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Old 07-08-2012, 07:42 PM   #761
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Good lord, this story is great. I read this over a period of 3 or so days, and every bit of it was good.
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Old 11-01-2012, 02:51 PM   #762
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To discover this but have it left unfinished... is this hell?
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Old 11-02-2012, 09:54 AM   #763
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it's been a very long time....
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Old 12-11-2012, 04:24 AM   #764
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Old 01-30-2013, 12:40 AM   #765
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Old 01-30-2013, 06:21 PM   #766
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Old 01-30-2013, 06:53 PM   #767
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Is it possible!!!!!??????/
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Old 01-30-2013, 10:25 PM   #768
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Why would you do that to us???
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Old 02-01-2013, 08:13 PM   #769
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Old 02-01-2013, 08:15 PM   #770
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I want more more more!

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Old 02-05-2013, 01:08 AM   #771
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My friends,

You have all waited so long.

New time-consuming assignments at work resulted in less time to write. This led to delays. My delays in posting new chapters led me to even longer delays in developing this story. This led me to realize I simply did not have the time to write.

The story gave way as I committed to spending more time with my kids. Soccer, softball, hockey and gymnastics took up much of my extra time. I never forgot Dave, though.

I confess I did move on to other writing projects in the last (could it be?) 4 years. I did this in an effort to rekindle the spark that drove me to attempt this ambitious story. It was fits and starts. Fits and starts. Then, nothing.

Dave sat in his kitchen mulling the results of the Ayala Commission for almost four years. Damon didn't age. Neither did Gwen, as their world entered into a state of suspended animation. They waited, frozen, as I worked and wrote about other things -- important things, job related things, real things about real people in crisis.

And when my assignment ended last year and I sat down to finish Chapter 54 I found that although Dave and the people in his world were as I left them -- I was not. I had changed in the last four years. Serious things had happened, important things, and I was not the same.

I don't know if this means the tone of the story will change now. I don't know how the last four years will affect the telling of Dave's story, but I'm going to tell it. Now, only now, can I finally relax and put away the pressures and stress of the last four years. As I sat at my keyboard and re-read the story I found I was anxious to know what happens to Dave.

I am excited again to thaw out this world I froze four years ago and see what might be seen. I discovered that I need to know what happens. I need to see what's around the corner. I need to finish this long labor.

So I am opening the gates again, and you are all invited. Thanks to you all who waited, frozen like Dave, wondering where I was and what the hell was I doing that was so important. Thank you to the people at OOTP Developments who kept this story on the forums through so many changes of their own.

I feel renewed and ready and nervous -- I honestly do not know what will happen; I haven't simmed that far ahead.

Let's find out together.

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Old 02-05-2013, 01:14 AM   #772
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SHORT HOP Interlude #7
The History of Pro Baseball


“Never the Same Game Again”
The Emergence of Black and Hispanic Players, 1958-1964

Following the debut of Clayton Breckenfield, and despite Breckenfield’s productivity, the emergence of other minority talent was slow to develop. Although Breckenfield’s talent was indisputable, other teams had no black players in their systems and were unwilling to promote a black player directly to the big league. Whether this was out of fear of reprisal from whites, or from a simple lack of planning, is unknown, but it was probably a combination of both factors.

By 1959 there were only nine black players in the ABF, and none from southern teams. The league’s second black player was also the first in the New England League, a husky 19-year old catcher named Lucas “Cannonball” Jackson. Jackson, the son of a musician and his 16-year old seamstress bride, was an immediate star in his home town of Birmingham and became the subject of rampant speculation after an amazing rookie season (.336/21/59). Although he made headlines in white papers, Jackson was denied any interest from white leagues for the better part of two years. Some sources suggest that white teams were waiting for allegations that Jackson had impregnated a “woman of ill repute” to subside before offering him a contract. Some say Jackson’s “loose habits” made white teams reluctant to sign him. And contrary to some stories, Jackson’s nickname was not given to him by the white press because he was “round and black”, his own teammates called him Cannonball because of the unusually high trajectory of his homeruns.

