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Old 01-02-2007, 05:46 PM   #681
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SHORT HOP: Interlude #6 Continued

The History of Pro Baseball

PART FIVE: Integration

“A Question of Comfort”

The Color Barrier, 1955-1956

In 1955, Mason Peterson, owner of the Lakes League St. Paul Apostles, went so far as to remark “I think it’s fine that Negroes have their own baseball. It may not be up to the standards of our own game, but that’s to be expected.”

This statement, while not unique, exemplified a common perception among white owners and fans that the Negro game was a young, inexperienced game, and could not match up to the “original” game. In short, the “white game” was the more established and therefore more civilized and developed. The “Negro game” was an upstart, challenging the comfortable status quo with new, brash ideas.

Patronizing tone aside, it also revealed a willful ignorance of the Negro game itself and reflected the growing concerns over the black civil rights movement which was just now beginning to garner national headlines. Certainly there were differences, but they were fewer than people thought, and not so great that the two leagues could not compliment each other.

Peterson’s comments prompted a challenge from Velman Tratt for a series of games between the Apostles and his own Racers to “determine which standards might be superior”. Peterson declined. When asked why, Peterson took the familiar benevolent stance.

“While I have no doubt of the quality of Tratt’s team, the fact is it would be counterproductive to have such a series,” Peterson said to an assembled press. “I am concerned – as are many of the colleagues I consulted in this matter – that such a series might upset a certain balance. Mixing races in a mill or factory is one thing. Why, all men have a right to earn a living. I’ve always said that. But we’ve seen how a friendly game of ball can turn ugly, even with the best of intentions. There was a time in our own league when things were pretty rough, as I’m sure you boys remember. I’m not sure we are ready to see these two races contest against each other, even for something as wholesome as victory in a baseball game. To me it remembers an ugly time -- not too far gone, mind you -- when such a thing divided this nation. So I have declined. Let them play their game. We will play ours and I believe we’ll all be happier for it.”

When asked for his opinion on rumors that a black player would be signed soon, Peterson replied, “It won’t happen, boys. It’s a fancy notion, drummed up by some editor with space to fill, I’ve no doubt – no offense to any of you. It’s not about talent. There are plenty of talented Negro ballplayers, at least in the game as they play it. It’s a question of comfort. To bring a Negro in to play our baseball would be uncomfortable for all of us. The game is so much different up here. Tougher. Heck, we’ve been doing it sixty years longer! I know I would find it sad and difficult to watch that boy fail. I don’t want to see that happen. I don’t think anyone does.”

Such was the stance of the established leagues: the idea of a black ballplayer in the ABF was ridiculous because even the best black player could not hope to succeed against the best white players in the game. Whites were more numerous, said many “traditionalists”, giving them a greater pool of talent from which to draw. Whites had been playing the game far longer, giving them an advantage. The games were different. Where the white game was pitching and defense, with occasional bursts of power, the black game was a frenetic circus of bunts, steals, showmanship and “questionable” tactics (double steals and double switches were common in the NBL).

Excuses aside, the real reason the white baseball world resisted black players was because they didn’t know what would happen. Would there be protests? Riots? Would people come to the game to see a black player? Would the union strike over it? There were so many dangerous variables owners were unwilling to consider them. There was also strong sentiment that the two games should remain apart. “The blacks have their game, and it’s a great game,” said white sportswriter Eddie Cockrell in 1955. “And we have ours, and it’s a great game. These two similar but distinct interpretations should remain apart because joining them would ruin them both.”

Unfortunately for Peterson and Cockrell, in less than two years these two “distinct interpretations” would merge and it would change the game forever.



“The Richmond Rifle”
Baseball is Integrated, 1957-1959

“The recent conflict with the players has opened my eyes to many things,” Nathaniel Freeders wrote in his journal in late 1950. “One of the things I cannot resolve is the irony that just as the players have won for themselves the right to compete in a Free Trade market, so have they earned for me the right to hire from that market, regardless of race or creed, the best baseball players I can find. Just as they are no longer limited in the scope of their employ, neither am I limited in the scope of my employees.”

Clayton Breckenfield was a long, lean, quiet young man long before he decided to put on baseball spikes. By the age of ten, Clayton was already over five feet tall, well on his way to his final height of 6’3”. By fifteen he had distinguished himself on the tracks and infields of Richmond, Virginia, by winning Governor’s Medals for the 220, 440, long jump, and heptathlon. In 1951, at the age of eighteen, he signed a professional contract with the BBA’s Raleigh All-Americans, dashing any hopes of Olympic gold in 1952. “We needed the money,” explained his mother. A year later, after hitting .348 in his rookie season, he was a star.

He ran with long, powerful, surefooted strides and swung a bat with a smooth, graceful arc that seemed too slow to hit a ball as hard as he did. Silent and intent on the field, Clayton was quiet, almost shy off it. “He never spoke much anyway,” his mother Clarie once said. “It was always painful for him to speak in front of others.”

In 1956 Clayton was 25 years old. Nathaniel Freeders was 47. The importance of the age difference in this improbable relationship cannot be overstated. When Clayton was eight his father left the family to pursue a job offer in Minneapolis. He never returned. The sorrow of this loss, his mother said, was what prompted Clayton to adopt an almost constant silence.

But his ability spoke volumes. Soon everyone was calling him the Richmond Rifle for his strong, accurate arm. They swarmed his hotel when he was on the road and camped outside his mother’s house for autographs during homestands. People seemed to gravitate to this slim, quiet, respectful young man. For Clayton, the attention was confusing and uncomfortable.

