Steven Goldman is a columnist for Vice Sports. He was formerly the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus and the managing editor for baseball at SBNation.com. In the former capacity he edited and co-wrote the books Mind Game, It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over, Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers, and the 2006 through 2011 editions of the New York Times-bestselling Baseball Prospectus annual. He’s also the author of Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel on the early career of the Hall of Fame manager. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children.
Ten years ago, I was speaking with a colleague about Yankees outfield prospect Brett Gardner, whom I had just interviewed at Double-A Trenton. Having seen Gardner’s speed and patience in action, I was excited to see him climb the ladder to the Major Leagues. My colleague, who was an excellent judge of horseflesh (who would eventually be employed in a talent-evaluating capacity by a Major League team), told me to temper my expectations. “Right now, he looks like the next Rudy Law,” he said. “And no one is looking for the next Rudy Law.”
When I was very young, one of the so-called children’s stories I found deeply disturbing was “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde. It’s the story of a haunted but charity-minded statue that coaxes a swallow to gradually strip off its jewels and gilded leaves to aid the sad and impoverished residents of the city around it.
It is to be hoped that eventually even the most reactionary opponents of integration came to see, as African-American players entered the Majors in increasing numbers after 1947, that baseball that was open to the best talent, as opposed to the best white talent, was better baseball. This is as distinct from issues of fairness and morality. In their conformity to postbellum prejudices, the owners called into question for posterity all preintegration accomplishments. Babe Ruth’s home runs were hit against an intentionally castrated opposition.
In 1989, the year that marked the beginning of the nadir of their post-1915 existence, the Yankees acquired a left-handed pitcher named Greg Cadaret from the Oakland A’s as part of the return for Rickey Henderson. They also received Eric Plunk and Luis Polonia, a paltry take for a future Hall of Famer and the greatest leadoff man of all time.
In December 1986, about six weeks after the New York Mets had completed a 108-win season and defeated the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox in an epochal postseason, the New York Times’s Dave Anderson questioned the team’s approach to re-signing their free-agent third baseman Ray Knight in a column titled, “The Mets’ $200,000 Mistake?” Their opening offer to the reigning World Series MVP was $650,000, which amounted to a $5,000 raise over Knight’s 1986 base salary and bonuses. Knight wanted $1 million.
Back in the last century, when I was young and had a boy’s black and white sense of right and wrong, I had an uncle named Douglas—not Doug, never Doug—only he wasn’t really my uncle. Every family has one of those, right? He was attached in some dependently amorphous way to my grandmother’s spinster sister, a vivacious woman whose major fault was him. The relationship, which predated my birth, was explained to be of a romantic nature, but they weren’t married and there was little evidence of any attraction, or even respect, between them.
Back in the 1980s, when I was about 14, a new kid transferred into the school district. His family had moved to the East Coast from Ohio, and the day I made his acquaintance I became friends with my very first Cleveland Indians fan. Now that the Kansas City Royals have emerged from their long period of darkness and won a World Series, there is no current analog for just how simultaneously quixotic and exotic an Indians fan seemed in those days. This was the 1980s.