The truth is that Jackson was a 19 year old alcoholic. No proof has ever been found that he impregnated anyone (except of course his long suffering wife Maye years later), but his drinking has now been generally accepted as the reason for ABF reluctance. In his masterful biography of Jackson, Cannonball, author George John Califell explained the impact of Jackson’s reputation:

“It was the worst possible situation for both the BBA and the ABF. The BBA’s joy in Breckenfield’s play was overshadowed by dismay less than a year later when they learned the true extent of Jackson’s continued misbehavior. The clear misgivings of the ABF were evident in league communications with the BBA, and most certainly strengthened by stereotypes and prejudices a century old. All the BBA’s assurances served only to increase the ABF owners’ suspicions – suspicions fed at least in part by long held racial beliefs. In the end, further integration was delayed while ABF owners slowly gained the courage to look beyond those beliefs. In the meantime, new black stars were denied the opportunity afforded to Breckenfield.”

Jackson’s impact on integration cannot be overestimated. Jackson’s drinking and womanizing represented everything white owners feared. The well-known infidelity and alcoholism of white players aside, white owners used Jackson’s own behavior not only against him but every other black player of note. Hollis Trinity had to wait a year before signing with Chicago. Marlon Mapes waited two years for New York to sign him, despite his standing as a deacon with the Atlanta First Baptist Church. Older stars like Saisey White and Leonard Lee never got a chance. But progress is inevitable, as they say, and soon enough the business implications of signing black players became undeniable. In the end, owners signed black players because the talent was definitely there, as well as a source of new wealth: black patrons.

The late 50’s were a time of prosperity for blacks as well, compared to the previous fifty years. Jobs were available, and not just in the South. The nation’s new productivity needed an expanded workforce. Many thousands of working age African Americans moved north to St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee and beyond, looking for and finding work. And they took their families with them, and their love for baseball. Blacks in the 1950s had a higher per capita income than in any previous decade in American history. This meant better homes, better utilities, and the money to pay for appliances, cars, and baseball tickets.

The owners were aware of this, not because they took an altruistic view of the social situation, but because the BBA was thriving, selling out big league stadiums for spring and winter tournaments and feature games. Soon the misgivings about players like Cannonball Jackson gave way to simple avarice and black players began to see contracts. By the time Jackson joined the Redcaps late in the 1958 season, there were no less than 39 other black players under some form of contract to ABF teams. Among these were future standouts Wilton Greenhouse, Emory Washington, Glendon Winters, Reggie Mayberry, and Rooster Wells.


Latin players faced similar yet different challenges. Virtually forgotten in the ethnocentric early years of the ABF, Latin players could gain no professional ground outside their own leagues for decades. While Latin players were generally more accepted in white leagues, owners nonetheless did not sign many.

The Release Clause and the prevalence of good regional Latin leagues served to limit the opportunities for Latin players to play in America. There were a few players of Latin descent in the early years, most notably Hall of Famers Raymond Echevar and Tony Day, but they were the exception to the rule – and they were half white, hiding their true names by adopting Anglicized versions (their real names were Ramon Echevarrio and Antonio “Tino” Diaz). Although Latin players did not endure the same degree of discrimination as black players, they were not signed in any significant number until the early 60s. It is an odd footnote in baseball history that, prior to Breckenridge, there were still several Latin players of Cuban/African descent in the big leagues. Once the Richmond Rifle made his debut, the flood of black player signings eclipsed Latino player signings for about five years. From 1958 through 1962 the number of Latin players in the ABF actually went down. Ironically, the signing of an African American player led to a reduction in players of Latino-African descent.