He shunned reporters and politicians. He stayed in at night, preferring to listen to radio programs over going out on the town like so many of his teammates. Interviews were never granted. “I mean no offense,” Clayton said once when cornered by a reporter after a game. “I’m just not much for talking.”

He knew how to sign his name, however, and in 1956 he was approached by Freeders to sign a development contract with Detroit’s white A league Lansing Lancers. At first he declined. He had no desire to play for anyone but the All-Americans, he said. He was happy, he said. But after a series of meetings with Velmon Tratt he changed his mind. What took place in those meetings we may never know; neither Breckenfield nor Tratt has ever commented on them. But one thing is for sure: something remarkable happened to Clayton Breckenfield – he found his voice.

So it happened that the gifted young man called the Richmond Rifle became the first black man to sign with a white team. It was still an outside chance, even by Tratt’s admission, but it was the chance Breckenfield had been waiting for. An electrified press room was shocked by the depth and grace of Breckenfield’s language when, mere hours after the signing, he addressed the anxious reporters gathered there.

In a prepared statement, Breckenfield said, “Today I signed a baseball contract with the Lansing Lancers in the Detroit organization. It is my hope to one day play for the Monarchs, one of the great teams in their league. Many things led to this decision, most of all my determination to provide for my mother and the rest of my family. I am profoundly grateful for the time I played for Raleigh, and for all the boys on that team. They helped me more than I could ever tell them. And I am thankful for the opportunity I have been given by Mr. Freeders. Throughout our talks he always treated me fair and honest. I believe he is as good a man as Mr. Tratt, and that is saying something.

“We are all faced with many difficult decisions. There will be many difficult decisions to come for me, for Mr. Freeders, for the owners in the American Baseball Federation. All I can say to them is that all I ever wanted to do was play baseball, and I believe playing in the ABF will make the most of the life God has given me.”

His first year in baseball – white baseball – has been chronicled many, many times. The injustices he suffered, the prejudices and intimidation – not to mention death threats and more covert forms of racism – have been long known. But what many fail to remember is that during those first twelve months, while he was moving up in the organization, setting records not seen since the B&B Boys of the late 20s and early 30s, Clayton Breckenfield spoke almost daily with Nathaniel Freeders. The relationship that began as businessman and player gradually evolved, as they came to know each other, into mentor and student. Eventually they became friends. Then they became something far greater; colleagues. In the rare and wonderful air of enlightenment and respect, Freeders and Breckenfield eventually looked upon each other as equals.

So when, in June of 1957, Freeders made the announcement that the Richmond Rifle would join the Monarchs on their next homestand, it was not as the owner of a baseball club who knew what such an announcement would do for ticket sales (though Freeders most certainly did know), it was as the proud friend of a very talented, quiet, respectful superstar-to-be.

The league was less than courteous. Some felt it was a direct threat to the game. Others silently wished for Breckenfield’s failure and a return to the “good ol’ game”. Players voiced their concern over the precedent. The player’s union said it would fight any attempt by the league to “unemploy available, healthy white players”. Hate mail poured in to the Monarchs' front office.

But there was rejoicing in the BBA. Finally and unintentionally, the talent in their league was being recognized by whites on a national level. And with the overwhelming pride in Breckenfield’s accomplishment came the fear that he might not after all be good enough to survive in the white league. How could anyone know? Clayton was the first. The most hotly debated sports question of the last five years was about to be answered, and that answer would decide the fates of hundreds of players and the course of the league for decades to come.

When June 19th came, two members of the visiting New York Redcaps, Royce Vickers and Hardy Wilson, boycotted the game. New York’s starting pitcher, Euchert Schnelling, said before the game he wouldn’t be surprised if Breckenfield got hit by pitches four times that day, “the way that boy crowds the plate like he does.”

The stands were full of people and anticipation. When Breckenfield jogged out for warm up, the crowd cheered loudly. Some booed. And when announcer Harry Singer said the now immortal words, “Batting seventh and playing right field, number twenty-two, the Richmond Rifle, Clayton Breckenfield”, there was such an ovation that the announcement for number eight hitter Billy Hunter was never heard.

And when he took the field, history was made.

He was never struck by a pitch. The legend goes that when the starting pitchers brought the lineup cards to home plate before the game, Detroit starter and future Hall of Famer John “Moosehead” Davis leaned over to Schnelling and told him if he hit Breckenfield he’d never leave the city of Detroit alive.

Whatever the truth of that story, the truth of the game speaks volumes. Clayton Breckenfield had three hits that day as the Monarchs beat the Admirals 6-4. He made four putouts, one on a sliding catch near the right field stands that tore his pants, one on a line drive that threatened to tie the game. He never smiled, even at game’s end. He knew what was at stake, and one game was only the beginning. But he did offer the smallest, quickest, quietest wave ever seen to Nathaniel Freeders as he left the field. And Freeders smiled enough for both of them.


