Last Wednesday my son Booker was visiting here in Baltimore for a few days, and planned to watch a five p.m. movie with his brother Nicky in our “media room” (really the sunroom, or, because there are two plush and very comfy black leather chairs inside, dubbed “The Homer” by the boys years ago; I’m no stranger to The Simpsons, but the moniker still escapes me). That’s where I watch Red Sox games, and when Booker found out the floundering team was playing a 4:10 game at Fenway against America’s Team, the Astros, he deferred and said, “Dad, we can go upstairs, I don’t want you to miss the game.” As it happened, although I appreciated his gesture, after the desultory Sox were drubbed by Houston the previous two nights, unofficially ending their longshot at snagging the final American League wildcard slot, I wasn’t pumped up about witnessing another defeat, and said, “You boys go ahead in The Homer, I’ll follow it on my computer.” I did, half-heartedly, and it was another loss.
The beginning of September is when fans “wait till next year” or get jazzed about their teams’ fortunes. I’m in the former category, but the silver lining is that GM Chaim Bloom (exporting the brainy fellow from Tampa Bay was a good experiment, but he’s too deliberate and cheap) and manager Alex Cora (he’s burnt, and has made some very nutty in-game decisions during the team’s collapse) will likely get shown the door the day after the season ends. As always, my consolation is that the Yankees, barring a miracle run (and they’re hot right now, which gives me severe agita!), are out of the hunt, too, and though GM Brian Cashman, who’s about 110, also deserves the pink slip, the passive chairman Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t care for confrontation, which is good news. If the Yanks were forward-looking they’d trade ace Gerrit Cole for a slew of prospects (and unloading salary), but I doubt that’ll happen.
I don’t care for the MLB season ending, but life in this corner moves on. Years ago, when I was in the weekly newspaper business, September was frantic as the staffs of my Baltimore City Paper and New York Press were on deadline for the annual “Best Of” issue. No time to worry about baseball. I do remember drinking beer in the Grad Club as a freshman at Johns Hopkins in 1973 (the drinking age was then 21—switched to 18 the next year and back again in 1982—but it was a “safe zone,” a “happy place” where the fellows at the makeshift bar didn’t care about age) and asking New England buddies about that night’s Sox score. Similarly, Boston was pushing for the division title in 1988, and, after attending a wedding on Shelter Island, I got home to my Tribeca loft and impatiently tuned into WINS to find out that day’s scores.
The picture above (clues below for year) was taken on the night of a City Paper “Best Of” party atop the still-breathtaking Federal Hill (vandals can’t steal the land, thank God) and it was an unusually raucous occasion, celebrating our biggest edition yet. Pictured are my friends Jessica Mendoza, Joan Ardery, and business partner Alan Hirsch and his wife Dina Sokol, with yours truly in the middle. As I recall, a dozen of us went to a terrific sushi restaurant after the bash that night, an era when Baltimore still had a fairly vibrant dining scene, as opposed to today, when, asked for recommendations, I can scare up maybe three choices. And not with much conviction.
As a baseball fan ages, and becomes more routinized, the distractions are fewer. No complaints from my lair. Lots of books to read—I’m almost done with Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting, a 600-page novel of swashbuckling, engaging prose, and it might be my favorite book of the year—work, family activities (my wife and I were thrilled to attend our son Nicky’s premiere of his You’re Going To Live on Sunday) and British TV shows, including the new season of The Chelsea Detective. I listen to music for hours each day on my Sony CD-player, and by accidentally pressing a wrong button, a CD plays repeatedly, and I don’t mind. I still can’t get enough of Stevie Winwood, and each time “Empty Pages” played (from Traffic’s comeback record John Barleycorn Must Die), those opening notes hit me… like burning coal. Tangled up in activity! Boston wins the World Series next year.
Look at the clues to figure out the year: Gestapo boss Klaus Barbie goes on trial in Lyon and is convicted; martial law ends in Taiwan after 38 years; Pope John II entertains industry leaders in Los Angeles; the Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian” is the #1 song; Peter Taylor’s A Summons to Memphis wins the Pulitzer for fiction; the FDA approves sale and use of Prozac; Larry Flynt and Hustler go to the Supreme Court; Evan Peters is born and Ray Bolger dies; Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction is published; and the final Smiths album, Strangeways, Here We Come, is released.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023