This all changed in 1962 with the signing of the two top pitchers from the Dominican League, Wilmero Cruz and Donaldo Garcia. Competition for Cruz and Garcia was heated because they were discovered at about the same time by both the New York Redcaps and the Pittsburgh Cannons. When the other teams quickly followed suit and signed the best black players, the talent pool in the BBA dropped significantly. By 1959 the signings had been reduced to a trickle. By then teams had turned their attention to the Caribbean where excellent talent still hid in the dusty mountain towns of Cuba, Central America and the Dominican Republic. Playa Giron produced Alvaro Novoa. Camaguey’s pride was power hitting third baseman Hector Sotolongo. Speedster Juliano Foca was from Pinar del Rio. Varientes gave rise to catcher Rolando “Chugo” Castillo.

All in all the early 60s were a prosperous time for owners and players. The owners saved money by signing at rock bottom prices what they said was unproven talent. This was patently untrue, as many of the Latin stars signed during this time were veterans of the Caribbean leagues. Most everyone knew how good Novoa and Foca were, but no Latin player was going to make close to what white players were getting. Even established black stars made far less than white benchwarmers. This gave owners more dollars to spend on their increasingly agitated white stars.

Player compensation during this time could be divided racially into three sections: the white, the black, and the Hispanic. White players felt the pinch when new black and Latin talent came into the league. More marginal white players lost jobs every year, but overall whites still made more money. For whites, the backlash of these signings was social in nature. White players and fans were forced to acknowledge that the game was not just for white men anymore. It was a sea-change, and not just in baseball. Basketball was integrated in 1958, and football had been signing black players since 1951. White players who attempted to organize found themselves on the wrong end of the Civil Rights movement, and such efforts were quickly quashed by the league. The resentment remained in a few, however, and the conflict arose again in 1965.

Black players saw raises too, mostly because owners were able to sign Latin players for very small amounts. Some black players even made more money than white players, thanks to owners like Freeders who paid his players on par with their contribution to the team’s success. Latin players made the least by far, but for many being signed by a big league team was the opportunity they had been dreaming of – and any amount of American money was going to be more than the small leagues of the Caribbean could afford.

By 1964 the ABF was growing again. Expansion was on the horizon and the owners were again flush with cash. With this renewed prosperity came a corresponding increase to the General Fund. By 1963 the Fund had over $120M in assets. This meant the league was safe from financial storms, but it was because of this that the Fund began to be misused. Owners took and borrowed from the Fund almost at will. Since they set up the Fund in the first place, they had all rights to it. Because it was managed by a committee formed from within their ranks, they had total control over its distribution. And because the Fund was filled with tax exempt dollars (through a variety of loopholes formed during the 1930s) the government couldn’t touch it.

As continuing racial tensions shook the country and persons of all colors marched for equality, players began to speak out about the wealth of the owners, and specifically about the manipulation of the General Fund. In short, players of color felt the money was being intentionally withheld to devalue certain contracts. They pointed to the contracts of players like Detroit’s flashy first baseman Barry McFerrin and Chicago’s burly third baseman Allen Bugbee. Both were worthy of big contracts, they said, but not at the expense of great teammates like Luco Onofro and Sherman Drummond.

Most outspoken of these voices was Stevenson Whitaker, a columnist and civil rights crusader from Raleigh, North Carolina. Whitaker wrote for the Raleigh Herald and used his weekly column to address issues of race. Some criticized him for alleging the General Fund was “a financial lever used to clamp down the earning potential of minority players”. Others lauded him for calling attention to a system they felt was denying minorities the right to a fair wage. Whitaker wrote:

“It is bad enough that pay discrepancy between white and minority players runs between 25 and 75 percent, but the owners’ use of the General Fund to augment salaries for white players is reprehensible and a blatant misuse of the Fund itself. The fundamental and tragic irony of this situation is that nowhere else but in a game like baseball can the skills of two players be compared equally. As a result, one can see clearly that the statistics of many minority players exceed their white counterparts, yet they remain unfairly compensated.”

