In this otherwise sportsless world you’ve got to take it wherever and whenever you can. But I draw the line at UFC.
To get my sports fix this weekend I started rereading John Feinstein’s Play Ball: The Life and Troubled Times of Major League Baseball. A detailed account of the 1992 MLB season, Feinstein gives a picture of the era and a recap of the previous half dozen seasons or so, the exact period I took an interest in the game. “Troubled times” is one way to describe them… Giamatti/Rose, Giamatti’s death, Fay Vincent’s ouster, labor struggles, Steinbrenner, Bonds when he was just a skinny jackass instead of a bulked-up cheater.
God I would kill for any of those so-called issues now.
An amusing aspect of Play Ball–and this seems to be the case in nearly all of Feinstein’s 30+ books on the subject of sports–is how true it is today. As in, Feinstein recognizes a problem, and three decades later it’s still there, probably worse. Inflated pro salaries, owner/labor squabbles, the farce of “amateur” athletics. Mostly it comes down to money. It is a business after all.
But in 1992, when I was 10 years old, the game was just a game. And getting to relive it in the pages of a 28-year-old book is exactly how I want to spend my quarantine.
Remember when the Pittsburgh Pirates were good? When Ken Griffey Jr. was still the Kid? Tony Gwynn had an off year and hit .317. A young Gary Sheffield flirted with a Triple Crown and Greg Maddux won 20 games for a Cubs team that finished 18 games out of first.
I could go on.
Wait, I will, because it just feels so good.
Puckett, Winfield, Larkin, Eckersley, Strawberry.
Clemens, McGwire, and the aforementioned Bonds when they were just… good players.
Kenny Lofton, Mickey Tettleton, Lance Johnson, Brett Butler, Andy Van Slyke.
The Braves had Glavine, Smoltz, and Steve Avery… then added Maddux in ’93.
And Deion Sanders led the league in triples.
Ninety-two was Buck Showalter’s first year as Yankees manager and began the resurgence of that storied franchise (the franchise of my youth). It was the debut of Camden Yards and the beginning of the downtown-retro-ballpark era.
Major League Baseball had 26 teams. I could recite the starting lineups and probably the entire 25-man roster of each. (I think I had half a dozen of every player’s baseball card and spent hours memorizing the backs of them.) This is what I miss. Not winner-take-all divisions, not intraleague-only play. I had time to engross myself in the sport.
Well, now I have the time but I don’t have the sport.
But I’ve got Feinstein. And that book, like the backs of those cards that never update, is there for me forever.
And I kind of like being 10 years old again.