Will today ruin baseball?

Well, it’s strike day. I haven’t talked about it. I was hoping if I ignored it, it would go away. That strategy rarely works, but there’s always a first time.
Let’s face it: This is the Crybaby Billionaire Boys’ Club vs. the Crybaby Millionaire Boys’ Club.

Players complain about how they used to be treated as slaves. Well, they aren’t anymore. The league minimum–the minimum is more than some doctors make. Baseball players work nine months out of the year, counting spring training. They have to travel a lot, but they don’t have to work full 8-hour days, usually. When they do work, they do things I do for fun (and usually have to pay to do).

Yes, in the 1960s, there was a problem. Those problems have been solved for a very long time. Players’ greatest fears are that their salaries won’t necessarily double at the same rate they did before. Well, boo-hoo. Today a decent utility infielder makes what George Brett made at his peak, and George Brett isn’t hurting.

Now, the players talk down about the fans. Even Neifi Perez talks down to the fans. Neifi Perez! The worst everyday player in the majors. Mr. .257 on-base-percentage. Mr. Where-have-you-gone-Donnie-Sadler?, for crying out loud! “They’re just fans,” Neifi says. “What do they know?”

Who cares what the fans know? (What I know is that Felix Martinez isn’t the worst shortstop in Royals history anymore.) They pay your salary. Though it’s certain Perez won’t be back in Kansas City next year, and questionable whether he’ll be playing baseball at all. Serves him right. He’s a lousy player and a jerk. Kansas City deserves better. For that matter, Baghdad deserves better.

I don’t have any sympathy for the players.

The owners complain about competitive imbalance and salaries rising too quickly. The problems are largely their own making, but at least most of them recognize there is a problem and are trying to solve it. As recently as ten years ago, there was no way of knowing who was going to be a contender. You could take a good guess, but several teams would always surprise you. Is anyone really surprised the Yankees and the Braves are the teams to beat this year?

Now Oakland and Minnesota have proven you can create a winner on a budget. They spend smart. That’s good. Not every small or medium-market team spends smart. But when New York can spend five times what a small-market team spends, there’s a problem. Oakland lost Jason Giambi to the Yankees; in a few years they won’t be able to afford to keep both Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada either. Who cares about the players or the owners–that’s unfair to the fans.

Most of the owners are on the same page. Even Tom Hicks, who can’t seem to spend his way out of last place but not for lack of trying, wants a luxury tax and revenue sharing. He sees the need for rules to follow. George Steinbrenner won’t be happy until every team but the Yankees is bankrupt and the second-best team in baseball is the Columbus Clippers, the Yankees’ AAA affiliate. But he’s in the minority.

The owners are being the more reasonable of the two. That feels weird to say. Isn’t that kind of like saying Ayatollah Khomeini was reasonable about something?

A lot of people are saying if there’s a strike, they won’t be back. Some of them will make good on that promise. I know I’ll be back. Baseball’s broken. I see this strike like a car crash to an alcoholic. You don’t wish the car crash on anybody, but if the car crash leads to the person finally seeing the problem and doing something about it, then the car crash can do some good. With some people, it takes a car crash. But with some people, even a car crash isn’t enough.

And the players and owners are just like that drunk behind the wheel–not giving a rip who gets hurt as a result of their irresponsible actions. Who cares about the people who make their living selling concessions at the ballpark? Not the players and owners. That’s an established fact.

I’ll be mad if they can’t come to an agreement before the deadline. But I’ll be madder if the strike doesn’t accomplish anything. There’s only one thing worse than a drunk, and that’s an incurable drunk.

I know what we need. A few good men who love baseball–who love baseball more than money–need to step up to the plate and do the right thing. And no, I don’t really care if that happens tomorrow, or if it happens during a lockout in spring training while Jason Grimsley and Johnny Damon and Todd Zeile and Steve Kline sit at home.

I think it might be refreshing to watch a bunch of guys who’ve never touched steroids, who are actually glad to be getting paid to do what we used to do at recess, and who play every inning like it’s the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, don’t you?

But there are no promises. So we wait. And I’m fully aware that if the worst happens, I might be the only baseball fan left.

That’s OK by me. I’m a Kansas City Royals fan. I’m used to being alone.

