Business As Usual
The first time I sat down with my agent to discuss the content of this book we were eating lunch in a restaurant near my home. We were going over some of the things I wanted to put in, and at one point she looked up at me and said, “Have you discussed any of this with these guys? Do they know you’re writing a book?” I confessed I had not.
“Your outline looks great, Dave,” she went on, “but this, here, with Dave Guevara….You should talk to him.”
“I don’t know where he is.”
“Find him,” she said. “Isn’t there a baseball database or something?”
“There’s a union directory and a veteran’s archive.”
“Good. Because this kind of thing… I mean, with the drugs. You should get a confirmation.”
“Of course,” I said.
To his credit, Dave Guevara did not hesitate. “Write it,” he told me over the phone.
“There may be a backlash for you,” I warned him.
“What do you mean?”
“Media. Interviews. A reexamination of your career.”
“It was a long time ago. We were in the minors. Those things don’t scare me. Just do me one favor, Dave.”
“Write the whole thing, not just the drugs. Tell them what I did on the field.”
“I will,” I promised.
We soon went on a 5-game losing streak. Medina was no Dave Guevara, but that wasn’t our only problem; our pitching continued its mediocrity. We dropped to third place. Moose and J.R. stayed hot, and Yoogie was the lone bright spot in the bullpen (3-0). I hovered around .270 and made a couple of errors. Lino Lopez led the Durham Sergeants in homeruns (10) and RBI (23). Mark Kearse was hitting .337. Bradley Sing stopped complaining about the humidity, the field conditions, and the poor equipment long enough to hit .246 and rip 9 dingers in limited play.
Sing was a very determined guy. Unfortunately, he was determined to annoy the hell out of everybody. No sooner had I forgotten about Keith Hart than here comes Bradley Sing. He was gifted; no doubt about that. He had Hart’s bravado and confidence, but there was an anger behind it. Some guys are just full of themselves. That’s fine. Whatever gets you going. But Bradley had a chip on his shoulder the size of a hero sandwich. I’ve mentioned I didn’t like Keith Hart, right? By mid-July I was praying for Keith Hart back.
I read a book once called D-Day
by Stephen Ambrose, the famous historian. In it he gives examples of the leadership exhibited by the men of the armed forces during the assault on the beaches of Normandy. Some of those men were born leaders. Some were leaders by circumstance; they had a job to do. But others were reluctant heroes; men who were fated to accomplish things which appeared at the time to be beyond their ability. I mention this because after a particularly bad game against the Charleston Redhawks, Bradley Sing started harping and he just wouldn’t shut up.
I’m not a violent guy. I never was. I’ve been challenged plenty of times in my career but always managed to diffuse the situation with patience and well-chosen words. But I had had it with Bradley Sing. If he was going to be a part of the team, he was going to have to come up with something positive to say, at least around me.
So Sing’s complaining as he undressed. He’s complaining in the shower. He’s complaining while he’s getting dressed. He had his pants half on when I finally called across the locker room.
“Hey, Sing, give it a rest, huh?”
“What’s your problem, Driscoll?” he says.
“You,” I say. “You’re my problem. I’ve heard enough bellyaching from you. ‘I don’t like this and I don’t like that.’
I’m tired of it. We don’t need that kind of bull**** around here.”
”Yeah? Well that’s all we have
around here is bull****,” he says. “Bull**** field, bull**** fans, and bull**** coaches.”
“What was that?”
“You heard me. This is ****. Who are these re-treads, anyway? Gable? What did he ever do? What was he, a lifetime .265 hitter? Why should I listen to him?”
“Maybe because you’re hitting twenty points less,” I say, but he’s still running his mouth.
“And Garner? He spends a month in the bigs and gets fired? Now he can’t get a job and he’s all the way down here in Rifle Rack, Georgia, and we’re supposed to swallow all his tough guy bull****?”
“He spent six seasons in the bigs as a bench coach, you arrogant punk,” I say. “And he was an interim manager who went 29-26 with a crap pitching staff. For a guy who knows so little, you sure think you know a lot.”
“**** you, Driscoll,” says Sing. “You can’t say a word for four months and now all of a sudden you’re in my face? What do you care, anyway? I’m just telling it true, man. If you can’t take it, go back to Mommy and Daddy.”
I must have taken several steps toward him because he braced himself. Guys converged on us, then I felt Moose’s hand on my chest. “No, man,” he whispers.
“Why not?” I whisper back, jaw clenched. “You don’t think I can take him?”
“You can’t take him, you idiot,” he replies. “He’s got about forty pounds and six inches on you. Besides, you might break your hand and Yoogie’s ERA will go up.”
But Sing just can’t stop himself.
“That’s right, Driscoll. Get your bodyguard to save your life. I’ll kill you, man.”
Then Theo’s voice was behind me. “Knock that **** off, the two of you.”
“Get your attitude right, jerk off,” I say.
“**** you. You can’t talk to me. ****, the way you’re going, in another year I’ll be hiring you to baby-sit my kid.”
Well, that was it. I broke through about four guys and grabbed Sing’s shirt, propelling us over the bench and into a row of lockers with a huge bang. In a normal fight Sing would have cleaned the floor with me, but in this case he was under the bench and it tied him up. I rained about six or seven punches down into his face before Moose pulled me off him. It only occurred to me later that no one was in too much of a hurry to rescue Bradley Sing.
His face was bloody. My hands were bloody. It was a good trade.
Theo was bellowing. “Goddamn it! Get him outta here, Moose! I don’t want to see him until game time tomorrow! Sing, get in the goddamn shower and clean yourself off.”
“He broke my nose, Skip,” whined Sing.
“You’re lucky that’s all he did.”
I can’t really explain why I did what I did that day. Bradley Sing was a jerk, but he was no enemy. Like most fights, it started over something stupid and escalated into a dangerous show of force. Like most fights, it didn’t solve anything. It wasn’t to be my last fight in baseball, but in many ways it was the most significant. If I had broken my hand, it might have been very bad. It was the first moment I cared enough about my team to risk my career.
Something else happened too, I noticed. Guys began to play ball like I played ball. They changed what they did, their habits. I don’t think I can call it leadership, but my style of play became an influence. Certain guys worked a little harder, ran a little faster, concentrated a little more. I guess they decided my way was the right way. Bradley Sing shut up. They say a team takes on the personality of its leaders. If that’s true then the Gents became my team the moment I landed the first punch.
I only wish Guevara had been around to see it.
Next week: Business As Usual
, Part Two