January 5, 1995
I must admit that major league baseball has never been one of my passions. I appreciate the way some folks feel about it and I certainly have nothing against it, but it's just not something that ever stirred me greatly. I'm sorry. Call me a heretic.
Now, when the old semi-pro Perry Merchants were in their prime in the 1930s and 1940s, and we had blood-letting series with the Stillwater Boomers and Enid Eason Oilers all summer long, that was something totally different. You could really get to know most of those players, and believe me some of them took on truly heroic proportions. It was fun to attend those games on a balmy, TV less evening at Perry Stadium when the place was kind of new and very comfortable for spectators.
Those were teams you could develop a relationship with. Most of the players were local boys, although we usually had a few OSU lettermen along with some from Central State Teachers College (now University of Central Oklahoma) and others from assorted colleges throughout the state. But you also saw those guys regularly at their daytime jobs, delivering groceries or going to work in the oil field, or elsewhere, and you felt like you truly KNEW them.
Lefty Cleeton worked at the Famous Department Store, Bob Craft was at Lindeman Grocery, Hump Daniels coached at Perry high school, Otis Delaporte and Ed Stucien had various jobs here each summer, Pat Townsend drove a cab when he wasn't busy with something else, Tommy Warren had an oil field job before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Tiny 'Lang was at the hardware store, Prentice (Bounce) Neal and Gene Boyett worked at different places, and the Henry boys always were gainfully employed. Those were real people. There were many others on the Perry Merchants teams in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but those were some of them.
There was a star-like aura above the ones with the fattest batting average or the pitchers with the lowest earned run average, and those statistics were printed regularly on The Perry Daily Journal's sport page. Jess Lee, the barber, kept meticulous records and Johnny Cable at Bush and Joe's Smoke House could quote all of them, plus the score of every big league game ever played Iím not kidding. Players of the greater eminence were gracious, but reserved. Most of them would speak to you. They were heroes of the first magnitude. I suppose some even had their own fan clubs among the hundreds of men, women and children here who followed them.
Also, the local high school baseball teams inspired loyalty, as did the American Legion teams and other age-levels when they came along with the development of kids baseball here. Even before that, we had a summer Twilight League which filled about the same needs, though on a much less-organized basis.
But back to the original point: The major league baseball strike has not been traumatic for me, personally. In the past I only became interested in the pennant races about World Series time, which of course did not occur in 1994. That did seem weird, so in that sense I missed it. The drama and excitement of the sport was always magnified at that time of year, and I have to admit that without it 1994 seemed kind of strange, almost Twilight Zone-strange.
But when I think about the million-dollar salaries earned by today's major leaguers, I am reminded of a story Dizzy Dean used to tell when he retired from baseball as a player more than 50 years ago. In a radio interview, he advised his fans that he had taken out a $10,000 annuity, and that would assure him of a comfortable living the rest of his life. So much for Dizzy's cloudy crystal ball. Nearly broke, the great old St. Louis pitcher later became a colorful TV network personality on the "Game of the Week," and his annuity had long since been used up. Even allowing for inflation and cost of living adjustments, Dizzy Dean and his contemporaries received only a pittance compared to today's pampered professional baseball players, and all of us are the losers.
It's just hard to feel sorry for the millionaires -- the team owners as well as the players -- now running the game. Bring back the semi-pro Perry Merchants!