Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Growing up in central Illinois I was a diehard Cubs fan, the Bears and Bulls were my favorites but I didn’t live and die with them. My first game was a 1969 Wrigley Field Cub-Cardinal doubleheader, Billy Williams Day, helping my hero celebrate his continuous game streak and watching him hit for the cycle in four straight at-bats. Whatever sport was in season my instincts followed but my heart was always with the Cubs and baseball. I couldn’t wait for my Sporting News subscription every Saturday morning; it was all about baseball back then.
Over the years my passion waned and today there are no more heroes playing my childhood games. In 1994 I was enjoying my first Fenway Park trip sitting next to a father and son team. The ten year old kid had his ball glove, hot dog, and Coke; Dad was telling him about Ted, Yaz, and El Tiante. I thought to myself, “If those S.O.B.’s strike, I’ll never watch another game. I’ve been to ball park heaven and experienced a sentimental moment.” The players walked out and I spent the next four years watching minor league games traveling the PGA Tour circuit.
I never played golf when I was a kid but was starting to admire the character make-up of the PGA Tour professional. Baseball was chasing me away much like the McCaskey family forced me north to Lambeau Field. Ineptness, greed, and lack of concern for the fan were no way to run a business. I became a Packer fan and a golf admirer, not just a caddy, and avoided the MLB for the next four years until my caddie buddies drug me to Busch Stadium late in 1998. The home run chase was the only draw.
Today, I wish they hadn’t twisted my arm. That night stirred my childhood admiration once more and I thought heroes were returning, but everyone knew what was going on and they hid it from the fans. Managers knew, GM’s knew, Bud knew, everyone in baseball let it slide because performance enhancing drugs were filling seats, the only thing that really matters to baseball executives. They hooked me with false pretenses; I was in awe of Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds and started following the box scores once again.
I should have listened to Jack Nicklaus on the Pebble Beach driving range in 1991. Everyone was watching a long drive competition between John Daly, McGwire, and Canseco. J.D was launching drives into the pines. When the “Bash Brothers” connected their drives were still rising at the tree line. It’s not often everyone stops practicing to watch someone hit balls, Jack turned to the crowd of players and caddies, “Somebody better check what they’re drinking.” None of us knew about those things back then and baseball kept it very quiet for their benefit.
Four of the top ten all time home run hitters come from the “Steroid Era”. We’re going to need an asterisk, needle, or pill bottle next to their names. Everyone tries to gain an advantage, cheating is allowed on the ball field, but it’s not fair to take a fan’s heart through false pretenses. The individuals are at fault but the players association and baseball executives should have put a stop to it. Greed got in the way. The few players popping pills were making money for the many.
Tiger’s in hiding, McGwire’s finally giving teary eyed conditional apologies, and fans are wondering where to attach an allegiance. Tiger fleeced us with his virtuous character foil. His sponsors and agents knew what was going on but strong armed the media and kept it quiet for a long time. His golf wasn’t the only reason he landed those big money contracts and convinced the public to buy his sponsor’s products. He was a great spokesperson as long as we engulfed his phony family man portrayal.
McGwire was a great ballplayer as long as we didn’t know about the steroids. Why now, why not five years ago, Mark? How come you hid behind legalese for so long? The confession would have meant a lot more if it came from the heart instead of clearing up things before spring training and after a poor Hall of Fame showing. Our sports figures are just that these days, figures not people, it’s quite disheartening. Nobody really knows anything about who we’re shelling out hundreds to watch these days; hopefully everything won’t turn into pure fantasy league and we lose that personal attachment with our sporting heroes.
It’s just another fleecing of the masses by corporate America, we need to get used to it, I guess. If you can’t figure out what to believe these days, hitch up a wagon and join the parade. We’ve got NBA clowns carrying guns and the team bans card games on planes instead of banning the guns. Roger Goodel seems to be the only one controlling the inmates. Finchem and Selig let the troops run the fort as long as the money was piling up.
We watch professional sports with a lot of skepticism these days. Athleticism is supreme, but character has slipped away and you’re always wondering about the person in uniform. I spent the last four or five years supporting Tiger and bashing Phil, supporting golf and bad mouthing the team sports, and wishing I could see Billy Williams kneeling in the on deck circle swinging at that chunk of gum. It’s not positive dwelling on the good old days, but it sure feels good at the moment.
Mark Huber is a semi-retired PGA Tour caddy doing a little writing. You can contact him at email@example.com or check out www.MarksKaddyKorner.com for more stories about golf and life. He’s caddied twenty-one years on every tour for over fifty players mainly Bob Murphy, Ray Floyd, Doug Tewell, and worked for Tom Watson twice in 2009. Mark grew up in Havana, IL attended Illinois State on a baseball scholarship and played semi-pro ball with the Eau Claire Cavaliers after spring training with the White Sox way back when.