Unemployment had me doing a lot of things I wouldn’t have otherwise been doing. Wearing slippers during all waking hours was a new thing for me, as was talking to the preschool moms about what was on sale and where each week. But perhaps the weirdest thing I did was spend a lot of time — really way, way too much time — on Facebook. It’s a weird little word on there, mostly because the people who are the busiest and have the most interesting lives are the ones with the least amount of time to update their pages. As a result, me and every other unemployed person, stay-at-home parent, and/or college student update multiple times a day, take weird quizzes, seek out people to whom they haven’t spoken since Reagan’s first term, and engage in all manner of other social networking tom foolery. It’s sad, yes, but it’s better than sitting alone in a room watching The Price is Right. Well, at least since Bob Barker retired, anyway.
But perhaps the weirdest thing to hit Facebook in recent months was the “25 Random Things About Me” meme. You’ve no doubt heard about it. Someone tags you, and you’re required to write 25 random things about yourself, post it, and tag ten or twenty other people and on and on it goes. I did it. So did a lot of my friends. There’s a pretty heavy backlash against it hitting right now. Actually, we may be on to the backlash against the backlash. I’m not sure, because I haven’t read Slate this month, and they’re the ones that keep track of this sort of thing. But I really don’t care. I kind of liked the meme, because when well-written, they can almost be lyrical, and even when they’re bad, hey, I like to learn random things about people, even if one of those things is that I hope I never get caught talking to them alone at a cocktail party.
As I said in the previous post, I’m not following the news that closely this week, so I’m putting up some more general stuff. Someone may one day kill me for doing this, but I think one of the general posts I’d like to do is a variation on the 25 random things thing, this time adapted to baseball. If this enrages you, fine, skip it and click over to one of those sports sites with a greater boobs-to-content ratio than this one or pick up a David Halberstam book or something. If not, feel free to write your own and I’ll post some of the better ones later in the week. Either way, feel free to mock me in the comments. God knows I wish I had the stones to mock some of the people on Facebook. So, without further ado:
25 Random Baseball Things About Me
1. I was a pretty poor excuse for a ballplayer as a kid. I was slow and had no discernible instincts or really any talents on the diamond. I did own a nice catcher’s mitt, though — Lance Parrish model; a gift from an uncle — and for some reason that caused my coaches to pencil me in at catcher way more often than they should have. No one was keeping track, but if they were, I would no doubt have been recognized as the all-time passed ball leader in Michigan and West Virginia Little League history.
2. By the time I got to Babe Ruth ball, they coaches wised up and stuck me out in left field where I couldn’t hurt anyone. The ballfields on which I played were smack dab in between giant DuPont and a Borg Warner chemical plants in Washington, West Virginia. The DuPont plant has since become famous for spewing a bunch of ammonium perfluorooctanoate — also called C8 — into the local water supply, which has been linked with infertility and cancer and stuff. I have had two normal children and don’t yet have cancer, so I’m guessing I lucked out. Apart from that, though, the ballfields were quite nice.
3. My brother, who is two years older than me, played on my first little league team. He was the exact opposite of me: supremely talented, but not all that interested. I was playing in my first or second game when I got hit in the back by the opposing pitcher. It wasn’t dirty or anything—no one has control when they’re 11—and I took my base. In the next half inning, my brother was on the mound and the other team’s pitcher came to bat. Curt was jawing at him as he walked to the plate and beaned the kid in the helmet with his first pitch. All hell broke loose. As a rule I hate beanball shenanigans at any level, but I was really impressed with my brother that day.
4. I went to my first Major League game on the Fourth of July, 1978. It was the Tigers-Blue Jays at Tiger Stadium. I don’t remember a thing about it. The first one I do remember was June 17, 1979 against the Angels. Alan Trammell hit a home run that day and he instantly became my favorite player.
5. I went to dozens of games at Tiger Stadium between 1978 and 1984, using my great uncle’s season tickets. He first bought them back in the 40s or something, and they were right behind home plate. Because I was brought up sitting in such good seats, to this day I am somewhat miffed if I have to sit in bad seats at a ballpark, and my attention easily strays from the action.
