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Decades ago, if you wanted your job to be "children's game expert," you really had to earn your keep. Rulebooks almost universally forced every player to play every minute of every game; if they didn't, they needed a fantastic reason, like being dead and ... well, that's about it. Even actively dying players were expected to finish the game before moving on to warm that big bench up in the sky.
Half of this lineup was technically zombies. What'd you think "dead ball era" meant?
In the world of baseball, this meant no relief pitchers, no closers, and no pinch-anything. If somebody started the game, they had to finish it. If they sucked eggs that day, they simply switched positions with another guy and tried to do better. If they still sucked, then the manager had them shot on the field like an injured racehorse. Sources are a bit fuzzy about that last part, but given how seriously they took everything back then, it makes perfect sense.
It wasn't just baseball; football expected everybody to play everything, too. Substitutions were strictly forbidden, making offensive and defensive players one and the same. They didn't sit on the sidelines and drink Gatorade until it was their turn to play again. It was always their turn.
This idea has been abandoned by anyone other than kids playing pick-up games in the street. Baseball has allowed substitution and bullpens since 1889, and football teams have had separate offensive and defensive lines since 1950. And that's fine, if you're cool with watching soft and squishy people half-ass your favorite sport. After all, what's more impressive: pitching an entire game, or showing up late to strike out one guy and then leave?
"OK, we're really blowing this, so ... quarterback and nose tackle -- you guys switch. Tight end, you're our kicker now, and that one cheerleader with the crazy eyes? Get her a helmet; she's our new running back. Go team!"
The early world of sports was just plain merciless on bad teams. Scores of shitty squads died unceremonious deaths every year, because either their win-loss record made Charlie Brown's team look like the Yankees or they pulled in less money than a lemonade stand set up in the Australian Outback.
The New York Mutuals, for example, were a horrible old-timey baseball team that couldn't even afford to travel out West and lose their road games. That, combined with a nickname that they might have ripped off from a local insurance company, sealed their fate. Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets played for two years in two different basketball leagues. They sucked both years and were mercy-killed rather quickly.
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Today's Denver Nuggets pay tribute to their namesake by vomiting all over each other every single year.
Perhaps it's high time we revisit the Crappy Club Purge Era, because seeing 40,000-seat stadiums jam-packed with 9,000 apathetic drifters posing as fans is only slightly less depressing than children caught in the middle of an active war zone. Also, there are teams that, when they know they don't have a shot at making the playoffs, will intentionally tank their season to get a better draft pick the following year. How's THAT for sportsmanship? Sadly, thanks to every problem being buried under piles of money nowadays, we'll probably see the sun die out before another awful team closes up shop. The closest we come now is when a team gets sold to another billionaire, who then gives his new toy free range to suck someplace else. That's like cutting out a cancer and then sticking it in another patient's body.
"Don't worry, we've got a pretty good idea of what we're doing. Besides, it's for science."
Obviously, today's sporting world is a bit more organized, so we couldn't just kick out a team for a couple of shitty seasons; every team goes through that. But if some squad goes, say, 15 years without a winning season and without filling at least 50 percent of their venue annually, then they're not a pro sports team, and the league should have every right to kick their ass out.
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The Pittsburgh Pirates: 1887-2007, in a perfect world.