For next time: Chapter 51 of Short Hop

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Old 01-02-2007, 08:55 PM   #682
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Good to see you back.
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Old 01-05-2007, 11:01 AM   #683
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well worth the wait! I need more...more I tell ya...
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Old 01-08-2007, 03:53 PM   #684
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wonderful to see you back
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Old 01-10-2007, 11:31 AM   #685
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That was great stuff, Tib. Definitely worth the wait.
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Old 01-15-2007, 06:05 PM   #686
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Chapter 51

Them That Gots Has Gots


I spent off-season 2011 playing with Damon and watching the SportsReport for signs of life in the Chicago front office. Chicago fans got a nice Valentine’s gift on February 14th when the Comanches signed Pat Laubach to a 4-year contract extension. He may have been hurt for most of last year, but he was a quality arm and could do a lot of good for us if he stayed healthy. Chicago also signed my former KC teammate Steve Parris. Jim Hirschman, a good third baseman, was signed to somehow replace Rich Cowden’s .324 average after Cowboy was traded to Dallas for Thin Bill Hunter. Other than that, the Comanche core remained the same.

I read in Baseball America that Atlanta released Keith Hart. I thought about the roller coaster his career had been and was thankful my own seemed to be chugging along quite nicely. Although I would have to think about arbitration and free agency soon, and I would have to improve on my .267 average last year, I felt very secure in Chicago. The city and the people were growing on me. Gwen was from the Midwest, so she loved it there, of course. And my investments were doing well. Things were good.

Lino Lopez won the Defensive Ace Award for 2010 and got a big one-year deal from Seattle. This is petty, I know, but I’m going to confess it anyway: I was happy he was out of Kansas City. He won the Ace in KC, treading the same ground as 12-time Defensive Ace Horatio Munoz, my hero. Something inside me didn’t like that he got to play where Horatio Munoz played. Something deep inside me wanted that memory to be mine and only mine. And now he won the Ace. Now he had something I didn’t have. It was like he was dogging me, going where I went, playing where I played – playing better than I played. And in Seattle he was going to play with Jukebox. I suppose I still felt he was a threat, even after four years. Or maybe I just felt possessive of my memories. He was a good player, and he had power I didn’t have. I guess I always had this fear he would pop up and take my job again. Our careers were always weirdly linked in that way. Looking back, it’s ironic I was so apprehensive about him.

I wasn’t the only one with a nemesis. Ross Watts hit a league record 66 homers and every time he was shown on the SportsReport with another gorgeous actress I got a call from Von complaining about him.
“Look at that primadonna son of a bitch, Davey.”
“Hello to you, too.”
“You got it on?”
“Yup.”
“I mean, ****, he ain’t nothing but a pretty boy with muscles. What’s he got that I ain’t got?”
“Tickets to the Oscars, looks like,” I said. “And Regina Flores on his arm.”
“Man, you ain’t no help at all.”
“You kicked his ass in that fight we had, though.”
“Damn straight. I did that. But ****, look at him. He don’t deserve that. He can’t even hit a high slider.”
“Them that gots has gots,” I said, thinking of one of Cliff's favorite sayings.
“I don’t believe that,” said Von. “I didn’t have ****. I went out and got mine.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “You did.”
“But damn, Davey,” he continued, “I gotta get me ten people to follow me around like that.”
“It’ll never happen, Von.”
“Why not?”
“First you have to find ten people who like you.”
“Well **** you very much, you applesauce eatin’ mother****er.”
“Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, alright.”


To round out the off-season, my old roomie Sean Pangle had become quite a hitter. He signed a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal with Dallas. And Yoogie signed a one year deal with Atlanta after a 62-inning, 3.53 ERA season. They had worked hard, and now they got theirs.


By early May we were 16-13 and first in team batting and homers, thanks to Hirschman’s incredible start. Called upon to fill the gap left by Cowden, Hirshey had 16 home runs by mid-May. I was cooling off after a fast start myself, and was fighting my knee again. On April 26th I led the league in fielding. On May 3rd I was 14th. We were scoring tons of runs and I was still hitting .287, but our pitching was atrocious. My knee flare up wasn’t helping an already stressed out pitching staff.

On May 10th Von dislocated his shoulder when he hit the bullpen fence in New York. It was bad news for him, but good news for Cleveland’s UL Central opponents. By June 1 we trailed the Hammers by just one game.

Off the field it was a busy year as well. Gwen became the weekend sports anchor on Channel 6 Chicago (“The Windy City’s Only Channel for Sports!”). The tough thing about that was her long hours on the weekends. Between my night games and her evening schedule (“All the news at 4:00, 6:00, and 11:00!”) we didn’t see much of each other. Come midnight one of us was always thoroughly unconscious in bed. The nice thing was we could be together with Damon during the day.

On May 8th the Comanches broke ground on the Happy Hunting Grounds, their new $600 million stadium/promenade/South Side renovation project. Built one block over from South Side Field, the Hunting Grounds was an incredible undertaking. It was the first stadium to have many of the features we consider common in today’s game: underground parking, a completely automated traffic control system, SmartHouse environment control technology, individual player GPS for playback and analysis, liquidscreen TVs at all the concession stands, holographic advertising, and even internet ports in every luxury seat.

It was the first stadium anywhere with a SensiDome. It was the first baseball stadium made with Stone-crete, which made the underground parking possible. It had six huge escalators which carried 660 people per minute from the lower parking area to field level. It had three restaurants, two bars, 125 luxury boxes and its field sprinklers were controlled by computers. The tech department for the Hunting Grounds had 45 employees.

It was a real welcome-to-the-future thing. Did I mention it was funded entirely by the Bassone family? Like I said, them that gots has gots and the Bassones gots lots.


