I was born in San Francisco and raised in Marin County. My father graduated from the University of California-Berkeley. One of his teammates on the Golden Bear baseball team was Sam Chapman, a Marin product who starred in baseball and football at Cal. Chapman became a mainstay with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s teams of the 1940s. My dad rooted for Chapman’s A’s and for the New York Yankees, because another classmate of his, Joe DiMaggio from San Francisco’s Galileo High School, was a star of the era (the word “classmate” is used loosely; Joe D. never went to class, then dropped out to play pro ball).
When I was growing up in the 1960s, my dad introduced me to baseball. The only team in the Bay Area was the San Francisco Giants. My father was confused about whether or not to root for the Giants. Because of his association with the DiMaggio’s, Chapman and another Cal star, Jackie Jensen, who was the 1957 MVP with Boston, he was an American League fan. Being a San Francisco native, he wanted to root for the home team. As a kid the Giants were the only local team for me to identify with. Dad’s “problem” was solved in 1968 when Chapman’s old team, the one he rooted for - the A’s - moved to Oakland.
I was young enough to still mold my loyalties. Candlestick Park offered little to admire, but the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was safe, warmer and a better baseball atmosphere. I became an immediate A’s fan.
The team had funny green and gold uniforms. They wore white shoes. A mule presided over the pre-game sidelines. They had a bunch of young guys with new names: Rudi, Bando, Fingers, Jackson, Campaneris, Lindblad, Hunter, Odom, Pagliaroni, Nash. Their announcer talked funny, using words like “phantasmagoric.”
I loved ‘em. They were exciting and talented from the get-go. After years of mediocrity, the A’s became am above-.500 team in 1968, a contender in 1969-70, a champion in 1971-72, and a dynasty from 1972-74. For a kid in his formative years, no team could provide greater thrills.
My father and I went to about 35 games a year. No memories are more precious than night games in the summer, followed by a late meal at Marin Joe’s. We went to all the play-off and World Series games.
Prior to the first game of the 1973 World Series in Oakland, wearing a green A’s batting helmet, I traipsed over to the Mets’ bullpen to watch the great Tom Seaver get in his between-starts work.
When he was done, Seaver approached the stands. He signed a few autographs, but ignored my pen and scorecard. Then he gathered his family around him. Unbeknownst to me, his lovely wife Nancy, his parents and other relatives were all surrounding me.
“Hey pal,” Seaver said to me, “could you scoot over, we’re trying to take a family photo here?”
I tried, but was completely hemmed in by Seaver’s, old and young. A photographer on the field lined up the shot and took it. It was Tom and Nancy Seaver, his folks, and me – right smack in the middle of that shot - with my green A’s helmet and an ear-to-ear smile.
In later years, I came to deal with Seaver professionally, and found the former USC Trojan, a one-time hero, was egotistical to the extreme, plus money-hungry. A minor league teammate of mine grew up down the street from the Seaver’s in Greenwich, Connecticut, and I also had his home address from a USC alumni book.
I wrote a nice letter to Seaver, mentioning that photo from the 1973 World Series, figuring that it was in his collection somewhere, maybe even hanging in his den. I asked if it was possible whether he could sign it and send to me?
Never heard jack.
Over the years, I went to hundreds of games with my dad, sometimes with my mom, right on up to the 2000s. Eventually, I was able to share the experience with my daughter, Elizabeth.
My dad was always there for me. I never, ever, not one single time, asked my dad to practice baseball with me and heard him say, “Oh, not today,” or “I’m too tired,” or “I’m busy.” Never once, and it was not like I wanted to practice once a week or so. I was into it! I was up for baseball just about every day, and in California we play year round so it was a full-time occupation for Dad. He was a busy guy – a lawyer and college teacher – but there he was. After practice we might go to the game, or watch it on TV. If not on TV, the ever-present sound of Monte Moore filled the car or the house with the A’s play-by-play. It was like warm sunshine. How my father did it all those years is nothing less than amazing, but thank you. He taught me hard work, the joy of a great game, and never to quit.