The owners took offense. Although it was true that loans made through the Fund went toward contracts, the owners said the contracts benefited white and well as black and Hispanic players. Civil rights lawyers disagreed. During the fall of 1964, the owners and representatives of more than one hundred minority members of the players’ union sat down to negotiate a resolution. The result was three days of arguing, cajoling, lecturing, and name calling that even League Justice Nolan Miller could not control. The owners were infuriated by the allegations of racism and the minority players were steadfast in their allegation that Fund money was being used to increase the value of white players’ new contracts. Many white players were infuriated at the minority players for forcing the owners’ hands.

The relationship between the owners and their players was destroyed by obstinacy and righteousness from both sides. Not only did the charter of the General Fund remain unchanged, the owners raised its ceiling to $400 million and added clauses meant to protect it from civil judgments (it didn’t work, of course).

In February of 1965 the players’ union filed suit against the league, citing Federal civil rights violations and numerous violations of interstate trade laws. Had the two sides been able to come to an agreement, the acrimony and maliciousness that was to follow could have been avoided or at least controlled. With the filing of the suits the culpability of the entire league was at stake, and the $400 million in the Fund.

Players reported to spring training in March of 1965 under a cloud of uncertainty. Many white players felt that even if the owners prevailed they might still lose the use of the Fund to take loans for contract money. This would erase a team’s ability to offer a competing bid for a star player, leading to an imbalance of talent. White players were also worried that, even if the Fund were not touched, owners would decide to freeze salaries.

Minority players, however, felt that the loss of Fund money for contracts would correct the problem. The movement of money into and out of the Fund was a labyrinth of numbers, vouchers, loans, bonds, personal IOUs, unjustified interest percentages, and downright collusive dealmaking. The smaller market teams could still be economically manipulated by the big money teams, and minority players saw this as an extension of the economic oppression the civil rights movement was seeking to end.

The lawsuits split the owners. They all knew that losing meant an end to baseball in America, that the league would be dissolved and the General Fund parceled to the players. But the smaller market teams knew that the fines and penalties assessed would ruin only them. The larger, richer teams would be crippled but not destroyed. The big market teams professed that without baseball to sustain their fortunes they would have to sell off valuable assets for pennies on the dollar. They saw the union as Samson, destroying the pillars of the league and bringing the temple of baseball down around them all.

“We are fighting against each other for our very lives now,” said Thomas Moonves, owner of the Kansas City Knights. “Even if a solution is found, baseball will never be the same game again.”

For the duration of the 1965 campaign the question on the mind of every fan, owner and player was: Who, or what, could save baseball this time?

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Old 02-05-2013, 01:24 AM   #773
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Great to see you back. Love it!
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Old 02-06-2013, 05:45 PM   #774
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Yes!!!!!!
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Old 02-08-2013, 04:50 PM   #775
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Seeing the new post here made me read the whole thing - and wow. Just ... wow. The depth of the characters you create is simply staggering. I am in complete awe.

Hopefully we can find out what happens next.
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Old 02-12-2013, 10:46 AM   #776
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Old 02-24-2013, 11:51 AM   #777
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Just when I thought I was out... Tib pulls me back in.
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Old 02-24-2013, 02:03 PM   #778
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Chapter 54
Aftermath

Baseball wasn’t the only sport racked by drug controversy in 2011-2012. It happened in basketball, hockey, cycling, soccer, and even professional golf – and it seemed to happen every month of the year without a break. In 2012, organized sports took a huge hit when soccer stars like Ruben Castrejon and Nino Palaguay were caught doping in January. Then in early March defender Johnny Brown came up dirty and cost Chelsea a European Championship. In April it was Scott Allenson, an Australian rugby star. In May it was Vilo Markarukis, the Bosnian Olympic discus silver medalist. In June Brad House had banned mood stabilizers in his system after shooting a 65 during the Wednesday pro-am at The Greenbriar.

In July the Spokane Grizzlies (the Mounties’ AA affiliate) announced that a pitcher named Justin Johnson was suspended for PED use. Less than a month later Johnson was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 22.