On June 3rd I was batting .279 after an 8-game hitting streak (.367). I hadn’t made an error for a month and I had climbed back into Defensive Ace contention. Free agency was getting closer with every game, and Chicago had started talking to the Magic Man, but I decided to wait a little while longer. I liked Chicago, but I didn’t want them to think I would automatically say yes to anything they put on the table. I was on the phone with Noah Reyes, my new agent, discussing contract incentives when Gwen beeped through to tell me the Associated Press had just reported V.O. Tratt’s death from complications of pneumonia. He was 101. I begged off from Noah and called Cliff.

Cliff’s own health had deteriorated since his hospital scare some years earlier. He was not as mobile as he once was, walking now with the bat/cane I made for him. He resented the fistful of pills he had to take each day. He still lived in his house in Hinesville and still walked to Gents games when his legs felt up to it, but the chili and fried foods he so relished were now forbidden him.

We talked. Tratt’s death was a sadness for him, to be sure, but I got the feeling there was a deeper sadness behind the news, one that was affecting Cliff on a different level entirely.
“He was a good man,” Cliff said. His rich baritone voice had become cracked with age. “He gave so many talented boys the chance to play, yet he only played a year himself. Why, when I played in the BBA it was already established. I think you could say it was in its heyday. So many good memories of that time. And now it’s gone.”
“You okay, Cliff? You sound tired.”
“At my age you get tired, Davey. It seems like every day I find one more thing I can’t do as well as I used to, or that takes more effort to do at all.”
“I understand,” I said.
“You know something?” Cliff went on. “For every one of those things I lose, I gain one more memory of the past. It’s like my life is draining away drop by drop and being replaced by hollow memories.”
“Cliff…”
“Some are good memories, mind you. Of course some of them are bound to be. But it’s the recollections of things I used to do that remind me of the things I can’t.”
“You want me to come out with Damon during the All-Star Break? It doesn’t look like I’ll be making the team, and Damon would love to see you again.”
“Now don’t think like that! You’ll make the team, I know it. You’ve got to stay positive. Don’t start getting like me, worried about something that isn’t even real. No, Davey. You stay in Chicago with your family. That’s where you ought to be. ‘Sides, I’ve got Beatrice to keep me company.”
“Is she still there on the mantle?”
“Oh, yes,” said Cliff. “She’s watching over me now. I’m sitting here in my parlor and I can still see the mark on her where I hit a home run against the Farm Kings that broke the windshield of the mayor’s car. See? Some of the memories are good ones, Davey, but every one reminds me how old I’ve become. But don’t you worry about me. I’ll be around long enough to see you in the Championship Series.”
“I hope so,” I said.
“You can count on it,” he said, but I wasn’t so sure.


I didn’t make the All-Star team. Flash got there by hitting .335 and stealing 21 bases. Pangle got there by hitting .356. Ross Watts got there (what else is new?). Scott Haslam did, too. But the biggest surprise was Boogles Tafoya, who was leading the league with a .373 average. It was the highest average for a catcher at the All-Star Break in CBA history, and the highest for a catcher in baseball since Matt Finn his .375 through 61 games in 1899.

Moose’s numbers were good (.288/15/43 in 78 games), but he remained mired in AAA behind Blas Urbano. I thought about him. I wanted to pick up the phone, but I didn’t. What was I going to say? In a way, I felt he was getting what he deserved, too.

I was hitting .272 (a whopping .480 in late or extra innings!), with a .372 OBP. I was 4th in UL fielding. Not a bad year, just not All-Star material.

The Comanches were 43-38, five games behind Flash, Von and Al Gills in Cleveland. I felt if we could get the pitching we needed we could be a very dangerous team, but Roy Pecor went down with a shoulder injury for five weeks and we were hurting for awhile.


On July 5th I got a call from Noah Reyes. Chicago wanted to talk extension. When Noah and I got to the Comanche offices, Mr. Bassone was there in the lobby to greet us. I took this as I good sign. We sat in couches around a coffee table in his giant penthouse office. This was also a good sign. Mr. Bassone brought only one lawyer, Ned Newmore. This was a great sign.

“You’ve got the talents we’re looking for, Davey,” said Newmore. “We would like to offer you a three-year eight million dollar contract extension.”
Mr. Bassone quietly stared at me. I tried to read him, but it was impossible. I quickly realized he was trying to read me.
“You were looking?” I joked.
They didn’t laugh.
****, I thought, maybe they were looking…

It may have been clear from my reaction that I was expecting more money. Reyes echoed my thoughts: “Just eight million? Davey’s worth sixteen if he’s worth one.”
“I’m afraid sixteen million is out of the question,” said Newmore.
“I see,” said Noah. “He’s got the talent you want, but only if it’s in your price range.”
“Basically, yes,” said the attorney.

Noah and I exchanged a look. This offer was low, lower than the one we thought they would make. Noah warned me about negotiations. He told me not to get emotional over the arguments and justifications that will arise. “Don’t take any of it personally, Dave,” he said. “They’ve got the money. You want the money. You’ve got the talent. They want the talent. It’s just the process."

I was about to get a heavy dose of “the process”.

“Five years, seventeen million,” said Noah.
“No.”
“He’s in the prime of his career.”
“He’s streaky. He has knee and shoulder issues.”
“He’s played hurt dozens of times for you. He’s been in the top ten in UL fielding at his position every year of his career.”
“He has never hit higher than .301 at any stage of his career.”
“He’s not primarily an offensive player. He saves runs with his fielding, which is phenomenal.”
“Our numbers rank him sixth overall among UL shortstops.”
“Our numbers rank him fourth. Two of the other three are under long term contracts and you couldn’t get the third for anything less than four and a half per year.”