I went to Redwood High School in Marin. Our coach, Al Endriss, presided over a tight ship. Our uniforms were traditional, and at a time when everybody wore their hair long, we wore ours like a Marine unit. Endriss could not stand the A’s, who he saw as anti-establishment with the hair, the white shoes, the harlequin uniforms, but nobody could deny their talents on the field. I was less interested in false discipline and more in the kind of excellence the A’s demonstrated.
One of my teammates was Buddy Biancalana, who later became the starting shortstop for the 1985 World Champion Kansas City Royals. In 1977, the Redwood Giants were undefeated and ranked number one in California when we ventured to Ted Williams Field in San Diego. Ted Williams had indeed starred at Hoover High School. We led 5-3 entering the bottom of the seventh in a seven-inning game, but Hoover loaded the bases. We brought in Buddy to pitch. He normally did not take the mound, but we had used up most of our staff and he threw hard.
Mike Davis hit a triple off Buddy to give the Hoover Cardinals a 6-5 victory, ending our unbeaten streak. That was the same Mike Davis who later played for the A’s and, as a member of the Dodgers, drew a walk from Dennis Eckersley setting up Kirk Gibson “miracle” home run to win game one of the 1988 World Series!
I turned out to be a pretty good ball player. In that senior year, I helped pitch Redwood to the North Coast Section title and the mythical national championship, according to Collegiate Baseball magazine and the Easton Bat Company, pre-cursors to the now-established USA Today prep polls. I earned a scholarship to college, where I made all-conference and set records.
I pitched in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, where I was a teammate of future A’s outfielder Stanley Javier at Johnson City, Tennessee of the Appalachian League. In 1981, I beat the Kingsport (Tennessee) Mets, 8-4, striking out a league record 14 batters. Three of those strikeouts came against Kevin Mitchell, a tough teenager from the meanest streets of San Diego. Several members of that 1981 Kingsport Met team – including Mitchell – played for the 1986 New York Mets’ World Championship club. Mitchell later won the 1989 National League Most Valuable Player award for the San Francisco Giant team that lost to Oakland, four games to none, in the famed “earthquake Series.” Mitchell also played for the A’s in 1998.
In 2002, when I was on a book tour for Barry Bonds: Baseball’s Superman, Geoff Metcalfe of San Francisco radio station KSFO interviewed me. He heard about my three-strikeout performance against Mitchell, and in preparation for the interview with me contacted Kevin to get his reaction to having been set down three times in one night by a sportswriter. Mitchell said he could not remember the game, which is fine. I am happy to remember it for him.
“Kevin Mitchell doesn’t like Steve Travers very much,” Metcalfe said on the air.
In 1982 my dreams were further realized when I was signed by the Oakland A’s. The A’s trained in Phoenix, Arizona. I have since been to Spring Training as a fan and as a working writer. I had been to Tempe before during my college career, but this was my first Spring Training.
Spring Training may be the most sublime experience in all of sports. For one thing, it comes when most of the country is still mired in snow, ice, wind and rain. One arrives in Arizona, where a warm 80-degree sun, pretty girls, hot nightlife and pure wanderlust fill the senses; and that is what it is like for the fans. Imagine what it is for the players! It is a surreal experience, at least for the young guys first going through it, and certainly it was that way for me.
For many years under the ownership of Charlie O. Finley, the A’s had skimped on their scouting budget. Finley had employed one scout to cover Southern California, where the greatest congregation of talent always is. This guy had gone to Pepperdine, which is as much a Mediterranean spa as it is a university. The scout would just watch Pepperdine games. The Waves played all the good teams. In the fall, they took on most of the area junior colleges, and in the spring they scheduled USC, UCLA, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton; all the top programs. So, this scout saw all the talent in the region without leaving the comfortable environs of Malibu. Nice work, really.
