Category Archives: MLB

Ah, memories

I watched the final few innings of the All-Star game tonight, and lo and behold, look who emerged from the bullpen to close out the game for the National League. A guy I covered in high school when I was working at the Augusta Chronicle.

He was pretty good back then. He’s pretty good today.

Here’s the story I wrote from his draft party June 4, 2002. Not a bad read, but I really liked the timeline.


In honor of Hal McCoy winning Ohio Sports Writer of the Year for the umpteenth time (hey, McCoy, how ’bout a little something for the rest of us?), I point you in the direction of a column I wrote about him for the November issue of Cincinnati Profile magazine.

This was a fun, little essay that came together at the last minute, as the Reds honored him last September for his beat writer-ship for the past four decades. It helps that McCoy is such a good dude.

Although I go a little heavy with the analogies that seem, in retrospect, a little unwieldy and awkward, this is one of my favorite pieces I wrote this past year.

Who’s your hero now?

Mark McGwire can’t be trusted. Neither can Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa. Rafael Palmeiro lied to Congress and the baseball fans around the world with one wag of his finger. Alex Rodriguez lied before he told the truth. Our heroes have betrayed us.

Actually, I’m not particularly disappointed in the McGwire confession and apology. Pundits and writers have ripped him for his belief that the steroids didn’t help him hit home runs. Only that it helped stave off injuries. And you know what? I do believe him. I really believe that he believes that steroids didn’t help him hit home runs. Of course, you’d have to be a fool to agree with McGwire that steroids didn’t actually have some impact in his 583 career homers. But I also don’t believe that a bearded carpenter (who’s complexion actually was probably closer to Osama bin Laden than anybody would want to admit) is the son of God, so who am I to piss on what somebody else thinks? McGwire wanted to clear his conscience, and I’m sure he feels like he did exactly that.

But I’ve been thinking the past couple days about why I’m not disappointed in McGwire. In part, it’s because his testimony in Congress might as well have been an admission of guilt. I don’t think anybody, save Tony La Russa*, believed McGwire was completely clean after his “I’m not interested in talking about the past” question and answer period.

*I also don’t believe that La Russa really believed this.

But it’s something else. It’s the cynical sports writer in me, and it’s why I’ll probably never be a big fan of anything or anybody again. I’m just not interested in the inevitable downfall of the people we cheer as heroes.

I grew up a huge Mark McGwire fan. Had the posters and the pictures pinned to my bedroom wall. His 49 home runs in 1987 convinced me he was the hero for me. I searched for his rookie baseball card (I only paid $15 dollars, can you believe it?). I cut out newspaper articles. I watched him in All-Star games. I suffered when he hit .201 in 1991. I thought he was the man. Because, with a little bit of help from a chemistry set, he was the man.

But I also never felt betrayed by him either – which, I think to myself, might be a little strange. In 1998, McGwire and Sosa were the heroes of a nation, but by that time, I was in college and I kept my hero worship to a minimum. I was starting a career in journalism, and I had been taught that we don’t cheer for the players on the field. I had already begun my own paradigm shift.

I had lost my hero worship. Not just of McGwire, but of any athlete. A slam-dunk artist? You’re not my hero. A quarterback who can fling it 50 yards with accuracy? You’re not my hero. A bearded red-headed giant of a man with forearms the size of Christmas hams and a conscience that was, let’s say, slightly smaller? You’re not my hero either.

Yet, what’s truly disturbing in this case is that, while nearly everybody has lied, denied and tried to weasel their way out the truth, only one guy can be trusted to speak it. One guy whose words have been proven true over and over again. One guy who’s been sleazy and money-hungry and who can’t be well-liked by, well, just about anybody. One guy who knows the insides of the game and is willing to expose it by slicing open its belly and exposing the undigested remnants of the past two decades. He is the hero in this story.

You know him as Jose Canseco, and he’s the new conscience of baseball.