Johnson’s death shocked the baseball community. Somehow the stakes had been raised. Over the years the cost of winning had risen with salaries, advertising revenue and television contracts. It figured that the more money was linked to winning the more winning was linked to PEDs --and the more PEDs were linked to winning, the more a positive test blemished your career. For Justin Johnson there was nowhere to go after his suspension. Baseball had no re-entry plan, no post-suspension plan for forgiveness, just a lot of finger pointing by the league at a young man who made a mistake. Only my friend Del Harrison said: “There will come a time when the drugs are out of a suspended player’s bloodstream. We have expensive and complicated ways to determine if the drugs are there, why not use the same technology to clear a suspended player and get him back to doing what he’s supposed to be doing?”

For those of us fortunate enough to live and work in the privileged world of professional sports, these new realities were hard to accept. “I’m not hurting anybody” and “These are not illegal substances” were common quotes from dishonored athletes. The hunt for banned substances created an entirely new category of drugs: performance enhancing substances that were not banned. Players flocked to them as they were discovered, usually through a league drug test. The league banned many soon after they were discovered. As they did, players moved on to the next “flavor of the day”. The cat and mouse game of several years earlier became a lot more contentious as accused players sought to protect the records they were setting. Timelines were questioned. “When I took it, it wasn’t banned” became the excuse. Never mind that it was banned later that week. In such cases the league had no choice but to accept the argument, thus angering fans who could see the forest for the trees.

Messy inquiries and contentious public comments became all too common -- mostly, I think, because players had no way to save face except by denying the allegations and fighting the results with chemistry and testimony of their own. When that happened it became a game of Who Do You Trust? Any case that wasn’t resolved cleanly became a source of dark speculation. Other players, myself included, began testing ourselves far more often than the bargaining agreement called for, just to prove we weren’t on anything. Even then skeptical fans whispered that we were just too smart to be caught.

The game’s historians, usually a quiet group of reasonable men, suddenly became the guardians of legitimacy. In an atmosphere of doubt, fans looked for someone they could trust to uphold the values they revered. For many, the Office of League Statistics (the OLS) became that entity. The fans accepted whatever the OLS accepted because they kept the record books. But the OLS did not have the power to accept or deny a player’s accomplishments; they could only add or remove “recognized statistics” based on a player’s current status. Nevertheless, fans accepted what was in the record books and the OLS kept the record books – and fans knew about the debates that raged within the OLS because of a 2010 book by Mike Domiani called Numbers Game, The Secret Conflicts Among Baseball’s Statisticians.

The book didn’t help the situation, but that wasn’t Domiani’s fault. It did place baseball statisticians center stage in the debates, though, and it was an uncomfortable place for many of them to be. Long accustomed to living in the cool shadows of the game, the bright lights of media attention made household names of a few, and prompted some even to retire – those like the venerable Head Statistician William P. Guest. Perhaps the last great traditionalist, Guest feuded with the press and with forces within the game for the last five years of his distinguished tenure. At his retirement dinner in early 2012, Guest summed up his final years by saying, “Baseball moves now into a new age. No more sun bleached wooden fences. No more DeSoto advertisements. No more woolen uniforms. No more wooden bats. Modern stadiums and modern technologies come with modern problems. As the game is pulled into the technological age, we must be careful to keep the game healthy, to keep its purpose pure. Recent trends may have seemed to weaken it, to question its beauty and cast doubt upon its legitimacy. As we have seen, baseball and its institutions can no longer keep the wolves and vultures at bay. But remember, only the weak are prey for such creatures. Baseball is a game of thoroughbreds and eagles, and not of baser creatures. Keep the game strong and it will survive. It must survive, for it is the greatest game, and the purest reflection of the American spirit.”


