Once again, MLB, please let fans post classic video clips on youtube. Seriously.
I am of the age that my baseball memories go back to about... oh... 1987. Really, the first year I truly remember was 1988. That was the first year I could follow things well enough -- and read well enough probably -- that I could really make sense of a player, in a game, on a team, in a season context.
And 1988 was the Kirk Gibson year. I watched his home run live. (For some reason, I hated the Dodgers that whole playoffs, I think because of Mickey Hatcher. I wanted the Mets to beat them in the NLCS and then I was going for the A's. I started crying when Gibson homered.)
This is another debate, but that's probably one of the three most dramatic home runs of the last... what... 50 years? It flipped a World Series game. It took place in one of the game's great venues. It was utterly cinematic, stunning and expected all at once. It saw a very myth-friendly hero on a myth-friendly team defeat a guy who seemed like some evil robotic newfangled creation.
Watch the reaction the Dodgers have at the end of the Gibson HR. Lasorda is running around being Tommy Lasorda. I think that's Hatcher in the video being annoying and cheering like his hair's on fire. Notice also Orel Hersisher awkwardly trying to figure out what to do and sorta gingerly patting Gibson on the back. Three of four guys hug him at the plate. If Gibson's HR was to happen in this year's playoffs, the celebration would literally end with a teammate taking out a gun and shooting him. That's really all that's left from the extended moshing/hitting each other/pie-face sequence. Just kill the guy cause we're all crazy and havin' fun.
Ozzie Smith's 1985 HR is another good data point. The video isn't terribly clear, but it looks like Smith was just about to the dugout before three or four guys met him and started hugging.
Jeff Francoeur's game winning single against Texas back in early May was cheered, on the field, to a much greater extent than Ozzie Smith's homer. As best as I can measure, it was cheered roughly the same amount as Gibson's HR. For all we know, Yost was going just as nuts as Lasorda, only Yost isn't fat in a funny way or famous, so the camera has no need to show him. The Francoeur play is just about the most milquetoast game winning play I could find: early season, the game was already tied, it was a game winning single. Mike Aviles hits a lazy sac fly in an already tied game? Same thing. One of my favorite overwrought celebrations is Jason Bourgeois's game-winning single in some godforsaken Astros game. It's a bit of a slow build, but keep watching. It's a borderline riot at the end.
If we're trying to think about a timeline, I'd offer that the turning point was the beginning of the last decade. (9/11 changed everything.) By the early 2000s, if you hit a game-winning post-season HR, pandemonium was breaking out. Which is acceptable. Here's Aaron Boone's 2003 winner, for example. But it has got to be a special moment to really bring out the Grecian revelry.
Obviously, "moshing" or whatever you want to call that jumping thing, had to be invented and then it had to go mainstream and then it had become something that you could do at a middle school dance as "Jump Around" played. Was ESPN showing way too much college baseball every summer, with their endless and accelerating dog piles, a symptom or a cause?
The curious thing is that, despite occasional howls of outrage, the celebrations in the NBA and the NFL are, arguably, more restrained than they were in the late 1980s through the 1990s. Remember, the NFL used to market endzone celebration highlight reels, right along big hits videos. The 1980s Redskins were beloved as an old-school football team, yet they had the Smurfs doing group celebrations that would cause the internet to melt today. Why is baseball in some weird cultural lag/counter-current?
MLB's video policy is designed to destroy conversations like this, so I'll close with a question and an argument.
Question: when did the walk-off mob, with the whole team (or 80% of the team at least) meeting at the plate or racing out onto the field truly become the standard response?
Argument: a mosh-pit for a game winning single, sac fly, or otherwise normal play, 90% of the time, is totally uncalled for in a regular season game. If it's September 20 and you're in a pennant race and you were down three in the 9th, sure. If it's April 27 and your single broke a 2-2 tie that had existed since the 7th and you're an Astro... calm down.