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A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s

by Dan Epstein

Pub Date: May 25th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-60754-8
Publisher: St. Martin's

A delightful history of the “weirdness, hairiness, overall funkiness, and sheer amusement” that was America’s pastime in the 1970s.

By the beginning of the decade, the cultural revolution of the ’60s had reached a last bastion of tradition, baseball. Drugs, fashion, the sexual revolution, Black Power and an insistence on quirky individualism all left their mark on the game. The era began with Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis throwing a no-hitter in 1970 while on LSD, and ended with the Chicago White Sox “Disco Demolition” night in 1979 that resulted in the worst on-field riot in baseball history. In between appeared an array of “charismatic rebels, flakes, and hard-nosed hustlers” who challenged many conventions of the game. There was also plenty of good baseball, writes managing editor Epstein (20th Century Pop Culture, 2002). The author proceeds year-by-year through the decade, highlighting the great teams, players and moments: the Oakland As dynasty of the early ’70s; Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine; Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home-run record; Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in one World Series game. But it’s the quirkiness of the era and its players that captivates. For a time, baseball became a game played on an artificial surface that bore no relation to real grass, and players wore form-fitting polyester uniforms in “retina-searing color combinations that would’ve made Ty Cobb choke on his chaw.” Hair was everywhere, from giant Afros to voluminous mustaches. Epstein also discusses the more serious issues of the time, such as the struggle of African-Americans to gain entrance to upper-level positions in baseball, and Frank Robinson becoming the first black manager, in 1975. By the dawn of the ’80s, the weirdness was pretty much over, as “team uniforms gradually became, on the whole, less colorful, and so did the players themselves.”

Baseball fans and non-fans alike will revel in this loving look at a long-gone era.