There was a pause while the two negotiators took a deep breath to continue. Mr. Bassone sat motionless across from me with his arms crossed. I studied him. I wasn’t sure he was even breathing. He seemed to just be waiting patiently for “the process” to be over.

Christ, I thought, this is my future they’re deciding.

The two negotiators plunged in again.
“Three years, ten million.”
“Not nearly,” said Noah. "Five years, sixteen million.”
“He strikes out too much.”
“He’s averaged 73 walks a year,” said Noah.
“And hits only .262.”
“His OBP is in the top third of UL infielders.”
“Yes, by .12.”
“Your point?”
“Mr. Driscoll is achieving only 77 percent of his projected career numbers, far below other first round draft picks like Von Jones and Joel Kral.”
“First of all, Dave is not an outfielder. Secondly, it is unfair to compare him to other members of the Squires, a group of players who enjoyed a rare success under unique circumstances. If you want to make him feel bad just poke him with a stick, why don’t you?”
“Nonetheless, 77 percent.”
“Projected to increase during his prime. Plenty of players were lower than 77 at his age. Bootsy Moralez was, Emilio Condon was. Even Carlos Toreno, and he turned out pretty well.”
“Mr. Driscoll is not a first baseman.”
“So lets talk about shortstops then, shall we?” said Noah. “In the next year eleven shortstops will be available through free agency. We can toss out seven of those right now. Of the remaining four Davey is the cream of the crop.”
“We can trade for a shortstop.”
“Then why are we here?”

It seemed the verbal boxing match was taking another short breather. I finally spoke up, something Noah told me absolutely not to do.

“I don’t understand all of this,” I said to no one in particular. “It’s like you’re trying to come up with reasons not to sign me. If I’m so bad, why make me an offer at all? Go get Lino Lopez or Jeff Wills or one of these other guys with trophies.”
“Davey…” began Noah, but I was already started.

“No, really,” I said. “Time out here for a second. You’ve got enough money to sign whoever you want. You’ve got money and draft picks and Ken Hauser waiting to take my place. What have I got to offer you? It doesn’t sound like much, coming from you. And if it’s all the same I’d rather you traded me back to Kansas City because at least there something like the Squires could happen. Not here. Not when you’re breaking down your own players right in front of them to save a little money.”
Noah gave me a panicky look. I turned to Mr. Bassone.
“Maybe I don’t understand this process, Mr. Bassone, and maybe I’m way off base here, but I’ve got to say something out loud: do you want me to play for you or not? All players get hurt. All players go through slumps. It seems to me the way to put a winning team on the field is to find players that work well together. The team has talent. You paid for that. What has it got you? Finger pointing and tension and a first class seat right behind the Cleveland Hammers. Success might breed success, but it can also breed selfishness.

“I can’t guarantee you a championship. I can’t guarantee you any more than 77 percent of my projected career numbers, whatever that means. I can’t guarantee I won’t get hurt. I can only guarantee you one thing: I will put my team first. And if you find me 24 other guys who can do the same you will have something you haven’t had in ten years.”
Mr. Bassone stared at me, arms crossed. He hadn’t moved an inch. I was barely breathing.
“What haven’t I had in ten years?” he said.
“A team.”

Mr. Bassone only sat there, unblinking. I learned first hand why he was so intimidating. It felt like he was looking right through me. Noah was quietly returning papers to his briefcase. Newmore re-crossed his legs and stared out the window. I remember hearing the electronic blip blip, blip blip of a call waiting in the other room.

That’s my future right now, I thought. On hold.

Finally, Mr. Bassone broke the silence. “Four years, fifteen million.”
Noah’s head snapped up.
“Deal.”



Next time: Chapter 52: And Them That Don't...

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Old 01-16-2007, 10:16 AM   #687
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Chapter 51

Them That Gots Has Gots


I spent off-season 2011 playing with Damon and watching the SportsReport for signs of life in the Chicago front office. Chicago fans got a nice Valentine’s gift on February 14th when the Comanches signed Pat Laubach to a 4-year contract extension. He may have been hurt for most of last year, but he was a quality arm and could do a lot of good for us if he stayed healthy. Chicago also signed my former KC teammate Steve Parris. Jim Hirschman, a good third baseman, was signed to somehow replace Rich Cowden’s .324 average after Cowboy was traded to Dallas for Thin Bill Hunter. Other than that, the Comanche core remained the same.

I read in Baseball America that Atlanta released Keith Hart. I thought about the roller coaster his career had been and was thankful my own seemed to be chugging along quite nicely. Although I would have to think about arbitration and free agency soon, and I would have to improve on my .267 average last year, I felt very secure in Chicago. The city and the people were growing on me. Gwen was from the Midwest, so she loved it there, of course. And my investments were doing well. Things were good.

Lino Lopez won the Defensive Ace Award for 2010 and got a big one-year deal from Seattle. This is petty, I know, but I’m going to confess it anyway: I was happy he was out of Kansas City. He won the Ace in KC, treading the same ground as 12-time Defensive Ace Horatio Munoz, my hero. Something inside me didn’t like that he got to play where Horatio Munoz played. Something deep inside me wanted that memory to be mine and only mine. And now he won the Ace. Now he had something I didn’t have. It was like he was dogging me, going where I went, playing where I played – playing better than I played. And in Seattle he was going to play with Jukebox. I suppose I still felt he was a threat, even after four years. Or maybe I just felt possessive of my memories. He was a good player, and he had power I didn’t have. I guess I always had this fear he would pop up and take my job again. Our careers were always weirdly linked in that way. Looking back, it’s ironic I was so apprehensive about him.

