Rich Get Richer

It’s nothing new. Mama may help. And Papa may help. God loves the child that ‘s got his own. Trump knows it. George Steinbrenner knew it. Derek Jeter knows it. Of course, it’s a little different now in the major leagues of organized baseball. Benchwarmers make the kind of money that All-Stars in the past could only dream of and owners of cellar dwellers are raking in the kind of dough that Connie Mack and Charles Comiskey could not even when they had World Series teams.

Giancarlo Stanton finally had the kind of season that folks have been waiting for him to have in 2017, and now he will be playing half of his games in that P.O.N.Y. league park in the Bronx. So now the comparisons roll in to the glory days of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and people will be expecting 130 home runs and 270 runs batted in between Aaron Judge and Stanton in 2018. Plus, the Yankees still have Gary Sanchez and most of the supporting cast from the surprising team that almost got into the World Series this past season.

You can see the Marlins point of view. With Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon and other pretty good players they won 77 games and finished twenty games behind Washington while paying Stanton Pablo Escobar kind of money. Perhaps Starlin Castro, while not having the most popular surname in Miami, can prosper at last in his new surroundings. He will never be a Bill Mazeroski type second baseman just like he was never going to be Omar Vizquel at short, but he can hit.

Teams, particularly the Giants and Cardinals, that pursued Stanton enthusiastically may be disappointed, but the whole free agent route to success has to be somewhat discredited by this time, especially since the attack on the middle class is now going full bore and the number of people able to afford high priced tickets, beer, and  purported food plus all that paraphernalia will soon be dwindling. Stanton set a personal record in 2017 by appearing in 159 games. He played 145 in 2014 and 150 in 2011 but otherwise it has been 100, 123. 116, 74, and 119. Players generally do not get injured less frequently as they grow older. For you glum San Francisco fans out there, ask Hunter Pence.

Even though there are just rich and richer teams now, the smart money seems to be going in the direction of building with youth. I think that will be good for the game. The Fullerton Angels signing of Shohei Ohtani is much more interesting to me. Now they can carry 14 pitchers and two designated sitters. But he is only 23, and here is hoping that he finds success. Of course, I would play him in the outfield and use him in relief, but what the hell do I know?

Number One Hundred

As you have so often heard and read, baseball is a game of numbers. It’s true, and I have long been one of the nerds who is fascinated by it all. It goes back to when I discovered my brother Paul’s 1954 Baseball Almanac. I used one of the chapters in that book to get the drop on most of my classmates by learning long division so I could figure out batting averages and earned run averages for myself. In no time I was totally boring my friends as I told them their new average after each at bat. So let us continue the obsession while we deal with off season blues.

 

13.  That is the number of times that Joe DiMaggio struck out in 1941, the year that he hit safely in 56 consecutive games. Superstars of today like Kris Bryant and Aaron Judge can fan that many times in a three game series. On the other hand, the Yankee Clipper (how did he get that nickname, by giving haircuts?) would not have been so good on social media. His first and last twitter would probably have been, “Why don’t you all just go defecate in your fedoras?”

369.  The number of times Joltin’ Joe struck out in a 13 year career. For a guy like Bobby Bonds or Reggie Jackson, that’s two seasons. So he averaged 28.38 strikeouts per season and 27.8 home runs.

155.  The number of pounds that Elroy Face weighed. The 5’8″ relief pitcher was a fork baller who averaged 107 innings pitched per season between 1953 and 1969.  He had a wacky 18-1 won lost record in 1959 but his best seasons were probably 1960, when he finished 61 games for the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and 1962, when he had 28 real saves and a 1.88 earned run average.

 

0.  Zero is the number of managerial victories credited to new Yankees manager Aaron Boone. Zero is also the number of games he has ever managed. However, based on his astute observations as an ESPN analyst, I expect that Boone will do well. We shall see. His father, Bob, was 371-444 managing some mediocre Kansas City and Cincinnati teams when his catching career ended. Grandpa Ray Boone never managed but knew how to hit, averaging .275, 18 homers, and 87 runs batted in over 13 major league seasons.

 

5.  Seasons with 400 or more putouts by an outfielder for Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. He was not related to the Union Gap guy, Gary Puckett. But Kirby’s is the better record.