At the height of this turmoil, James Jaffe was elected to the Hall of Fame. There was never any doubt that he would be a first time selectee, he was the best shortstop in the game for fifteen years -- and maybe of all time. But his election seemed to be the marking point of a new era. Never tied to PEDs, never to a scandal of any proportion, Jaffe’s straightforward personality and intelligence always seemed to cut through any smaller issues and get right to the heart of the matter. In 1997 he was asked what he took to get so big. He replied, “Iron supplements.” When he was asked what kind, he said, “Two thirty pound barbells.”

Jaffe brought a new kind of commitment to the game, one fueled by resolve, not remuneration. He accepted record setting contracts, but he never seemed too excited about the money. When he signed his last huge contract he said, “I don’t play for dollars, I play for precious metals.” He got those precious metals, too, in the form of Championship rings. And he got his Player of the Year trophies, and his Playoff MVP trophies, and his Comeback Player of the Year trophy in 2006.

Maybe it was because I was a shortstop, but I had to wonder what kind of player would fill the vacuum left by his retirement. Would he understand what Jaffe meant to the game? To history? Would he be influenced by Jaffe’s determination and goal-mindedness? Or would he try to cut corners and dabble in double-speak when he got caught with PEDs? I think it was because of players like James Jaffe that players of today enjoy such big contracts. I wonder, even all these years later, if the younger players know what he did for them, and could still do – if they took to heart what he said and how he played.


Speaking of drug testing, in March Gwen told me she failed a drug test of her own. She was pregnant with our second child.

So I began 2012 on a high note, for sure, hitting .305 through May. But the Comanches didn’t fare so well. We were 10-13 at the end of April, 25-27 at the end of May. In spite of our talent, we couldn’t get any kind of confidence going. It didn’t help that Pat Laubach hurt his rotator cuff for the second time in his career and was out for six of those eight weeks. It also didn’t help that half the team was investigated for PEDs in May. It was like a cloud of doubt was over us, a thousand eyes were on us, and a million fans were against us.

And when you live in Chicago, that’s not going to make things any better.

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Old 02-28-2013, 07:22 PM   #779
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Old 03-06-2013, 10:41 PM   #780
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Chapter 55:
Trouble in the Windy City


The 2012 season began with a lot of promise and expectation. Various sources had the Comanches winning the division, even the United League. We were up against some stiff competition, though. Cleveland was still a powerhouse and Detroit was resurgent. As the strength of UL Central talent became apparent, teams began to respond. Chicago’s plans to capture the UL crown were weakened when Jukebox Viveros was traded from Seattle to the New York Admirals in March and promptly began chewing a huge hole in East Coast pitching. New York also signed free agent center fielder Joe Cotter to add power and shore up a weak defensive outfield.

The press in Chicago was unimpressed at first. They knew how much talent we had and quickly threw down the gauntlet by declaring us the division favorites. This created a stir in Cleveland, as you can imagine, given the historic rivalry between the cities. It felt good to have the press on your side – much better than having them biting at your back – and we welcomed it as an excuse to swagger a little. Cobblestones was full of big talk, big claims, and big promises. Willie Aguila passed out Cohibas like a salesman passes out business cards. Our GM Cezar Fontillion preached caution, but we didn’t care.

The good times began to turn when the league announced an audit of the Comanches for compliance with the new league drug policies. It was not unusual for the league to audit teams unexpectedly, but the announcement came behind the Ayala Scandal and the release of a report by the OLS which appeared to support claims that PEDs were causing more damage to legitimate records than previously thought. The report showed in part that power numbers were rising at three times the normal rate for trending stats in past eras. Homers, slugging percentage, doubles, and strikeouts were rising. Twenty-two new records in these categories had been set in the last three years alone. The numbers might not have received much notice except that the Ayala Scandal was so fresh in everyone’s mind. It was certainly a motivating factor in the league’s decision to start auditing more frequently.

Players didn’t like it, of course, and not just because it felt like an invasion of privacy. Somehow, the union had not addressed the frequency of audits in the contract. Player tests were regulated, but not team audits. Players became convinced that the league was taking advantage of the loophole to test players more often than called for in the contract. They were right.

