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Sports fashions change, and so do the games themselves

Basketball’s centers and baseball’s 20-game-winning pitchers are things of the past.

© John McDonnell/The Washington Post Virginia freshman guard Kihei Clark had 12 points, six assists and four rebounds in Thursday's 53-49 win against Oregon in the NCAA tournament round of 16. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

By Fred Bowen, The Washington Post

I’ve been watching a lot of college basketball lately, and I’ve noticed that some of the teams are going back to shorter shorts. Not as short as players wore in the 1980s, but clearly above the knee.

That reminded me that just as sports fashions change, so do the games themselves. Some aspects of sports have disappeared.

In baseball, you don’t see many 20-game winners. Years ago, the mark of a great starting pitcher was to win 20 games during the season. In 1971, 14 pitchers won 20 or more games, and in 1973, 13 pitchers won 20 or more. Last season, only two pitchers won 20 games. In 2017, not a single major league pitcher won 20 games.

Why are 20-game winners disappearing? Managers use more relief pitchers, and so the starting pitchers often leave the game before the winning team is decided.

© Nam Y. Huh/AP Shaquille O’Neal, of the Los Angeles Lakers, slams one in during the 2004 NBA All-Star Game. Few teams today have centers that stay near the basket.

In basketball, centers are disappearing. Oh, I know teams usually have some tall player they call a center. But very few teams have someone like Shaquille O’Neal or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Those guys stayed close to the basket and scored from inside the paint. Now even 7-footers are shooting three-pointers . . . if they want to get playing time.

Football? You hardly ever see an offensive lineman in the National Football League (NFL) who weighs less than 300 pounds. Linemen on big-time college teams are huge, too. For example, all the offensive linemen on the Washington Redskins roster are listed at 300 pounds or more.

It wasn’t always like that. In the 1980s, the Redskins had a famous group of offensive linemen called “the Hogs.” Ask your parents and grandparents about those guys. Only one of the Hogs — tackle Joe Jacoby — was listed at more than 300 pounds. The other tackle, George Starke, was 260 pounds.

In kids’ sports, it seems there are fewer local neighborhood leagues and teams than years ago. More kids play on travel teams and go to tournaments held at faraway locations. That means kids’ sports are more expensive than ever. Maybe that’s why kids from wealthy families are twice as likely to play organized sports as kids from poorer families. That’s too bad.

Of course, it is not all bad that some things have disappeared from sports. Believe it or not, in the old days, National Hockey League (NHL) players didn’t wear helmets. The NHL started requiring some players to wear helmets only in 1979.

Those long basketball shorts haven’t been a safety hazard, but I wouldn’t be sad to see them go.

© Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post The Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer won 20 games in 2016. Few starting pitchers do that anymore because teams use lots of relief pitchers.





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Kids Magazine: Sports fashions change, and so do the games themselves
Sports fashions change, and so do the games themselves
Basketball’s centers and baseball’s 20-game-winning pitchers are things of the past.
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