A Link to the Past: The 'Roids of Wrath and the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IJuly 19, 2009

The dawn of a new decade was before the world, another chance for human growth in the world that could be exemplified by the great athletes of the time.

The San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics would both represent the San Francisco Bay Area in the World Series.

That World Series also featured two of the most notorious juicers of all, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.  Both of whom, are former heroes of mine.

The coming years however would only expose The 'Roids of Wrath and many athletes as frauds who juiced-up for unnatural human growth, and their double-talking enablers.

Some believe that the truth must come directly from the facts of an isolated situation, which can be true. 

In trying to see the forest from the trees however, the truth can sometimes be found through a maze of information, in which you follow the path of your mind's eye.

This then is a story about the true role that heroes can play in the lives of others.

"Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"

I, at the age of five, had moved from San Jose to nearby Santa Cruz in January of the same year, a January that marked the dramatic Super Bowl victory by the San Francisco 49ers over the Cincinnati Bengals.

In San Jose, I lived on Dry Creek Road, which is and was an affluent and prestigious street on which to reside.  So much so that my uncle had tried to convince my dad to allow him to sleep in the backyard clubhouse, just so he could use the address.

Yet, we did not resemble the affluence on Dry Creek Road.  Many would wonder how a chimney sweep could afford to reside on Dry Creek Road.

I would one-day roll down the driveway on a bike where a car nearly hit me.  As a result, my dad petitioned to have stop signs placed on Dry Creek Road, and, as part of that endeavor, would have my uncle act as a mole to discredit the opposition with an outlandish tirade.  Yet, many agreed with his phony tirade.

Ultimately, San Jose placed stop signs on Dry Creek Road and nearby areas.  From that, traffic accidents decreased in five connected intersections by 66 percent.

I can only imagine how many people would have otherwise been in a car accident that wondered how a mere chimney sweep could afford to live on Dry Creek Road.  (He understood real estate and thus bought at the right time during the 1980s).

My dad's family tree had also descended from Azorean (islands of Portugal) immigrants that worked 16-hour days during the Great Depression by milking cows in Campbell. 

I mention that because John Steinbeck had written The Grapes of Wrath at his home in Monte Sereno (which is on the Santa Clara County side of the Santa Cruz Mountains), which is roughly seven miles from Campbell. 

I mention that because if you have ever read The Grapes of Wrath then you would know that the lives my grandparents lived have a very familiar sound.

Some days, they would dump the cow milk, because deflation was so bad that the cost of gas was greater than the value of the milk.  Some say that the difference between a Portuguese and a Portagee is that Portuguese own the cow and Portagee milk the cow.

They were definitely Portagee.

At that time, San Jose and Campbell resembled Salinas more than San Francisco.  Back then, orchards populated much of the scenery rather than office buildings filled with tech-wizards. 

Orchards once haunted by kids, such as my dad, whom has described the demolition of those orchards as a, "traumatic experience," and likes the song, "Big Yellow Taxi" because of it.

As you can imagine, San Jose and Campbell back then had yet to achieve the prestige and prosperity of today.  Yet, my dad pursued victory, something better. 

I can only imagine the effect that it had on him when the player of the mythical moniker, "Say Hey Kid" would say 'hey' to him at Candlestick Park, because he had sometimes been the lone fan in the lower stands, after he rode his bike for miles to take a train to Candlestick.  The player that Ted Williams once said, "They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays."

By Jim Plunkett going from a high-school in East San Jose to win the Heisman Trophy at Stanford, and twice win the Super Bowl with the Raiders.  For those of you who do not know, East San Jose is still as impoverished today as it was then.

When Joe DiMaggio once gave an autograph to my dad, after another player had spurned him—someone like my dad who would often tell my nephew, Daniel, to 'be a man' instead of crying, when Daniel was only two. 

In fact, my grandpa even said that my dad would not even cry as a baby, which is a common occurrence amongst orphans, yet my dad was no orphan.

I can remember only three times I have seen my dad cry, among them, after the deaths of his dad, and later Joe DiMaggio.