6. A friend of my father’s used to help organize a big baseball card show in Detroit every year. Because we knew him, he’d get us in to meet whatever ballplayers were signing cards without having to pay or wait on line. This allowed my brother and I to talk to a lot of them at length. Dan Quisenberry was, by far, the nicest ballplayer I’ve ever met. Trammell was actually underwhelming, but at the time I chalked it up to his being preoccupied with saving Metro Detroit from threats from communists, Martians, and the Baltimore Orioles. Jack Morris was a total ass — maybe the most prolific ass of the entire 1980s. Hank Aaron had about 20 handlers and employees with him, and I kind of felt sorry for him. Stan Musial appeared to have driven in himself, accepted no star treatment whatsoever, and seemed like he’d grab a broom and help clean up if you had asked him. He asked me if I played ball. When I said yes, he said “that’s swell.”
7. This one was actually in my Facebook 25 things: For reasons involving one baseball card lying funny on top of another baseball card, from the time I first became aware of his existence sometime in 1978 or 1979 until the 1981 World Series, I thought that Graig Nettles was black. When I saw him on TV and told my dad of my confusion, he told me that Nettles used to be black until he “had the surgery.” I then spent a few weeks believing that people could have race-change surgery before my dad told me he was joking. I’m almost positive now that I was looking at a George Scott card and had it in my mind that he was Nettles.
8. Though he should be some kind of hero of mine given my Tigers’ fandom back in the day, I have always been vaguely creeped out by Kirk Gibson. I’m certain this has something to do with the fact that my mom, watching a Tigers game over my shoulder in the early-to-mid 80s, said that she really liked watching him run.
9. The great uncle with the Tigers’ season tickets was really more like my grandpa, we were so close. He died the second week of April, 1984. On the day of his funeral — a Saturday — we came back to his house and turned on the TV and watched the Game of the Week. Pete Rose had hit his 4000th hit the day before, and they were showing highlights. My uncle hated Pete Rose, so I took his little Montreal Moment as something of an affront. I decided later that the Tigers’ fast start and ultimate championship that year was cosmically arranged by the ghost of my great uncle, as was Pete Rose’s later disgrace. In hindsight this was silly. The Tigers were loaded that year and would have won with or without Uncle Harry’s help. Rose? I’m pretty sure Harry’s ghost dropped the dime on him.
10. For several years of my youth, I was strongly of the opinion that George Brett was the best baseball player of all time. People would mention Mantle, and I’d say “he was no Brett.” I don’t even know why I thought this, but I’m sure it had something to do with the chase for .400 in 1980 and some key hits to beat the Tigers over the years. Even later, when my brain and experience taught me that, yes, there were players better than George Brett, there was always part of me that felt like I was lying when I admitted it, and that yes, Brett was still the best.
11. For reasons I can’t recall, my parents got a subscription to USA Today in the mid 80s. I would spend hours looking at the stat packages they published mid-week, AL on Wednesday, NL on Thursday if I remember correctly. League leaders and team capsules were printed every day, much as they still are now. It wasn’t as good as the Sporting News, but I didn’t know that, because I didn’t get the Sporting News until few years later. As far as I was concerned I had hit the motherlode. With Baseball-Reference and ESPN’s sortable stats around no one needs those weekly stat packages anymore. Still, I probably pick up a USA Today two or three times a week, due to 20 year-old residual goodwill.
12. The first time I ever thought I could write about baseball for a living was in the spring of 1988. My Dad knew a sportswriter for the Parkersburg Sentinal and told him that his 14 year-old kid knew a bit about baseball. The reporter, seeking an angle for a preseason article, asked me to write up my predictions for the coming season to compare to his own. I spent a ton of time on mine, predicting not only the outcome of the pennant races, but postseason awards, random statistical events, and everything. I typed it all out on the world processor for my Commodore 64 (Speedscript!), and presented it to him. He had about a page and a half of handwritten notes with random weird stuff like “Sam Horn will hit 50 Homers!” He ended up not writing the piece, but I kept the predictions. Yeah, it was only Parkersburg, West Virginia, but mine were better and better-written than the pro’s were, and from that day on I knew I could do this if I set my mind to it.
13. I’ve been to thirteen major league ballparks: Tiger Stadium; Camden Yards; Veterans Stadium; PNC Park; Jacobs Field; Great American Ballpark; Miller Park; Wrigley Field; Kauffman; AT&T Park; Dodger Stadium; Angel Stadium; and Petco Park. Tiger Stadium is obviously my favorite, but that one aside, either Camden Yards or AT&T gets the nod. Least favorite: Great American Ballpark. There wasn’t a corner they didn’t cut on that joint, the fences are too close, and it’s facing the wrong damn way.
