At the conclusion of James Joyce's short story "Araby" from Dubliners, the narrator, ostensibly a young Joyce, enters the bazaar on Saturday night after the people have all left and the bazaar workers are counting their money and cleaning up for the day. All of a sudden, he forgets his promise to Mangan's sister, who is unable to go to the bazaar, and picks something up for her, puts his money away and feels the illusions of youth floating away.
I finally know what the young man was going on about, except with me it was not the bazaar, but baseball. Since I started collecting baseball cards as a young boy, I have been a rabid fan of baseball in general and of the St. Louis Cardinals in particular. The more I got into baseball, the more I felt I had to know. I could astonish my grade-seven teacher with my ability to list off award winners going back to the 1950s and World Series winners since the age of Babe Ruth.
For me, part of baseball's appeal was the history of the professional game. When hockey was a two-bit game played in six cities, basketball was a game for those with over active pituitary glands with teams in Fort Wayne and Rochester, and football and its three yards and a cloud of dust was as exciting as toast, baseball was the glamourous game.
Historically, you were a major league city if you had a baseball team. And no other sport mirrored the changes in North American society like baseball.
The golden age of city life in America, roughly the 1890s to 1930s, saw St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston with two baseball teams and New York with three. As people moved west, so did baseball, with teams leaving Philadelphia, Boston, and New York for California, Kansas City and Milwaukee. The change in America’s racial and ethnic character could be witnessed in baseball as well. Joe DiMaggio, the son of Italian immigrants, was the first star who was not of either Irish, Scottish, German or English heritage. Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in 1947, long before the segregation and Jim Crow laws were deemed unconstitutional.
For nearly two decades, I followed baseball and the Cardinals like most people follow their mutual funds. When the 1985 Cards lost the World Series to Kansas City on Don Denkinger’s blown call at first base in the ninth inning of game six, I cried (it didn’t help that my dad was taunting me as well). When Kirk Gibson hit the ninth inning home run against the A’s in the 1988 Series, I cheered like Dodger fan, which I was not. When Sid Bream slid into home in game seven of the 1992 nlcs, ending the Pirates’ chances of a trip to the Series, I felt for my younger brother and all the other Pirate fans. And when the Series was cancelled in 1994 and Felipe Alou’s powerhouse Montreal Expos broke up for financial reasons, I was genuinely angry. Yet I never abandoned baseball.
But something happened this year.
I can’t put my finger on it, but I think the possibility of another strike, the third in my lifetime, soured me on baseball. The strike talk was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The talk of contraction; the lawsuits; the possibility that the Expos will remain another year in Montreal but play up to 20 home games in Puerto Rico; and the notion that not striking was a major event all contributed to my disillusionment with the game. I have not even mentioned Bud Selig, the used car dealer/Commissioner/owner, who has managed to ruin the once great game. Whatever it was, my interest has evaporated. Baseball, once my passion, has become something like the friend who lets you down once too often, so you decide the friendship is over.
I do not care that the Angels just won their first World Series or that Barry Bonds was yet again denied post-season glory. Yes, the Blue Jays have a good core of players and may challenge the Red Sox and Yankees next year. Don’t care. I can’t come back. My emotions have been toyed with enough, and I think the best thing for me and baseball is to see other people. But it was a fun 18 years.