There was a time in my life when I lived, ate, breathed, and coughed up baseball.
As a tyke, I played Little League Baseball and did quite well at my favorite position, the “tallstop” (and as you recall from this post, I had an aversion to the word “short” when I was young due to my lack of verticality). I occasionally did stints on the pitching mound and I was semi-decent in the batter’s box. However, I never graduated to the next level of organized baseball and was forced into an early retirement because I could not master hitting a curveball.
Now, while my playing days were over, I still enjoyed going to the ol’ ball game at one of two local stadiums – the Big “A” of the California Angles and Dodger Stadium in beautiful Chavez Ravine. When I couldn’t make it to the stadium during school nights, I would sneak a transistor radio under my pillow and listen to the dulcet tones of announcer Vin Scully weave me a picture of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, and the rest of the Blue Crew take on the visiting nine.
I loved baseball to such a degree that I collected baseball cards. My prized possession from this collection of rectangular cardboard smelling faintly of chewing gums is this 1977 rookie card of shortstop Ozzie Smith. He is most famous for playing the St. Louis Cardinals, but he began his Hall of Fame career with the San Diego Padres.
I have a fairly decent collection of cards from 1977-1979. Then I gave up the hobby for a while, but came back to it in the early 1990s. The gem of that later collection was to be my 1992 Topps Gold featuring pitching phenom Brien Taylor, but his career never took off. So instead, the diamond of my 90s cards is my 1992 Shawn Green rookie card.
I loved baseball to the degree that I learned how to keep a score book before my age turned double digits. As an example of this ability (which I have yet to put on my official CV), I offer this artifact, my score sheet from the 1980 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The National League would win this version of the Midseason Classic by a score of 4-2. You can see in the middle of this picture that Ken Griffey (from the Cincinnati Reds) hits a homerun in the fifth inning and Dave Concepcion (also from the Reds) comes home in the seventh to score the NL’s final run. I kept the score in pencil, because substitutions are rife during an All-Star Game and I had to be sure I could erase names if needed. For the home town fans, three members of the Dodgers are in the starting lineup (Reggie Smith, center field; Steve Garvey, first base; and Bill Russell, shortstop). Also, the Dodgers’ Jerry Ruess picks up the win.
Fun Fact: This contest is also the last time (to date) that the All-Star Game has been played in Los Angeles.
I loved baseball to such a degree that in 1992 my former college roommate and I set out on an epic quest across two countries to see a baseball game in every Major League stadium. The trip lasted two and a half months (May 1 – July 14) and along the way, I picked up a souvenir in each and every stadium. Just to make this task of collection keepsakes more interesting, I tried to never duplicate a souvenir. Below is a sample of what I bought:
A bat from Atlanta, a visor from Pittsburgh, a mug cozy from Chicago, and sunglasses from Kansas City are all part of the items I purchased along the way. I had once planned to build some sort of curio cabinet to house and display all the twenty-six souvenirs that I bought during this sojourn, but it never happened. So, these items sit in a large yellow plastic bag in a box in our basement.
However, that was then.
I do not love baseball to any degree now.
I haven’t been in the inside of a baseball park in over a decade. I only watched the 2016 World Series to see if the Cubs could finally break the Curse of the Billy Goat. I have no idea who won the 2016 All-Star Game, much less name any player who would have been it.
So what happened?
This is that story.
The first strike came in August of 1994 when baseball players went on strike in response to a salary cap proposal floated by the owners of the teams. Regardless of which party was on the side of the angels, it was a blow to my fandom that both players and owners would take their dispute to such an extreme that they would snub their fans and cancel a whole season.
The game came back in 1995, but I did not. In protest, I stayed away from baseball for the 1996 and 1997 seasons.
However, like a jilted lover still pining for the one who spurned them, I forgave and came back to the National Pasttime just in time for the exciting 1998 homerun chase between the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa. This was the episode where these two players were battling it out not only against each other to see who could hit the most round-trippers in a season, but both were also hot on the heels of the all-time season record set by the Yankees’ Roger Maris when he hit 61 HRs in 1961. Ultimately, both would beat Maris’s mark as McGwire finished with 70 and Sosa hit 66.
It was a wonderful time to be a baseball fan as the HR Chase not only brought me back to the game, but many others disillusioned by the strike also returned.
Of course, we now know why Sosa and McGwire were able to perform such a magnificent feat – steroids – and that brings me to Strike Two against baseball.
It is my contention, and I’ll never be able to prove it, that many people in the baseball world (players, coaches, executives, journalists) knew that players were using steroids, but no one uttered a word so as to not upset the apple cart. Remember, the fans were just starting to come back and some still had the bitter aftertaste of the strike in their mouth. The last thing Major League Baseball needed was another black eye to drive the fans away.
It really wasn’t until Jose Canseco’s 2005 book, Juiced, came out that steroid use in baseball was taken seriously. The fact that most folks connected to baseball – again, in my opinion – did nothing about what in hindsight seemed to be a rather obvious problem was another reason I moved away from baseball. It was simply too hard to trust this organization and also give them any of my money (and games are not cheap).
However, the third strike came in 2015.
Starting in 2011, I and my family moved overseas. First, for two years, we lived in Lima, Peru. Then, starting in 2013, we moved to the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok. You will note that baseball is not a big sport in either of those two locations. Soccer is big in Peru and badminton is huge in Thailand. So, for a good four year stretch, I did not see a game of baseball in person or on television.
It was during the summer of 2015, while visiting relatives in Virginia, that I was able to finally see a complete baseball game. The Baltimore Orioles were playing some team on television and I sat down and watched. As I viewed the pitcher hurl the ball, the batter swing and miss, the catcher throw the ball back to the pitcher, the TV show a close-up of some coach or other pick wax out of his ear, then switch to a shot of a fan scarfing down a hot dog, and then watch the whole process repeat itself, it dawned on me that baseball is an excruciatingly slow and boring game.
No, it’s more than that. It’s downright dull.
I had loved baseball to such a degree that I was blind to its faults. It was only when I was away from the game and could see it with new eyes that the sport of baseball whiffed its third and final strike for me.
So now, for me, there is no joy in Mudville.
That’s my story.
P.S. There’s an origin story about the bat bought in Atlanta that features a precocious kid, but that’s a tale for another inning.