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What it was like being a Royals fan from 1986-2013

If there’s one thing I’ve heard this week, it’s that people can’t imagine what it’s like being a Royals fan through their 29-year drought without playing in a postseason. I can tell you what it’s like. We’ve had some highlights, but mostly we’ve put up with endless parades of really bad players and really bad managers.

Those of you who enjoy looking at gruesome things, keep reading. These are the players we’ve spent 2.9 decades trying to forget. But keep this in mind: My hair started going prematurely gray in 1986, the same year Dick Howser died and the Royals started fading.

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I’ll miss you, Gary Carter

I was really sorry to see that Gary Carter lost his battle with cancer this week. He never played for my team and was never my favorite player but I can’t think of a player who exemplified baseball in the 1980s and everything that was right with it more than he did.

In the 1980s, he picked up the torch from Johnny Bench to become the best catcher in the National League. At the beginning of the decade, he was a perennial All-Star. He won a World Series in dramatic fashion in 1986, while playing for the hated New York Mets. By the end of the decade, he was a part-time player. But he never quit smiling, and he played the game in a way fitting of his nickname, “The Kid.” He kept on playing, even if only as a part-timer, until his body wouldn’t let him do it anymore. The same way we played baseball in the back yard.
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My baseball heroes

Joe Posnanski just did an entry on his childhood baseball idols, and lots of people chimed in about their unlikely heroes. So I got to thinking about mine. When it comes to likely heroes, of course George Brett and Ryne Sandberg were on my list, but that makes me no different from about 10 million other people. Bo Jackson is more of an underdog because his career was so short, but he’s a pretty obvious choice too. There’s an old joke in Kansas City that nobody can name a current Royals player except for George Brett. I mean Bo Jackson. I mean Bret Saberhagen.

If you followed the Royals through the 1990s, it’s funny. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of people who come across this page will have to take my word for it.

Anyway, here’s my list.3. Calvin Schiraldi.

I have no connection to Boston except for a little bit of personal baggage that isn’t Boston’s fault, but in October 1986 I was a Red Sox fan. Why? They were playing the New York Mets in the World Series, and if the Mets were playing the Cuban Nationals, I’d probably root for the Cubans. The only time I root for the Mets is when they play the Yankees.

In 1986, Boston’s closer was a young fireballer named Calvin Schiraldi. Schiraldi pitched well early in the series, but not so well later on. In the fateful Game 6, an exhausted Schiraldi was the pitcher who gave up a single to Ray Knight, setting up the infamous Mookie Wilson ground ball between Bill Buckner’s legs that forced Game 7 and cost Boston the World Series. Schiraldi didn’t throw that pitch; he watched helplessly from the dugout while Bob Stanley tried to pitch out of the jam.

I still remember the images of Schiraldi sitting in the dugout afterward, his face buried in a towel.

Schiraldi took the ball again in Game 7 and took the loss in that game too.

For me, Schiraldi came to symbolize the guy who takes the ball when his team needs him, whether he has his best stuff or not, and no matter how tired he is.

I had the chance to meet him a couple of years later, but I had no idea what to say to him. I wish we’d talked baseball a little, but I don’t know what I would say if I had the opportunity again tomorrow either.

2. Ron Hassey.

I think I told this story before. Ron Hassey was a left-handed hitting catcher who worked well with pitchers and had some pop in his bat. In 1984, the Indians packaged Hassey up along with relief pitcher George Frazier and starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe for outfielders Mel Hall and Joe Carter. Yes, Joe Carter as in the hero of the 1993 World Series.

Rick and I are related, but it’s not like he looks me up when he’s in St. Louis or anything. I’ve met him twice. Once the day after his 200th major-league win, and once at his grandmother’s funeral. (His grandmother was my great aunt.) But I digress.

The Cubs didn’t really know what to do with Ron Hassey. Jody Davis was the Cubs’ catcher, and he made the All-Star team every year as Gary Carter’s backup and he was a fan favorite. One night that summer, Hassey got a rare start at first base, which wasn’t his usual position. I don’t exactly remember how it happened, but Hassey hurt himself on a play at first base. It was either his leg or his knee. Writhing in pain, he hit the ground, but he had the ball. He had the presence of mind to literally roll over to first base and tag the bag to get the out.

I’m not sure that the team doctor approved, but I always thought that was the way baseball was supposed to be played. Play hurt and play hard.

So, for all those times I played softball trying to disguise a sore hamstring so the opposing team wouldn’t get the wrong idea… I guess you could day I got the idea from Ron Hassey.

At the end of the year, the Cubs packaged him up in a deal with the Yankees for a couple of forgotten names, Brian Dayett and Ray Fontenot. Trades involving Hassey then became something of an annual offseason tradition for the Yankees for a few years, kind of like firing Billy Martin. Eventually the Oakland Athletics got their hands on him, and he became Dennis Eckersley’s personal catcher.

1. Lyman Bostock.

There’s a lot I can say about Lyman Bostock, but I’ll start with this: Lyman Bostock is the greatest baseball player of all time that you’ve never heard of. He only played two complete seasons, but he was a contender for the batting title both years. He was kind of like Tony Gwynn, only with better speed and range.

But his final season is the reason he’s on my list. He signed with a new team and stunk up the place his first month, so he went to the owner and tried to return his salary. He refused, so Bostock announced he’d give the money to charity instead. He received thousands of requests, and personally went through all of them to see who really needed the money the most.

These days, when a free agent signs a fat contract and promptly tanks, he laughs all the way to the bank.