Darrell Porter is still worthy of respect

The Jackson County medical examiner announced Monday that Darrell Porter died of side effects from the recreational use of cocaine.
I should have recognized the tell-tale signs. I didn’t. I didn’t want to.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think any less of Darrell Porter now that it’s public knowledge that he had a lapse more than 22 years after he was released from rehab. He was one of my heroes because of the way he played baseball, the way he conducted himself off the field, and the way he confronted his problems head-on and never backed down. Recent events only serve to prove Darrell Porter was a human being after all.

Darrell Porter left home late last Monday afternoon with an odd story. He wanted to go get a newspaper and go to a park and read it. He went to a park 30 minutes away from home–a place he liked to go to fish.

He told his wife he was going to get a newspaper. Whitey Herzog said it looked like he wanted to go fishing. But why would Darrell Porter lie about going fishing?

I don’t know anything about the psychology behind that kind of behavior. What I do know is my dad used to exhibit the same kind of behavior. He’d disappear for hours at a time, and often the story wasn’t straight. He’d tell Mom one thing and tell me another. Sometimes he really was doing what he said he was doing. Sometimes he was drinking.

My dad was an alcoholic. He gained his ultimate victory over his addiction Nov. 6, 1994. That was the day he died.

Likewise, Darrell Porter gained the ultimate victory over his addiction Aug. 5, 2002.

His own words are telling. “God humbled me. I fear Him and I know He loves me, and I’m trying to get where He wants me. I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome anything yet, but I’m on the right track.”

Those words are vague enough to give room to hide in–words that reluctantly admit something less than total victory. But he was right. He was on the right track. In the late 1970s, his drug habit exhibited itself in fits of rage and paranoia, fits that often hurt others, not only emotionally but sometimes physically.

In 2002, it manifested itself as something of a double life–a moment of weakness, isolated from family and home and other people. Irresponsible? Yes. He shouldn’t have been operating a motor vehicle on cocaine. But he knew enough to go off somewhere to indulge his desire where he couldn’t harm anyone but himself.

Why not reach out for help again? Wouldn’t that have made him look even stronger? Those are easy questions for me to ask. I’m not living what he lived. But the hardest words for any human being to utter are, “I’m sorry.” I think the second hardest to utter are, “Help me.” It was easier to count the costs, figure out how to minimize the possible damage, indulge the moment of weakness, and when it was over, it was over. Go back to daily life. Yes, there was guilt to live with. But at least it was the guilt of harming himself, rather than the double guilt of harming himself and harming his family.

Do I think this was a regular occurrence? Frankly it’s none of my business. And I’ll never know. The case is closed. There will be no investigation into how Darrell Porter got his cocaine, or how frequently he used it, or what else he might have used.

Do I think any less of God, seeing that Darrell Porter was a strong and outspoken Christian and yet lived with and ultimately died from this struggle? No. God forgives us and He strengthens us, as we can see from Darrell Porter’s actions. In his moment of weakness in 2002, he still showed more strength than in 1979. There were no brawls. No one else was hurt. Is God capable of completely curing us from our addictions? Yes. Does He always? No. Why? I don’t know.

I don’t believe Darrell Porter was a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is something Christians are frequently accused of, and sometimes rightly so. But our problems don’t all completely go away when we convert. Sometimes they get worse. Let’s face it: Darrell Porter was a big target. If I’m the devil and my goal is to thwart God and His people, who am I going to pay more attention to? A hard-drinking, pill-popping, cocaine-sniffing catcher who’s batting .208? No. I’ve already got him where I want him. What about a community pillar who spends most of his time talking to people about addiction and overcoming it and the role God should play in your life, whether you’re addicted or not? That second guy is going to get a whole lot more of my time and resources. Of course the temptation never went away. He lived with it every single day. And I think that as time rolled on, further and futher from 1980, the intensity probably only grew worse. Cocaine has zero appeal to me, but I’m sure at times it meant the world to him. And whether that lapse happened once in his lifetime or once every couple of weeks, it doesn’t make much difference in my mind.

What’s important isn’t that Darrell Porter relapsed at least once. What’s important was that he faced his problem and he got it under control. Not perfect control. But control nonetheless.

There are too many stories about people who shook their addictions and somehow turned into Superman and never touched the stuff again. Those kinds of stories are encouraging when you’re first trying to overcome. But when you slip and fall, eventually you get tired of hearing about it. Somehow, since that person reached a goal that you can’t, it makes you less of a person in your own mind.

