At the Major League Baseball winter meetings this year, Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, and semi-owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, announced that the league would contract two teams. The media elaborated and spun a frenzy. The two teams, they explained, would most likely be the non standard revenue winning Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos. Was this an Astroturf attack? No. Baseball is a business.
Granted, the Dome is a dump compared to Wrigley Field. The sterile concrete structure covered with loose nylon, supporting artificial light, is not the ideal place to play or watch baseball. Olympic Stadium in Montreal isn't the issue, fan support has dwindled to being outsold by minor league affiliates. The fans in Montreal folded, but the Twins fans are surprisingly fighting to save their world champions. They still talk about Kirby Puckett for crissake. Bug Selig made it a point that any team without a new, carnival type ballpark would be eliminated. Those creating the most debt would be gone. Just like that. So, the Twins fans and state legislature are working together to create a new ballpark. Business and politics. Same as usual.
Consider the following variables:
- Selig said that major league baseball teams were losing money. The collective bargaining agreement was making the spendthrift owners mad.
- MLB added 4 teams in the 1990's; The Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, and Tampa Bay Devilrays. The two teams in Florida emerged when The Chicago White Sox bluffed on a deal to move to Sarasota. The new Comiskey was built and began the avalanche of new ballparks. Why not just eliminate the new franchises that were failing financially?
- Carl Pohlad, the owner of the Twins is getting old, he has sold off his banks and is ready to die. He and Selig go way back and the contracted teams get compensation in the tune of 200 million dollars.
I wonder what Armand would think of this?
Armand and his family moved across the street when I was twelve. They were the first black family in a while. Armand was shy but my boisterous attitude soon won him over. My other friends were at camp that summer so Armand and I waned the days away in heady wafts of lilac. We would go to the pool and ride our bikes around. He had shown me his baseball card collection and encouraged me to get a pack. By the end of the summer we were racing to complete the set of Topps. We would play wiffle ball. Spinning the white ball with Phil Neikro scuff. When the wiffle ball broke, we used old tennis balls, eventually using duct tape around the sweet spot of the plastic bats. Wow, those balls flew into the tree tops.
We would pick teams and play their rosters. Armand would insist that lefty batters bat lefty. I learned how to switch hit. Armand would imitate the stance of each batter. We would play catch for hours.
I still regret trading to him a Ryne Sandberg rookie card for a Don Mattingly '86. I know today that the previous week hype of Don winning the triple crown led to my unfortunate deal. That Ryne Sandberg card is gone. It is in an attic somewhere, snug in a plastic sleeve with the rest of his belongings. Armand never knew that Sandberg was one of the only Cubs I ever hated.
I have a friend now who I talk ball with. He is of different stock than me. He is from Small Town Minnesota and a different life. He is a writer and lets me know when I am wrong.
One spring day during my sophomore year of college the phone rang. It was my father,
"Bob… Hello… Bob, your mom died." I heard him say.
I was crazy, instant shock and only uttered out a 'What?' and a 'How?'
My father began to explain and I realized that it was not my Mother but my childhood friend 'Armand' mixed by my dad's south side accent.
Armand had been home for spring break. He was out with his friends in the wrong neighborhood. Gang members shot at car. Armand hit in head. Armand dead.
I set the phone down and went to the shower where I cried for some time. I had barely spoken to the kid in the last few years. Race had torn us apart. No doubt we were always friends, but High School is a tough biz. We had always kept to ourselves. It was easy to wrestle or fight. It was easier to just hang out with the other because it was the only thing to do. Friends like this are grown in a pod, stuck together.
Such sadness drapes over me when I think of baseball now. It is so sad that baseball is a money grubbing waste and that the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 and that I don't have my friend to talk about it with.