“There’s trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line,” was the title Bill Madden gave a chapter of his 2003 book Pride of October: What It Was to be Young and a Yankee. The title alluded to what Madden heard when he first called Pepitone at his Long Island home to arrange interviews for the book. Long before he struggled to reach the former first baseman, there was trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line. And there would be again, nine years later.
There are those who walk among us in their twilight and inspire us to think that, warts and all, our world still remains a lovely place to be simply because such people still walk among us. In a time when sports seems to yield up more dubious and disreputable characters among its active players, we are comforted to know that some of our past athletic subjects prove better people than they did players, however great they were as the latter.
Try this one, if you will. Umpires can botch home run calls (hello, Angel Hernandez) and get away with it, more or less. Sometimes, they can botch pitching change rules (hello, Fielden Culbreth) with a little help from managers who don’t know the rules quite yet (hello, Bo Porter). But who knew our beloved human elements (aren’t you getting exhausted of that tiresome phrase and its customary accompanying rhetoric?) could miss a no-questions-asked application from the latest inductee into the Salivation Army?
There are times—in cyberspace or otherwise—when stumbling upon something you missed when it first arrived can sting rather than charm. Especially if it’s a fine essay on baseball jargon, and you discover you’re just as guilty as everyone else of making mincemeat out of it.
The essay in question is Allen Barra’s, from The Atlantic, in June. He took a good, long look at what’s become of baseball’s language and was not amused. More saddened than infuriated, Barra decided, with apologies to Yogi Berra (whom Barra admires for his syntax as much as his baseball virtuosity), that he wished baseball people really hadn’t said half the things they’ve said since, oh, around 1980.
Roger Clemens gets off the hook on a perjury rap because either the House Committee for the Sending of Swell Messages to Kids, the actual prosecution, or the original Mitchell Report bungled its way across the sticky wickets of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances. It induces something of a giant sucking yawn, with only an occasional bleat against putting the Rocket into the Hall of Fame.