In towns such as
these, when some bushy-tongued fan confused my name, calling me something
bawdily capsuled or George Washington Lincoln Jefferson Brown, I could see my
teammates gesticulating up into the stands. Moreland did his own gesticulating.
In El Paso he told some bloated, cowboy-thatched fan that if he, Moreland, had
19 more like the fan, he'd have a 20-mule team, and then he threatened to jump
into the stands to capture the one mule he had. These incidents were all put
down as part of the game. I didn't see it that way. Moreland didn't either, and
he was determined not to separate his professional life and his private one and
thus weaken both. When we got to Bisbee, Ariz., Earl Wilson, who now pitches
for Detroit and who then was pitching, catching and playing the outfield for
Bisbee-Douglas, used to come whistling across the tracks to sit with us among
the crabby old townsmen in the lobby of our hotel, and at those times Moreland
was poetic about our duties. "You're major league," he would say,
"but you've got to carry that gun inside you for these bushes. When you
lace up those spikes, you're more than these animals." I could see then why
Moreland, past any dream of the big tent, came to the ball park to pitch.
David and Moi were
hitting everything in sight, and I envied their ability to shut out the
ugliness of what I knew they were going through. Certainly, they were no more
hungry than I. I thought, assuredly, that I had no more deficiencies than they.
What was it? Though I thought of the game as surpassing any pleasure I knew, I
really had not defined exactly what that pleasure was. What held me is
something that I can see now, intellectually.
the other gang rituals, is a game of loneliness and individual aspiration. Each
play begins with a confrontation between two egos. You are there alone for a
moment, and whatever is possible within that moment depends on your physical
skill and judgment. Everything is directed toward winning, giving life to those
who wear your colors, and you are, for that moment, like a god. What you want
is within that moment, and that is simply: to perform.
I was beginning to
learn in Arizona and Texas that you could not perform unless—and my father
would not have had it so—you were essentially for yourself. The Yankee scout
knew, in his maudlin inarticulateness, that truth. His mistake was in seeing
the ballplayer as ultimately essential to the ball club and the game.
When managers and
executives are good, they see beyond the material hunger into a metaphysical
hunger. I think of Ronnie Camacho, still jousting the sad nights on hiccuping
buses, hoarding his Lilliputian meal money, tackling the upper half of a
baseball under lights that resembled Chinese lanterns at some elegant lawn
party. He is 31 now and certainly won't get another shot because, as he says,
"I can't hit the American curveball." When I see him now, he talks
about his house in Empalme, his new car, his wife and healthy children. I can't
say how well off he'd be if he didn't have those quick wrists. I can't say that
money and recognition as he swaggers through the streets aren't important to
him. But I'm sure that they are not all that is important to him.
One night last
season I saw him in a ball game against Jalisco's Charros. Andres Ayon, an
arrogant young peashooter, was throwing for Jalisco. Ronnie, after a 12- or
13-hour ride in his new car over Mexico's perpetually-in-repair roads, was
having trouble getting around on the ball. Late in the game Ayon went to 3 and
2 on Ronnie, and Ronnie, going after everything, was hitting foul balls off to
the right. On one such Ayon ran toward the line as Ronnie took several steps
toward first. I looked toward the ball and then back toward the plate where
Ronnie seemed to be asking Ayon just how hard he thought he had to fire to
dispose of Ronnie. This, after all, over 13 seasons, was the home-run champion
of the Mexican League. Ayon signaled to his catcher that he wanted the hard one
and he did dispose of Ronnie, who took a pitch on the outside corner.
I'd never say that
Ronnie's anger, and the frustration that followed, were a result of going down
taking. That's happened before. But the twilight lights seem now to bother
Ronnie Camacho more than ever before.
That pitch, more
than any other, bothered me. It was such a blatant challenge, such a perverse
reward for 15 years. It was a brief questioning of what I'd turned up at the
Padre camp and in Mexicali, uncomprehendingly looking for. I felt like an
aficionado who, having a bull dedicated to him, sees his torero fail with the
sword. At that moment, as in the corrida, the business had turned again to art
and, beyond it, into life.
And at that moment
I could think of baseball as the realization, the summit of a masculine
esthetic—an esthetic, which, as in the highest art, summarizes a man's life,
sets him in a historical context where he measures himself against the highest
achievement and where he feels that he is perpetuating the spirit of the best
of his chosen work. Aggressive, at times mean, at times petty and foolish, the
ballplayer still tries to transcend, by the perfection of his craft, the
limitations that are inherent in it, and in himself. Here, really, is his
opportunity: to play beyond the crassness, the artificiality and the grubbiness
that are part of this "American" game.
Where we end is in
the seemingly absurd realization that, for a good many, the game looks like
life, where a man goes into it challenged, exhilarated, proud and all alone.
The big money, the businessmen, the luxuries, certainly are important,
important in that they are there as proofs that the ballplayer is becoming the
man he aspires to be. Our Yankee scout would say that is the American way. I
would say it is something more, that baseball offers the ballplayer what any
man can learn of art, and of his life as art.