Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Home Opener Special

This is one my very favorite baseball columns from the 2005 Star-Telegram Baseball Preview “The Myths of Baseball”. If the author of the piece answered e-mails, I might have even tried to get his permission to re-print it – so I’ll just take my chances – enjoy the day everyone!

“Now This Is A Sports Bar!”

“Christy Mathewson checked his NCAA bracket and cackled.

“Those plucky Jayhawks,” he said, smiling. “A scrappy bunch to be sure. They gave my lads all they could handle but the Bison prevailed.”

Walter Johnson looked at Tris Speaker and rolled his eyes.

“Matty,” Johnson said, “we’ve heard enough about upsetting Kansas. Did you even graduate from Bucknell?”

“Nah,” Speaker scoffed, sipping his beer and checking over the crowd filling into the Field of Dreams Bar and Grill. “He was a lousy drop-kicker. A glorified punter. That’s how the great Matthewson spent his time at that fine institution of higher learning known as Bucknell.”

Mathewson laughed, feeling young again in the mythological fog of time that surrounds all great legends who live forever in the hearts and minds of sports fans everywhere.

“Best not to talk college,” Johnson said. “Gehrig’s on his way and I don’t want to get him started on Columbia.”

“Gehrig?” Speaker said. “If Lou is coming then that means…”

The bustle at the front door said it all, and sure enough, there was Gehrig followed by the Bambino himself, the Sultan of Swat, George Herman, better known far and wide as Babe Ruth.

He was wearing a camel’s hair coat, and big cigar was clenched between his teeth as he waved to the crowd.

He pinched two barmaids, winked at Sonja Henie, slapped Red Grange on the back and stepped over John L. Sullivan who was passed out again on the floor.

Harold Abrahams lined up the six ball to the corner pocket, but Ruth walked behind him and gently nudged the cue stick. The shot went awry.

“You lousy son …” Abrahams said.

“Ah, and your movie stunk, too, you lousy Chariot of Sugar,” Ruth said, laughing, making his way to the table where Mathewson, Speaker and Johnson were sitting. Gehrig joined them, and Speaker ordered another round. Ruth started growling as he watched the big screen television.

“What the…is this?” he said as Annika Sorenstam sank a long putt in the desert.

“SportsCenter” Johnson said, and Ruth let loose a long string of obscenities that made Joe Louis, Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones and Eddie Arcaro look up from their card game.

“I told the dirty four-flusher who owns this joint never to put ESPN on that television,” Ruth snarled.

“Why not?” Gehrig asked.

“Oh, he’s just still mad that ESPN selected Michael Jordan as the top athlete of the 20th century” Mathewson said.

“Lousy basketball player,” Ruth growled. “Guy was a washout as a baseball player. Anybody can dunk a basketball.”

“Shoot,” Mathewson said. “Anybody knows Jordan couldn’t carry Bill Russell’s jock anyway.”

Ruth was about to say something else obscene, but Sorenstam was no longer on the screen. Instead there was Barry Bonds, on crutches, hopping his way across some parking lot. This time Ruth swore so loudly that Jackie Robinson looked up from the Pac-Man machine and Joe Louis missed badly with his dart shot.

“Now what?” Ruth barked, shaking his head.

“More steroid stuff,” Gehrig said quietly.

“Tell the truth,” Mathewson asked. “Babe, would you have used steroids if they were around back then?”

“Of course he would have,” Speaker said. “In no time flat.”

“No way,” Ruth said, protesting. “I’d stuck to frog legs and pigs knuckles and those delicious spare ribs from the House of Good Shepherd out there in Saint Louie.”

“House of the Good Shepherd?” Johnson asked, but Mathewson help up his hand and shook his head.

“This guy is gonna pass you this year, Babe,” Speaker said, eying Bonds on the screen.

“Good for him,” Ruth said waving his hand dismissively. “He ever win 20 or throw a shutout in a World Series?”
“Or call his shot?” Gehrig said sarcastically. “Babe, when gonna own up and admit you never did such a thing?”

“When Shoeless Joe owns up to the fact that he helped throw the World Series,” Ruth said.

“Please,” Mathewson said, “Don’t tell us about how you saved baseball again.”

But Ruth was still watching Bonds.

“He can hit all the home runs he wants,” Ruth said. “He couldn’t carry Willie Mays’ Fruit of the Looms and nobody had it tougher than Aaron. Not me, not you, Lou, not any of these guys.”

“No kidding,” Gehrig said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to face Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal. Plus you and I were lucky we never had to face Satchel Paige and those guys.”

“Or be measured against Josh Gibson,” Ruth said solemnly.

There were nods all around the table and clinking of glasses.

“Records were made to be broken,” Mathewson said. “The great myths and legends…they last forever.”

-- written by T.R. Sullivan (Fort Worth Star-Telegram April 3, 2005)

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