Volume 4, Issue 10: Bruce Sutter
"That's a winner ... a World SERIES winner."
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A couple of weeks back I wrote about how, rather than label Americans by generations (Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, Millennials, Zoomers, whatever kids now are), it might be more precise to label them by the President whose term they were born during. My parents are both Truman babies. My younger sister is a Carter baby, barely. Barack Obama was a JFK baby. Joe Biden is an FDR baby. Clint Eastwood is a Hoover baby. Madison Cawthorn is a Clinton baby. Billie Eilish is a Dubya baby. Both my sons are Obama babies.
I am a Ford baby, born in October 1975, barely sneaking onto this planet during the 2 1/2 years that Gerald Ford was President. I of course don’t remember any of the Ford administration, and I don’t remember any of the Carter administration either. I had just turned five years old when Carter left office, and other than occasional flashes of sensory memory—the floor of our first house on Commercial Avenue, a mean babysitter, getting a splinter while playing with a 2-by-4 while my dad was building the house we’d move into when my sister was born— there is nothing vivid or concrete about my first five years on this planet. I thought about this a lot when my sons were still in their first five years, how we were all absolutely losing our minds about them every single second of their lives, how we were willing to move heaven and earth to make sure they had everything they needed and felt protected and loved, and yet when I thought back on the first five years of my own life, I didn’t recollect any of it. William was obsessed with Thomas the Train when he was four years old. Now he not only doesn’t remember any of it, he refuses to acknowledge he ever liked Thomas the Train at all. It sure is a lot of parental work for five years they almost immediately forget.
Though maybe it can be a good thing that they forget.
My first memory—not my first flicker of recognition, but the first thing I remember as a narrative event, something that actively engaged me emotionally, something I knew would be last the rest of my life while I was actively experiencing it—came on October 20, 1982. I had just turned seven years old a week-and-a-half earlier, and I was sore at my parents because they had made me go to bed early on my birthday, making me miss the clinching Game Three of the 1982 National League Championship Series between my beloved St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. The deal was that if the World Series between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers lasted seven games, I could stay up for Game Seven. And on October 20, 1982, the Series reached its seventh game.
1982 was the first year I had watched baseball. My father had tried to turn me onto the sport, or any sport at all, but his bookish nerd son hadn’t taken to any of it. Nothing worked until we hopped on his old Triumph motorcycle and drive the two hours to the old Busch Stadium one Sunday afternoon, back when you could get bleacher seats for five bucks just a few minutes before the game. It all finally clicked. Ozzie Smith ran on the field with a backflip, Ernie Hays doodled on the organ all game, 55,000 Cardinals fans screamed and swooned and I think the team stole, like, 45 bases that day. Who could possibly resist that? I was hooked. By the All-Star Break, I knew the batting stances and every statistic of every Cardinal player, and I’d fall asleep listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon the radio every night. That Cardinals team had Ozzie, and Willie McGee, and Keith Hernandez, and Joaquin Andujar, and Darrell Porter, instantly my favorite player. They were incredibly fun, and even better, they were great: They won the NL East that year and ultimately reached that World Series. It was magical to me: My first year of watching baseball, my team made to the Series. I assumed this just happened every year. I remember my dad clucking and shaking his head at me: The Cardinals hadn’t made the postseason in 14 years, when they lost the 1968 World Series to Detroit, when he was 19 years old and fresh out of boot camp.
Close my eyes, and I’m right back there. I can still feel the thread of the shag carpet, lying on the floor, looking up at the black-and-white, rabbit-eared television. My sister, only two years old, long asleep down the hall. The fireplace crackled near my feet. My mother was making popcorn in the kitchen. I was wearing my favorite T-shirt that said “I Root For Two Teams: The Cardinals and Whoever Is Playing the Cubs.” (I’d later pass the shirt down to my sister.) Dick Enberg, Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek and Tom Seaver were on the call. I was getting to stay up late. The Cardinals were trying to win the World Series. My dad was drinking a Busch in his easy chair. I’d look up at him constantly, telling him that Willie always had trouble with the curveball low and in, complaining about the umpire’s call, guessing what pitcher Whitey Herzog might bring in if Andujar get in trouble, desperately looking for his approval, then and forever. I don’t always remember Dad looking happy when I was growing up. But he was happy that night. We all were. We were warm and safe and together and eating popcorn and the Cardinals were about to win the World Series.
I remember every second of it. As far as earliest concrete memories go, it’s tough to come up with a better one than that one.
