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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Football, at 75, Shows Wisdom Beyond Baseball's Years

NEW YORK -- In the simplest of terms, the National Football League has honored its logo. That might not seem like much in these days of mass merchandising, but major-league baseball failed a similar responsibility. It could not finish what it promoted as a landmark season.


The sight of 1994 athletes gamboling around in depression-era uniforms might strike some as silly and, in the cases of games played on artificial turf in domed stadiums, downright incongruous. Nevertheless, the use of old-time jerseys serves as a vivid reminder of how far the sport has evolved in the 75 years since George Halas and a group of Midwestern businessmen mapped plans for a professional league in a Canton, Ohio, auto showroom. At the very least, it makes us pine for the sight of a Hupmobile, the first official car of the NFL.


Already, we have been treated to a 75th anniversary video -- replete with wondrous action footage if devoid of serious issues -- a 75th anniversary coffee-table book and a 75th anniversary all-time team guaranteed to offend many and provoke the kind of debate on which all sports feed. And when the member clubs return to their contemporary uniforms, the 75th anniversary patch will be clearly visible each Sunday until the culmination of the 1994 season in January at Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium. Players may mutter about the salary cap that has financially squeezed some veterans but the NFL has been assured of labor peace for the duration of the century.


Baseball might have enjoyed a successful look back while celebrating the 125th anniversary of its first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Indeed, MLB Properties went to the trouble of designing a logo that was made into a patch that was sewn onto the sleeves of all major-league uniforms at the start of the season.


Alas, those uniforms have been stored in clubhouses since mid-August. Such is the wisdom of the forces controlling the sport that, at a time of year when its vibrant pennant races traditionally command our utmost attention, baseball has been reduced to a marathon documentary. Telecast on public television, no less.


Once again, the proprietors of the game have paid only lip (or logo) service to history. While the Ken Burns epic presents a strong case for baseball as the true American sport, indigenous to our culture and virtually a mirror of our soul, the people who own the bats and balls have precipitated a season-ending strike that diminishes the game's eroding grip on the country. Might we be witnessing the dawn of the national passed time?


What a tremendous boost the nine-part television series might have been for baseball, which was enjoying a stellar season at the time of the work stoppage. Instead, it suggests progress has been achieved mostly in matters of equipment. While it is true they do not make players like they used to, a position that can be interpreted in two ways after watching the profile of Ty Cobb, the owners appear to have changed little.


More than 100 years ago, Albert Goodwill Spalding and his peers succeeded in breaking the players' union although the fight threatened the very existence of the National League. The scenario is strikingly similar now. There is, however, a great deal more at stake financially.


The reason the filmmaker took on the project of telling the story of baseball from its infancy, of course, was its significance in the development of the United States. The sport connected the population in a subtle and satisfying way even as people migrated to the cities in increasing numbers, altering the social fabric of the nation. And it became the showcase for another great change when Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson on behalf of the Brooklyn Dodgers.


But the latter occurred almost half a century ago and baseball has not done much pioneering of late other than in the field of labor-management animosity. Consider the results of Sports Illustrated's recent effort to select the 40 individuals who have had the most profound impact on sports during the magazine's first 40 years of existence. The only honoree currently playing baseball happens to be a man whose lasting contribution was to basketball: Michael Jordan.


The months of September and October have been handed over to the NFL, which is alive and kicking, but not necessarily after touchdowns. Under the circumstances, Dan Marino's comeback from serious injury will receive our undivided attention. Montana may be beatified by November.


So it goes. Recall that the cover of the very first issue of SI featured a photograph of Eddie Mathews batting for the Milwaukee Braves at County Stadium. Forty years later, Selig issued his death warrant from the offices of the Milwaukee Brewers, located in the same ballpark. Maybe someone can fashion a logo out of such irony.