 

3.  Stolen bases in one inning by Dusty Baker on June 27, 1984. He totaled four for the season and 137 in 19 seasons. There were 9,982 paid customers at Candlestick Park that day as the Giants beat the Reds, 14-9. Baker stole second base off Frank Pastore and third base and home off losing pitcher Bob Owchinko. As you know, you can’t steal first base.  The other weird thing about that game was that Johnnie Lemaster hit a home run.  Chili Davis had a pinch grand slam in the fifth inning.  Randy Lerch gave up a hit and a walk and got one guy out to nail the win in relief of Mike Krukow.

 

I could go on and on but, mercifully, that’s it for now. I hope you were the 5.584th person to enjoy it.

 

 

Read It In the Magazine

With all the struggles going on all around the world today, and with all the wonderful good things that are happening as well. one would think that something as trivial as the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance, which should have been a doo-wop hit in the fifties, would never occupy more than a second or two in anyone’s consciousness. I mean, here I am ceaselessly speculating about where Giancarlo Stanton might be playing next season and which body part of mine will be the next to go on the disabled list, and people are actually getting excited about symbols and rituals that most of the world could not care less about.

In the late fifties, speaking of doo-wop, my brother Jimmy and I were very frequent listeners to the radio station KDKA, which has been the flagship station for the Pittsburgh Pirates longer than greasy politicians have been milking faux patriotism for easy votes and convenient distraction.

By the way, the doo-wop hit  The Ten Commandments of Love, was recorded by the Moonglows. I was more into the Dell Vikings and the Flamingos. Anyway, KDKA. My brother and I were spending a lot of time at the family business, a once thriving grocery and meat market that was in its dying days as it fell victim to the get bigger or get out aspect of capitalism. There wasn’t a lot to do, although our father assured us regularly that there was as he , always an innovator, practiced an early form of remote management. One pastime was playing batter versus pitcher, with the steel used to sharpen butcher knives serving as the bat and rolled up slices of Wonder  Bread as the ball. And there were many Pirates games to listen to as well. These were the days of Frank (Not the Big Hurt) Thomas, Dick Groat, Bob Friend, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, and Bob Skinner brought to us by the always entertaining voice of Bob Prince. Whenever the Pirates visited the Chicago Cubs, an odd thing about Wrigley Field mystified us. At game time, they would just start playing ball. There was no playing of the Star Spangled Banner before the first pitch. We liked that. After all, when you wait all day for a game to start, who wants to sit, I mean stand,through another  rendition of that seemingly endless tune before the first pitch? Like the ump eventually says, play ball! Nevertheless, we were curious. So Jimmy, always a keen student, decided to find out. He wrote a letter to Al Abrams, a sports columnist and perhaps sports editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Before long, Mr. Abrams replied.  Imagine that, a real sports writer sending Jimmy a letter! In the letter, Mr. Abrams informed us that Mr. P.K. Wrigley, the Cubs’ owner, did not want  the anthem played at his ball park but the reason was not specified. I liked the guy immediately. Not only did he spare us a boring couple of minutes, but he was being a non conformist in the wildly conservative club of sports team owners. This guy needed to get together with Bill Veeck! Maybe the chewing gum king was a raging Communist! After all, his yard didn’t have lights either.

These days I am more of a follower of the San Francisco Giants. They have a faceless conglomerate of owners just like most multi-zillion dollar outfits but, up until last year, while, of course, the national anthem was done before each game by everyone from the Grateful Dead to the Colma-Daly City Men’s Auxiliary Produce Buyers Barbershop Quartet, they would not air it on their flagship station, KNBR. Then they started playing it because it became yet another sponsored item just like the Viking Cruises on deck circle. Speaking of San Francisco, it was a former quarterback of theirs who got so many knickers in twists by trying to draw attention to police brutality. That is what happens in this sin obsessed country among folks who get their spiritual guidance from the likes of the bloated buffoon of talk radio Rush Limbaugh and Mike (not Hunter) Pence. It’s all so lame that it is hardly worth wasting words on but here I am doing that because, from what I can see, there are a lot of people who can’t find anything else to get upset about.