In his book Snap Me Perfect, Darrell Porter recounted a lapse he had in the early 1980s–probably 1981 or 1982–with beer. He picked himself back up again and tried to carry on.

That’s why I looked up to him for 22 years. And that’s why that won’t change now.

St. Louis just lost more than a great catcher

Darrell Porter went out to get a newspaper, and he never came home.
That night, it rained in St. Louis. It was as if the earth was weeping. As it should. Now a catcher has gone home to play baseball with late Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile. But when this world lost Darrell Porter, it lost more than a former MVP and three-time All-Star. It lost one of the finest examples of a human being who ever played the game. Porter overcame drug and alcohol addiction in 1980. Today, people hold your hand when you’re famous and addicted. In 1980, they just looked down on you.

Darrell Porter didn’t let that stop him. In spring training in 1980, former Dodgers pitcher and recovered alcoholic Don Newcombe paid the team a visit. He asked 10 questions, and said if you answered yes to three of them, you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Porter answered yes to all 10 questions. So he checked himself into a rehab center. He cleaned up. He started going to church and got right with God. And he dedicated his life to trying to keep others from making the same mistakes he made. He figured he became famous for a reason, and he ought to use his fame and name recognition for something.

So he quietly went out helping people. In 1984, he wrote a book. We’re not talking a tell-all book like Jose Canseco plans to write. Don’t get me wrong, Porter told all. But he told about the person he knew best: himself. With brutal honesty. It’s been years since I read it, but I remember him talking frankly about getting together with his buddies and snorting cocaine through rolled-up $100 bills and drinking like tomorrow would never come. He talked about checking into rehab in 1980, and he talked about lapsing once, stopping at a gas station on the way home one day, and buying a beer. He left the empty bottle in his car. Part of him wanted his wife to find it. She did.

He was candid about what drugs and alcohol did to his career. In 1979, he had the finest year a Royals catcher ever had, batting .291 with 20 home runs and driving in 112. Those aren’t just good numbers for a catcher, those are good numbers for Johnny Bench. But that was the end of the road. He peaked at age 27. He played another 8 years, but his career numbers were much more pedestrian. For the rest of his career, he was an average defensive catcher and an average hitter who could occasionally pop one out of the park. His old self only surfaced when the game was on the line. He often told people his drug and alcohol abuse destroyed his career. That’s a bit harsh–he played for 16 years, eight on drugs and eight off–but it’s easy to see that something kept him from being everything he could be.

Porter spoke to one of the Christian groups on campus at the University of Missouri while I was a student there. I’d thought about going, because Porter had been one of my heroes growing up. For some reason I didn’t, and I don’t remember the reason. It might have been that I had a test, or a story deadline. Or it might have been something stupid. Like a story deadline.

That was what Porter’s life after baseball was like. He quietly volunteered his time wherever he was needed. He didn’t go looking for more fame.

A fan recounted meeting Porter recently at a game on a St. Louis Post-Dispatch discussion board. He asked Porter to sign an old poster. He signed it, and then the fan asked him to write “1982 World Series MVP” under his name. The fan recalled that Porter was very flattered to be asked to write that, maybe even flattered that the fan remembered that. Porter wasn’t one to advertise his three All-Star appearances, or the two MVP awards he won in 1982.

Since Porter didn’t go running around, looking for chances to make appearances and introducing himself as “Darrell Porter, three-time All-Star catcher for the Kansas City Royals and 1982 National League Championship Series and 1982 World Series MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals,” not a lot of people remember him. But the people who do remember him will miss him.

Porter showed up at the Royals’ spring training this year, some 22 years after he left the team and 15 years after he retired from baseball. He wanted to learn broadcasting. Broadcasters Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre spent some time with him and he impressed them. He worked hard, bought his own equipment, brought it with him, and learned as much as he could from the professionals. If he was going to go into broadcasting, it was going to be because he was a good sportscaster, not because he was Darrell Porter, three-time All-Star catcher for the Kansas City Royals and 1982 National League Championship Series MVP and 1982 World Series MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals. Matthews and Lefebvre wanted to put him on the air this year.

