“It’s NFL playoffs season, it’s almost mock draft season, and the NBA is getting into their dog days, please write about any of those things.” Sorry rational, distant voice, it’s actually way too early for mock drafts, everyone knows first half of the NBA season doesn’t matter, the Raiders didn’t make the playoffs, and I think I’d rather be eaten by a shark than read another twitter argument about Derek Carr. All of these things are going to have to wait for a much more important subject…. 90s baseball, baby.
A short essay on baseball’s ignored generation:
Three names I needed to google to spell correctly, and three reasons I fell in love with the game.
Slowly take a deep breath and relax every muscle in your body. Silence all your anxieties, worries, and obligations. Imagine you’re sitting in your kitchen, on a wooden stool next to your dad watching Baseball Tonight on an old CRT TV. Homer after homer, the dingers never stopped.
Ken Griffey Jr
We haven’t even gotten to the pitchers yet. And wait til i break out the big guns, or, spoiler alert, big cat. Remember Peter Gammons? How does the name John Kruk make you feel? Yeah, me too. But what about THE names? You know which ones I haven’t gotten to. The ones modern baseball chooses not to mention. The exiles that Bud Selig trotted around to save the game. The pariahs that made baseball a global sport and brought fans to the edges of their seats every summer evening. These sluggers and flame throwers were favorite players of an entire generation. Baseball cards flew off the shelves. These players and this generation was the reason baseball was America’s favorite sport in the 90s.
Slammin Sammy Sosa
Each of these names has a very legitimate hall of fame resume, but I need to talk about one in particular. I’ll never forget that summer day in September 2001 at beautiful Coors field. I’ll be honest, my dad definitely splurged on these seats. Seriously, if you look up highlights from this game you can see my brother, dad, and me sitting behind home plate just a little off-center down the first base line. Jason Schmidt took the bump against some unknown Rockies pitcher (not much has changed in 22 years). Rich Aurilia stepped up to the dish in the top of the first and dunked one into the seats; “OK that was pretty cool,” I probably said to my brother. As he crossed home plate, I saw the next guy strut up to the plate. I swear his jersey was ripped because it couldn’t contain his biceps. The guy’s thighs had their own muscles; he shattered all previous notions I had of what a strong man looked like. Big gold crosses dangled from his ears which dangled from his even bigger head. Up on the scoreboard, I see he already has 60 homers… in the first week of September. Suddenly I heard a crack that made me jump out of my seat. I’ve never heard a bat make that noise at any baseball game I’ve ever been to, and I have only ever heard two other times after that. Juan Pierre (great 90s baseball name) didn’t even bother tracking the ball back to the wall. Before the ball landed in the trees beyond the center field wall, a smile grew from ear to ear, and I thought “holy shit, baseball is amazing.” And that guy, that Barry Bonds fella, he’s the best player I’ve ever seen.
You might be wondering about the other two times I’ve seen a ball hit so hard and so loudly in person. Well, ya boy Barry actually hit three that day. The second and third were Giancarlo-esque laser beams that stayed about 20 feet off the ground for it’s entire, yet short, journey through the outfield. Each and every spectator was on their feet. Purple shirts and orange shirts stood tall, cheering, clapping, and admiring the history they knew they were witnessing.
You can’t possibly tell me you didn’t do that same bat waggle while you played wiffle ball in your driveway with your brother or dad or neighbor or friends. He was the greatest player to ever play and he was the favorite player of a generation. Not exaggerating, my favorite website is Barry Bonds’s baseball reference page; really, you should check it out. It’s hilarious. Some of my favorite Bonds stats:
- He both homered and stole a base in a single game 115 times – 15 more than first ballot hall of famer Rickey Henderson
- He had a career 1.994 ops in the world series…. That’s not a typo. Please, do yourself a favor and look up a video of that homer he hit in the 9th inning of game 2 of the 2002 WS off Troy Percival (solid 8/10 1990s baseball name). You might notice Tim Salmon (another amazing name) say “that’s the furthest ball I’ve ever seen hit”.
- 49.1% of his hits went for extra bases – the next closest is Hank Arron with 39.2%
- He’s the only player to have 400 career homers and 400 career stolen bases; lol that’s wild
- Oh, he’s also the only player to have 500 career homers and 500 career stolen bases. LOL come on.
The Hall of Fame is a museum that celebrates the best and most important figures in the history of the game. It proudly displays players who had the most influence on how the game is played, the players who had the most fans and grew the game the most, and the players who must be included if you told the story of baseball. The commissioner who turned a knowingly blind eye to everything during this unspeakable time so he could capitalize each storyline has a shiny gold plaque with his snarky smile on it hanging in the Hall. Bonds is the greatest to ever do it and he did it against pitchers who were also the greatest to ever do it (at least, he did it against the greatest pitchers not named Bob Gibson or Clayton Kershaw or Nestor Cortes Jr) and he has been turned away repeatedly. Instead, he, and the best players of his era, have been swept under the rug to be forgotten. All of these things makes it feel like MLB is doing the same with the generation of fans who became fans solely because of these players. It’s not like these fans and these players were deliberately used to revive a dying sport 25 years ago. I think he and some other exiles (Clemens, McGwire, maybe Gagne?) will get in eventually, but it’ll have to wait until majority of the writers and voters are younger, the ones who saved baseball and grew up idolizing these sluggers.
It feels like the sport is dying again; they don’t promote their stars, they discourage swagger, hitters are told to put their heads down and trot around the bases. Its rating so poorly with younger demographics because the games are slow, strikeouts are up, and even when something exiting happens, it just feels vanilla. I’m not sure where I’m going with this argument. I honestly just wanted to rattle off a bunch of funny 1990s MLB players and talk about why I fell in love with baseball, but then it led me to think about the millions of other millennials who grew up on Baseball Tonight and home run chases and Rodger Clemens throwing bats at Mike Piazza. MLB needs its ignored generation to save it again, but I’m not so sure we want to this time around.
About the author:
- My family hails from the magical land of upstate New York. I grew up with two brothers in the hay day of the 1990s-2000s Yankees dynasty, so we had it real good. We were obsessed with that team, and, at the same time, the steroids era was taking over the sports world, so it was so easy to fall in love with the game.
- To make up for that happiness, for some reason my family is also Raiders fans for no reason that I’m aware of; that’s just how it’s been my whole life, and I never questioned it. I have, at some points, questioned whether it should be considered child abuse to raise a boy to be a fan of a franchise that continuously lets its fans down. I’m currently struggling with that demon as I have a little dude on the way in about one month. Though, I’m not sure to what extent I’m actually struggling since I already have a little Bo Jackson jersey and hoodie and silver and black onesies hanging in his closet.
- I have an obsession with chicken wings: flats > drums and the true wing folk know that’s right.
- I get the show.
- I’m back to back to back to back pigskin pickem champ in my group, so, of course, I will provide unsolicited picks to do with however you wish. You should also expect some comedy, baseball, football, random rankings and lists, and Vegas food, drink, and Raiders commentary. I’m a PSL owner in section 440 at Allegiant, you should stop by and say whattup some time.
Just Win Baby.