The pledge of allegiance is a series of words spoken by many with about as much passion behind it as a convenience store clerk has telling you to have a nice day. When children are forced to say things they don’t mean or even understand over and over, it’s just stupid. Rituals start out perhaps over a very meaningful event that is getting  memorialized, but over time, without reinforcement  or  something that demonstrates in a real way what they represent, they become just going through the motions, or dead time. Jimmy and I were both altar boys back in the day and I will tell two stories about those times that have nothing to do with priestly grab ass, take a breath, but might border on sacrilege. Since Mass generally occurred at the crack of dawn on Sundays, Jimmy and I were all about getting it over with as soon as possible, so we could have some breakfast before getting into a fight and then get out there and deliver on our Sunday paper route, which took us about three hours to complete. Then we could have lunch and go play ball in the back yard or watch a game or, most often, do both. The guy we liked was Father Wehrle, who was capable of getting it done in a half hour or so, including sermon. Some other priests were more deliberate or else gave long, stern sermons that prolonged matters and made our stomachs growl. There was generally a little bit of time before Mass to chat, and on one of those occasions I mentioned how happy I was that the famous Mickey school, Notre Dame, had made mincemeat out of their opponent on the gridiron the previous day. Father Wehrle’s response rather shocked me. “I suppose you root for them because it’s a Catholic school,” he said without merriment. “Sure do”I replied, thinking I was scoring points with the pastor. He then proceeded to give me a short, curt, and astounding lecture on provincialism and prejudice that embarrassed me at the time but also schooled me in a manner that has lingered. Speed at the altar was just one good thing about him.

Those half hour church sessions were one thing, but on special occasions a High Mass was required. This meant three priests, a master of ceremonies, and the whole roster got to play, with big time organ music, a choir, and torch bearers. The litanies were a sort of call and answer thing and at the time they were done in Latin, which was pretty cool. So the priest would call out Ora pro nobis or some such Latin thing and the answer would follow and it had a chant type sound which is great in cathedrals and not so hot in smaller venues. While I was bearing the torch on one of these occasions along with Jimmy, we noticed that one of our older brothers was laughing quietly to himself. It goes without saying that litanies are repetitious. Later, we just had to ask him what was so funny, because laughing in church, which is apparently okay now, was frowned upon in those days and might result in the laugher’s ear lobe getting pinched between the thumb and forefinger of the nearest vigilant nun. What he thought was funny was that he and some other of the senior altar boys would repeat, instead of the proper Latin response “Read it in the magazine”. Look, it may not seem funny now, but it was then.

Another good point that was made in my youth was that, if your faith, or your belief, or your love was strong, you did not need to show it off with some ritual display; indeed, early Christians had to worship very privately. So here is the deal. You love your family because it is your family, no questions asked. If you love your country because it is indeed a land of equal opportunity, because its people show respect for each other no matter how they look, or dress, or no matter what language they speak or god they worship (or not), then that is right and good. On the other hand, if you love your country just because it’s your country, then you need to have a talk with someone like Father Wehrle. My dad would sometimes, when the anthem was being played prior to a televised game, stand straight and tall and salute the screen. He was kidding but I don’t think he was being disrespectful to anyone save hypocrites. I used to chime in at the end with “..and the home of the Milwaukee Braves.”

Savory Wild Series

Congratulations to the city of Houston on the World Series triumph over the equally young and impressive, hard swinging Dodgers in one of the most interesting championship series ever played! Charlie Morton, George Springer, and Alex Bregman have now become household names outside of Texas among those of us usually confined to the Yankees-Red Sox network otherwise known as ESPN. We already knew about Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, of course, but now we have actually seen them play as well. It was also good to see Yuli Gurriel prior to his being named ambassador to Japan by President Tweety.

The playoffs were being held during a busy time for your Baseball Anarchy correspondent because, as you know, it is also a time for job searching in the world of baseball. and I was right there in the thick of it. First, I had to fly to a secret location in the Midwest for an interview with the FOX network. The job opening was for someone to finish Joe Buck’s sentences for him. I thought I had an edge because of my impeccable command of English grammar, but I failed, apparently because I wasn’t good at starting arguments. I hadn’t thought that to be one of the requirements so I should have been paying more attention. I couldn’t be interviewed for the job of replacing Pete Rose on the pre-game and post-game studio crew because my criminal record was not extensive enough so they gave it to that stiff, David Ortiz.