In 1989, the City had hoped to declare the Giants and 49ers as world champions in the same year.  A chance to gloat to all others that San Francisco was the best in west, and that all should kneel trembling before it. 

A chance to believe that anyone whom defended their city and generalized the state of California with derogatory perceptions—was just a loser filled with sour grapes and possibly schadenfreude.

Then it happened, that one thing people think of when they think of California (not the California roll) and particularly of the Bay Area—earthquake. During Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck the greater Bay Area with a magnitude of 7.1

Once again, people had a convenient excuse to rationalize their deeply rooted hatred for California—hatred created from envy, or that some of the politics of California reflected self-awareness onto those who were unable to deal with questioning themselves.

Everywhere else will get snowstorms, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes on a yearly basis, yet since California gets the earthquakes—and if you live in Southern California, the firestorms—the people proclaim earthquakes as worse.

As a lifelong fan of the Oakland Athletics who eventually attended the game in which Rickey Henderson stole his 2000th base and who thought that Jose Canseco would be the greatest player ever—you would think that I would have been watching the A's and Giants at the time of the earthquake. 

Yet, friends, sisters and I in fact had immersed in something else: Nintendo, and the first edition of the video games series Zelda


We were stuck trying to solve the riddle of the maze that led to the Graveyard when the hysteria struck and the power went out.


The only working phone -- one given by my great-grandmother and kept sentimentally -- in the neighborhood would be my dad's business phone for Royal Chimney Service because the number routed through my uncle's house in San Jose. 

Lifelong Lessons from Little League: 1990-1995

A few months later in 1990, one of such previous months included the original premiere of The Simpsons in December of 1989, I would start what would be a six-season run in Little League Baseball with the Capitola-Soquel Little League.

I hated that first season, in which I stood in right field for three innings per game and batted near last.  I would often get on base (even then I was a sabermatrician), yet I never advanced past first base until the final game, in which I would score my only run of that season.

I watched in angst as others played; wondered why someone would receive a game ball for a, "monster foul ball;” resisted the coach's attempt to put a catcher's helmet on me; and wondered whether I would ever earn a run.

Yep, the type of pathetic season that is probably therapy fodder for someone, somewhere.


The Isolated Variable

Yet, I knew then that I wanted to play and play to win, because the A's had done so in 1989. 

Funnily enough, the 1990 LL season marked the only one in which I played on a team that missed the LL playoffs, and in fact won 75 percent of the time after that; often times on a comeback marked by a winning hit from me. 

(Even if, most others would disregard my contributions because I was the coach's son [read as, perceived disadvantage], when all it meant was that I had to do something undeniable.  Does that sound familiar?).

In my mind, that is the difference between "gamers" and those with gilded stats -- you understand the gravity of the moment, and the universe comes into focus.  It is not luck.  I would eventually have so many big hits that my dad wondered if I even knew what was going on (Sound familiar?).


Frankly, I knew what was going on.  In my mind, my grandpa was watching.  Maybe, it was a childhood perception that produced, or maybe it was universal perception of truth.  I was just playing for someone other than me.

For one, I rarely performed well in tryouts because the first letter of my last name (X) would place me at the back of the line, even though I could make contact all day.

For the first years though, I figured that the team victories had resulted from others and that I had just been along for the ride.  I even lived-out the nightmare and struck out to end a game, but that only motivated me to let it never happen again. 

I would wait three hours on a Saturday morning, sometimes in scorching heat, just to attempt to catch yellow baseballs (I repeat, yellow baseballs) shot at a high arch into the sunlight of high noon.  I had to watch others gloat about their skills and denigrate mine, when they had started near the front of the line when the sun light had been lower.

That had put me at an unfair disadvantage and resulted in false perceptions about my ability, and those false perceptions created real opinions that affected my views of my role on a team. 

No matter how much I told myself that logically it made no sense to believe that others were intentionally putting me at a disadvantage, because it was simply the result of alphabetizing the players by last name -- it would become the mean of all my other shortcomings. 