For this reason, the A’s had a disproportionate number of ex-Pepperdine Waves in camp. As it happened, one of my best friends, Brad Cole (today a soap opera star on A Guiding Light) had pitched at Pepperdine. I regularly hung out there, and knew all these guys.
Additionally, Dick Wiencek was the A’s director of player development in 1982, having come over from Detroit. He was another Southern Californian whose son had been a catcher at USC. Wiencek loved guys from the Southland, too. Consequently, Spring Training was one big SoCal old home week.
There were two Pepperdine catchers. Bill Bathe was Mr. Southern California; a blonde beach boy with a guitar constantly hung around his neck. He eventually had a brief big league career with the A’s and Giants, hitting a home run in the 1989 World Series. Bathe was in the big league camp but he caught me in the bullpen a time or two.
Then there was Chuck Fick. The rumor was that Chuck was 30 years old, although officially he was supposed to be 24. He had come out of high school in the Torrance, California area and played football at El Camino Junior College. When he did not get a scholarship, according to the story at least, he somehow enrolled at Santa Monica College to play baseball, without anybody knowing he had used up eligibility at El Camino. This time it worked out for him. Pepperdine offered him a ride, and he was the catcher on their 1979 team that finished third at the College World Series.
Fick had signed with Montreal but had been traded to Oakland. Chuck became my “regular” catcher that spring. He was the smoothest, easiest catcher to work with I have ever experienced. He oozed charisma and veteran leadership. Off the field, he had more stories than a World War II vet. What a character.
Chuck’s old football pal from El Camino J.C. was a guy named Dennis Gonsalves. Fick played quarterback and “Gonzo” was a sweet defensive back who also played at Cal State Long Beach back when they still had a decent program. Gonzo, Fick and I would hit the “neon league,” which was Gonzo’s apt description of the bar scene. I was trying to make a club and could ill afford to drink and lose sleep, but the sheer exuberance and youthfulness of it all was too much to resist.
Fick and Gonzo never made it to the Major Leagues, but during the 1994-95 player’s strike, Gonzo was one of those guys who tried to make it as a “replacement player.” He impressed Tony LaRussa, but finally was cut. LaRussa’s quote in the San Francisco Chronicle was, “We really liked Gonzo, but he’s just too darned old.”
I called my pal and had a big hoot over that, but when the strike ended so did all the replacement’s dreams.
Chuck Fick’s younger brother Rob has had a decent career.
You exchange phone numbers with guys from all over America, promising to stay in touch, visit, stop by when in town, but over time it all fades away. However, I am pleased to say Gonzo and I remain friends to this day.
Then there was Daryl Cias. Before Kevin Costner became “Crash Davis,” Daryl Cias was the original “Bull Durham.” This guy was a piece of work. You know the term “dirt bag?” That was Cias. He was always unshaven and sounded like Nick Nolte after a carton of cigarettes and fifth of whiskey.
Cias was from Pasadena, which always seemed incongruous to me. To me, Pasadena was the genteel old money of The Graduate. Cias probably seemed so “trailer trash” because by 1982 he had played what seemed like two decades of minor league baseball. He chewed Copenhagen morning, noon and night, and told sex stories with the exaggerated lasciviousness of a strip club barker.
The first time I saw Cias, he and catcher Mickey Tettleton, who went on to a pretty good big league career with the A’s and other teams, were checking out the action at a wild Arizona State road house that no longer exists, called The Devil House.
“You got any dip?” Cias asked Tettleton.
“Just what I got in my mouth,” replied Tettleton.
“That’ll work,” said Cias.
Tettleton carefully removed the snuff that had been between his cheek and gum, compacted it, and gave it to Cias, who without dropping any of it put it in hismouth.
In 1983, Daryl Cias got called up to the Oakland A’s and played 19 games. That was his only appearance in The Show, but he is in The Baseball Encyclopedia. You can look it up. That was what he toiled in Mexico, in Venezuela, and every one-stop town from Medford to Mobile for. There are a million Daryl Cias’s in baseball.
