Yesterday I got to play in a charity golf event to raise money for prostate cancer. 99% of the players were men... I've heard prostate cancer particularly targets them.
Also in attendance were the "legends", former baseball players in the MLBAA (Major League Baseball Alumni Association). They didn't just make an appearance, though -- these guys came to play.
Some big names like Jimmy Wynn and Jesse Barfield were there, which was pretty cool. I was a team captain, and joining my foursome was Chuck McElroy. I remembered seeing Chuck on WGN when he played for the Cubs. Lanky black guy, lefty, wore glasses, not a sneaky or dominating pitcher, just consistent and effective.
We had a great time chatting for five hours during the slow round of golf. He and I just gravitiated to each other, given my baseball background, the fact that we're both lefties, and I'm just so darn personable. Here's a summary of Chuck's insights, by topic:
Work ethic -- "I pitched in 600 games before I ever got a start. Loved it if I could pitch every day, or at least 70 games a year. One time I pitched in 14 straight games."
Durability -- "In 14 years of professional baseball, plus high school and college, I never missed a game due to injury. Never hurt my arm or my knees. You know what got me once, though? Chicken pox."
Little league -- "These kids throwing curveballs at 11 years old will never make it. Their arms aren't made for that. My sons are 10 and 12, and they won't start throwing curves or sliders until they're 18."
MLB lifestyle -- "There's lot of temptation, and the biggest problem is all the free time. On the road, you're maybe at the park six or seven hours, and what do you do for the rest of the day, away from home? Me and some other guys always had video games going in the hotel room. Kept us out of trouble.'
Going to the show -- "I played in the minors in '89, and should've been in Philly (for the major league team) from the beginning. But they said I needed more seasoning. My ERA was 2.20. Finally, when the rosters expanded in September, I got the call. Straight up from Double A. You know who was the first batter I faced? Barry Bonds. I was shaking so bad I could barely throw. Men at first and third, nobody out. Barry lasered one to second base, but our guy caught it. I'd faced my lefty, and was pulled. My hand was still shaking an hour later when I was trying to sign autographs for fans. I never went back to the minors after that."
Steroids -- "90% of players are on something illegal. 90%. Pitchers too."
Politics -- "From high school on, your manager can either help you or make your life hell. Or they can end your career, if they really don't like you. I played for 10 teams, and lots of different managers. You just gotta try to take things easy and not cause problems, but sometimes a guy won't like you just because."
1980s Cardinals teams -- "Man, how'd you like to face a lineup starting with Vince Coleman and Willie McGee? And watching Ozzie Smith play short... he was so smooth. John Tudor and that wicked curveball. Jack Clark could hit it a mile. But Willie... never throw the same pitch, same location to him in one game. He may watch the first one, but he'd crush the second one."
Life after baseball -- "I coach my kids' traveling teams, and help with training for five or six hours a day, five or six days a week. I'm also doing some real estate investing back home in Port Arthur, trying to get some reconstruction started after Hurricane Katrina. I figured, heck, I know the whole city council. It's my hometown, I've got some influence now. And I'll make some money while I'm at it."
Baseball and marriage -- "My wife knew the deal all along; her dad played in the pros too, so she grew up with it. It wasn't a big deal because we both knew all about the schedule and travel going in."
Travel -- "Man, I drive everywhere now. I flew six times a month for more than a decade. I love driving."
Superstitions -- "I had to chew gum in the even innings. Sunflower seeds in the odd innings. Used the bathroom every odd inning. If we won the game, I had to drive home along the same route I took to the ballpark. I guess it didn't really mean anything, but most of us had stuff like that."
Gratitude -- "C'mon, I got paid to play a kids' game. Just a kids' game, and I made a living out of it for 14 years."
He gave me two of his baseball cards when we finished up the round of golf. Neat guy. Lousy golfer. Easy smile, like he can't help but be happy. It was a good day.