After the Washington Nationals were eliminated, it was on to the District of Columbia to attempt to be the replacement for Dusty Baker. This was not easy, because Dusty has long been a favorite of mine and I have admired him as a manager who has earned and deserved a better fate and also as a player who got on the wrong side of the loathsome Tommy LaSorda. None of that mattered as I was once again rejected. I imagined that they would be interested in my latest theory about handling a major league pitching staff. Why not, I proposed, have your “closer”  start the game? Since conventional wisdom holds that your typical “closer” is always “lights out” and guarantees a scoreless inning, why not have him pitch the first inning and go on from there with lesser entities like Scherzer, Strasburg and those other shlubs. Then they could pitch four or five innings and qualify for the win! Also, my idea was to position the first and third base men in foul territory when one of the many fireballers on the staff was pitching so that, when all of those late swing foul tips were hit, they wouldn’t have so far to run to catch them, and the all important pitch counts could be lowered. Innovative ideas like this, unfortunately, take time to be recognized.

So now I am back to the extremely high paying but relatively low prestige blog gig.

Joe Buck’s announcing partner, John Smoltz, is a man who knows a lot about that which he chooses to speak, at least when it comes to baseball. So when he talked at some length about the dangers of lifting starting pitchers very early in the games we had to listen. After all, Smoltz had been an excellent starting pitcher and an excellent reliever. The question is, did Dave Roberts blow it by going to the bullpen too soon and too often? The results were mixed. In defense of Roberts, he does have a staff of five inning type starting pitchers, with the obvious exception of Clayton Kershaw. Alex Wood, Rich Hill, and the others will not be challenging any innings pitched or complete games records in their careers. Kenta Maeda is a good pitcher but was turned into a reliever for the playoffs because he is definitely not the workhorse type and, as always, two times four (innings) equals eight. Kenley Jansen looks like he could pitch every inning of every game but perhaps not. It looks like A.J. Hinch got the better of Roberts in this regard but objects in the rear view mirror can look closer than they are sometimes.

Smoltz had another theme during the playoffs (post season sounds so morbid) and on this one I am right there with him. I am too ignorant of the physics of hitting (ask anyone who ever played with me) to expound about launch angles, leg kicks, lifting, etc. but I always loved a good game of pepper. Situational hitting. Take two and go to right. Keep the line moving. Choke up. Hit it where they ain’t. To me, it works in all types of weather and in any stadium. Yes home runs are fun, mostly. As I have moaned on about previously, Home Run Derby was a boring television show and adding countless strikeouts doesn’t enhance the appeal. It was a fantastic series though. Now, the meaningless void of Winter begins its reign.

They Also Ran In the National League

Don’t you just love the commercial now being shown during the major league baseball playoffs with the kids taunting each other to “prove it” about being real baseball fans? The way to prove it, according to the ad, is by buying stuff from MLB like caps, jerseys, and who knows what else. There was a time when you “proved it” just by playing ball, but there’s no money in that, is there? If a young player had shown up at the field sporting an “authentic” Cleveland jersey with Colavito on the back in my youth, he would have been unmercifully mocked until deciding to wear something else. If he continuously threw runners out at the plate from right field, however, some of us may have started calling him Colavito or Clemente in admiration. Of course, there is also currently running a series of ads encouraging us all to “play ball”. That would not have been necessary back in the day, and it makes one wonder where we are all headed with this. With an administration in power in D.C. these days that worships money for its own sake, it is understandable that only people with extra cash are worthy of attention or able to “prove it” but I suspect that we are not all that superficial. Now that the sermon is over, let’s get back to talking about teams not in the playoffs from the superior, or National, League.

 

The Atlanta Braves have been making strides toward once again becoming an N.L. East contender. They have youth and strength up the middle with second baseman Ozzie Albies, shortstop Dansby Swanson, and center fielder Ender Inciarte. That should help them build up a young starting rotation as Mike Foltynewicz continues to develop. Matt Kemp still has a power bat and Freddie Freeman is a  great all around player.

Cincinnati appeared to be making progress for a while. The lineup is looking fairly good but it is going to be difficult to develop confident pitchers with that hitter friendly yard and the Reds appear to be stuck far behind the likes of Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee in the Central. It would be nice to see Joey Votto playing meaningful games but it may have to be somewhere else.