I wasn’t the only one with a nemesis. Ross Watts hit a league record 66 homers and every time he was shown on the SportsReport with another gorgeous actress I got a call from Von complaining about him.
“Look at that primadonna son of a bitch, Davey.”
“Hello to you, too.”
“You got it on?”
“Yup.”
“I mean, ****, he ain’t nothing but a pretty boy with muscles. What’s he got that I ain’t got?”
“Tickets to the Oscars, looks like,” I said. “And Regina Flores on his arm.”
“Man, you ain’t no help at all.”
“You kicked his ass in that fight we had, though.”
“Damn straight. I did that. But ****, look at him. He don’t deserve that. He can’t even hit a high slider.”
“Them that gots has gots,” I said, thinking of one of Cliff's favorite sayings.
“I don’t believe that,” said Von. “I didn’t have ****. I went out and got mine.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “You did.”
“But damn, Davey,” he continued, “I gotta get me ten people to follow me around like that.”
“It’ll never happen, Von.”
“Why not?”
“First you have to find ten people who like you.”
“Well **** you very much, you applesauce eatin’ mother****er.”
“Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, alright.”


To round out the off-season, my old roomie Sean Pangle had become quite a hitter. He signed a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal with Dallas. And Yoogie signed a one year deal with Atlanta after a 62-inning, 3.53 ERA season. They had worked hard, and now they got theirs.


By early May we were 16-13 and first in team batting and homers, thanks to Hirschman’s incredible start. Called upon to fill the gap left by Cowden, Hirshey had 16 home runs by mid-May. I was cooling off after a fast start myself, and was fighting my knee again. On April 26th I led the league in fielding. On May 3rd I was 14th. We were scoring tons of runs and I was still hitting .287, but our pitching was atrocious. My knee flare up wasn’t helping an already stressed out pitching staff.

On May 10th Von dislocated his shoulder when he hit the bullpen fence in New York. It was bad news for him, but good news for Cleveland’s UL Central opponents. By June 1 we trailed the Hammers by just one game.

Off the field it was a busy year as well. Gwen became the weekend sports anchor on Channel 6 Chicago (“The Windy City’s Only Channel for Sports!”). The tough thing about that was her long hours on the weekends. Between my night games and her evening schedule (“All the news at 4:00, 6:00, and 11:00!”) we didn’t see much of each other. Come midnight one of us was always thoroughly unconscious in bed. The nice thing was we could be together with Damon during the day.

On May 8th the Comanches broke ground on the Happy Hunting Grounds, their new $600 million stadium/promenade/South Side renovation project. Built one block over from South Side Field, the Hunting Grounds was an incredible undertaking. It was the first stadium to have many of the features we consider common in today’s game: underground parking, a completely automated traffic control system, SmartHouse environment control technology, individual player GPS for playback and analysis, liquidscreen TVs at all the concession stands, holographic advertising, and even internet ports in every luxury seat.

It was the first stadium anywhere with a SensiDome. It was the first baseball stadium made with Stone-crete, which made the underground parking possible. It had six huge escalators which carried 660 people per minute from the lower parking area to field level. It had three restaurants, two bars, 125 luxury boxes and its field sprinklers were controlled by computers. The tech department for the Hunting Grounds had 45 employees.

It was a real welcome-to-the-future thing. Did I mention it was funded entirely by the Bassone family? Like I said, them that gots has gots and the Bassones gots lots.


On June 3rd I was batting .279 after an 8-game hitting streak (.367). I hadn’t made an error for a month and I had climbed back into Defensive Ace contention. Free agency was getting closer with every game, and Chicago had started talking to the Magic Man, but I decided to wait a little while longer. I liked Chicago, but I didn’t want them to think I would automatically say yes to anything they put on the table. I was on the phone with Noah Reyes, my new agent, discussing contract incentives when Gwen beeped through to tell me the Associated Press had just reported V.O. Tratt’s death from complications of pneumonia. He was 101. I begged off from Noah and called Cliff.

Cliff’s own health had deteriorated since his hospital scare some years earlier. He was not as mobile as he once was, walking now with the bat/cane I made for him. He resented the fistful of pills he had to take each day. He still lived in his house in Hinesville and still walked to Gents games when his legs felt up to it, but the chili and fried foods he so relished were now forbidden him.