Nobody knows exactly what happened. Porter told his wife he was going to get a newspaper and go to a park to read it. That I understand. If you’re interested in broadcasting, you keep up on the news. I use the Internet to do that, but if you’re a 50-year-old retired baseball player, you might not want to use the Internet. Besides, it’s hard to get Internet access in a park. Why would someone go to a park to read a newspaper in 97-degree heat? Remember, Darrell Porter was a catcher, and he spent most of his career on Astroturf. At Royals Stadium and Busch Stadium in the early 1980s, it could reach 110 degrees or more on the playing surface in the summer. Porter was bearing that heat with all that padding.

And once a baseball player, always a baseball player. He probably just wanted to be outside, away from telephones, away from everything else. If you’re not a baseball player, you don’t understand. I understand.

What I don’t understand is which park he chose to visit. He lived in Lee’s Summit, but he drove to a park half an hour away. Maybe he just couldn’t make up his mind. I remember driving around for half an hour one night back in March looking for someplace to run sprints. But I ended up at a park about five miles from home. I guess it sort of makes sense. But only sort of.

Porter got to the park, but he ran his car off the road. There was a tree stump alongside that wasn’t visible in the grass, and his car got stuck. At 5:26 pm, someone drove past, saw the car on the side of the road, and saw a man lying next to it. The driver alerted police. Police arrived soon afterward and found Darrell Porter, dead. The coroner speculates he was trying to free his car and was overcome by the heat.

He left behind a wife and three kids: a 20-year-old daughter and two teenaged sons. They’re going to have a hard time dealing with this. Their dad was just 50. He was supposed to have 25 years left in him. Now he’s gone, and no one knows why, and although they might not want to admit it, they’re at the ages when they probably need him most. I was 19 when my dad died at 51.

There are a few people out there like Darrell Porter. Genuinely nice people, real people, honest, down-to-earth people. People who want more than anything else just to make a difference, who come in and take charge of a bad situation and leave it a better place when they move on. You have to look for those kinds of people, but they’re out there.

It’s a shame to lose people like that, especially at such a cruelly young age. You can never have too many of those.

Darrell, I’m sorry I didn’t hit that home run for you tonight. I was trying too hard. I’m sure you understand. But I’m going to pay you the highest compliment I know, and when I say this, I mean it, with everything I’ve got.

We’ll miss you.

This year, Selig outshines even Steinbrenner

Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. –Proverbs 17:28
Bud Selig has once again opened his mouth and is calling the Minnesota Twins, despite their raging success this year–and not-so-shabby last year–a candidate for contraction.

Translation: Twins owner Carl Pohlad loaned me money a few years ago, even though it was against baseball’s rules, but that’s OK because I enforce the rules, and now he can sell the team to the rest of the owners and I can make them pay more money than he could get by selling the team outright, so I’m going to do him that favor, no matter how bad it makes baseball look.

They talked during the All-Star Game about how Bud Selig once sold Joe Torre a car. That’s appropriate, because Selig is still spewing as much crap as a used-car salesman and he doesn’t know where to stop.

I really don’t understand is why Selig, in this era of corporate scandal that destroyed Enron and WorldCom and Martha Stewart and now threatens the AOL Time Warner empire, is willing to do anything that has even the most remote appearance of corruption. But maybe Selig’s like a 16-year-old with a red Lamborghini, an attractive girl riding shotgun, and a fifth of whiskey. The worst possible outcome always happens to the other guy, right?

And the ironic thing is that in 1995, Carl Pohlad’s company loaned Bud Selig money, because Bud Selig’s Milwaukee Brewers needed money.

Hmm. The Brewers ran out of money. The Brewers’ owner went to the Twins’ owner for money. Interesting.

The Brewers last went to the World Series in 1982. They lost in seven games. The Twins went to the big show in 1987 and won. They went again in 1991. They won. In 2001, the Twins went 85-77 and finished second in their division and even finished second in the wild-card race. The Brewers finished 68-94 and did what they almost always seem to do best: prop the Cubs up in the standings.

I know of a team in the northern midwest that seems like an excellent candidate for contraction. And that team would be:

The Milwaukee Brewers.

Leave the Twins alone.

But don’t get me wrong. Selig isn’t a complete waste. Selig is doing an outstanding job of frustrating George Steinbrenner. You see, before Selig became the most hated man in baseball, Steinbrenner had been the undisputed champion, for about 30 years. But don’t get me wrong. Steinbrenner’s having a great year. Why, last week he accused Major League Baseball of conspiring against him. He wanted superstar outfielder Cliff Floyd. Floyd went from Florida to Montreal to Steinbrenner’s archrival, the Boston Red Sox. Now it’s conspiracy.

