Here is a link to my Thursday column. It’s about when I rode the Giants’ team bus as a rookie writer. The full text runs below:
I didn’t know it was a mistake to ride the players’ bus.
1980. My first year covering the San Francisco Giants. Not an especially good team. Not an especially good year.
They were in New York to play the Mets. I stayed at the team hotel in Manhattan. It was a rookie move to stay at the team hotel. I learned that later. I decided to take the team bus to Shea Stadium on a fine Saturday morning. The ultimate rookie move.
Some Giants were angry at what I wrote. The team had several Born-Again Christians or Fundamentalist Christians. In my experience, professed Christian athletes strive to be good people, to live up to their ideals. I attest to that and appreciate and admire them.
It’s just that the Giants hadn’t been doing well and I suggested they sell one player’s soul to the Devil to win the World Series. The idea was a straight ripoff from the Broadway play “Damn Yankees.” I meant it as a joke and I thought everyone got that.
The Giants didn’t appreciate the suggestion. They thought about it. They talked about it. They were outraged. I later learned pitcher Gary Lavelle, their spiritual leader, stirred up other guys. Lavelle was a wonderful man and I came to like him. I didn’t know him then.
The bus idled outside the hotel. I waited for the players to board and then I got on. I thought I might get a scoop on the bus. I started walking down the aisle. I realized I was the only writer. It was dark in there and I had trouble spotting empty seats. Someone told me to get the hell off. I couldn’t see who. I kept walking down the aisle.
Pitcher John Montefusco, who I don’t think was Born Again, yelled something I can’t print. He pointed out the window at a homeless man on the street and said that “bum” was my brother. Five seconds on the team bus, I was pretty sure I had made a mistake.
I kept walking. Not seeing much. Feeling my way along. I felt someone grab my arm. I wondered if an assault was imminent. The someone was shortstop Johnnie LeMaster, A Born Again. He sat at the window and the seat next to him, the aisle seat, was empty.
“Sit here,” he ordered.
His voice was not hostile.
I sat. I took deep breaths. Montefusco forgot about me.
“Thanks,” I told LeMaster for taking me in.
“You wrote we should go to the Devil,” he said. “Why would anyone write a thing like that?”
He believed in the Devil and considered what I wrote a blasphemy. I did not believe in the Devil, thought I had made a joke. I tried to explain that to Johnny. He stared at me. He didn’t get it. We were speaking different languages.
He kept asking why anyone would wish the Devil on the Giants. I brought up the concept of “satire,” actually used the word satire on that bus where someone had called my brother a bum. Johnny didn’t know from satire. Didn’t care. I’m not sure I was clear on it, either. I sure couldn’t explain it.
As we crossed into Queens, Johnny said, “Forget about it.” He smiled. I had made the effort to explain. That’s what mattered to him. He could see I wasn’t a Devil worshipper after all.
The players filed off the bus at Shea, went into the visitors’ clubhouse. I walked to the dugout, trying to relax and deal with the migraine crashing through my skull.
Giants in uniform started to appear. No one spoke to me. That was just fine. It’s no fun to be the pariah. They all hung around the dugout while the Mets took batting practice.
Vida Blue appeared. Vida Blue has the biggest personality on Earth. I didn’t know that then. I didn’t know him. He walked over to me in front of his teammates.
“You Lowell ‘Kahn’?” he asked. He clearly didn’t know me, either.
“Here we go again,” I thought. “Do I need this?”
“Yeah, I’m Lowell Cohn.”
Vida smiled. He draped his left arm over my shoulder.
“You OK by me,” he said in front of his teammates.
“You OK by me,” he repeated.
The Giants stared at Vida, stared at his arm on my shoulder. He was one of their leaders. Then they grabbed their bats and mitts and ran onto the field. Vida publicly had given me his endorsement. The players always left me alone after that.
I didn’t know then why Vida did what he did. I found out later. He was concerned the Christians were passive, would accept losing as God’s will. I don’t know if he was right, but his perception troubled him. By defending me he showed his position. The game takes place on the field, no deity involved. God doesn’t make you win or lose. So, you don’t accept losing. You hate it.
I am not saying the players were fatalistic in the way Vida feared. I’m saying he thought they were. He may no longer feel that way. On that Saturday, he made his point through me. I’m glad he did.
I think about that story as I plan to cover spring training for the 35th time next week. What did I learn from that experience?
In New York, always take the subway.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.