I was standing in the queue at the local health food store with my basket full of over-priced, organic, local, vegan, cage-free crap when suddenly I was struck by a haze of fog known as boredom reminiscing. This phenomenon, where synapses are sparked by everyday mundane activities, usually takes me back to the 80’s and a much more simpler time before parents were “enlightened helicopters” and kids started bringing guns to school to solve their commonplace problems.
While in this haze I’m begging my mother to buy me Cap’n Crunch, if only because of the 2 free baseball cards inside. She obviously isn’t very modern, (alas, this is the 80’s, stick with me here) so she doesn’t know what the hell organic means, and her idea of a “healthy snack” would be a syrupy granola bar with chocolate chips or a fruit cup. The only reason she’s debating this is because she can buy the very same, generic version at a much, much cheaper price by the hideously uninspired name of Crispy Crunch. Well, this was a complication of epic proportions for a 12 year old. There was no chance of getting a fucking Jose Canseco or Mark McGwire card in a box of Crispy Crunch. What to do?
I’m startled out of this mini psychedelic trip by the impatient, too-cool-for-school checker with dreadlocks and a Nirvana t-shirt. She had been calling out to me, and like an idiot I was standing there, in a daze, thinking about the time I wanted to eat a box of sugar- laden crap in order to obtain pieces of cardboard with the likeness of guys who injected steroids in their ass so they could look like Greek gods, break a bunch of records and hit the ball out of the goddamn stratosphere.
Wasn’t it great?
Around 1993-1995 I completely lost interest in baseball. Being in my early 20’s my childhood interests waned, as they tend to do, and in my delusional mind my new interests were a bit more sophisticated and engaging. My interests in music were blossoming into a near obsession as I joined a garage band; and I was also delving into the literary and modern art worlds–doing my duty as a young person trying to “figure it all out.” As much as I loved to scan the box scores, I just didn’t have time anymore with my band-mates, job, and girlfriend needing my immediate and rapt attention.
F. Scott Fitzgerald thought that one of his pals had invested too much time writing about baseball. “A boys game,” Fitzgerald said, “with no more possibilities in it than a boy could master, a game bounded by walls which kept out novelty or danger, change or adventure.”
I couldn’t stomach Fitzgerald’s stuffy writing and disagreed vehemently with this statement. (I valued Descartes opinions much more, and wasn’t his vocation to think about thinking?…the absolute essence of the game) So after reading the classics : Genet, Hemingway, Hesse, Volmann, Fante, Auster, I decided one day through a haze of smoke that baseball was indeed a cerebral sport more suited to a literary rather than pictorial culture and returned to it for the ’96 season. The A’s were still the same pile of dung that i had flushed 3 years earlier finishing 3rd in the West with a 78-84 record, but the game was interesting to me again, even fun.
This was to be Mark McGwire’s last full year with the “Elephants” (his trade the next year was devastating and truly the end of my childhood) and he finished with 52 homers. This was also Jason Giambi’s first full year and he finished with a pathetic (for that time) 20 round-trippers. I attribute this to youth and the lack of steroids–a reputation that would turn out to haunt both players. Terry Steinbach was typically solid behind the dish; and a fan favorite with a funny name, Geronimo Berroa was coming into his own. There was also a curious player, Ernie Young, who hit 19 homers that season, never to hit more than 5 in any other season in his career.
As I enjoyed another season of watching my lovable losers, I had decided that baseball not only doesn’t acknowledge the passage of time, it ignores it. Then began my post-adolescent and lifelong obsession with the game that has taken over my daily existence with mind-boggling statistics and an even stranger anomalistic visual affair. I find that the more I know about this game, the less I know about this game. It keeps unfolding in ways I could never imagine.
Mark McGwire, my childhood, and why he should be in the HOF despite the “Boomers” that keep him out.
It’s strange; when most baseball fans talk about iconic cards of their youths they will usually cite a 1952 Mickey Mantle, 1968 Nolan Ryan or even a 1984 Don Mattingly rookie. That is all well and good; I enjoy baseball’s past and have spent countless hours and even days researching it. The most iconic card in my youth, however, was the 1987 Topps Mark McGwire.
You see, he was my favorite player on my favorite team; that’s not much of a stretch for a kid growing up in Northern California. When I look at this funky piece of cardboard with a blurry photo of a young, lanky, hunchbacked McGwire with the tacky, 1970’s Dad’s den border, I feel that it represents a couple of things that my generation encompassed so well–mass production and the willingness to do anything at all costs to achieve economic success in an era of unemployment and despair. (In this case “success” can be translated into “baseball success” through PED’s which equals economic success, my generation didn’t have the leisure of the metaphorical PED in the workforce due to the “Boomers” taking all the corporate sectors that they inherited overseas in order to pay the rabble pennies on the dollar. In effect, fucking over China, Indonesia and El Salvador’s working poor and their own people as well. We are forever destined to bat .260 and never have a set position…so much for the “hippy generation.”)
“Popularity of era” is a part of becoming a HOFer…that is why Mark McGwire should be in there. PED’s or not, he was a HUGE part of those 90’s Athletics teams that people love and will talk about forever. Not to mention the class he showed to Roger Maris’ family when he broke the home run record.. (who was vilified as well by the fascist MLB brass…the asterisk instilled by then commissioner Ford Frick still has not been removed due to Maris breaking the record in the then-newly instilled 162 games. The feeling and overall jealousy of the new generation (now old as dirt or perhaps dead…do you see a running theme here?) was further recognized when HOFer Rogers Hornby said, “It would be a disappointment if Ruth’s home run record were bested by a .270 hitter”. Isn’t it strange how the players in an era with the least talent in an era where they didn’t even have to face black players are the biggest shit talkers!?)