Then there was Dennis Blair. He was unique. A reed thin right-hander from the hot Southern California town of Redlands, east of L.A., Blair had few skills beyond baseball. He was a nice enough guy, but limited. He was no great prospect coming out of high school, but apparently was not college material. He signed a free agent contract with the Montreal Expos, which is the lowest spot on the totem pole.
Manager Gene Mauch wanted pitchers with fire in their eyes, which Blair had. Whereas Daryl Cias had struggled since the Johnson Administration for his shot, Blair was given his in no time. He made the most of it, hitting a home run off Tom Seaver while shutting out the Mets, 4-0 en route to an 11-7 record with a 3.27 earned run average, finishing high in the 1974 Rookie of the Year voting.
As soon as fame and glory was his, it slipped away. An arm injury derailed a promising career. He had a couple shots after 1974 but none with staying power. He became a pitcher’s version of Cias, traveling the highways and by-ways of minor league life – Winter ball, independent leagues - all at the minimum salary, which in those days was around $600 a month.
Blair told stories like an old Indian sage who had seen Geronimo as a child. He was a walking treasure trove of ribald baseball humor, all told with a heavy dose sarcasm and cynicism.
One day Blair and I were shagging batting practice fly balls when a coach called out for all to hear, “Hey Blair, Walt wants to see you in his office.”
Walt Jocketty was a rising player development guy with the A’s then, and when a coach shouted to a player such a thing, it was like a plane skywriting for all to see, “Blair has been released.”
Of course, Dennis knew it.
“Well, nice knowin’ ya,” he said to the guys, and that was it. No more Dennis Blair.
Amid all this, I had an excellent spring and knew I was acquitting myself well. Each day, the minor leaguers would gather at a practice field near Arizona State University. A table was set up, and that day’s “rosters” were displayed. There was the A’s big league line-up – the pitching rotation, starters and back-ups who would play in the exhibition game scheduled. Maybe a “B” game, as well. Then there were the minor league games – Tacoma, Huntsville, Modesto, and Madison.
Each four or five days or so, I would find myself scheduled to pitch – say innings four through six for the Madison club in a game against a Cubs’ minor league team at Mesa; or against some Mariners’ farm hands at the B field behind the right field fence at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. These games were not publicized. There was no fanfare, just a bunch of hopefuls trying to impress the coaches.
On a day I was scheduled to pitch I arrived bright and early, but did not see my name on the minor league rosters.
I thought for a few brief seconds I had been released, and this was the A’s way of telling me. Then I looked at the big league roster for that day’s game between Oakland and the San Francisco Giants at Phoenix Muni. I almost jumped out of my skin when I read that ‘Travers” was schedule to pitch the middle three innings of the game.
A Major League exhibition game! On a Saturday afternoon, which meant that a nice crowd would be on hand. Both the A’s and Giants would broadcast the game back to the Bay Area – to my hometown!
To this day I do not know how I ended up pitching in a big league exhibition game. I was not a top prospect. There were many guys ahead of me who never pitched in Major League exhibitions, but for some reason I found myself a “big leaguer for a day.”
I got to Phoenix Muni early. To my amazement, a beautiful, very tanned girl in a bikini was sunning herself on top of the A’s dugout. One of the A’s coaches knew her. It turned out that she was the estranged wife of one of the A’s former coaches. I overheard her conversation, in which she told the coach that she and her husband had an “arrangement,” that “I date who I want and he dates who he wants,” and apparently she was displaying herself for the players. It was unbelievable.
“So this is the big leagues?” I thought to myself. I will never forget that bronzed girl on top of the dugout.
The A’s manager was Billy Martin. The pitching coach was Art Fowler. Martin said nothing to me. I was a rookie. Joe Rudi was on that team, his second go-around with Oakland. A former A’s pitcher, Dave Heaverlo, was the bullpen coach. Daryl Cias caught me in the pen, and despite what was described as a “hangover bad enough to kill an elephant,” Daryl was full of life, pumping me up with his clenched fist, indicating my ball had some pop.