We talked. Tratt’s death was a sadness for him, to be sure, but I got the feeling there was a deeper sadness behind the news, one that was affecting Cliff on a different level entirely.
“He was a good man,” Cliff said. His rich baritone voice had become cracked with age. “He gave so many talented boys the chance to play, yet he only played a year himself. Why, when I played in the BBA it was already established. I think you could say it was in its heyday. So many good memories of that time. And now it’s gone.”
“You okay, Cliff? You sound tired.”
“At my age you get tired, Davey. It seems like every day I find one more thing I can’t do as well as I used to, or that takes more effort to do at all.”
“I understand,” I said.
“You know something?” Cliff went on. “For every one of those things I lose, I gain one more memory of the past. It’s like my life is draining away drop by drop and being replaced by hollow memories.”
“Cliff…”
“Some are good memories, mind you. Of course some of them are bound to be. But it’s the recollections of things I used to do that remind me of the things I can’t.”
“You want me to come out with Damon during the All-Star Break? It doesn’t look like I’ll be making the team, and Damon would love to see you again.”
“Now don’t think like that! You’ll make the team, I know it. You’ve got to stay positive. Don’t start getting like me, worried about something that isn’t even real. No, Davey. You stay in Chicago with your family. That’s where you ought to be. ‘Sides, I’ve got Beatrice to keep me company.”
“Is she still there on the mantle?”
“Oh, yes,” said Cliff. “She’s watching over me now. I’m sitting here in my parlor and I can still see the mark on her where I hit a home run against the Farm Kings that broke the windshield of the mayor’s car. See? Some of the memories are good ones, Davey, but every one reminds me how old I’ve become. But don’t you worry about me. I’ll be around long enough to see you in the Championship Series.”
“I hope so,” I said.
“You can count on it,” he said, but I wasn’t so sure.


I didn’t make the All-Star team. Flash got there by hitting .335 and stealing 21 bases. Pangle got there by hitting .356. Ross Watts got there (what else is new?). Scott Haslam did, too. But the biggest surprise was Boogles Tafoya, who was leading the league with a .373 average. It was the highest average for a catcher at the All-Star Break in CBA history, and the highest for a catcher in baseball since Matt Finn his .375 through 61 games in 1899.

Moose’s numbers were good (.288/15/43 in 78 games), but he remained mired in AAA behind Blas Urbano. I thought about him. I wanted to pick up the phone, but I didn’t. What was I going to say? In a way, I felt he was getting what he deserved, too.

I was hitting .272 (a whopping .480 in late or extra innings!), with a .372 OBP. I was 4th in UL fielding. Not a bad year, just not All-Star material.

The Comanches were 43-38, five games behind Flash, Von and Al Gills in Cleveland. I felt if we could get the pitching we needed we could be a very dangerous team, but Roy Pecor went down with a shoulder injury for five weeks and we were hurting for awhile.


On July 5th I got a call from Noah Reyes. Chicago wanted to talk extension. When Noah and I got to the Comanche offices, Mr. Bassone was there in the lobby to greet us. I took this as I good sign. We sat in couches around a coffee table in his giant penthouse office. This was also a good sign. Mr. Bassone brought only one lawyer, Ned Newmore. This was a great sign.

“You’ve got the talents we’re looking for, Davey,” said Newmore. “We would like to offer you a three-year eight million dollar contract extension.”
Mr. Bassone quietly stared at me. I tried to read him, but it was impossible. I quickly realized he was trying to read me.
“You were looking?” I joked.
They didn’t laugh.
****, I thought, maybe they were looking…

It may have been clear from my reaction that I was expecting more money. Reyes echoed my thoughts: “Just eight million? Davey’s worth sixteen if he’s worth one.”
“I’m afraid sixteen million is out of the question,” said Newmore.
“I see,” said Noah. “He’s got the talent you want, but only if it’s in your price range.”
“Basically, yes,” said the attorney.

Noah and I exchanged a look. This offer was low, lower than the one we thought they would make. Noah warned me about negotiations. He told me not to get emotional over the arguments and justifications that will arise. “Don’t take any of it personally, Dave,” he said. “They’ve got the money. You want the money. You’ve got the talent. They want the talent. It’s just the process."

I was about to get a heavy dose of “the process”.

“Five years, seventeen million,” said Noah.
“No.”
“He’s in the prime of his career.”
“He’s streaky. He has knee and shoulder issues.”
“He’s played hurt dozens of times for you. He’s been in the top ten in UL fielding at his position every year of his career.”
“He has never hit higher than .301 at any stage of his career.”
“He’s not primarily an offensive player. He saves runs with his fielding, which is phenomenal.”
“Our numbers rank him sixth overall among UL shortstops.”
“Our numbers rank him fourth. Two of the other three are under long term contracts and you couldn’t get the third for anything less than four and a half per year.”

There was a pause while the two negotiators took a deep breath to continue. Mr. Bassone sat motionless across from me with his arms crossed. I studied him. I wasn’t sure he was even breathing. He seemed to just be waiting patiently for “the process” to be over.

Christ, I thought, this is my future they’re deciding.

The two negotiators plunged in again.
“Three years, ten million.”
“Not nearly,” said Noah. Five years, sixteen million.”
“He strikes out too much.”
“He’s averaged 73 walks a year,” said Noah.
“And hits only .262.”
“His OBP is in the top third of UL infielders.”
“Yes, by .12.”
“Your point?”
“Mr. Driscoll is achieving only 77 percent of his projected career numbers, far below other first round draft picks like Von Jones and Joel Kral.”
“First of all, Dave is not an outfielder. Secondly, it is unfair to compare him to other members of the Squires, a group of players who enjoyed a rare success under unique circumstances. If you want to make him feel bad just poke him with a stick, why don’t you?”
“Nonetheless, 77 percent.”
“Projected to increase during his prime. Plenty of players were lower than 77 at his age. Bootsy Moralez was, Emilio Condon was. Even Carlos Toreno, and he turned out pretty well.”
“Mr. Driscoll is not a first baseman.”
“So lets talk about shortstops then, shall we?” said Noah. “In the next year eleven shortstops will be available through free agency. We can toss out seven of those right now. Of the remaining four Davey is the cream of the crop.”
“We can trade for a shortstop.”
“Then why are we here?”