14. In the early 80s, the Lipton Tea Company printed up giveaway posters with covers of every World Series program on them, which were distributed at Tiger Stadium (and I’m guessing other parks too). My brother and each grabbed one and I had mine on my bedroom wall from the time I got it until I graduated high school. Because of it, I memorized the participants in every World Series in history, and can still recite them in order to this day. I lost it at some point, but last year my friend Todd found one on Ebay and bought it for me. I’m fixing to put it up in my son’s room. I’ll have to find something to supplement 1983-2008, however.
15. I switched from being a Tigers fan to being a Braves fan in the mid 80s after my family moved to West Virginia in 1985. I had weird feelings of guilt about this for years — not unlike someone might feel for having an affair — but it pretty much dissipated by 1988. You can read more about that here).
16. I always enjoyed playing catch more than actually playing baseball. I liked to pretend to be different pitchers when playing catch, and got pretty good at emulating their styles. I thought my Gene Garber was particularly good. So good, in fact, that I tried it out for my Babe Ruth coach with the idea that he could use me in a game, the misdirection and unorthodoxy of it all making up for my lack of velocity. The coach watched three pitches — two of which sailed on me — and walked away without a word. Needless to say, I was back in left field that day.
17. As a Braves fan, Game Seven of the 1991 World Series should have been the biggest must-see game of all time, but I missed just about all of it. I was a freshman in college, and I had gone back home that weekend to visit my girlfriend (who would one day become my wife), who was then still in high school. I stayed in West Virginia late into the day, and driving back up to Columbus that Sunday evening, I couldn’t get the game on the radio at all (it was a 1987 Cavalier and the radio was an obvious place where costs were cut). The first thing I heard of the game was on the radio in the shuttle bus which took me back to the dorm from the remote parking lot. I was getting near my dorm when Danny Gladden came to bat, and I told the driver I wasn’t getting out until I heard it end, so I’d just tag along with him for a while. Then Gladden hit the double and it was over. I had shed almost all of my superstitions by then, but part of me felt like my missing the game had something to do with the Braves losing.
18. In 1984, my family was on a vacation, driving through North Carolina, when my Dad saw a sign that said the town was the home of Gaylord Perry. He stopped the car, checked a directory at a phone booth, and 20 minutes later we were pulling up at Gaylord Perry’s house, where we ended up having lunch. Perry was really nice about it and gave us a bunch of free stuff, autographed baseballs, and everything.
19. For several years in the mid-to-late 90s, my baseball watching petered out to near non-existent levels. If it had not been for the Internet and my discovery of sabermetrics and sabermetric writing, I think it’s entirely possible that I would have lost touch with the game forever. At the very least I would have interacted with it in the same way I interact with pro football: I would have acknowledged it. I would have generally known what was going on during the season. I would have, however, watched very few games and cared very little about the outcome of any of them.
20. I went to the last game ever played in Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. On the way out, I discovered that a guy had parked with his bumper crammed up against mine. There was no apparent damage, but I was really upset, and impulsively keyed his car. Sixteen years later and I still can’t think about Municipal Stadium without pangs of guilt over my moment of vandalism. Still, it was that same 1987 Cavalier, and bad radio notwithstanding, I really loved that car.
21. My writing is informed by a lot of sabermetric/analytical content, but truth be told, I enjoy watching hit-and-runs, sacrifice bunts, and managers who let guys steal bases at will, even if they’re often not successful.
22. I enjoy dog day baseball way more than postseason baseball. I get antsy when games start to matter, and prefer games after which you can turn off the TV and not think much about them.
23. For all of the crap you hear about Dodgers fans, I have never been more impressed with a group of fans than I was with the people I sat near in Dodger Stadium for an interleague game in 2007. Contrary to the cliche, they came early, stayed late (it was a 10 inning game), paid attention, and were extremely knowledgeable. I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that we were up in the upper deck way down the third base line. These fans weren’t there because someone at the office got them tickets. They were there because they loved baseball and loved their Dodgers.
24. I’ve only been intoxicated at a ballpark once in my life, and that was for a day game at Wrigley Field in 2000. In fact, I think I was still intoxicated from the night before and used the ballpark Old Style as hair of the dog and just never slowed down. I had a good time, but I’d like to give Wrigley another chance, because I don’t think I showed it my best side, nor allowed it to show me its best side that day.
25. I’m afraid to go to a game in Comerica Park because I worry that I’d like it, and liking it would represent a betrayal to Tiger Stadium. Everything about me and baseball comes back to Tiger Stadium.
OK, that was longer than I thought it would be. Don’t feel the need to do it yourself, but if you do, I’d like to read it, whether it be in your own writing space if you’re a columnist or blogger-type, or simply in the comments or in an email if you’re a civilian.