I pitched the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Rickey Henderson was in left field. Shooty Babitt played shortstop. Mickey Tettleton was the catcher.
I cannot really explain my performance. I was fired up and facing Spring Training hitters who had never seen me before. Pitchers always have the advantage in situations like that. Still, I am unable to accurately assess what happened. Nine up, nine down. Five or six strikeouts. I was unhittable.
Later, I heard from friends who listened to Bill King describe my three innings on the A’s broadcast, and Lon Simmons “announce” me for the Giants. I am told King even did some research, mentioning that I was “a Marin County product” – King lived there, too – “who starred at Redwood High in their glory days.”
Glory days these were.
For the briefest of possible seconds I thought maybe, just maybe, I had impressed the higher ups enough to get a look-see in Oakland when camp broke. It was a fantasy and a short-lived one. I was back in minor league camp the next day and that was that. I made a very brief stop at Modesto of the Class A California League, where current A's coach Brad Fischer was at the time. I was there long enough to throw batting practice.
The manager was an ancient man with a craggy, weather-beaten face that said, “Baseball man.” Pete Whisenant was one of those old school fellas who drink Wild Turkey first thing in the morning, let out a holler, and says, “Ah, hair a the dog.” I’m not kidding.
John Kruk, Kevin McReynolds and Ozzie Guillen played at Reno. We had a blonde pitcher named Mark Ferguson who spent fours hour a day tanning himself by the pool. He was 17-6 with a 1.77 ERA. Tim Conroy was 15-4 with a 2.25 ERA. Curt Young was 15-8. He would get to the bigs and become the A’s pitching coach. Mike Warren, who would pitch a no-hitter at Oakland, was at Modesto. That team went 94-46, beating Visalia in the play-offs for the cal League title. That Modesto club was as loaded as the one Joe Rudi and Reggie Jackson played on in 1966. They had pitching to spare, and they were all better than yours truly. So the A’s told me to go home to Marin County for a few weeks, then report to Medford after the June draft.
Medford is a picturesque little town that sits on the Rogue River in southern Oregon. Driving by on Interstate 5 it seems to be the picture of small town grace, and maybe it is, but in 1982 it was roiled in controversy, A’s minor league style.
This is one of those bush league tales that do not end up in the newspaper (except the one in Medford). It is the seedier side of Our National Pastime, the kind of late night bar room tale that old ball players tell each other over too many brewskis. Pat Jordan made his name telling stories like this in books like False Spring, detailing his failed minor league career and the off field exploits of his rowdy teammates. This story is told herein only because this author lived it, witnessed it. The names are not used to protect the guilty.
First, let us backtrack a few years. According to reliable sources, i.e., a guy who says he saw it, Medford tolerated a KKK rally in the mid-1970s. This is germane to what happened later.
The way it works is, after the June draft, a whole slew of new signees from the college and high school ranks suddenly become property of the club. They usually report to the Rookie League, which is officially classified as Summer A ball. The A’s Summer A ball was in Medford. In case you are guessing, yes, it was a demotion for yours truly, one of the first signs that I would eventually need to figure out a way to make a living some place other than a pitcher’s mound.
I flew to Medford, checked into the motel, and the next day found myself on the same field with about 130 former high school and college superstars. It makes breaking into Hollywood, or politics, or Wall street, look like volunteering to stack books at the library. But it was fun if you like a challenge.
The idea was that we would all engage in a kind of “June SpringTraining” for a couple of weeks. Then about 60 guys would get cut. Not a cut in salary, or cut to a lower level club. Cut, as in fired, see ya, “bye-bye, baby.” This is one of the little-known realities of pro baseball.
Every year, we read about the June draft. Some local high school kids from our hometowns get drafted in the 22nd round by the Cardinals and report to Johnson City City, Tennessee, just to name one organization. In Oakland’s case, it was Medford. What is less known is that when they get there they find 72 players competing for 25 spots. It is immediate, Darwinian, a sports-style “survival of the fittest.” There is about as much mercy extended as to gladiators in the Roman Colloseum.
