Pete Rose & Capital Punishment
This is not a serious baseball story.
It’s not about Pete Rose, and
it’s not about capital punishment.
although for the first few paragraphs
it might seem so.
BOSTON, MASS., 1992. I always hated Pete Rose, right from the beginning back in the early seventies. I used to watch the World Series, and when they showed him on third base I would start screaming and gnashing my teeth. He didn’t care a damn about anybody except to play his game and win. Baseball isn’t supposed to be like that. Football is for hard-ass people -- but baseball players should have enough sense to get in out of the rain. Not Pete Rose, he would have played with Vince Lombardi in Green Bay when it was twenty below zero. I always hated him.
So when he got caught for gambling I wasn’t surprised -- he’s a very compulsive man. Something serious had to be done about it -- he has banned from baseball for life. That didn’t make me feel any better because I still can’t stand him. Maybe they wanted to make an example out of him, but Pete Rose is truly one of a kind, or maybe two of a kind if you count Ty Cobb.
Banned for life -- and if baseball is your life than this amounts to a death sentence, which means the man has absolutely no incentive to change his behavior. What could he get out of it if he changed? He would still be a non-person.
Following this line of thought a little further, we can begin to understand why the Red Sox have waited so long to win the World Series. The curse of the Bambino -- you know about that -- it’s because they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1921. The curse is real, but Babe didn’t put it on the Red Sox, if you think about it. Why would a pleasure-loving man like the Babe put a curse on somebody? The curse was self-imposed. The morbid Calvinistic temperament in New England fosters a belief in punishment. First they did something awful and stupid when they sold the greatest player the game ever had. Then, to compound the injury, the cursed themselves -- the Red Sox would forever come close, but never win the big one. Eternal Damnation. Cotton Mather would have approved.
Of course I’m new around here. For the past twenty years I’ve been out on the West Coast where people have no sense of history -- they can hardly remember what happened yesterday. And the idea of a missing out on a good time because of some unfortunate mistake is considered absurd.
This curse thing is definitely East Coast, and I’m wondering if it will ever end? It would help if the baseball rulers would cut Pete Rose some slack be reinstating him in baseball on condition that he mend his ways -- that would motivate him. “Banned for life” to Pete Rose and “cursed forever” to the Red Sox -- they go together. I know this sounds kind of pie in the sky. I’m not suggesting anything really fantastic like the Red Sox should start running and stealing bases or build a bigger stadium out in the suburbs -- just some straightforward new age thinking. The team that cursed themselves can let go of that burden. Forgiveness begins at home, it is a sublime human attribute.
Attitudes change, although in New England you always need a crowbar and jackhammer to get anything to move, because people here are so set in their ways. The Red Sox can win the World Series if they want to -- if they only let go and start to have fun. Next Year.
I really think this is true, and that my reasoning is as sound as anybody’s, but let me tell you about the game we saw.
It was July 30, an overcast day and so not too hot, when this gang of underemployed lawyers, real estate developers and civil servants came up from New York on the shuttle to watch the Red Sox play the Texas Rangers. They were out for a good time. Some of the guys made phone calls between innings but that was just for effect and out of habit --
“Anything going on at the office?”
“No, nothing going on here.”
“Fine, well, I’ll get back to you later.”
I know Jim Gardella really well. Jim and his cadre of cronies got ousted in a political coup last year when Mayor Dinkins took over the city government. He still occupies his office at Brooklyn City Hall, be he fills his melancholy days doing crossword puzzles and waiting for the phone to ring. It never does. He eats lunch in empty restaurants. “Where did everybody go?” he says to the maitre’d, who smiles back at him politely.
But at least he has time for baseball. Jim told me that the group was coming up to Boston for the game, and he mailed me a ticket so I could meet him at the Park. We had seats in the centerfield bleachers. It was an afternoon game on a Tuesday, and the house was packed --children, idlers, the unemployed, and the usual riffraff.
The Red Sox were a disaster in July, they were in fourth place, nine games behind Toronto. I was very pessimistic.