We can all celebrate the departure of Jeffrey Loria from baseball in Miami and perhaps welcome the new ownership of the Marlins that put Derek Jeter in charge. Already they have talent, especially in the outfield of Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton reached his full potential this season, smacking 59 home runs. Considering his home ballpark, that is more difficult than it would have been for Dick Gregory to have gotten laughs at a Trump rally. As with most teams, the Marlins need some quality pitchers, although Dan Straily was a pleasant surprise.

Apparently either ICE agents or Al Qaeda kidnapped most of the New York Mets’ roster during the Summer and we don’t know where they all went, although one of them is reportedly a Dodger now. Anonymous sources tell us that Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes have come out of hiding but all of those Hall of Fame bound pitchers are off somewhere collecting bone chips. This, as they say, is a work in progress.

Philadelphia should not lose faith in their 66 game winning Phillies just yet. Yes, the pitching staff  is full of question marks but the lineup is chock full of youth and talent with the likes of Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, and Maikel Franco. You’re not supposed to pick the same dark horse two years in a row but I’m sticking with the Phils. Let’s just get young guys like Mark Leiter and Mark Appel going.

The cynic in me says that organizations like the Pittsburgh Pirates are often content to spend a bit of money and develop a good young team that looks like World Series material for a couple of years and then sit back and sell season tickets for a couple more years without really going all out for the title. That’s how it seems when a team like the Cubs goes out and pursues what they need to win it all and the Pirates, who were so good there for a while. opt to take their chances with journeymen like David Freese, Sean Rodriguez, and Jordy Mercer. At the same time, the Pirates put a big load of pressure on some very young starting pitchers  and, whereas in the recent past they had a strong core of relief pitchers to get them through the close games, the veteran leadership with able pitching coach Ray Searage suddenly is absent. They still have that great outfield (provided that Starling Marte is back for real) and Josh Bell seems to be a find at first, but it will probably be another long season in 2018 for these guys.

St. Louis has been known as the model of consistent contention, but the wheels came off that bus in 2017 for the Cardinals. It seemed at times that manager Mike Matheny was drawing names from a hat to make out the lineup as different players auditioned at every position. Who do we like? Grichuk, no Pham. Diaz, no DeJong. Piscotty, no Grichuk. It was weird. And Matt Carpenter, who was always hitting but never comfortable in the field, wasn’t hitting so much either. And Yadier Molina is not getting younger. So, I have no clue what will happen with the Cardinals, who, unlike the Orioles in the other league, at least have respectable looking images of the bird on their uniforms and not the cartoonish goony birds like Baltimore.

The San Diego Padres have reason to feel good about their progress in 2017. For next year, the task will be to come up with better pitching. Youngsters like Carlos Asuaje, Manuel Margot, and Jose Pirela give them hope for a brighter future.

A bright future seems a bit distant to fans of the San Francisco Giants. There are enough elements to allow for a glimmer of hope: Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Joe Panik. However, Denard Span is not a center fielder anymore and the odds are good that the Hunter Pence we saw this season will not revert  to stellar form at age 35. The pitching in general was ragged and there do not appear to be encouraging prospects looming. They may not finish last again but there will be no unseating the Dodgers in 2018.

Okay, gotta go. I heard there is a good chance for a good price on a John Farrell jersey at MLB.com.

 

 

Waiting ‘Til Next Year

Scheduling a playoff game at night in Chicago in October is like scheduling your company outdoor picnic for January 25 in Buffalo. It’s still possible to have a good time, but it’s likely to require a flask. Safe and warm at home or perhaps in some exotic location not yet eradicated by global warming, most major league baseball players can enjoy the playoffs now because they are not directly involved. While most licensed pundits bore you to tears with too much information about the teams still pursuing the World Series through rain, sleet, and snow, we will instead focus today on the squads that also ran and what their prospects might be to join the fun at the start of next year’s flu season.

 

It has been well established for some time now that the Baltimore Orioles will hit home runs. It is also old news that they play good defense. To get back into contention, it’s no secret that the Orioles will need pitchers who get people out. Right now they have Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. When they first moved to Baltimore from St. Louis, the Orioles played in a yard that was very stingy about home runs, which was very pleasing to the likes of Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and other hurlers of note. The current staff more closely resembles the old Browns of the late forties and early fifties such as Cliff Fannin and Karl Drews. Buck Showalter and the brain trust can look to the Colorado Rockies for inspiration in finding young pitchers that can handle a hitter friendly yard.