Aside from the 20-40 guys signed out of the draft (a fair number choose college instead), there are always free agents from the Dominican Republic and other Latin countries. Some of these guys are as young as 15 or 16, or so they say; except that they tend to be 6-2, 220 and as romantically active as John Holmes.
In addition, there are guys dropped down from Class A, or guys who have been biding their time in a thing no fan knows about called “extended Spring Training.” These are guys not assigned anywhere out of spring camp who the club is not ready to release quite yet, although the fact one is in “extended Spring Training” in the first place should lead him to call a truck driving school, or some training program for another vocation. Extended spring consists of practice games and too much free time. This can create a real alcoholic, especially if the location is near Miami’s South Beach or downtown Scottsdale, which resembles spring break 12 months out of the year.
Anyway, all these baseball players, ages 16-23, stayed two to a room at a local motel in Medford. We ate our meals at a local chain restaurant. Whatever nightlife there was, we found.
Yours truly was trying to keep his nose to the grindstone, as if anybody was going to notice, when one day this author noticed a red Corvette cruisin’ the parking lot. There are two girls in this sports car. Both look to be 15-, maybe 16-going-on-27. The driver has wild, big blonde hair, lips the color of USC’s home football uniforms, a five-hour-a-day tan, and she is wearing a halter top, hot pants, and spiked heels with wraps. We are talkin’ Britney Spears’ and Christina Aguilera’s role model, and if this is country music, I want my old job back!
Being a former reporter for my high school newspaper, this author quickly deduced that this was a small town vixen itchin’ to get out of cabbage patch. Daisy Duke from hell. Jail bait. Trouble!
Being a good reporter, I of course followed this story as far as my gumshoes would take me, which was the room of one of the A’s farmhands, where the door was shut. This is where the imaginary bat gets good wood, and where my own sense of discretion prevents me from giving certain details, which is that this guy was the son of a prominent Major Leaguer, the nephew of another big league star, and a “player” off the field as well as on. May he read this and thank me under his breath for not revealing his name, for hopefully today he lives the life of a valued member of society.
This event passed, as did a day or so, when this author emerged from his room and saw that red ‘vette again. Wherever that ‘vette was, sin was in the air. I just knew it! This time, the mystery was unconcealed. It stood before me as big as the devil, and as tempting as Jezebel.
The player’s room – the son of the big leaguer – was closed, but a line of pro baseball players stood outside it. The line stretched down the hall, down the stairs, and into the parking lot. I figured they were not waiting in line for autographs.
At the front of the line was a guy I had known pretty well since Spring Training, and hopefully I do not give away too much identity by saying his name was Mickey, he was about 6-8, and had played some basketball at San Jose State. I approached Mickey, and went into my best Slim Pickens imitation.
“What in the wide, wide world of sports is goin’ on here?” I asked. I am proud to say the imitation was good enough to draw serious laughter from the knowing fans of Blazing Saddles.
Well, I won’t give Mickey’s exact response, but fair reader by now can guess what was going “down” in that room, and it was most definitely connected to that red Ferrari.
I assured the assembled multitudes that I had no intention of cutting into their valued places in line but, “This I gotta see.” Mickey ushered me into the sanctuary, and mine eyes observed the loss of innocence.
The imagination shall suffice herein, but an added bit of flavor for me came when mine aforementioned eyes met one of the players engaged in, uh, activity. He was a guy from San Jose I had competed against at the collegiate level. Two years earlier, in a collegiate summer game in Canada, he had irritated me enough to induce my beaning him in the small of the back, causing him to charge the mound and create a riot that actually had a small police presence. But like old warriors we had made up and were now friends, when he saw me. What he said exactly will not be repeated, but he started it out by saying, “Hey Travs,” then inviting me to partake of the festivities more or less the way one would invite another guy to grab a beer and some barbecued ribs.