I hated Jack Clark. He had 89 strikeouts so far this year. The pitcher threw the ball -- I looked, Jack Clark looked -- only I couldn’t swing because I didn’t have a bat. But I thought, reasonably enough, that since Jack Clark did have a bat, his job required more than mere observation. The bum! I wanted to take his gold chain and choke him.
I sat next to Jim at the game and he introduced me to his friends. Shelley, the lawyer, had arranged to buy the tickets, so everybody was giving him a hard time about being in the bleachers. They said, “Next year let’s make it a rule that we get seats in the same city that they’re playing the game in.”
But the women in the group liked the bleacher seats because it gave them a view of nine sets of powerful athletic buns. On a serious note, the bleacher seat are good because it’s like being on the field, being a part of the defense. It gives a wide view of the whole field, not the details, but the sweep of the play. And it gives the pleasure of being a common man, no better or worse than his fellows. Privilege is exhilarating, but the humbler seats can be more relaxing.
Ed Burke came in during the third inning. He said the seats were lousy but so were the Red Sox and they weren’t worth more than $6 to see anyway. Ed’s a funny guy -- he was wearing a white cap, and he had a gum massager sticking out of his shirt pocket. Ed’s a State Senator; he’s been representing Framingham for twenty years. Then he did his political thing, updating his file by asking Jim and me about our families, children, schools, wives, etc. He left a few innings later. Jim asked me how come Ed doesn’t have any clout? How come he couldn’t get us better seats?
The Red Sox won the game 11 to 6. They sent 14 batters to the plate in the third inning and scored 10 runs. Six of those runs were from the hot bat of Carlos Quintana, my favorite player. He got a grand slam for four runs, and a double for two. That’s my man. Carlos is a different kind of guy than Jack Clark. The proper psychology with a guy like Clark is to heap abuse on him when he’s playing badly. He likes the attention and it gets him mad. Eventually he will take out his aggression on the ball and hit it over the fence, which happened the very next day.
But the “Q” is a gentler soul, a man who responds better to approval and kindness. He had been playing badly because he had been treated badly by Joe Morgan, the Red Sox manager. Carlos’ feelings were hurt. He had been playing first base well and hitting over .300 when Mo Vaughan got called up from Pawtucket. Mo was the new hero that everybody was excited about. They made T-shirts about him, they splashed him all over the sports page. He was black and would be a credit to his race in Boston. (They hadn’t advanced much further than this in the Old Towne.)
Morgan put Vaughan on first base and sent Quintana to right field. Quintana immediately went into a hitting slump and made careless errors in the field. It was Morgan’s mistake, not mine. My policy of abuse towards Clark and affection towards Quintana would pay off in the following two games, as the Red Sox came out of their torpor and began to play like a team.
The next day the Red Sox faced the Athletics and did what they hadn’t been able to do for six weeks -- come from behind and win. I’ll quote Nick Cafardo, a sportswriter for the Boston Globe.
“Maligned as a free-agent bust throughout his tempestuous first season in Boston, Jack Clark gave Red Sox fans a glimpse of why the teams acquired him. Actually three glimpses.
“Three monumental glimpses.
“Clark drove in six runs as he cracked three homers, including a net shot off Steve Chitren in the bottom of the 14th inning that lifted the Red Sox to a palpitating 11-10 victory over the Oakland A’s...”
It was a wonderful game, the lead kept changing hands. It was a slugger’s feast, vintage Red Sox style. I watched it on TV.
Before, when they had been playing badly, it wasn’t just that they were losing, but that they would give up in the third inning and lose two to nothing.
So the team turned it around and gave us a season. They are still “in it”, and today, Labor Day, the Red Sox are five games in back of the Blue Jays. I feel satisfied.
“God Must Hate Me”
Before leaving the game and joining the New York gang for dinner, we need to talk about Oil Can Boyd. He was pitching for the Rangers. You know a lot of these guys up from New York are Mets fans -- may they all burn in hell, may their toast get soggy every morning. Mets fans are the worst people in the world. You remember 1986 as well as I do, when Oil Can was pitching for the Red Sox and they lost the Series to the Mets. You remember where you were that day like you remember Kennedy’s assassination.
The Can is one of the games truly existential players, a man with a mind as well as a heart, a human being of tragic proportions. He’s the “Natural”, the one they wrote the book about.