That’s the way Steinbrenner thinks. A few years ago, George Brett had dinner with George Steinbrenner. Back in Brett’s heyday, the Yankees and Brett’s Kansas City Royals were big rivals. They met in the playoffs in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980. The Yankees won three of four years. At some point in their conversation, Brett noticed his view of Steinbrenner’s face was blocked by a menu, so Brett moved it. Steinbrenner put it back. “I can’t stand looking at you,” Steinbrenner said.

“Why?” Brett asked.

“You beat us too many times in the playoffs,” Steinbrenner said.

Brett asked if beating the Yankees once counted as “too many times.” Steinbrenner said yes.

Now you know why I rooted for the buy-a-championship Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series last year. Yeah, I wanted the Cardinals to go. But I wanted Steinbrenner to not get what he wanted.

But Steinbrenner’s not just an immature little kid who’s not willing to share his toys. Two weeks ago, Roger Clemens was making a rehab start at Class A Tampa. The home-plate umpire was–horror of horrors–a woman! Well, Steinbrenner was horrified. They were mishandling his pitcher.

Earth to Steinbrenner: A rehab start is about throwing pitches to real-live batters to see a few things. First and foremost, does it hurt? Second, can you throw seven innings? Third, does it hurt?

Earth to Steinbrenner, again: Gender has nothing to do with the ability to see, to know the rules, and call balls and strikes.

Earth to Steinbrenner: The male umpires who call balls and strikes in the major leagues seem to have never read the rulebook, because they never call a strike above the belt. So if your theory that women don’t call balls and strikes the way men do happens to be true, having a woman behind the plate was probably a very good thing, and I eagerly await the day when we see women umps in the Big Leauges.

Then Steinbrenner said Ms. Cortesia should go back to umpiring Little League. “She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t that good,” he said.

Clemens’ assesment: She did great.

So tell me who’s a better judge of an umpire’s ability: a loud, rude, obnoxious baseball owner, or a 40-year-old pitcher with 18 years’ experience in the major leagues?

Yep, Steinbrenner’s been in rare form these past couple of months. But he’s been eclipsed by Bud Selig. Pete Rose and Don Fehr are back and spewing as much garbage as ever, as well, and Ted Williams’ kids are doing their best to make everyone forget their dad’s Hall of Fame career. And Reds GM Jim Bowden made the mistake of invoking the memory of Sept. 11 when talking about a possible player’s strike. (He was wrong, of course. Sept. 11 destroyed two towers, but it didn’t destroy New York and it didn’t destroy America. A strike could destroy baseball.)

Yes, they’re all valiant attempts to look stupid. They’ve even managed to drown out baseball’s one-man wrecking crew, player agent Scott Boras. But none of them can hold a candle to Bud Selig.

It’s kind of like 1941. Joe DiMaggio had a great year in 1941. So great, he even won the MVP that year. But nobody remembers that anymore, because 1941 was the year Ted Williams batted .406. DiMaggio was the better overall player, and DiMaggio was the far bigger celebrity, and DiMaggio handled the limelight a lot better. But 1941 was Ted Williams’ year. Nothing could eclipse him. Not Luke Appling. Not Jimmie Foxx. Not even The Great DiMaggio.

2002 is Bud Selig’s year. Steinbrenner and Rose and Fehr and the rest of baseball’s repulsive bunch will be remembered for a lot of things, but saying the most stupid things in 2002 won’t be one of them.

A class act

The Royals–mired in an 8-game winning streak that has them within striking distance of third place–are more than just scrappy. They’ve got some players who are big-time class acts.
There’s superstar Mike Sweeney, who’s missed the past seven games because he strained a back muscle climbing into the back seat of a pickup truck and hunching down so his mother could sit in the front seat. Of course Sween would get hurt doing something nice. He’s always doing something nice.

Then there’s Paul Byrd. Read more

Why I stand by my Royals

A friend asked me why I stick with my Royals yesterday. Actually he pointed at my Royals hat and scoffed, “Why would anyone waste money on that?”
I thought about that a lot.