Well, let it be said that yours truly is not a prude and not a saint, either. The big hair, the tanned skin, the whole thing was enticing, and with the door closed all memory of the line cut in front of was replaced by the new realities before, me like so much free buffet.
That said, and thank God for it, this author had the common sense to weigh the fact that, while a little devil sat on my left shoulder, something between an angel and a lawyer sat on my right.
I am a religious fellow who happens to believe all we do and think is known and judged. This has not prevented me from sinning, but it is, as Hal Holbrooke so eloquently put it in Wall Street, “what keep us out of the abyss.”
Furthermore, and in all honesty just as importantly, my father is a lawyer and at the time I was contemplating law school some day. My legal sensibilities then rendered a mental image of jail, my rights being read to me, and what the laws of Oregon might be regarding 23-year old California men and 16-year old Oregon lasses who might be 15.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I muttered. I left the whole lot of ‘em to their own devices, went to the local dining establishment, and ate some hot beef while my mind raced with further images of female willingness. It was enough to make a grown man cry, or something.
Our story is not at an end, for when I came back to the hotel – remember, I expected the temptation and the opportunity to still be there – I observe what must have been the entire Medford police force, and maybe some of Ashland’s and perhaps a few state troopers, to boot. Sirens and flashing lights are everywhere, just like in the movies.
Handcuffed is the son of the big leaguer, perp walked into a waiting vehicle. Several teammates have met the same fate. I see my friend from San Jose. Always a lucky sort, he “got out” just in time, but he had the whole skinny for me.
Big hair in the Ferrari was indeed underage, as was her friend. Reportedly, she was also the mayor’s daughter! This I cannot verify, but that was the rumor. It seems she belonged to somebody important in that little town. In addition to the obvious legal problems these fellows, literally caught with their pants down, were facing, I was told a number of them were bonus babies who had bought sports cars of their own with the newfound wealth. In repeated acts of “demonstration driving” on the way to Oregon, some had incurred speeding tickets which, when unpaid, resulted in warrants for their arrest on top of their arrests. Up the crick without paddles.
Finally, it is necessary to mention that a fair number – not all but but enough - of these oversexed youths were black and Latono, which is germane because, as stated at the top, this was a town that only a few years before had been sympathetic enough to the KKK to allow a march through downtown. Whether this was the mayor’s daughter or not, she drove a damn expensive car and was somebody!
The moral of the story: do the right thing. This author had managed to do that, and as I said, players were getting cut from the Medford camp left and right. Every day, a new locker was cleared out. I cannot verify this, but it is highly possible that I was saved this fate because I had not been caught up in the sex scandal, whereas some pitchers rated ahead of me were.
Then they sent me to Idaho Falls, where the manager was current A’s director of minor league development Keith Lieppman, and his coach was former A’s executive Grady Fuson.
Some of my teammates made names for themselves. Dave Wilder later was traded to the Cubs for Dennis Eckersley and is now a top executive with Milwaukee. Jose Canseco was a young farmhand at Idaho Falls that year, too. So was my friend Dave Weatherman, who had pitched Cal State Fullerton to the 1979 College World Series title.
Anyway, my arm hurt a lot. I think I had torn my rotator cuff with the Cardinals and I was in pain all the time. The kind of laser surgeries performed to repair such injuries today were not yet developed in 1982, but in all honesty saying my career ended due to a sore arm, which is what 99 percent of all failed minor league pitchers tell their hometown papers, is a falsehood. You have to be “Top Gun,” the last man standing, the best of the best to get to the bigs, and I was not close. Could I have pitched in the Major Leagues without embarrassing myself? Maybe. Who knows, but many are called, and few are chosen.
Anyway, the end came towards the season’s end. My parents, who watched just about every game I ever pitched in person, beginning with a midget league start at age nine and carrying through college, had not traveled to Tennessee, but they did make the drive to Idaho.