Michael Madden, another Globe reporter, wrote about Boyd’s loss to the Sox on the day we were there in the bleachers:
Other men might have lied and said it was just another day. Just another game. Other men might have tried to put the best face, the phony face, on a bad situation gone worse. But not the Can, because the Can knows how to speak only from his heart:
“For me to be traded to the Rangers, and for me to pitch my first two games against the Boston Red Sox means that God must hate me.
“It’s the worst game I ever pitched in my life. And for a lot of reasons. First of all, I never wanted to pitch in Fenway Park again.....I’ve never walked the bases full before, and I’ve never given up a grand slam homer, and it all happened in one day, shit, it all happened in one inning. I just look at it and say it was meant to be.
“I don’t have anything to cherish about Boston. You talk about the ‘86 World Series, but I don’t care about any of that. That year a lot of things happened to me that probably will go to the grave with me, and still don’t let me get no peace of mind. So I don’t have anything to feel good about at all and especially today. Today just poured gas on it. Just made the flame bigger.”
We stayed until the end of the game because it was nice in the Park. Many of the New Yorkers had never seen Fenway Park before. It was a treat for them, and they could even make charitable comments about it.
We piled into three taxis and headed for Anthony’s Pier Four Restaurant. There was a lot of hoo-hooing in our car about going to Anthony’s. Shelley said, “They fill that place with old ladies on tour buses, why don’t we go to a real restaurant?” Shelley lived in Boston once, on Beacon Street -- he showed us the apartment when we drove by. He made some cryptic remarks about Boston being a cold town, a mean town. He didn’t say what kind of trouble he had, but I bet it was some kind of bad luck with a woman.
Anthony Athanas owns Pier Four and the surrounding 36 acres of very valuable waterfront property. He’s Albanian. He’s an old man and very well connected. He had just sold the property surrounding the restaurant to the federal government for a fabulous profit. The feds will build a courthouse on the land. The guys in our group would have killed to get in on this deal, but they don’t really know anybody. I could tell that, because they were with me. It’s like Grouch Marx’s rule about clubs, the ones he wouldn’t join if they were willing to accept him as a member. Power brokers don’t have dinner with me unless they’re on the skids.
Still we were a merry crew. They gave us a table for twelve outside on the deck, and we made a lot of noise. Now I was bluffing just like the rest of these guys do on a real estate deal. I had twenty dollars in my pocket and an overdrawn checking account. Naturally I flourished a ten spot and paid for the cab ride when we got there. That didn’t leave me with money for dinner, but I was hoping for the Greater Fool -- that one of these guys was so desperate to put on a show and he would pick up the tab -- and I could get off with pretending I wanted to pay.
I hedged my bets -- I ordered way down the menu, choosing the striped bass special for $9.95. Jim Gardella ordered it too, mainly because he’s a cheapskate. The others guys were going for the gold -- three pound lobsters, steamer clams for appetizers, nice wine from the list and Grand Marnier after dinner. The wine was good. Jim -- the other Jim, the one who looks like the Great Gatsby -- ordered the wine. He wore his blazer and tie all through the meal and never unbuttoned his collar. Then he had this sophisticated conversation with the wine steward, and, for God’s sakes, the rest of the table took him seriously. They say New Yorkers are street smart, but they fell for this game.
Jim -- the real Jim -- was making a complete fool of himself over Amy, the 30-year-old beauty who was making her first trip with this group. He kept hitting on her and wanted to sit next to her at dinner. She asked me if I would please sit between Jim and her, which I did. Jim was being no worse than usual. You have to remember that his friends go with him to out of town ball games because they know they won’t be seen.
The bill came to $600 including tip, to be divided up 12 ways. I guess my bluff didn’t work because nobody wanted to make a $600 impression and pick up the tab. I was forced to ask Jim for a loan of fifty to pay my share, and I wrote him a hot check to cover it.
Boy, it was a lot of fun. Now the sun was going down, and some of us walked to the railing and looked at the water and the boats going by. Jim and I talked quietly for a little bit. Jim’s a good guy, and I really like him. These New Yorkers have a sense of humor and style. Boston is a good town, but it can get a little too serious here without some outside help.