Major league baseball has its share of problems these days, and one that has the purists aghast as they look toward the future is the specter of more and more artificial turf. It started in 1965 when the late Judge Roy Hofheinz couldn't grow grass in the Houston Astrodome and decided to carpet the infield with something called ChemGrass. By the following year Hofheinz had installed three acres of the stuff, which by then had changed its name to the more catchy one of AstroTurf. Infielders who complained that ground balls now came at them like bullets out of a rifle, often with erratic twists, solved the problem by playing back on the outfield grass -- er, artificial turf.
Since then domed stadiums have sprung up in Seattle and Minneapolis, Montreal is about to add a roof to its playpen, and Toronto, also weather conscious, has plans on the drawing board for a new stadium. And if Vancouver becomes a National League expansion team in 1989, baseball will probably have yet another roof over its head.
Of course some teams that still play outdoors, like Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City, have also installed synthetic turf. Their excuse is that it's a way to keep maintenance costs down, and that the stuff drys so fast it enables games to be played even after heavy rains that would force postponements on grass.
So whether indoors or out, it seems likely that the problem is going to get worse and worse over the years.
Meanwhile traditionalists shudder every time some pencil pusher in the front office, who only cares about the figures in a ledger, tries to pass off a romp on a rug as genuine Abner Doubleday baseball. Balls bounce so high on artificial grass that a sharp line drive between outfielders can sometimes wind up scaling the fence for a ground rule double.
The sameness of all these new stadiums with their artificial fields takes away many other aspects of the game too.
``When I broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers, you couldn't possibly pitch the same way in Ebbets Field as you did in the Polo Grounds because of the way the parks were structured,'' explained Hall of Famer Don Drysdale. ``You had to think about distances and you also had to remember if this was one of those fields where the home groundskeeper had tilted the third base foul line in favor of anyone who could bunt.
``Back then a player had to hit the ball out of the park to get a home run. Now, if he's playing on synthetic turf, he sometimes gets one with a hard grounder that takes off through the infield with such force that even an outfielder can't cut it off.''
Shortly after David Letterman, the glib late-night talk-show host described relief pitcher Terry Forster of the Atlanta Braves as a ``fat tub of goo,'' Forster somehow got through the door of Letterman's TV studio for an interview. Letterman and Forster not only talked the situation over, but Terry brought along a David Letterman sandwich, one he said had a lot of tongue in it! ``I haven't always been this big,'' the hefty hurler joked. ``It just snacked up on me.''
The 6 ft. 4 in. Forster, who is probably several pounds heavier than the 220 credited to him in the Braves' media guide, is that rare brand of pitcher who knows how to hit. In fact, Forster's 14-year major league average going into this season was an amazing .419. Terry also played high school basketball with the NBA's Bill Walton and football with former NFL, now USFL quarterback Brian Sipe.
There is ongoing speculation that only an MVP kind of World Series, assuming the California Angels get that far, can save third baseman Doug DeCinces from being traded before the start of next season. The Angels are simply tired of having to deal with DeCinces' physical problems, which often crop up unexpectedly. California also thinks the time has come for rookie Jack Howell to take over regularly at third base. Howell, who has some home run power, was leading the Pacific Coast League in hitti ng when the Angels recalled him in early August. After first talking about buying a minor league franchise two years ago, Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett and his three brothers (Bobby, John, and Ken) are now technically in the ownership side of baseball. Brett and his partners have reached an agreement to purchase the Spokane (Washington) Indians of the Class-A Northwest League. Target date for the actual takeover is Sept. 15. Ken Brett, a former major league pitcher, is expected to become the Indians new manager.