He’s a New York buy-whatever-it-takes-to-win-the-pennant Yankees fan. He’s not even from New York. He grew up in Iowa and Texas. What’s the fun in rooting for a team when you already know in Spring Training what will happen in October? Read more

Another All-Star Flub

I remember when the All-Star Game actually mattered.
Well, it didn’t matter–it was still a game that didn’t count, but the guys who showed up, they showed up to play. There was a lot of pride at stake. My first All-Star memory was the 1983 game. The American League hadn’t won a game in years. Then the California Angels’ Fred Lynn came up with the bases loaded, smacked one out of the park for the first-ever All-Star grand slam, and carried the AL to victory.

These days, the only purpose the All-Star Game serves is to give Baseball Commissionerwannabe Bud Selig another opportunity to make a fool of himself. Read more

They don’t make ’em like Ted Williams anymore

The last man to hit .400 in the major leagues died today at 83. But there was a lot more to Ted Williams than carrying a big stick.
Williams was a flawed role model, but he certainly got one thing right, and it’s fitting that he died on July 5. You see, Ted Williams gave up seven of the best years of his career to be a Marine pilot. Can you imagine Barry Bonds going through boot camp to become a Marine? I didn’t think so. Read more

They don’t make ’em like Lyman Bostock anymore

Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly:
Wouldn’t you love to see, just once, before you die… a major league player call a press conference to demand the club negotiate his contract — downward? “I’m barely hittin’ my weight,” he’ll say, his agent nodding by his side. “Either start paying me a whole lot less or I’m leaving for Pawtucket right now!”

That almost did happen. In 1978, a young, hard-hitting outfielder named Lyman Bostock became one of baseball’s first big-money free agents Read more

Leave Mike Piazza Alone

Rumor has it baseball’s most eligible bachelor is gay.
Mike Piazza says he’s not.

That should be the end of it.

Now, if some player came out and said he was gay, he wouldn’t be the first gay baseball player. He probably wouldn’t be the most prominent either. I’ve been told from a reliable source that a baseball superstar who retired in the 1980s and is now in the Hall of Fame is gay. The same source cited another player, not of the same caliber but who played during the same time period, as gay. He’s dropped hints in interviews, but never come out and said he is.

Don’t bother asking me who these players are. I have no reason to out them. I also don’t have three sources, which is the semi-unwritten rule that separates gossip from fact.

We’ve come a long, long way since 1984, when a magazine published an article titled “Reggie Jackson speaks out about his sex life,” and Mike Royko pointed out the absurdity. He’d never thought about Reggie Jackson’s sex life, so he went around asking other people if they’d ever thought of it. One guy asked if he wore his uniform and fielder’s mitt. A woman said no, then asked if he wanted to ask her about Ryne Sandberg. And Royko eventually came to the conclusion that Reggie Jackson’s personal life was Reggie Jackson’s business, and if anyone else cared, well, that was just pathetic.

Brendan Lemon, editor of Out magazine, sparked Piazza rumor by claiming last summer that he was having an affair with a pro baseball player who played on the east coast. He knew when he wrote it that people would think of Piazza, because everyone thinks anyone with his looks and his money ought to be married by now, and if he’s not, it must be because he’s gay.

Has it ever occurred to anybody that maybe Piazza just doesn’t want to be married?

Rumors about my sexuality have followed me my entire life. Well, since puberty. It came to a head in seventh grade. The playground talk that year was at least as bad as anything on South Park and frankly, it bordered on sexual harassment. I was in a combined 7th and 8th grade class, and there was one 8th grader who was as bad as the rest of ’em all put together, but collectively, to these guys, a girl was a collection of pleasure-bearing receptacles. That’s it. Well, that and a pretty decoration to be seen around, hopefully.

I didn’t participate in that. Yeah, I thought about sex as much as the next guy… probably. But someone, somewhere along the way, taught me to keep those thoughts to myself. But since I didn’t hit on or at least gawk at every reasonably attractive female carbon-based being that walked upright and was capable of verbal communication, I didn’t talk about what I wanted to do to them in bed, and since I didn’t boast of having a huge collection of Playboy and Penthouse and Hustler magazines at home, there was only one logical conclusion: Dave’s gay.

(And you thought I was going to say I was the nicest guy in my class. You’re so silly.)

One day the talk turned to one of the prettiest girls in the class. She was a year older than me, blonde, and the object of that biggest loudmouth’s every desire. Actually I think he would have died happy if she’d ever said more than two words to him. Rumor was that she had a thing for me. I’ve never really given any thought to the idea of whether she did or not. Looking back now, maybe she started the rumor just to make the jerk mad, because he hated me more than Roger Clemens hates Mike Piazza. Who knows. But I didn’t give any thought to it. I wasn’t interested. Why? Lots of reasons.