It wasn’t the league’s fault the union didn’t address this issue, but when the league announced audits of Chicago, Miami, and Phoenix – teams not known for transgressions of the drug policy – the players cried foul. The league was fishing, they said. Nevertheless, there I was in early May, standing next to my teammates, peeing in a cup. It felt like the Ayala investigation had solved nothing and only made things worse. It hadn’t alleviated blame, as the commission claimed. It had only provided fuel for the league to test players even more often. The league felt justified, given the serious nature of the claims against the Generals; a major sports team almost lost a championship over banned drug use. That can’t be taken lightly. But the audit sure caused an uproar in Chicago.

Let’s face it, we had underachieved that last two years. Anything less than a playoff spot was a failure in Chicago. The Marauders and Tomahawks both made the playoffs the past three seasons. The Tomahawks almost won the CHL title in 2011. When the audit was announced the press went to work dismantling all the positive feelings they had engendered over the winter. I understand that the press has a job to do. I understand that better than most, I think, because I’m married to a sportscaster. But this was particularly harsh. The press gave players nowhere to go to explain the shortcomings of 2010 and 2011. If it wasn’t poor play it was poor chemistry. If it wasn’t poor chemistry, it was banned chemistry.

Cobblestones became a very tense place in May. Every rumor that was ever started about a player surfaced again at Cobblestones, fed to the waiting press by agents defending their own clients, opportunists looking for an easy payday, and even by the players themselves. Did Willie Aguila juice while he was in the minors? Did Bobby Sieber? How did Bootsy Morales hit .323 at age 36? Did Pat Laubach get hurt because he stopped juicing? What secrets did Driscoll really know about Ayala? And on and on.

Nobody could claim that our pitchers were on something. While the team was hitting a league-high .302, our pitchers had an ERA of over 5.00. It’s a tough task to score 6 runs to win a game, and we couldn’t do it often enough. Laubach’s injury was a huge factor, to be sure, but he was a starter. The Comanche bullpen had an April ERA of 5.69 with 6 blown saves. It wasn’t long before rumors of trades for better pitching started to circulate and Fontillion began spending part of each day quashing them.

In late May I began to slow down. My knee was hurting in the cold spring Chicago weather and I went a dismal 2 for 19 during a road trip through Oakland and Denver. On May 19th Chicago signed Palmer Brack and I was actually happy for it. He was a decent shortstop and I needed to rest my knee. During the three games I rested, I tested some new equipment. I had signed on with BrockAir in 2011 and they were great to me. I was no Giorgio Medina with the bat, but I could still run a little and was well known in the Chicago area where they didn’t have a strong presence. I went to them with an idea for a shoe and they had me test the prototype Newmatix cleats while I was off. The results were amazing. The AirTransit technology was better than I could have hoped and I began wearing them immediately. If only I had asked for a percentage of sales then…

As my average stabilized and my stolen bases increased, the team began to falter seriously. Although the results of the audit were gratifying (no one was implicated), the team still could not win. After a June sweep by the Admirals and a white-hot Flavio Viveros (Jukebox was hitting .360) the comments began again. “Maybe they should be on drugs…”

On June 14th we vented our frustrations on a tough Dallas team, taking the rubber game at home 15-5. We were 32-33, but only 6 games back of Cleveland, who were led by Von Jones and his league leading 25 homers.

At Cobblestones that night the mood was relaxed; we had just played about as well as we could play. I went 2 for 5 in that game and was hitting .302. I was sitting with Benji Gillingham, Bootsy, and Reuben Tinch in Willie Aguila’s booth when word came that there had been a blowup after the game between members of the bullpen, starter Alfred Bella, and our pitching coach Eric McKern. Apparently, after we had all left the stadium an argument ensued when McKern tried to talk to the bullpen about their recent performances. Bella was nearby and got into the conversation. Blame was placed. Punches were thrown. Bartolo Gomez dislocated his elbow.

