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Original Issue


The best thing about baseball 1989 is that it's over

For the first time in my life I'm happy that the baseball season is over. Finis. Kaput. Kiss it goodbye. (I'm not counting the senior league—I did notice that Mickey Rivers stole a base for West Palm Beach on opening day last week.)

The sooner '89 gets 86'ed, the better. The wistful feeling that usually comes over me after the last out of the World Series is not here this November. I'm just relieved and thankful that baseball got through the season in one piece—and I'm not talking only about the earthquake of Oct. 17. In fact, the whole year was a series of shocks: the revelations about Pete Rose's gambling and his subsequent banishment from baseball; the death of Bart Giamatti a few months into his tenure as commissioner; and, just when the game was recovering from those two blows, the World Series Interruptus. A press conference in baseball is usually not a good sign, and this year reporters spent almost as much time in press conferences as they did in press boxes.

It was a bad year for heroes. Wade Boggs revealed that chicken was not his only obsession, and Steve Garvey set some sort of record for romantic entanglements. Yet their peccadilloes paled in comparison to those of Rose, who, by allegedly betting on baseball games, risked not only his good name and livelihood but also his election to the Hall of Fame. If you love baseball, you had to love Rose when he was a player. But if you love baseball, you have to look away from him, at least for now.

Rose's headlong slide through the courts took up most of the season, and he dragged his Reds down with him. Finally, on Aug. 24, the situation was resolved when Giamatti announced that Rose was banned from baseball for life. A week later Giamatti died of a heart attack, on the first day of a well-deserved vacation. With him died the promise of a strong and just and eloquent commissioner, and I felt sad for baseball. I felt even sadder for mankind when I read a letter from a Rose supporter, the gist of which was, "Now look who's banned from baseball for life."

We didn't know much about Giamatti's successor, Fay Vincent, until he was faced with some monumental calls in the moments and days after the earthquake. Vincent could not have been more wise or more sensitive in contending with that crisis, and for one of the rare times this season I felt heartened about the game.

But the World Series couldn't help but be a disappointment. The shame of this Series is that it will always be the earthquake's Series, and not the Oakland Athletics'. I root for no team, but I do root for greatness, and the 1989 A's are one of the great teams in history. I mentally matched them with the '27 Yankees—Rickey Henderson vs. Bob Meusel, etc.—and gave the edge to the Athletics. Yet, the A's will not get their due because of the earthquake, and also because the rest of the U.S. gave The Battle of the Bay the lowest television ratings of any prime-time Series in history.

Maybe I'm becoming a curmudgeon, but I found myself getting more and more irritated by the behavior of various segments of the baseball population this year. I sensed ingratitude creeping through the fans, for instance. In April, Frank Viola, who was then in the midst of a contract battle with the Twins' management, was booed when he took his family to the circus in St. Paul just 17 months after he had brought a world championship to the Twin Cities and five months after he had won the Cy Young Award. Roger Clemens was booed on Opening Day in Fenway Park because of a few offhand remarks he had made about Boston in the off-season—what did he ever do for you, Red Sox fans?

The players could be childish, too. In late August New York Mets manager Davey Johnson posted a lineup card with Gregg Jefferies, unpopular with his teammates, leading off and playing second; a Met scrawled "Are we trying?" underneath Jefferies's name. Is it any wonder the team finished six games behind the less talented Cubs in what should have been a cliffhanger of a division race? For that matter, except for September's Baltimore-Toronto series, there were no real late-season pennant races in any of the divisions.

There were some nice things about baseball in "89, especially if you were bald (Howard Johnson), old (Nolan Ryan) or squat (Kirby Puckett, Tony Gwynn and Kevin Mitchell). Frank Robinson did a fine job with the Baltimore Orioles, as did Don Zimmer with the Chicago Cubs, and Bo Jackson amazed everyone but himself. For the first time, a father and son, the Ken Griffeys, played in the majors concurrently. The Hall of Fame celebrated its 50th anniversary.

But none of that, not even the return of Garth Iorg (shortstop for the Bradenton Explorers), can make up for what was essentially a miserable season. I feel like I've had a bad meal at my favorite restaurant. I know I'll be back once the heartburn subsides. But for now, just the check, please.