A few years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the last ruinous baseball strike, I wrote a column commemorating that sad event and marveled at the fact that the sport, by all appearances, had made a full recovery from what seemed a suicide mission.
At the time — 1994, 1995 — there was so much vitriol charging the masses it really seemed we might never see a full ballpark again. People screamed about boycotts. They vowed never to go back. And yet, by 2014, the 20th anniversary, there was plenty of evidence that baseball fans had forgiven and forgotten. I wrote that.
A few days later I heard from Dustin Veraggio. He had made a vow on Aug. 12, 1994, that he was done with baseball. And he’d kept to that vow. He didn’t give an age, but did say, “I’m old enough that I saw Babe Ruth hit two home runs in a game against the Senators around 1932 or so. And I lived and died with the Yankees for every day after, until Aug. 12, 1994.”
We corresponded a bit. I was able to pinpoint the day of the game in question: May 21, 1932. The Yankees swept the Senators at the Stadium, 14-2 and 8-0. In the opener, Ruth swatted two blasts, one off Lloyd Brown, one off Frank Ragland. And the second one, Lou Gehrig followed with his own blast off Ragland.
“I envy you your memories,” I wrote him.
“They’re all I have left,” he said.
I was fascinated by him, partly because by walking away, he’d missed the great Yankees renaissance that soon followed — four championships in five years, all those playoff appearances beginning in 1995. I asked if he didn’t have a tinge of regret about missing all that.
“A little,” he admitted. “But I was raised to honor your beliefs.”
I learned from his nephew that Dustin passed not long after our exchange, but I thought a lot about him this week. There’s a lot of anger among baseball fans again, this time because of the cheating scandal that’s ensnared the sport thanks to the Astros. Baseball is a personal game: Fans take stuff personally, always have, and so the resulting emotion that emanates from scandal — gambling, cocaine, steroids, work stoppages — is far greater than any other sport. Maybe that’s the surcharge for being the national pastime.
All over talk radio, all over social media, angry fans have had their say, and many sound disgusted. Many sound ready to move on.
But again, I wonder, same as I did in 1994, how many Dustin Veraggios are really out there, same as I wonder whenever some disgruntled Knicks or Mets or Jets fan raises an angry voice calling for a boycott — or, even sillier, when they make public declarations that they’re pursuing different rooting interests.
It’s one of the eternal mysteries about sports, after all — why we care at all, why we care so much, why the outcomes of games and matches define our moods. In the same way you will never convince a sports agnostic that all this caring makes sense, it is impossible to believe you can ever completely mute the inner voice that pulls you toward your favorite baseball team.
What’s the point, anyway? I trust Dustin wasn’t the only Yankees fan who really did follow through on their vows to stay away. Was it worth it? Did you really ignore that remarkable Mariners playoff series the first year back, in ’95, first Yankees postseason innings in 14 years? Did you really not watch any of the 1996 World Series, or the 2000 Subway Series, or the 2001 World Series that tried, with every twist and turn, to offer layers of hope and healing from real-life tragedy?
Did that really make you feel better about yourself?
Maybe it did. It seemed to for my pen pal. But I also think of my father — similarly old-school, similarly furious at baseball for the strike, seemingly committed to staying away … until the day after Game 5 in Seattle, when I talked to him on the phone and he went on and on about how he hadn’t slept he was so upset.
“I thought you didn’t care anymore,” I said.
“I don’t want to care anymore,” he said. “There’s a difference.”
I suspect we’ll see a lot of that in the months to come: anger and resentment cratering, then crumbling, then vanishing once the games count for real again. Maybe that shows weakness on our part, those of us who love sports. I think it’s just who we are. And I’m OK with that.
All George Young did when he arrived at Giants Stadium in 1979 was rescue the Giants from a two-decade free-fall and turn them into the model NFL franchise. A pox on whoever it was that kept him out of the Hall of Fame this long, and kudos for the Hall finally righting a horrendous wrong.
If not now, Andy Reid, when?
Matthew Goodman has written as good a basketball book as you’ll read. “The City Game: Triumph, Scandal and a Legendary Basketball Team” tells the story of CCNY as well as New York City at the dawn of the 1950s. And while you’re at it, when you’re done with this, dust off Pete Axthelm’s “City Game,” too, which is only the best basketball book of all time.
Now that Young is finally in his rightful place in Canton, maybe someone can explain how Long Island’s own Pat Benatar (below) has been kept out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame up the road in Cleveland as long as she has.
Whack back at Vac
John Gedney: Maybe Brodie Van Wagenen should sign Scott Perry and Steve Mills to be co-managers. Looks like a match made in heaven!
Vac: It’s been that kind of week.
Jerry Vogel: A question for the ages: Who will go down as the better New York coach? Carlos Beltran for the Mets or Bill Belichick for the Jets?
Vac: Let’s revisit that after Beltran wins six championships piloting the Red Sox.
@JIKaufman: Disgruntled Mets fans are focused entirely on the wrong thing here. It’s not that Carlos Beltran cheated. It’s that Brodie Van Wagenen signed Jake Marisnick, who hits .225 knowing what pitch is coming!
@MikeVacc: Editor’s note: We don’t know that this is really true. But we do know what’s funny.
Richard Siegelman: Better late than never, sure, but what a shame that the NFL so belatedly (posthumously) honors so many richly deserving guys only after their deaths. Too little, too late, bittersweet even to their loved ones and fans.
Vac: Still, I’m surprised David Baker hasn’t found a way to notify and congratulate them, too.