#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What kind of baseball geek am I?

I spent way too much time talking gloves with Gags
It was the worst tabloid baseball story ever.

My friend Joel Sherman, the brilliant baseball columnist at the New York Post, has reminded me of this more than a few times though the years. It was 1992, my first year at the Daily News, and I found myself spending a lot of time around the locker of Yankee infielder Mike Gallego. I was fascinated with the number of baseball gloves Gallego kept in his locker. Probably about 20 gloves.

Now, Gallego and I had some history. One of my best friends in college was Walt Weiss, who played with Gags in Oakland. Before I worked at the News, before I was really in the business, it was pretty normal for me to go and watch Walt play and hang out with members of the A's. I was also in Seattle on a few occasions when my brother Scott's Mariners were hosting the A's, and a large group of us would go out for something to eat after games. So, anyway, I liked chatting with Gallego.

Eventually,  I wrote a feature on Gallego's gloves. It probably had a headline like "Glove Affair" or "Glove Story," but I can't really remember.

Sherman -- and Jon Heyman from Newsday, Jack Curry from the Times, Moss Klein from the Ledger, Don Burke from the Record, Tom Pedulla from Gannett and Jack O'Connell from the Hartfourd Courant -- had been beating me, the rookie on the beat, like a drum on real news stories. So, a story on the scrappy, little infielders glove collection, was pretty laughable.

To this day, when I see Joel in the clubhouse, he's still likely to say, "Good time to revisit the Gallego Glove Story." It's all in good fun, and totally fair. It was 100 percent not a tabloid baseball story.

I didn't really care,  partly because I was a different kind of baseball geek than most of the baseball writers. I'd grown up in the same house as a big league player, shagging flies during his BP, working on my own swing with him in our basement, where we set up a tee and net. I'd had my own brief run at North Carolina, where I was a practice player, taking groundballs alongside Weiss. Not saying other writers could not play ball. Bob Klapisch was a pitcher at Columbia University and still throws in the wood bat leagues in North Jersey (not the over 40 leagues), and John Harper of the News and Curry have also clearly worn a cup.

Just saying, my passion for the game did not really come from digging into statistical minutiae. That was one thing.  Another was, having seen just how hard it was for Scott -- an All-American at North Carolina and a hitter good enough to win a Triple-A batting title -- to play regularly in the big leagues, I was simply not the type of writer who was going to trash players in print. It was probably my fatal flaw as a baseball writer from the beginning. I had way too much respect for how hard baseball is.

At Carolina, I'd faced guys like Scott Bankhead in intrasquad games. I knew what a 94 mile per hour fastball looked like (blurry) and what it was like to try and hit a tight slider (impossible).

Yet, at the same time, I was fascinated with the game. I was romantic about it. I loved watching guys in the cage, eavesdropping on what the hitting coach was telling them. I would get mesmerized watching middle infielders and their footwork on the doubleplay, sometimes even catching myself, notebook in hand, mimicking them. I admit, I was a wannabe player.

But, back to the gloves. We, the New York writers, were getting ready for our annual media game with Boston. Surely breaking some kind of BBWAA code, I asked Gallego if I could borrow a pair of his spikes. He said sure, and said, "Keep them for next year's game."

And then Gags asked if he could see my glove. I flipped it to him. It was a Rawlings custom glove my brother had passed on to me when it still looked like I might become a decent player.

"This is nice," Gallego said. "I want it."

I laughed. Yeah, right, the guy with 20 gloves in his locker wants my glove.

There it is, the glove I got in the trade with Gallego.
"No, really, I've got to have this glove," Gallego said. "Take any glove you want out of my locker and we'll trade. I won't take no for an answer. Pick one out."

For some reason, I remember thinking, "Maybe one day I'll have a son and he'll need a small-ish glove to start with." So, I found the smallest glove in his locker, a Mizuno, and made the trade.

During pregame, as I milled around the field, I noticed Gallego using my glove as he took fungoes. At that point, it mattered very little to me that Joel or anyone had teased me about the worst tabloid baseball story ever written. A member of the Yankees was using my glove. A glove he had to have.

I went to the press box that night on a bit of a high. But when the game started, I noticed Gallego was not using my glove. After the game, I said, "What? You didn't like it?"

"No, I love it," Gallego said. "But it's not like it's going to replace my gamer."

I asked if I could have it back.

"No way," Gallego said. "The trade is official."

So, yeah, it was the worst tabloid baseball story ever, but for me it remains memorable. I never did get the hang of being the hard-nosed, news-breaking baseball writer. I'm okay with that.

I'm more than comfortable being my own kind of baseball geek.


jelly andrews said...

I really had a great time reading this one. But I just wonder about the 2o gloves Gallego kept in his locker. Did he use all those gloves in all his game?

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