Monday, May 23, 2016

Split Season by Jeff Katz

Why I Read It: I lived it, like millions of other baseball fans.

Summary: "Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo and the Strike That Saved Baseball"; the 1981 players' strike and the season that surrounded it.

My Thoughts: In 1981 I was ten years old. I had no reason to be a true baseball fan just yet - my hometown Red Sox weren't exactly lighting the world afire - but I was. It probably had more to do with baseball cards and collecting them than the game itself. I was heading for Little League and the Sox had a few stars to whom I could look up, in that innocent way kids do. Carl Yastrzemski was nearing the end, but Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk and so many others were in their primes.

And then, it came to a halt. The players went on strike. Mind you, it didn't really affect me that much that I can remember. My love for listening to and watching baseball has grown with the years. At that time there was much more to do with my life. But I do have one strong memory of the strike.

I remember listening to the radio one night. The 1981 Sox were taking on...the 1967 Sox. It sounded like so much fun, and due to the magic of radio, it could happen. There was Tony Conigliaro coming to the plate, Jim Lonborg on the mound pitching to Dwight Evans. I'm sure somewhere somebody had pulled out the old Strat-O-Matic and come up with the game result, but there was one obvious human touch. At one point in the game, I can't remember when, Carl Yastrzemski came to the plate (1981 Yaz). Before the first pitch was thrown, 1967 Yaz motioned to the right fielder that he wanted to switch positions, from left to right. And there it was. 1981 Yaz swung and launched a mighty drive to right, way back, toward the bullpen, and 1967 Yaz leaped and robbed himself of a future home run! I may not have understood what was going on with baseball, but I knew I had just witnessed history that could never happen.

Katz brings us back there, to the days when Fernando Valenzuela turned baseball on its head, looking skyward all the way. Back to Pete Rose's all-time National League hit record, and Garry Templeton's ousting from the Cardinals. And he brings us into the backroom haranguing that eventually settled the dispute between players and owners, Marvin Miller and Ray Grebey. It was not baseball's last labor dispute, but it was one with major ramifications for many parties involved. That included the fans, many of whom walked away and only came back in a very gradual way, if they did at all. In the long run, the strike helped baseball, but in the short term, it made for some tough days.

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