“You’re missing out on a chance of a lifetime,” one of the 8th graders said.

“A chance of a lifetime would be to buy IBM,” I said. (Scout’s honor. That was how I thought in those days. It didn’t make me popular.)

No, I didn’t see it as a chance of a lifetime. And yeah, she was really cute, but not really my type. I had a thing about girls who were taller than me. I got over it, about 10 years later. And she was blonde. I’ve always preferred dark hair and a past. So her hair was the wrong color and she wasn’t old enough to have a past. But even if she’d been the 5’1″ brunette of my dreams, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to date her, because I wasn’t about to date anyone from that town. I knew I was moving that summer, and I didn’t want to miss her.

If those former classmates get together on Friday nights and drink beer and talk about old times, they probably still think I’m gay.

In high school I was supposedly gay. The truth was, I hadn’t figured out how to talk to girls yet. By the time I was 17, I had started to figure out that you’re not supposed to talk to girls, you’re supposed to listen to them. So I dated a little as a senior. But mostly I was interested in getting out of there with as many accolades as I could so I could get into the college I wanted. One of my coworkers told me I could have girls then, or I could go to college and then get a real job and get rich and then have one of the girls really worth having. And he told me he respected my priorities.

Within a couple of months he was in prison but I took what he said to heart anyway. It sounded good. Just because he did all the wrong things didn’t mean he didn’t know what the right things were.

In college I forgot about that whole listen-to-girls thing, and the result was I had a whole lot more success getting my ramblings published than I had getting dates. There were girls I was interested in. Usually the feeling wasn’t mutual. There were girls who were interested in me. It wasn’t until after I’d graduated that I figured out what they were trying to tell me. Not that it mattered. I don’t think I would have known how to respond anyway. I knew a lot more about writing than I knew about starting relationships with girls.

I know at least once someone questioned whether I was gay during that timeframe, but that was a guy who thought The X-Files was a true story, so I didn’t let that bother me.

I’ve had a couple of post-college relationships. It’s been a while since the last of those. I don’t always understand women. I do understand guys. I understand them really well. I understand them so well that I know one thing for certain: I’ll never live with another guy for any extended length of time, unless that guy happens to be my son.

I live alone right now. A longtime friend who I don’t see very often anymore came to visit back in January, and he observed that I was content with that, but he questioned whether I was happy. He was right on both counts. But I’m picky about women. I don’t want another relationship like either of the last two. So I’m deliberately being a lot more picky this time around. And if the rumors want to fly, let them fly. I doubt they will.

So, what’s this have to do with Mike Piazza?

Well, there are a few differences between Mike Piazza and me. Mike Piazza hits a baseball a lot better than I do. I’m nowhere near as big of a crybaby about my annual salary as Mike Piazza was earlier in his career. But the biggest difference between Mike Piazza and me, as far as today’s headlines are concerned, is that gay activists don’t really have anything to gain by having me wear their badge. Yeah, I can write a little, but there are lots of gay guys who know how to write. Mike Piazza has money and notoriety and prestige.

But having walked one of the same roads Piazza walks, I have to offer up another, far less chic possibility or series of possibilities.

Maybe Mike Piazza knows a lot more about hitting a baseball than he knows about maintaining lasting, serious relationships with women.

Maybe Mike Piazza doesn’t want the distraction of a lasting, serious relationship with a woman while he’s trying to concentrate on hitting baseballs and winning a World Series and getting into the Hall of Fame. Like him or hate him, you have to admit Piazza has a lot of drive. And–gasp–some guys’ drive for success is stronger than their sex drive.

Or maybe Mike Piazza’s just being picky. All too many people marry the first person they suspect will say yes. And often, the result of that is that at some point after saying “I do,” they have to take those words back and get lawyers involved and it gets really messy. It affects every aspect of your life and turns you upside down. It would happen a whole lot less frequently if people would just be more picky.

I’ll tell you something else. None of what I’ve written about me was anybody’s business until I decided to write about it.

Likewise, none of what goes on in Mike Piazza’s relationships is anybody’s business until he decides to talk about it. And there’s every possibility that he never will.