The end of March Madness meant the beginning of baseball. From that time forward I was completely occupied with the business at hand, which in 1985 was breaking Ty Cobb's career record for hits. The excitement I got from playing baseball was all I needed. Every move I made was recorded on national television. I had reached the top of my profession in a way that exceeded my dreams.
Then something strange happened after I broke that record. I had a letdown. I had spent my entire life chasing records, and suddenly there was nothing left to chase. No more mountains to climb. I went through a period of withdrawal—a midlife crisis. In order to beat a crisis, you first have to identify it. But I didn't identify anything that wasn't on my scorecard or racing form!
In hindsight I should have taken some time to reflect on my life, on where I'd been and where I was headed. If I had been a book reader, I could have read up on how other famous folks handled retirement. I could have read about how the astronauts felt after they came back to Earth from outer space. Some of those guys turned to drugs and alcohol because they couldn't cope with the letdown. But I didn't read books. So I never enlightened myself with the experiences of other people.
I could have called Dick Butkus and asked how he felt about retiring from the NFL after achieving godlike status as a player. I could have called Terry Bradshaw and asked how he felt about retiring after winning four Super Bowls. But I didn't find out how any of them dealt with retirement because I never talked to them. I never talked to anybody. It wasn't my style. Maybe I should have.
By the fall of 1985, Monday Night Football was a ritual that I never missed. I had reached a point where I thought they only played the game to give me a chance to get even from what I'd lost on Sunday! Go to any sports bar on Monday night, and you'll see dozens of fans who all have a wager on the game—even if it's only 50 bucks. It gives the viewers a reason to cheer or to bitch and moan. You'd be surprised by how many people will actually brag about losing. "That missed field goal cost me 50 bucks!"—not an uncommon phrase for a gambler. On the other hand when you hear a guy bragging about winning, you know he's lying. Most gamblers lose. It's the nature of the beast.
In October 1985 I went from cold to ice cold. Every college and pro football team I picked either lost the game or failed to cover the point spread. Every dropped pass, missed field goal and fumble came back to bite me in the ass. I reached the point where my guy in New York suggested that I start betting on hockey. I said, "Hockey! What the hell do I know about hockey?" He just laughed because obviously, during that stretch, I didn't know much about football either.
I got in kind of deep, so Gio arranged for one of his friends from the gym to front me a small loan to cover my losses with the local guy. I had been on a road trip and had to pay some large business expenses. Sometimes it took as long as two weeks to transfer cash from an investment. So it was easier to shift cash among friends until I got flush. I repaid the loan two weeks later, but the loan was one of the first telltale signs. Like I said, I didn't like to dip into my savings for gambling. I didn't like to, but I did more often than I should have. Dipping into savings meant that I was getting in too deep—something I refused to admit at the time.
Eventually I busted out of my slump and won more than 30 grand in one week. I was so happy. For that one week I played my hunches and came out on top. I was a winner. Unfortunately gambling and winning don't often go hand in hand. The NFL playoffs proved me right. Within a few weeks I dropped back down. But I placed a string of interesting bets on the Super Bowl just to enjoy the action. I took the points and the over/under, and even bet that William (the Refrigerator) Perry would score a touchdown—a wager that paid off.
On Feb. 5, 1986, I wrote three checks for eight grand each to cover my losses on the NFL playoffs. From that point forward my gambling cycle continued. The NFL turned into March Madness, which turned into the NBA playoffs, which always turned into the skids. Baseball season meant that it was time for me to put on my cleats and go to work. I always lived by one hard and fast rule: You don't bet baseball. But for the first time in my life I was no longer playing baseball, just managing.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I was pushing toward disaster. A part of me was still looking for ways to recapture the high I got from winning batting titles and World Series. If I couldn't get the high from playing baseball, then I needed a substitute to keep from feeling depressed.