Washed Clean From The Sins Of Pro Baseball

takeoutthumb

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.

shigley-mugshotPaul 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 pauls.anewscafe@gmail.com.

Avatar
has been a professional journalist since 1987. For 12 years, he served as editor or senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a statewide trade publication for land use planners, real estate development professionals and attorneys. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter or editor at newspapers in Redding, Grass Valley, Napa and Calistoga. Shigley's work also has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Planning magazine, Governing magazine, California Law Week, National Speed Sport News and elsewhere. In addition, he is co-author of Guide to California Planning, a college text and reference book, and is currently working on a book for the American Planning Association about the Bay Delta and California water resources. A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Shigley has contributed to A News Cafe since 2009. He and his wife, Dana, live in western Shasta County.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

10 Responses

  1. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Infidel.

    It's the inherent beauty of the game that counts, not the behavior of the players/management.

  2. Avatar gamerjohn says:

    I was raised on baseball by my Dad who played semi-pro in the years before WWII. I spent my summers taking grounders and throwing balls back and forth. I enjoyed the time with my Dad but I couldn't stand waiting for my at bat and counting blades of grass. In basketball I actually was involved all the time. In football I got to shove people around. The kickoff I ran back for a touchdown beat even the walk off homer I hit.

    I too have given up on baseball. I loved having Bonds on the Giants. It was electric at every one of his at bats. I loved the Bash Brothers in Oakland. Now with their faceless teams, who cares? Yankees buy everything. The national media only care about NY, Boston, and LA.

  3. Avatar Jon Lewis says:

    Thank god for the lone remaining truly pure sport of professional cycling 🙂

    Paul, you'd love the Giants these days. Totally hapless other than Lincecum & Cain. Work on those old Serra High issues and come back to the dark side. I beseech you in the name of Hank Greenwald.

    • Avatar Paul Shigley says:

      Ah, Hank Greenwald. The worse the Giants were, the more entertaining he became. But I wouldn't return to baseball even if Hank himself beseeched me.

  4. Avatar Jim Dyar says:

    I agree that the Bonds era was a rough one. I never rooted so hard against a team as when the Giants were in the World Series with Bonds. I just didn't want to see that guy win a championship (I know that could be considered small of me).
    But I agree with Jon, the Giants are a pretty fun team now.
    An argument could be made that ESPN has ruined the modern sports era with its rapid-fire highlights mixed with snarky quips. It's over hyping everything and Yankees and NBA and exploding graphics. Everything is a looping commercial within commercial.
    The NFL is the worst. It goes like this —
    Hank Jr. Commercial. Kickoff. Commercial. Three plays and punt. Commercial. Terry and Howie yuk yuk. Commercial. Penalty review. Commercial. Commercial.
    Even when you're watching the game, commercials are exploding all over the screen. Robots and graphics and posturing and hype and commercials. There's about 18 minutes of actual game during a three-hour broadcast.
    I'll pass (so to speak).

    • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

      Have you ever read Thomas Boswell's "Why Baseball is Better Than Football?"

      http://www.baseball-almanac.com/legendary/libvf10

      • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

        Dang. Link doesn't work. Google "why baseball is better than football."

        • Avatar Paul Shigley says:

          Football fans don't have to write such books because they don't feel a need to convince anyone. They know their sport is far more popular than baseball. Don't believe me? Compare the College World Series with the Bowl Championship Series. It's like comparing Kanaka Peak with Mt. Shasta. Or look up the 10 most-watched TV shows of all time. The list is dominated by one sporting event, and it ain't the World Series.

          Of course, people everywhere else in the world are counting the minutes until the World Cup starts. Go ahead, try to debate an Englishman or a Brazilian about which sport is better or more beautiful.

  5. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Popular does not equal better or more beautiful. If that was true, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus would rule the world, which, admit it, is a horrifying thought.

    The English, God bless 'em, and the Brazilians and the Swedes and everyone else can enjoy their favorite sport (though watching soccer is about as exciting as watching ice melt, IMHO). Baseball is the American pastime (also the Japanese, the Cuban, and the Dominican Republican).

  6. Avatar Don O'Connell says:

    The ‘94 season was hard on Giants fans and baseball fans alike. It also included cutting Matt Williams’ great home run year short. I too left for a number of years and had a terrible taste in my mouth that the excitement of Bonds and Kent could not fully remove but I have felt reborn over the last three years.

    Born in ’68 living in Enfield, CT just 5 miles from the Mass border you knew it was Red Sox country and that is a wonderful place to get the baseball bug. By age four I had a full uniform with the great number 8 and Yaz on the back. In ’74 we moved to California and flew in over Candlestick…a Giants fan was born.

    Now I am a father of five (ages 5-14) and am completing my third year of coaching little league for my boys (last year I had the rare opportunity of having all three of my boys on one team). Baseball in its pure sense is being handed down another generation and this Giants team is an easy sell.

    This pitching staff is definitely going to be the baseball memories of this youth and it is wonderful. Most of these pitchers overpower with precision that represents developed skill and chess like thinking. Each pitch allows the fan to see the intention and thought behind the strategy. You can see the brawn of the playground go down swinging due to the combo of intelligence, strength, and strategy of this pitching staff; it is poetry in motion. The mound is owned by a staff that is more interesting and easy to love then I have ever witnessed. All the pitchers offer their own drama and story that can be followed like chapters of a great book and one you never want to put down.

    The scrappy defense will offer the excitement that Uribe, Thompson, Williams and Butler once did. To see Sandoval protect the line you will be reminded of Matt Williams’ cat like quickness but that is where the comparison ends. Matty would continue quick, looking a bit rushed, and make a play that felt like a last dramatic shot at the buzzer. The Panda deals in hope—he gives it and then takes it away. After Sandoval is in the dirt and gloved the ball, he moves up slower than Matt and gathers himself building drama and giving hope to the runner, he then unleashes an inhuman rocket throw that makes you wonder if it is really possible to do and as it catches and passes the runner beating him by six inches you are simply amazed.

    This team is full of veterans that have had shining moments like Sanchez’ batting title and Zito’s Cy Young, and you can see they are hungry for more. You can see the scrappyness of Huff, Torres and Rowan that will remind you of the young Astro killer B’s– always covered in dirt and leaving all on the field. You will see big men like Renteria and Uribe make fantastic plays and show more range than expected.

    Then there is the youth and promise of what is to come. You have a rocket arm in right with Schierholtz that almost allows excitement for a base hit to right as you anticipate the throw and drama to come. You can see that Eli, Bowker, Downs and Posey will all leave their marks on the MLB before they are done.

    I think the biggest connection with the Giants teams that we loved in the past is that this team will show the human side and its limitations. Cy Young and Batting Title champs will look weak at times. The Panda will swing at garbage. Huff and Rowan will look humble at the plate. Closer Williams is not the guarantee of Eckersly. Even the starting pitching will not go five at times but that is what builds the drama. It is what makes the kids able to feel the win with the team. It allows a child to believe in their dreams and to know that with humbleness and dedication you can persevere.

    If you are not watching today’s Giants then you are missing all that is right with baseball and all what you once loved….“And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come. The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come. People will most definitely come. “