Relax. Van Slyke assures us he isn't "running for no office," though the thought of House Speaker Tom Foley taking a shaving-cream pie in the mug on C-Span is a pleasing one, no?
Van Slyke has an unholier-than-thou air about him that would never wash in the attack-ad world of politics. "I understand who I am," he says. "I'm basically a schmuttball. The way I think, I'm worse than that guy. And that guy." He is pointing at passersby in a hotel lobby.
He has a copy of the morning's Los Angeles Times folded beneath his arm, roughly where Spanky's head used to be. A front-page story notes that 28 people were murdered in Los Angeles County over the weekend. Twenty-eight. Van Slyke is not such an optimist that he can't see that the country is pumping a handcar to Hades.
"Drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, and he is going to try to jump out," says Van Slyke, who is incapable of formulating a banal expression. "But drop a frog in a pot of cool water and slowly bring it to a boil, and the frog won't try to jump out. I think a lot of people in this country are letting the water slowly boil on them."
Van Slyke's own blood approaches the century mark, Celsius-wise, when any number of subjects arc broached: religion, race riots, the National Organization for Women and both political conventions, to name but a few. But more often than not someone else raises the issues. For all his pronouncements, Van Slyke really isn't an inkmonger. But what was it he said about those players who don't talk? They don't want anyone to know who they are or what they're like. "If people really want to know who I am," Van Slyke says, "I think they have to know that I have strong convictions."
Hillary Clinton, for one, really bakes his cookies. "My wife has done more for this country than Hillary Clinton ever did," says Van Slyke. "It is great security for a child to come home from school and know that his mother will be there. Good mothers are underrated, just like good defense."
As this last line hints, Van Slyke is most comfortable talking about these issues when sports is at their periphery. Who would listen to him, he says more than once, on any subject other than baseball? Two days after the Pirates played perhaps their final game at Candlestick Park, Van Slyke is asked if he will miss baseball in San Francisco—assuming the Giants move to St. Petersburg. His response has nothing to do with baseball.
"Considering what San Francisco stands for—what its identity is—the farther away we can play from San Francisco, the happier I'll be," he says. "Its acceptance of people's life-styles, life-styles that so contradict the way I think life should be lived, is a reason not to be around that place."
Intolerance? Not as he sees it. "It doesn't bother me if a person is gay," says Van Slyke. "What bothers me is when that is promoted as a life-style."
And what of the "bachelor life-style" that Magic Johnson said led him to contract the AIDS virus—a life-style most prevalent in professional sports? "It's something someone chooses to do or not to do," Van Slyke says. "The environment of professional sports allows you to take advantage of people. But that's all you're doing, taking advantage of them."