I called one of our relief pitchers, Angel Olmos, with whom I had become friends, and asked him what happened. Angel told me McKern was going over some things with the bullpen about lowering their ERAs when Shawn Byerly made a comment about the starters’ inability to prevent runners from “turning the infield into a merry-go-round.” Alfred Bella, who had been struggling horribly all season (he was 0-6 at the time), took exception and words were exchanged. Angel said Bella came into the meeting and McKern tried to turn him around and Bella pushed him. Byerly jumped up and pushed Bella back and Bella swung on him and the fight was on. Angel said Gomez tried to break it up but the pile fell on him and he hurt his arm.

There is a phenomenon I like to call The Worst Possible Thing. It goes like this: Something happens that causes conflict. The conflict goes unresolved. Ideas are formulated in vacuums. In the absence of fact, theories become proof. Conflicting proofs are put forth as competing explanations for said conflict. People argue, then lose all ability to think rationally, then The Worst Possible Thing happens: chaos. The chaos becomes a germinating environment, causing all half-truths, speculations and rumors to bloom. Suddenly, everyone has something to say about everything – when two minutes earlier no one was going to say a word. Now everyone has to be heard and all personal conflicts of any size are brought forth.

The bullpen fight was a perfect example of The Worst Possible Thing because soon everyone was voicing their opinions, fueled by Cobblestones’ fine liquor, into the microphones of every sportswriter within earshot. Me? I got the hell out of there and went home.

The next day it was all over the papers and on The SportsReport. Fontillion had a silver tongue, but even he couldn’t stop the carnage. All wounds were reopened. Guys wouldn’t even talk to one another. McKern was conspicuously absent. Stump Mitchell had a closed door meeting with Fontillion and the Bassones and came back to the clubhouse with only a tiny sliver of ass left. Then he let us have it. We weren’t being professionals. We let the press get to us. We let the league audit get to us. We were not taking care of each other. We were becoming a pit of vipers.

All of a sudden, Stump was the bad guy. Quotes appeared in the paper. Stump wasn’t leading the team. Stump let bad feelings go on for too long. Stump needs to be a leader. Stump needed to be a leader? Stump Mitchell was a retired captain in the Army Reserve, for God’s Sake. Leadership was not the issue.

I was not immune, either. Our backup infielder Jamar Nasser told Second City Sports magazine that I was “standoffish” and “did not socialize much with the team.” I’m not sure what he meant by those comments, except that I was known to go home to spend time with my pregnant wife on a nightly basis during homestands.

I didn’t take offense – much. I knew I could be a little too quiet, maybe even moody, especially if I was in a slump. And I usually do not take to people right away. So on that count I plead the fifth. But in my defense Jamar Nasser never said more than two words to me.

And so it went. Guys had to resolve each conflict one thorn at a time. McKern apologized to Bella. Bella apologized to McKern. Everyone apologized to Gomez. They apologized, but I know the things they said to each other were not forgotten. Fontillion and press secretary Donna Weist worked overtime smoothing out the rough edges.

For his part, Old Man Bassone stayed out of it. He didn’t say much to the press anyway, given his family history, but we all knew how disappointed he was. He was spending a lot of money on us, and it wasn’t so he could read about how pissed we all were at each other. We all felt Donna’s nervousness at what she may have to explain next. We all felt the new pressure on Stump Mitchell and Eric McKern. We all felt the continuous pressure of Cleveland winning two out of every three. And we sure as hell felt the pressure of the media, who stood patiently to the side, cameras rolling, waiting for us to blow up at each other again. Compared to what was to happen, getting through the drug audit was the easy part.

I would love to say we rebounded and started winning. I would love to say it, but it didn’t happen. For the rest of June we waited to hit bottom, ready to bounce back up. Then we began to wonder if the pit we were in had a bottom.
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