There is a lot of talk about Tim Raines for the HOF..let’s get real…his stats are solid and then as the 90’s become a reality he becomes sort of hanger-on and a non entity. No one cared outside of Montreal. (and then again...they didn’t even care) It’s akin to giving the handicapped kid a pat on the back.
It’s all about IMPACT, era and the impact of that specific era. Just ask Derek Jeter, who was never even close to being the best player on his team, (or Pee Wee Reese for that matter.) yet Jeter will be a first ballot HOFer based on “good looks,” a great interview and a legion of mooks from Brooklyn who think they can be an MLB player because he did it. (Miguel Tejada was infinitely better in his prime.)
Here’s what I remember:
Multi-ethnic “sources” saying over half the players on every team used, and that MLB even tacitly encouraged it. I remember a reporter mentioning McGwire having androstenedione displayed openly in his locker, then said reporter getting raked over the coals by players, other reporters, and even the commissioner of baseball–Bud Selig.
Players linked to steroid use have been resoundingly rejected by Hall of Fame voters in recent years, shunned as synthetically enhanced frauds. But drawing an integrity line in the sand is a tenuous stance at a Hall of Fame with a membership that already includes multiple cheaters. Baseball has always had some form of hypocrisy when it comes to its exalted heroes. In theory, when it comes to these kinds of votes, it’s true that character should matter, but once you’ve already let in those who cheated, how can you exclude anyone else?
Here are a few:
Gaylord Perry (class of 1991) had a disregard for the rules that was far more patent and unashamed than any steroid user. Perry doctored baseballs with spit, Vaseline and other substances to confound hitters. All of baseball knew what Perry was doing even if he never admitted it — until writing a tell-all book after his retirement.
Don Sutton (class of 1998) Late in his career, Sutton was often accused of scuffing. In 1978 he was ejected and suspended 10 days for defacing the ball, but when he threatened to sue the National League, he was let off. Was teammates with Gaylord Perry for a while. “He gave me a tube of Vaseline,” joked Sutton. “I thanked him and gave him a piece of sandpaper.” Umpires took the allegations seriously, and sometimes gave him a good going over. Once, he left a note inside his glove for the men in black. It said, “You’re getting warm, but it’s not here.”
Whitey Ford (Class of 1974)… Ford used his wedding ring to cut the ball, or had catcher Elston Howard put a nice slice in it with a buckle on his shin guard. Ford also planted mud pies around the mound and used them to load the ball. He confessed that when pitching against the Dodgers in the 1963 World Series, “I used enough mud to build a dam.” He also threw a “gunk ball,” which combined a mixture of baby oil, turpentine, and resin. He kept the “gunk” in a roll-on dispenser, which, the story goes, Yogi Berra once mistook for deodorant, gluing his arms to his sides in the process.
Things are becoming a bit strange in the baseball world due to the advent of the internet and the basic human emotion of being a follower in a world of followers. (or they may do it to seem intelligent; I know this blog has been attacked by many lard-ass “experts,” with mustard stains running down their shirts, living in their mom’s basement and if they’re lucky MAY have a book published with a small run that no one will read.) I’m starting to see a lot of followers who have no ideas of their own embrace idiotic “statistics”, nostalgia where there never was any, forced moral platitudes and just overall madness. I would die of shock if anyone had an original idea that was absolutely and irreducibly their own. Let’s hope the future generation/s gets it right when the novelty of being angry about a specific (and fun!) era finally dissolves after the Boomer HOF voter generation is finally dead. I have a feeling that the children of the future, because of their gradual and inevitable loss of civil rights, may find fault in the faceless men in the ivory tower who cashed in their billions and instead find compassion for the men simply trying to please them.
“What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human […] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.”
David Foster Wallace
I’m listening to the birds outside and enjoying the Southern California sun, (it’s 81 degrees at I type this) and doing my typical routine of laughing at people who are freezing their collective asses off in cities where it’s snowing — and life is just generally miserable. (Hello New Jersey!) The vodka tonics have been swallowed, and in heroic fashion, I’m scheming and contemplating how I could possibly live in a disposable culture without having to be a miserable wage slave, when it hits me: whats up with that Mark McGwire guy? I mean, I knew what was UP, but it just seemed to me that the larger than life baseball player was kind of a futz when it came to his interests or personal life. (C’mon, don’t judge. I mean, entertainment is just the opiate of the masses…or something like that.) After a quick bathroom break and zoning out session, I found out that this guy went to high school in La Verne, Ca. called Damien high. (I am a child of the 80’s, so the first thing that charges through my cerebrum is the television show Laverne and Shirley, and the brilliant 1976 flick, “The Omen,” where the catalyst is a child of the anti-christ. This McGwire fellow is looking ALOT more interesting now…and wasn’t the culture of those times a bit more tactile than today?)
Movies and sports are ardently disposable, yet they create the most passionate disciples. Science has trumped GOD over and over again, but you don’t see people wearing t-shirts with some random fucking scientist on it, you see people thinking and talking about McGwire because he could do something arbitrary, yet entertaining. I don’t give a shit about the guy doing steroids: my main concern is what music he was listening to in 1981 while a senior in high school. Since he was a suburban jock living in a cultural void, he was probably listening to this:
All in all I was just trying to pull the veneer aside. (while tossing back a few) I was having an imaginary conversation with myself: you want a cigarette? (quaff) Yes, I prefer menthol these days. (quaff) Jesus fucking Christ, I hate bad tippers. (quaff) Ever notice how people don’t pay attention to a goddamn thing? (quaff) Acceptance is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.(quaff) People who tip bad do this because it isn’t to their immediate and unequivocal satisfaction. (quaff) ZZZZZZZZZZ