It was not their fault, yet they were at fault for insistence to keep the same flawed system in place, when simple changes could have been made it more equitable.

Put Me in, Coach

Fortunately, for me, my dad became my coach in my second season, partially because of my mom reminded him to be unlike the song, “Cat’s in the Cradle.”  He though did not conform to the belief that only certain systems can win in sports, instead whether the kid could play and wanted to play.

In his first season as coach, my dad got a roster with players that no one else wanted in the LL draft, and no one expected to perform well.  Yet, we beat those perceptions and finished in the LL postseason.

That roster would even include starting a girl at first base (uncommon at the time), another kid who barely knew how to play until my dad persisted in working with him after a request from his mom; another kid that had been known to watch butterflies in the outfield.  Then me, the kid who had once fought over a ball in the outfield, and had once ran the ball to the infielder rather than throw it.

That girl, Kristy Ballinger, would eventually graduate from Soquel High School as "Most Athletic" and from San Jose State as an All-American in softball.

Later on, even my older sister went from girl's softball to being the MVP of our LL team that played in the championship game, yet lost largely because of questionable calls.  (A former member of the Padres, John Sipin, whom often had more practices than allowed, had coached the winning team).

From those experiences, I did not care if girls wanted to play, so long as they played to win.  Some girls joined teams and did not seem to care, but the same was true of some boys.

Surely to, you could endlessly debate the differences of why the girl did not seem to care, compared to the boy who did not seem to care.

When my dad began to notice my skills in practice, eventually I received more playing time and a greater role, along with cynicism about my true value because I was the coach’s son.  Before that, I had willingly sat, simply so that some parent would not squawk about favoritism.

I was given a position that I deserved, but would not have otherwise have gotten because of false perceptions.  Some other kid of lesser skill would have taken the spot, simply because of some false perception.  Being the coach's son though, was akin to affirmative action. 

(Affirmative action in my mind, simply replaces the token white guy with a minority candidate.  Instead of arbitrarily promoting some white guy who did not deserve it and had not been locked from opportunity, you arbitrarily promote someone who has been locked from opportunity).

All I cared about was whether you wanted to play to win. 

Does this answer the riddle of the maze that leads to the graveyard?

Unlike those arcade games that disappeared in the early 1990s thanks to Nintendo games like Zelda.  The makers had predicated those arcade games on an endless accumulation of points (stats) that lead nowhere, to no victory, only more quarters and more frustration. 

In games like Zelda, Metroid, and Mario Brothers -- the player actually had the chance to channel the desire to pursue victory, rather than nihilistically run-up the scores. 

My dad had bought the Nintendo with the money left to the kids after my grandpa had died in 1988.  In an abstract way, the Nintendo was a vestige of what my relatives had to do to survive through The Great Depression.

There I sat in a comfortable setting as the rumbling ground abruptly disrupted the quotidian -- the dopey kid able to enjoy the fruits of someone else's labor and their pursuit of victory by playing a pixilated fantasy to pursue victory that would not directly produce anything tangible from the sword of a fictional hero.

The Berlin Wall had fallen a year before, the Soviet Union would fall two years later, and the beginning to the fall of Michael Jackson’s career would occur four years later.  Something must have been saying that there was still much work to do before any achievement of comfort.

The definition of victory can be malleable.  Some chase championships.  Some are just ragged boys trying to find the princess.  Others chase new opportunities.

However, I do know that there is never victory in meaningless stats.  How do I know?  Those that focus on their stats always lost.  It puts their mind in the wrong context and place, rather than to see the big picture.

Instead of thinking about attacking the situation at hand, you will second-guess yourself until your self-criticism will destroy your confidence, and thus fail to meet the situation.

You are just a lone and twisted redwood that is dying within the forest.

If Wayne’s World has taught us nothing else, and it hasn’t (well, except the proper way to rock-out to “Bohemian Rhapsody”), it is that games based on accumulating stats are in fact just a scam to take your money.

Just like sports. 

When fans only care about meaningless stats and not victory – sports just become a scam to take your money, and only will engender more arbitrary division and more pointless frustration.


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