The thing for you and the people you love might not be baseball: It probably isn’t. Everybody has their thing. But ours: Ours is baseball.
This week, the 2022 Major League Baseball season begins. This was a season, for a particularly scary few weeks, that some wondered would ever begin at all. On Thursday, those St. Louis Cardinals, they’re still around, Willie McGee’s still in the dugout, they wear the same uniforms and everything, they play their first game of the season, at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is going to be a historic season for the Cardinals, not necessarily for what they’re capable of accomplishing but for what they are celebrating. Pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina, with 20 Wainwright starts this season, will set an all-time record for most games between battery mates: They will become the two humans who have thrown to each other more than any other humans have every thrown to each other. They are also both expected to retire when the season over; neither has ever thrown a Major League inning wearing any other uniform than a Cardinals one. And they will be joined by Albert Pujols, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, who left the Cardinals after the World Series-winning season of 2011 and is returning for his final season. I have never seen any fanbase love a player more than Cardinals fans loved Pujols when he was there. To see him back wearing PUJOLS 5 on the back of his Cardinals jersey, for one more season, is almost surreal. I wrote a piece two years ago trying to tell the story of Pujols’ career in 10 at-bats. It blows me away that he will make another one for the Cardinals.
(An excerpt from that piece:)
One at-bat Pujols has not taken? One where he’s wearing a Cardinals uniform as my 10-year-old son and I get to watch him. My son William was born three weeks after the Cardinals won the 2011 Series; to him, Pujols is just a series of stories and a bunch of West Coast games he never got to stay up for.
But now—starting this week—we get to watch him, we get to watch all of them, together. On Tuesday I will take William and his less-into-baseball-but-still-game-for-anything little brother to watch Pujols at Cardinals Spring Training in Jupiter as part of the boys’ spring break. And Thursday we will sit down and watch every pitch of Opening Day.
I do not know if any of these games will be the lasting memory, for either of these children, that Game Seven of the 1982 World Series was for me. I do not need them to be; I’m just delighted to get to sit next to these boys at all. But memories are starting to stick now. Maybe it’ll be a baseball game. Maybe it’ll a major life event. Maybe it’ll be a random day of lounging around the house. Maybe for you and the people But those moments are compiling, and what they’re experiencing now is the foundation of the adults they will someday be. For me it’s baseball—that’s where the narratives began. It might be something else for them—it probably will be. But that’s my job, I think, for when the formative moments come: To make them feel warm and safe and together.
And you know: Another World Series win, while we’re at it, wouldn’t hurt either.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Mike Petriello and I Did Our Annual World Series Winner Draft, MLB.com. One of my favorite pieces every year. We’re tied 1-1 over the first two seasons.
The NFL Ends Its “Roger Goodell, World’s Greatest Detective” Era, New York. On Deshaun Watson, and the NFL only caring about what you make it care about.
Oscar Best Picture Winners, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. Updated with Coda.
Who Would Win an Oscar-Nominated Actor Fight? Medium. Just decided to have a little fun here.
Your AL East Preview, MLB.com. I am the down person on the Yankees, I think.
Your AL West Preview, MLB.com. The Cardinals (Pujols! Woo!) are obviously my favorite team, but I think the Angels and Mariners are my AL teams this year.
Twenty-Two Observations From Oscar Night, Medium. I had written a lot of this before that moment happened, which you will be able to tell when you read it.
The Thirty: Each Team’s Rebound Player, MLB.com. Seriously, I missed these dorky, wonky MLB deep dives more than I should admit.
The Thirty: Every Team’s Indispensable Player, MLB.com. To the point that I did two of them.
Your Friday Five, Medium. Hey Paul, hey Paul, hey Paul, let’s have a ball.
Grierson & Leitch, we did an immediate breakdown of that, and also discussed “The Lost City” and “Everything Everywhere All the Time.”
The Long Game With LZ and Leitch, we discussed Duke and baseball purists, and then we were guests on a trivia game show.
Seeing Red, Bernie and I talked about ALBERT PUJOLS WHO IS A CARDINAL NOW.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Is Ron DeSantis the Future of Trumpism?” Jonathan Chait, New York. This seems exactly right to me. (He says, writing to you from Florida right now.)
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers! (And I’m finally all caught back up on these.)
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Write a List of Things to Look Forward To,” Courtney Barnett. I find Courtney Barnett sort of perfect springtime music in a way I do not quite understand. Probably says something about me. I love this video too.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
SERIOUSLY PUJOLS BACK
Have a great weekend, all.