Aug. 14, 2013 — I can’t claim to be a real baseball insider even though my uncle Ted is in the Hall of Fame. I’m sure it would have been a lot of fun, but I didn’t grow up prowling that crooked, winding concourse at Fenway Park, crawling around behind the Green Monster or meeting Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky for a quick lunch.
My uncle Ted retired the September after my dad died in 1960, and I was only 10, so the glory days of his career came long before I was born. Even though all the adults around me always talked about my uncle’s prowess, I always wondered why the Red Sox couldn’t get close to the leaders in the American League every year. How about getting to the World Series for a change?
In fact, most of my memories of my uncle from those days are not of the great star in a baseball uniform, but rather of a man wearing shiny shoes, neatly pressed slacks, an open shirt and a sport coat — my big, loud uncle Ted who liked his steak rare — and, by the way, also played baseball for a living.
For several years as a child I lived in my grandmother’s house — the same house my dad and my uncle grew up in on Utah Street in North Park, San Diego.
Back then I was part of a group of baseball crazy kids who gathered every afternoon at the University Heights playground a couple of blocks from the house. Sure, we also rode our bikes down Upas Hill to Balboa Park, fought our BB gun wars in the canyons whose badlands are now a massive shopping center and went to the movies or the roller skating rink on Saturday. But mostly we played baseball. Every day, until it was too dark to see, we played ball. Baseball was my first passion and love in life.
It’s odd to think of it now, especially since that big sand lot, dubbed Ted Williams Field, sports improvements such as grass in the outfield and lights, but it never even occurred to us Ted Williams stood right here and took his cuts when he was a neighborhood kid just like us.
But we dedicated ourselves to one simple, unbreakable, immutable and infallible rule — play fair. Cheaters never prospered in our games, and we refused to tolerate even the slightest infraction. If we knew we were out at second, even though somebody called us safe, we’d say, ‘No, I was out,’ and trot back to the dugout. We knew fair play was the heart, soul and spirit of the great game.
Ah, but that was then. Now the doped up supermen have conquered baseball. They think it’s OK to do absolutely anything to win so they can make more money in a month than many of us will earn in a lifetime. They tarnish and diminish themselves and America’s pastime, and that’s just plain wrong. When these posers are caught and their transgressions proven, they should be banished, banned and remembered for the fools they are. Let them gather in Cheaters Paradise — a pathetic and sorrowful level of hell reserved especially for those self centered enough to take advantage of the best thing that ever happened to them. Let them share their tales of woe at our rejection of them with each other over and over and over again for all eternity.
Look at how baseball has changed in the last 60 years — illustrated through an excerpt from my uncle’s Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966. These are words these bogus, phonies will never be able to speak because it’s not the world in which they live; it’s not the game they play.
“Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel,” uncle Ted said. “Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game …
“Ballplayers are not born great. They're not born great hitters or pitchers or managers, and luck isn't the big factor. No one has come up with a substitute for hard work. I've never met a great player who didn't have to work harder at learning to play ball than anything else he ever did. To me it was the greatest fun I ever had, which probably explains why today I feel both humility and pride, because God let me play the game and learn to be good at it ... ”
If baseball is a mirror of our time and our character today, we need to do a lot better.
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