WASHINGTON — I'm incurable about baseball. I found that out a few years ago when a players' strike wiped out the World Series. I told anyone who would listen that I was through with baseball. But when spring training arrived the next year I simply couldn't stay away from reading all about the various teams their trades, their problems, their prospects.
Soon I found myself once again cheering tepidly at first, with only one hand my favorites, the St. Louis Cardinals. Before long I had forgotten my anger how could the players ever refuse to play in the venerated World Series? and had become an enthusiastic fan again.
I've noted that some of my colleagues in the column and sports-writing business have taken a vow that "this time" they will put baseball out of their lives if there is another players' strike. I don't doubt their intentions. I simply question their ability to carry them out.
How, for example, will Charles Krauthammer be able to perform such a drastic deed? Krauthammer tells us in a recent column in The Washington Post that he's been a fan since he was 6. He says that he can remember the starting lineup of the 1960 New York Yankees and adds: "Growing up in Montreal, I kept a transistor radio under my pillow so I could surreptitiously listen to Yankee night games broadcast from a tiny station in Plattsburgh, N.Y."
When I read that, I thought: "No, Charles, you may not know it but, like me, you started too early as a fan. It's inside you. Like it or not, you are incurable."
I got caught up in following big league baseball at age 9. A summer-school student at the University of Illinois, only a few blocks away from my Urbana, Ill., home, was staying with us while taking courses. He'd play catch with me after supper, and encouraged me to hope that someday I might be able to play among the baseball heroes he worshiped. Indeed, he had hopes himself of making it to what he called the "Big Show" and was to have a tryout with the St. Louis Browns the following spring. I learned later, he didn't make the Browns and went into coaching.
My friend bought me a Spalding Athletic Guide, containing the player and team statistics of the Big League teams. Soon I was memorizing batting averages of the top players and showing off my "amazing" knowledge to family guests who had to suffer through this little kid's volunteer performance.
We had no radio yet. But many an afternoon I would crawl under the bushes that surrounded the house of neighbors and listen to their radio blaring out through open windows the accounts of Cardinals' games being broadcast from St. Louis. If my neighbors saw me, they never let me know.
I started back then to check the standings of the teams each morning in the paper and read the accounts of the games that had been played the previous day. I still do.
My favorite sports writers in those days were Irving Vaughan and Ed Burns of the Chicago Tribune. How I envied them their assignments, covering the White Sox and the Cubs. They would start out with one team at spring training and then trade teams at midseason.
In later years, I happened to meet Burns, who told me he always wrote his stories in longhand and that there was one Tribune line-o-type operator who always handled his stories because he was the only one who could decipher Burns's handwriting.
I could go on and on about my love of baseball and how ingrained that feeling is in me.
But I, too, am fed up with baseball. I'm incensed over these strikes or lockouts or whatever they are these battles between players and owners that ignore the feelings of the fans. I don't like the players' refusal to take random checks for steroids. The salaries have become almost obscene.
And I'm irritated to no end when I read that the Yankees have used their immense wealth to buy more star players to win the pennant once again. They've been doing that since I was a youngster, when The Chicago Daily News daily underscored its complaint that the Yankees had taken over the American League by running the two standings as: "The National League" and "The Yankee League."
Yep, I'm upset, upset, upset with baseball. But I'll be back even if there is a strike. I've got no character when it comes to baseball.