When Hair, Fashion, Drugs, Disco and Baseball Collide: 'Big Hair and Plastic Grass'

Baseball remained largely insulated against the tumult of the previous decade, but the shadow of the '60s loomed large over the early '70s.

Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging '70s

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition
Length: 368 pages
Author: Dan Epstein
Price: $15.99
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2012-06

Our memories section off decades into neat blocks of time as if they were more than just ten-year increments of life going on as usual. Especially in the second half of the 20th century, each new decade became more distinct from the last, and it’s hard wired this metric into our memories as well as the way historians approach their subjects. Examining the '60s is interesting because of the social, political, and sexual upheaval which dominated the times, but the driving force behind much of that change--the Baby Boomers--merely came of age during that time. It was in the '70s that they grew up, for better or for worse.

Dan Epstein’s Big Hair and Plastic Grass takes us out to the ball game in the '70s, a time when hair, fashion, drugs, and disco collided with America’s past time, often with strange results. In his introduction Epstein writes that “the golden age of baseball... almost always refers to the era during which you first fell in love with the game,” and it’s this idea which inspired him to write to write the book. Epstein’s love for his material is obvious and infectious, and one needn’t be a child of the '70s to enjoy his telling.

Baseball, Epstein writes, remained largely insulated against the tumult of the previous decade, but the shadow of the '60s loomed large over the early '70s. Woodstock’s peace and love and even the thrill of the moon landing were all tainted by events like the Tate-Labianca murders, the tragedy at Altamont, the Stonewall riots, and the continuing specter of Vietnam.

The game’s conservative facade began to crack early in the decade when African American players like Dick Allen began to speak openly about racial issues in the country and the game, and Curt Flood famously set in motion the labor feuds which helped usher in the era of the free agent. Drug use, though already prevalent in the form amphetamines or “greenies”, came to the fore with Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s admission of sprinkling marijuana on his pancakes, and pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter while tripping on LSD.

Epstein chronicles each season like a wonderfully constructed short story, filling in just enough details of baseball’s long, slow seasons to give us the whole picture. There are heroes, like the Pirates Roberto Clemente, who died in a helicopter crash while delivering supplies to earthquake victims; and there are villains, like the Oakland A’s notoriously cheap owner Charlie Finley, a man who wouldn’t spring for real jewels on his team’s World Series rings. Throughout the book, Epstein sorts through the rise of bland stadiums, Astroturf, the designated hitter, and a rainbow of uniforms with a clarity and humor that will make you want to run to the nearest ballpark or, failing that, go to the backyard to have a catch.

The book’s only drawback is something of a necessary evil. Baseball is a statistics-laden game, and the endless stream of batting averages, ERAs, RBIs, and home run totals feels like homework after a while. It would be incomplete without this tsunami of numbers, though, and it wouldn’t be much of a baseball book, either. The numbers are the game, even if they start to run together after a while.







The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.


Raashan Ahmad Talks With PopMatters About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.