."
TREVOR WILLIAMS, sports copy editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5866.
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