My colleague Jim Dyar’s recent piece on “The Church of Baseball” got me thinking about my estrangement from the game.
Like Jim, I grew up a baseball fan. My Little League days provide some of my fondest childhood memories. From a young age, I lived and died with the Giants. My family took in games at Candlestick, the Oakland Coliseum, Dodger Stadium, Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, the Astrodome and the original ballpark in Arlington, Texas – where we saw Nolan Ryan and Catfish Hunter hurl dueling complete games in a 1-0 Yankees win.
Through high school, college and onward, I remained a Giants fanatic, and I endured dozens of bone-chilling nights at the ’Stick (anyone remember the Croix de Candlestick?). If I wasn’t at the ballpark, I was listening to the Giants’ game on the radio and usually hanging around for the “expert” commentary on Sports Phone 68 afterward. If there was a game on the radio – Giants’ game, A’s, Dodgers, a national broadcast, any game – while I was in the car, I listened to it. In 1991, I finally saw a ballgame at Wrigley Field, and the experience was even better than I had dreamt.
But all of that’s in my past. I haven’t watched more than about 20 innings of major league baseball during the last 15 years, and I saw those pieces of games only because I was stuck in an airport lounge or a hotel bar on a business trip, or visiting someone else’s house. These days, I don’t know where to find a Giants broadcast, and I couldn’t tell you who manages the team. I don’t even know who won the World Series last year.
What happened? Three things.
First, the Giants signed Barry Bonds as a free agent in 1993. This was long before Bonds became the biggest outlaw in pro sports, but I wanted nothing to do with the guy. He and I went to rival high schools at the same time, and even back then he was a well-known egomaniac and jerk. When he played in Pittsburg, I was among the many who ridiculed him as “Mr. August” because he put up big numbers at meaningless times and folded in the clutch. The Giants had had a similar player for years (hello, Jeff Leonard) and I was not eager to get another.
Second, the Giants failed to re-sign free agent first baseman Will Clark after the 1993 season. True, Clark had a sub par season in ’93, he had begun to struggle with injuries, and he wasn’t universally loved in the clubhouse. Still, Will the Thrill had been the team’s heart and soul for nearly a decade, he clearly had productive years still ahead of him, and – most importantly – he was my favorite Giant of the era.
When the Clark-less Giants started the 1994 season with Bonds as their undisputed star, my interest was already waning. Several months later, the unthinkable occurred: They canceled the World Series.
As you might recall, ’94 was a season of labor strife, and the players went on strike in August. In September, the owners pulled the plug on the playoffs and World Series. For me, that was the final straw. I considered the World Series a sacred trust, not a bargaining chip in an argument over money. How naïve I was.
When major league baseball resumed in 1995, it was without me. Like a betrayed lover, I was never going back.
For a few years, I made derogatory comments regarding baseball and got satisfaction saying I-told-you-so about Bonds. Over time, though, my anger and hurt evolved into apathy. I no longer cared about baseball. It’s not that I dislike the game itself. Heck, if I happen across a youth hardball game, I’ll stop and watch for a few minutes. What I disdain is the major league version of the sport.
Jim and many other baseball fans claim that the sport remains “our national pastime.” I’m not so sure. No longer blinded by the emerald diamond, I easily see that football – at the high school level in Ohio or Texas, at the college level in the South, in the NFL from coast to coast – is our country’s true sports pastime. For many of our best young athletes, baseball is a distant third choice behind football and basketball. It might even have fallen to fourth behind soccer.
I concede that no enterprise is more crassly commercial than the made-for-television product that the NFL has become. But I’m not here to argue about which sport is “better.” That’s a pointless debate.
All I know is that things change – and that seeking salvation in spectator sports that involve large sums of money is very risky.
Think I’ll head up to Brandy Creek Falls one more time. These days, it provides my positive diversion, one that no rich businessman or bullying jock can alter.
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and reached his peak as a second baseman at age 11. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.