The Boys of Summer

I completely forgot I had it, gathering dust and nearly hidden on my bookshelf. It was a book I bought a long time ago, a book I never read.

Not that you could tell from looking at it. The front cover is torn in the middle and masking tape covers the spine of the book. Without it, the cover and the back would have been lost many years ago. About one-third of the back cover is gone, revealing, on page 402, the final words of the epilogue.

The book is “The Boys of Summer,” by Roger Kahn, who is still considered by many to be one of the best living sports writers today. The story is fascinating. Kahn, in his mid-20s, was tapped to cover the early 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers as they played in front of adoring crowds at the long-departed Ebbets Field. Quotes and stories from players like Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Erskine litter the inside of the book, as Kahn sets upon his journey to cover the team that first captured his love when he was a child.

That’s the first half of the story. The second half features Kahn, as a wiser, more worldly man, traveling across the country nearly 20 years later to meet those old ballplayers and discover how their lives had twisted and turned after they hung up their glove and cleats for the final time.

I acquired the book about the same time I took possession of Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” and Sparky Lyle’s “The Bronx Zoo.” I’d never read Kahn’s tome. I tried several times to start, but the book was dense and the history of the author didn’t interest me. Not true for “Ball Four” and “The Bronx Zoo.” Those books were lighter and funnier, and though many years would pass before I could appreciate many of the jokes in those words, I had reread and reread those works a dozen times or two.

About a month ago, I was in the basement, looking through my bookshelf, when my eyes ran across “The Boys of Summer.” I thought I’d give the dog-eared book a read. And you know what? It was really good. And you know what else? I’m glad it took me so long to discover.

First, a quick sampling on page 158 of “The Boys of Summer” with Kahn talking about buying World Series tickets for his friends:

I bought a pair for each game, at $6 a ticket, spending a total of $84, which was $12 more than my weekly salary. Then I offered the tickets to friends who had not called. Both strips were gone in a day. All Brooklyn panted for my tickets, but as it did, I made a modest economic discovery. Once $84 is removed from a checking account, to be repaid in multiples of $6, it is gone. Friends gave me cash and
checks, but the small installments always dissipated. It was months before my account recovered. Whatever the arithmetic, $6 times 14 never equals $84.

And in a similar, two paragraphs from Bearcats Rising (though my editor added part of it – the good stuff), talking about former UC quarterback Ben Mauk, who had applied to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility:

Mauk, though, wasn’t finished. He had one more stratagem. Unbeknownst to the NCAA – or anybody at UC – Mauk had badly injured himself as a high school freshman. He was going to argue that an old injury had prevented him from playing as a true freshman at Wake Forest … Like the 2006 season, an injury had cost him 2003 as well.

It was simple. Two plus two equals six. Two injuries, two lost seasons, which equaled a sixth year of eligibility. That was Mauk’s ultimate logic. If some were suspicious of an old injury, well, all’s fair in love and litigation. <

Anyway, if I had read the book when I was 10, I wouldn't have appreciated Kahn's writing, his stories, his journey. I would have brushed off the historical perspective, read it to learn about Robinson and Reese and probably never perused – or thought about – it again.

But I, like Kahn, am wiser and more worldly, 20 years after I first put the book on my shelf. My life has turned in directions I couldn't have imagined, much like the players Kahn covered. I can appreciate the way Kahn wrote, the way he did his job at a time when newspapers were THE information source for people smart and dumb, the way his journey into middle age reflected in his writing.

I'm glad I found the book a month ago, and I'm glad I read it. I'm glad I took the book with me from Marietta to Athens to Augusta to Cincinnati. Even if it takes me another 20 years to reread the work – if I ever do – I'm glad that I saved it all that time. I can appreciate now what Kahn was trying to say.

Before, I wouldn't have understood.

Boys of Summer (front)

Reds-Brewers gamer 05-07

Covered the May 7 Reds-Brewers tilt. Game story.