There’s a good reason why Bostock isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and it’s the same reason you’ve never heard of him. Toward the end of the 1978 season, he was visiting his uncle in Gary, Indiana. Bostock’s uncle pulled up to a stoplight with his goddaughter in the front seat of his car and Bostock in the back. The goddaughter’s estranged husband walked up to the car and fired a shotgun blast into the car. The shot hit Bostock in the head and he died two hours later.

I never actually saw Bostock play, seeing as he died when I was 3, but he posthumously became one of my heroes. He wasn’t just the kind of guy a father can point to and tell his son, "Play baseball like him." He was the kind of guy a father should point to and tell his son, "Live your life like him."

Should journalists protect their sources?

In the wake of New York Times reporter Judith Miller going to jail for refusing to reveal the identity of an unnamed source, of course I was asked about journalism and confidential sources, and should journalists protect their sources anyway?

I liken this situation to what would go through my mind if the New York Yankees ever played the Cuban Nationals. I would have a hard time deciding which team I wanted to lose.You see, confidential sources aren’t something you’re supposed to use very often. Since the biggest journalism event of the previous century–Watergate–couldn’t have stood without Deep Throat, people tend to assume it happens a lot. In reality, you ought to see a rude four-letter word somewhere on the front page more often than you ought to see an unnamed source in a story.

I was taught that unnamed sources are inherently unreliable. Think about it. Why would you have any interest in what I had to say if I wasn’t willing to sign my name to it? When my name’s not on it, it doesn’t matter what kind of a lie I tell. It’s not going to affect my reputation any. The best source has something at stake by talking to the journalist. A lot of people find talking to journalists to be tedious and unpleasant, but let’s face it: People respect people whose names they see in the newspaper. So a journalist inherently ought to seek out people who have a need to build or protect a reputation.

To my knowledge, I only ever used unnamed sources once. That was in a story about college students drinking underage and getting DWIs. None of the students I interviewed wanted their names used. Every attorney I interviewed did. That’s predictable. And since the unnamed sources’ stories sounded reasonable, nobody questioned me over their use. My assurance that these people really lived and weren’t the product of my imagination was enough. The story ran.

But that’s one problem with unnamed sources: A lot of times they’re just a cover for laziness. It’s a lot easier to make up quotes than to get them. And if you’re not willing to divulge a name and a phone number, and the editor is willing to take you at your word that you talked to these people, unnamed sources can result in a lot of fiction being presented as fact.

That’s why I’m not a fan of unnamed sources. They should be a last resort, not a first resort. If one person’s willing to talk, someone else ought to be as well, and maybe that other person has a name and is willing to let you print it. And two unnamed sources lend more credibility than one. It’s a little harder to fake, for one thing.

But Ms. Miller used unnamed sources. And this unnamed source revealed the identity of a CIA operative during a time of war, which is a crime. Since she wouldn’t reveal the source’s name, she’s doing time.

And that’s why I liken this to the Yankees playing the Cubans. On one hand you have a journalist using an unnamed source. On the other hand, you have a government that considers this a time of war when it’s convenient, but not really a time of war when it’s not–there’s that little bit in the Constitution about only Congress being able to officially declare and wage war, for instance. And that government really seems to be eager to gobble up freedom these days. Without a truly free press, that’s one less check and balance. Thomas Jefferson once said newspapers are more important than government.

So I’m wondering a lot of things, including how Ms. Miller could have broken that law when we aren’t officially at war, but also if we were to lose a free press, how we would get it back. It’s a lot easier for the CIA to get another operative.

Journalist-source confidentiality is supposed to resemble that which exists between a doctor and a patient, an attorney and a client, or a priest and a parishioner. And while there are exceptions to those often unspoken confidentiality agreements, they are just that: exceptions. If during the course of gathering a story an unnamed source told me he committed a murder, or another heinous crime such as child abuse or rape, that’s obviously an exceptional situation. A journalist who has just learned such a thing should be compelled to go to the police, as should a priest.

While a CIA operative being unmasked is a more exceptional situation than someone confessing to having run a red light or having spent the previous evening at a disreputable entertainment establishment, I have a difficult time mustering up the same sympathy for the CIA as I would the family of a victim of a violent crime. Murder, rape, and molest ruin lives. Did Ms. Miller’s source ruin the CIA? Ms. Miller’s source certainly changed the life of that CIA operative, but is that along the lines of murder? Isn’t this situation one of the hazards of the job?

So while I don’t like the practice of using unnamed sources, and I’m anything but a big fan of the media as it exists today, I believe that a free press is a necessity. And by that I mean a truly free press–not a press that’s free to print things I agree with. The Soviet Union had that. The Pravda was free to print whatever the government would allow it to print.

Once you lose a truly free press, it usually takes a very bloody revolution to get it back.

Unfortunately, both the far left and the far right tend to want to suppress opinions that don’t agree with theirs. I believe that the people who disagree with me have the right to print whatever they want to print. I’m confident that enough people will see that they are idiots and will agree with me. And in those instances where I’m the idiot, how else would I ever find out that I’m the one who’s wrong?

So while I’m not willing to call Judith Miller a martyr–some headlines have–I believe I can make a case for siding with her. I don’t see how I can make anything but a very wobbly case in support of the government.

Those who don’t agree with me ought to click on that link a few paragraphs back that features some quotes from Thomas Jefferson.

Looks like I’m a Florida Marlins fan now

I thought Boston would make it… And they broke my heart. Was it as bad as ’86? Not quite, but close. Very close.
Of course last night I thought the same thing about the Cubs, and they, too, once again flashed their unusual talent for pulling defeat from the clutching jaws of victory. So now we’ve got a Marlins/Yankees World Series, which means only one thing. I’m now a Marlins fan.

If the Cuban Nationals played the Yankees, I’d root for the Cubans.

At least with this arrangement, nobody questions my patriotism.