It seemed the verbal boxing match was taking another short breather. I finally spoke up, something Noah told me absolutely not to do.

“I don’t understand all of this,” I said to no one in particular. “It’s like you’re trying to come up with reasons not to sign me. If I’m so bad, why make me an offer at all? Go get Lino Lopez or Jeff Wills or one of these other guys with trophies.”
“Davey…” began Noah, but I was already started.

“No, really,” I said. “Time out here for a second. You’ve got enough money to sign whoever you want. You’ve got money and draft picks and Ken Hauser waiting to take my place. What have I got to offer you? It doesn’t sound like much, coming from you. And if it’s all the same I’d rather you traded me back to Kansas City because at least there something like the Squires could happen. Not here. Not when you’re breaking down your own players right in front of them to save a little money.”
Noah gave me a panicky look. I turned to Mr. Bassone.
“Maybe I don’t understand this process, Mr. Bassone, and maybe I’m way off base here, but I’ve got to say something out loud: do you want me to play for you or not? All players get hurt. All players go through slumps. It seems to me the way to put a winning team on the field is to find players that work well together. The team has talent. You paid for that. What has it got you? Finger pointing and tension and a first class seat right behind the Cleveland Hammers. Success might breed success, but it can also breed selfishness.

“I can’t guarantee you a championship. I can’t guarantee you any more than 77 percent of my projected career numbers, whatever that means. I can’t guarantee I won’t get hurt. I can only guarantee you one thing: I will put my team first. And if you find me 24 other guys who can do the same you will have something you haven’t had in ten years.”
Mr. Bassone stared at me, arms crossed. He hadn’t moved an inch. I was barely breathing.
“What haven’t I had in ten years?” he said.
“A team.”

Mr. Bassone only sat there, unblinking. I learned first hand why he was so intimidating. It felt like he was looking right through me. Noah was quietly returning papers to his briefcase. Newmore re-crossed his legs and stared out the window. I remember hearing the electronic blip blip, blip blip of a call waiting in the other room.

That’s my future right now, I thought. On hold.

Finally, Mr. Bassone broke the silence. “Four years, fifteen million.”
Noah’s head snapped up.
“Deal.”



Next time: Chapter 52: And Them That Don't...

Nice way to get back into it. Moving a little faster than I am used to, but that could be understood at this point in the story.

I think I am not going to like the next chapter.

Oh btw, Magic Man knows how to find agents.
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Old 01-16-2007, 10:33 AM   #688
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Oh btw, Magic Man knows how to find agents.
Marketing graduates camp outside his mansion for a chance at an internship.
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Old 01-16-2007, 11:41 AM   #689
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I agree with Jax... a little faster paced, but its understandable given where we are in the story.

As always, a great read, Tib. And as always, I eagerly await the next chapter!
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Old 01-16-2007, 03:24 PM   #690
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Excellent! Great chapter Tib!
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Old 01-21-2007, 03:17 PM   #691
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Wow!!!!

I had just found this story a couple days ago and am totally immersed in it. I love the character development and the way each one has their own personality. It is quite special to have a person who can make all the characters seemingly come to like and how one can come to like them or hate them. Or even a combination of both.

Keep up the masterful work.

Be Well
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Old 02-06-2007, 10:44 AM   #692
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I don't think my happiness to see the return of this story can be expressed in a series of coherent sentances.

Thus:

Yay!
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Old 03-06-2007, 08:20 AM   #693
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I think Tibs is bad for me.
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Old 03-07-2007, 03:25 PM   #694
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Read through the whole thread over the last week or so. Still can't get over how amazing it is. Should get a medal of some description. Good job, Tib.
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Old 04-05-2007, 01:15 AM   #695
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No update in nearly three months!
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Old 04-05-2007, 04:42 PM   #696
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And I mean it this time. No distractions, no excuses. I'm most of the way through this saga and I have been making notes and planning the next few chapters. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel so I'm going on a big push to finish it by my 41st birthday (April 4). Wish me luck.
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No update in nearly three months!
So much for Tibs prediction.

Happy birthday, btw. Too bad this wasn't bumped a day earlier.
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Old 04-09-2007, 06:20 AM   #697
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I haven't forgotten. I'm trying to find time to write. Sorry about the prediction. I probably shouldn't have done that, but I was sure I could do it. Truth is, I've been very busy with union business and general family responsibilities.

I'm working on it, guys. Bear with me.
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Old 04-10-2007, 02:19 PM   #698
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I haven't forgotten. I'm trying to find time to write. Sorry about the prediction. I probably shouldn't have done that, but I was sure I could do it. Truth is, I've been very busy with union business and general family responsibilities.

I'm working on it, guys. Bear with me.
Priorities man!
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Old 04-23-2007, 09:16 PM   #699
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In Chapter 30, you say:

"I was rounding second, running much too fast to enjoy my second homer of the year, when I realized I was still holding the bat handle."

I'm not sure about the CBA, but in the Major Leagues, rules state you have to release the bat before reaching first or else it's an out and not a hit.

Btw, I have reread this thread at least twice so far. I love this story.

-- ZC
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Old 04-28-2007, 09:40 PM   #700
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So when can you say the next Chapter will be out. I have read this story many times and have liked it.

One thing I noticed was that you talk about Otis Parikh's last name in two different chapters and say it used to be two different things. One was Washington I believe and the other started with a C I believe. Both chapters were in the last 6 pages of the thread so you should be able to find it pretty easily.


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