One of the great mysteries in baseball today is this: what the hell kind of team are they trying to build in that other Chicago organization, the White Sox? They are kind of the Oakland of the Midwest. Hey, we found a good player, who wants him? 2005 seems like decades ago to followers of the Pale Hose.

Detroit has disassembled the team that got to the World Series five years ago and now the venerable Miguel Cabrera, whose tremendous strength and stamina may finally be fading, is left to see how long it will take  to get strong again. Cleveland did it relatively quickly. It’s been time for new faces for a while, and now they will appear.

The Royals of Kansas City, like voters in most elections, are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Royals paint themselves as sort of a small market, necessarily tight fisted organization, and that strong core of everyday players such as Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are at the stage in their careers when the free agent market or else the trade temptations are beckoning. It seems like Salvador Perez is going to last forever but, alas, no one does. What will management do? The thing that evaporated like U.S. currency in Iraq for Kansas City was the great pitching they had in 2014 and ’15. Change now or wait, like the Giants did, until it’s too late? We will start to know the answer this winter.

No one is proving that quantity over quality in pitching currently rules more than the La Habra Angels. It’s like doubling the water volume in your coffee; you keep going back for more but you’re never satisfied. It is indeed a shame that Mike Trout is wasting his prime years helping Mike Scioscia keep his job while Albert Pujols uses a golf cart to get from the dugout to the on deck circle. They teased us for a while this summer but Ricky Nolasco is the ace? Please.

The P.T. Barnum of baseball, Billy Beane, wants to be taken seriously when he tells the patient fans in Oakland that a plan is in place to have a pennant contending team by the time the new baseball facility is built. He also has it on good authority that the new yard will be somewhere in Oakland. The Las Vegas (howdy, Raiders!) odds on a stadium being ready in Oakland before 2027 are currently 800-1.

It proves that yours truly is a bad judge of talent when the Seattle Mariners look good to me every Spring and then, well, the season starts. For a few years they didn’t hit. Now they hit but so do the other guys. Has it all passed King Felix by? Maybe if I give up on them they’ll do well. They still have Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano. Plus, it’s a great town to visit.

There are many fine ballplayers on the roster of the Tampa Bay Rays. You don’t know who any of them are, but you should. Florida will soon be under water again so perhaps the Rays should move to a nice Midwestern place like Indianapolis and call themselves the Raylettes. Only a near genius like Joe Maddon could steer a turf team with an average attendance of 894 at home and on the road to a World Series.

Remember the Texas Rangers? Wasn’t that long ago that they were the scourge of the American League. They don’t have the curse of Josh Hamilton anymore, so what happened? They sent 46 boxcars of prime beef to Japan for Yu Darvish and apparently forgot about everything else. Or is it the curse of W, always threatening to be in a luxury box? I don’t think we’ll be worrying about the Rangers for a while, and too bad for a genuine Hall of Fame guy, Adrian Beltre.

Another recent powerhouse that suddenly got its outhouse overturned is Toronto. This is another team cursed by turf, which contributes to the rapid aging of stars who have to play on it. I don’t think we’ll be seeing them much in October for a while either. Of course, not too long ago I said that about the Yankees.

Next time out we will review the teams in the National League who also ran. In the meantime, let’s continue to hope and pray that Winter stays away a bit longer. Enjoy your flasks.

 

Smoking III

Last May 14, I published a piece about how, as a young man, smoking cigarettes and any other form of consuming tobacco seemed to me to be obviously disgusting and stupid behavior that I had rejected with ease. When I was 23 years old I began to defy my own knowledge and instincts. Many people that age or a bit younger, having survived the traumas of childhood, puberty, and young adulthood, become arrogant. Overconfident. We are not exactly indestructible, but we welcome every new challenge. I was a junior college student who also worked 30 hours a week as a cashier at a convenience store and, being recently divorced, I liked to party.

