Change for a Nickel

Baseball’s image now? Super

During the latter stages of my Magazine Period — hey, Picasso had his Blue Period; my career has had Newspaper, Magazine and Dot.Com Periods — I merged into the press junket for a glitzy football movie.

Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday” didn’t become a mega hit, but it wasn’t for lack of star power. Al Pacino, James Woods, Ann-Margret, Cameron Diaz, LL Cool J. Jim Brown (yeah, that one) and Lawrence Taylor. A driving, hip-hop soundtrack.

As I sat around tables rubbing elbows with the glitterati, the lifelong baseball fan in me would come out in one recurring envious impression: “Man, these people are kicking back and talking football, and are about to ingrain it deeper into American culture with the big-screen treatment.”

It was 1999. McGwire-Sosa notwithstanding, baseball was still in its post-1994 strike funk. The game hadn’t changed, but perception of it certainly had. Bland, stodgy, arcane, languid, out-of-touch, obsolete — everything football, as seen through the lenses of “Any Given Sunday,” wasn’t.

NFL was Dr. Dre. MLB was Lawrence Welk.

And I remember thinking, “Baseball would kill to have an image like this.” I believe I even used that line in my published review of the movie.

Well, no body has ever been found. But the makeover was swift and dramatic and in 2016, baseball is firm on  the  cutting edges of sport and technology — hip, global, social, 24/7, accessible, urban AND urbane.

The plot to reclaim America began with the advent of MLB.com in 2001 — only two years after “Any Given Sunday” was pulling cultural rank.

Bud Selig, Bob Bowman, Dinn Mann, all 30 club owners brilliantly masterminded the caper … and I, along with all the charter staffers of MLB.com, were accessories to the crime.

Guilty, as charged.