We returned from a trip, probably to Medicine Hat or Lethbidge, at about eight in the morning, and were at our park unpacking in the locker room. Lieppman and Fuson called a few others and me into their office. Canseco had just been assigned to Idaho Falls, room had to be made, and that room was us.
I went back to my room and called my folks, who had checked into their hotel the night before, with the news that I had been released. They never saw m play pro ball, but I did get to pocket the airfare and drive back to California with them. Pleasant trip.
We had our pictures taken at Idaho Falls, and I am told that baseball cards were made, but I was sent home without seeing them, and never got hold of one. However, I had a card from my Cardinal days. A few years later, my pal Bruno Caravalho opened a sports bar called the California Pizza and Pasta Company (the 502 Club), located across the street from the USC campus. I gave him the card, framed it up, and it was hung on the wall in a prominent spot, where it lived for a couple years. One day I came in and saw that everything was off the walls for a paint job.
I asked Bruno where my one baseball card was. He said it was boxed up and could be found upstairs. Over the course of the next few years, I went upstairs and went through boxes, spending hours looking for that card. I never found it. Thanks, Bruno.
Today, every little leaguer has his baseball card. They have web sites on the Internet, the whole nine yards, but in 1982 a pro baseball card was something special. I looked for it at card shows, made inquiries of bubble gum companies, later did try the Web; nothing.
I moved on; coached a little at Cal-Berkeley, USC and in Europe. I finished up my college education at USC, where I was a classmate of Mark McGwire’s and got to know him quite well. Randy Johnson was a pitcher in the program when I was a volunteer coach in Rod Dedeaux’s program.
In 1991, I coached on Bob Milano’s baseball staff at the University of California. We played an exhibition game against the A’s at the Oakland Coliseum prior to their season opener. McGwire saw me in a Cal uniform and just exclaimed, “What in the world are you doing wearing that?”
Rene Lachemann was an A’s coach, loudly proclaiming his love of the Trojans amidst the Cal players.
We all crowded around the batting cage to watch the A’s impressive batting practice: sluggers McGwire, Jose Canseco, Dave Henderson and others. Canseco wore his short sleeves tight, exposing his massive biceps. He and Hendu kept out-doing each other with tape measure shots. Canseco flexed like Arnold Schwarzenegger, trash-talking with his teammates. Looking back, it was almost a “ ‘roid rage,” but quite hilarious to the open-jawed Golden Bear players.
Dave Stewart pitched four or five scoreless innings against the best offensive team in Cal baseball history (this was the 1991-92 Bears who produced five Major Leaguers and went to the College World Series). The difference between college pitching and superior big league pitching was made very apparent from the vantage point of the dugout.
Stew had developed a forkball, and our guys could not touch it. His curveball dropped off the table, and he just blew his fastball past us. Our players, normally a cocky lot, were stunned into dugout silence with the realization of just what mound excellence was. Wow!
As a Los Angeles columnist, I covered USC and wrote about McGwire, as well as Barry Zito before he was famous. I also wrote a screenplay about the late Angels’ playboy Bo Belinsky. Bo’s manager, Bill Rigney, who also passed away, was a longtime A’s executive. He was very helpful to me.
When I became a sports columnist with the San Francisco Examiner, I covered the A’s. During that time, I ran into Brad Fischer and we almost arranged for me to be the A’s batting practice pitcher. In the end, it was deemed too much of a conflict of interest for me to write about the guys I would be “pitching” too, but I guarantee it would have been a baseball first. Lieppman and Fuson (before moving on to the Texas Rangers) also crossed my paths, and remarkably remembered my unremarkable minor league career.
Big league glory eluded me by a wide swath, but I retained those precious memories and now I have the chance to write a book about a team – the Athletics – that has been such a wonderful part of my life, then and now. These are the stories of Major League success; Hall of Famers, World Series heroes and record breakers. But these are also stories you never heard about, players whose names you never read. Baseball lends itself to these kinds of stories, just as my nothing minor league career still revealed a fair share of amusement and color.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism