Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Run to your computers (wait a minute, you're already on your computers...) and double-click yourself into a copy of Dan Epstein's latest book Stars and Strikes, which is a reedy but resonant look at baseball back in America's contradiction-riddled bicentennial year (also known as 1976).

Dan weaves a nice tale, leaving lots of nicely frayed threads that he pulls through his narrative, making him the breezy Balzac of collective baseball biography. His winning formula is clearly based on the famous line from Edie Brickell's big hit "What I Am" ("Choke me in the shallow water before I get too deep"), but he passes the Big Test by remaining consistently skeptical in his approach to baseball's ownership class.

Sprinkled throughout the book are anecdotes that remind us of the arrogance of that elite (who weren't quite hip to the notion that if they just took a few lumps, they'd wind up with fifty times as much revenue than before...) and how it is not simply a distant echo in our own parlous times. One of the most revealing is this passage which details the type of strong-arm tactics that people in power like to play whenever something doesn't go their way. Here is Dan on the arm-twist aftermath of Hank Aaron's 755th (and final) home run:

Hank's 755th home run ball was retrieved from an empty seat in the left field stands at County Stadium by Dick Arndt, a part-time member of the Brewers' grounds crew, whose main duties involved opening and closing the left field gate for the bullpen cart.

Harry Gill, the team's head groundskeeper, asked Arndt to hand over the ball; in exchange for it, thre Brewers offered to give Arndt a photo of him returning it to Aaron, as well as a different ball autographed by the Home Run King and one of his bats. 

Arndt said he wanted to think about it overnight, and left County Stadium without returning the ball. 

He was fired the next day for taking Brewers property; the club also deducted the $5 cost of the ball from his paycheck.

Despite Aaron's subsequent requests for the ball's return, Arndt chose to hold on to it; the Home Run King would never get his final home run ball back.

While opinions vary about the etiquette of event-laden souvenirs and the monetary value attached to them, there's no doubt that the Brewers' management was not only over the line in their actions, but acting illegally. It's too bad that Arndt didn't sue them.

And do keep in mind that the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers at that time was none other than Bud Selig (the man we call Budzilla). Thanks to Dan Epstein for reminding us that the BS Era began well before he was given the opportunity to (further) besmirch the Commissioner's Office.

[NOTE: For the followup on what finally happened to Aaron's 755th home run ball, read Jerry Crowe's 2007 Los Angeles Times article.]