Josh Hamilton may be his own worst enemy, but coming in a close second are those that would scourge him for weakness.
Having reached the age of 41, I can state honestly that I have never been drunk or high. I drink socially and consume the odd glass of wine at home but have never had more than I could handle and have never touched a joint or any medication that wasn’t prescribed by a doctor or available over the counter at a drug store. When I tell people this, they either don’t believe me or ask, in so many words, if I am some kind of abstemious, moralistic prude, a question that I always feel like answering by gesturing towards my exceedingly ample body and asking, “Does this suggests abstemiousness to you?”
In fact, I have nothing against tying one on (with whatever substance—our definitions of legal and illegal drugs are highly arbitrary) if that’s what you choose to do; it’s your body, and so long as you abuse it in such a way that you’re not hurting anyone else, I don’t see where I have any kick coming. My reasons for not overdoing it stem from one of my earliest memories. At a very young age, I was introduced to a man who was trying to put his life back together after a long period of drug abuse. He seemed very old to me at the time, the way all adults seem old to young children, but thinking back, I realize he was probably no older than 25. He simply looked much older. More frightening though, was his dissipated air and distracted way of talking. “He… left long spaces… between words… and tended to trail off… in the middle of what he was…” Most of his attempts at speaking ended with him staring off into space.
I was told that this young old man once had a brilliant mind, but years of habitual drug use (I was never told what kind) had left him a shell of what he once was. Somehow, despite my youth, a message got through to me that I never forgot: “Better not to start.” Over time, as I observed my own psychology and also watched friends and acquaintances in various states of inebriation and debauchery, I realized three things:
The Kansas City Royals forgot to take their calcium; the team had more breakdowns than Zelda Fitzgerald. George Brett's knee blew out, forcing him to miss the first six weeks of the season. Frank White's leg sent him to the DL in July. There was no regular shortstop because both Onix Concepcion and U.L. Washington were hurt (though not because Washington swallowed his toothpick), leaving the position in the hands of chronic non-hitter Buddy Biancalana. Third base rested in the hands of veteran understudy Greg Pryor. Propelled by a 4-for-37 May, Pryor posted a .301 OBP and .356 SLG, a far cry from what Brett would have provided. Then there was Willie Wilson's drug-enforced vacation, which left the team with an ugly outfield of Darryl Motley, Pat Sheridan, and Butch Davis. Only Steve Balboni remained to carry the offense. Balboni, a 27-year-old rookie first baseman/four-time minor league home run champion, had been buried at Triple-A Columbus by the Yankees because (a) he wasn't an expensive free agent (b) he struck out a lot, and (c) he had been lapped by a prospect named Don Mattingly. The Royals had liberated him from New York the previous December by dealing reliever Mike Armstrong and catcher Duane Dewey, one of the more perspicacious trades in team history.
What the Royals lacked in positional depth they made up for in young pitching. At season's outset, Kansas City envisioned its top four starters as Paul Splittorff (37), Larry Gura (36), Dennis Leonard (33), and Bud Black (27, and excellent). The best plans of mice and men quickly ran into the Grim Reaper of Old Pitchers: Splittorff was battered in three starts and summarily retired; Leonard missed the entire season with a knee injury; Gura started well then declined precipitously over the balance of the season. After 10 starts, Gura sported a 3.59 ERA. He allowed 70 runs over his next 101 innings and was yanked from the rotation.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the Royals deployed their every pitching prospect, in the process creating the pitching staff that would get them to the World Series just a year later. The new rotation retained Black, who was pitching his way to a 257-inning/3.12 ERA season (league ERA, 4.00), and added Charlie Leibrandt (unestablished at 27 and freshly returned from a year's exile at Omaha), Danny Jackson (22), Mark Gubicza (21), and Bret Saberhagen (20). Though not all of them were consistently successful that year, Kansas City had performed one of the greatest player-development feats of all time, introducing four of the best pitchers of the era simultaneously.
This is part three of a 20th-anniversary look back to 1984, a special daily series meant to introduce You Can Look It Up, a look at baseball history, BP-style. After this trip back to the year when doves cried (again and again and again--there was no escaping Prince in 1984) wraps up with a look at those topics which would have consumed BP in that very busy election year, we'll be starting a weekly schedule, with a brand new YCLIU (pronounced YOO-KUH-LEW) appearing every Friday. Topics will mostly be derived from current events, except when there's no current event from which to derive. Nothing will be off limits in this space...except 1984.
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Jeff Austin's journey from high draft pick to Don Gullett experiment. Bruce Chen tries to remember which two teams he hasn't pitched for yet. Brian Lawrence can now afford that new hammer he's been eyeing. And Dave Nilsson gets a hearty Chris Kahrl "good on ya, mate."