 

Athletes who excel are no doubt susceptible to the same illusions. I can’t picture Madison Bumgarner worrying about what might happen when he got on that dirt bike last Spring any more than I can picture Bryce Harper deciding to take it slow running to first base on a very wet field last August. That bad shit happens to other people. As a species it has probably been good in the long run that young people take foolish risks because, otherwise, we may never have accomplished very much at all. There was no doubt in my mind. I repeated it often. I can quit any time I want within two weeks. So, with final exams coming up and reports due and there not being enough hours in the day, why not go ahead and do it? What “it”was meant saying yes when a friend offered me a couple of his “whites”, apparently amphetamines, to keep myself going. As a teenager, I had heard stories about truck drivers using those things to stay alert during long hauls and I had also heard that the results were often not good. However, before too long there were not any real problems in the world at all except, perhaps, that there just wasn’t enough to do. In my classes, I suddenly changed from the quiet note taker I had been to the guy who knew the answers to questions before they were even asked. At work, it was great to be busy. The stores were set up so that two cashiers could work at the same time with two separate cash registers. My shifts were at night, which meant that I was usually left alone with both registers and I could spin around from one to the other and keep the lines moving quite well. The main sellers were milk, beer, and cigarettes, at least in the late hours. The first couple of hours would include soft drinks, candy, and other poisons for little people. Adult poisons dominated the night hours. For that reason, the smokes were also just above the cashiers’ heads, lined up neatly in racks according to popularity. This was 1969, so restrictions on sales to minors and other attempts to limit tobacco sales were not yet really in place. Suddenly, I had another thing to do. It was okay to smoke in the store and who didn’t?

I don’t know why (somebody from Madison Avenue could probably tell us) but I chose Marlboro 100s. It was spur of the moment, just as most things were those days. There were not endorsements from Tom Seaver or Frank Robinson to motivate me, I just did it. The sore throat was nasty but I could quit at any time.

There was another feature. Once a month on a weekend, and for two weeks every Summer, I was a radio operator for the Marine Corps Reserve. Even though about half the Corps were junkies of some kind by then, drugs like marijuana were still strictly forbidden and it was not wise to be found holding or using them. Some of the guys in my unit liked reds (downers, usually Seconal) and others favored amphetamines but almost everybody smoked weed. My romance with whites was brief but a new romance had bloomed with weed. In the field, it was not a good idea to light up a joint, even at night, because the odor was strong and specific. So the trick was to take a small piece of hashish, remove a bit of tobacco from your cigarette, replace that with the hash, twist it closed and puff. It smelled a bit but you were smoking tobacco if anyone wanted to check. Then, as you smoked more of the cigarette. the hash high seemed to get even better.

In 1970 I had a strong fling with LSD. It’s not really the same thing as a drug that makes you want more and more, but at the time it was like going back to school for me. That substance, if you could trust that it was what you thought it was, was mostly benevolent but one of the side effects was that it was difficult to remain calm. We learned that controlling the breath was important. In a bit of madness, I figured that puffing on a cigarette would enable me to do that. One memorable day I went through two packs of Benson and Hedges menthols while tripping.

When I finally separated from the Marine Corps for good in 1973, one of my goals was to stop smoking. I went on a no ciggies backpacking trip toYosemite right after discharge. When I got back to San Francisco I had pneumonia. I puffed on a Marlboro 100 on the way to San Francisco General.

There were no serious attempts to stop after that until I became a father for the second time in 1984. I promised myself that my son would not see me me smoking and so I waited until he was in bed for the night. Even after he grew and knew, I kept waiting for nightfall as if that made it okay. I got down to six, then four, but never none. Until last winter, when the diagnosis of COPD was made. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disaster. That finally scared me into quitting.

There have been brief relapses in moments of high stress, but all that does is reveal what a painful, ugly, habit it had been. Addiction to whatever it is lowers the self esteem, drains the pocketbook, and harms the body all at the same time. You get angry at whoever mentions it, at whoever boasts about overcoming it, at any suggestion that something should be done about it. You totally forget that, one day, in fact for a long time, you may have done without it. Like many others, once I was very fond of, probably addicted to, cocaine. I left that behind many years ago and never wanted to have some more. That will probably never happen with this one, tobacco. I don’t like thinking about death when I wheeze or my throat hurts but from now on I always will. Here is my message to anyone reading this who smokes and isn’t ready to stop: it’s fun to breathe, and every puff hurts.