Like many eight year old boys born in the mid-80s, I had a passion for three things: Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, and collecting baseball cards. Everything else was just details.
Collecting baseball cards were a cause/effect type of reward. I would receive them if I didn’t hit babysitter, Lisa Nelson, in the face with a Nerf gun, or I went a whole week without a teacher calling home. Both were improbable feats.
Baseball card collecting at that age was fun because there was no discernible difference in getting a Barry Larkin or Jose Vizcaino picture.
There were four criteria I used to determine the value of my baseball cards:
2. How cool was his picture?
3. What did his bio say?
4. What did my dad think of him?
Sure I collected basketball and football cards as well, but there was something more entertaining about opening up a pack of cards that contained Ken Griffey Jr., Ryne Sandberg, Jay Baller, and Monty Fariss.
Monty Fariss and Jay Baller you ask? Give me a second to Google it.
Much of Fariss’ early life is unknown, but he was as an All-American shortstop for Oklahoma St, where his 25 straight games with a hit set a Cowboys record.
In 1988, Farris led the NCAA in RBI with 114. Unfortunately for Monty and his family, his college days were the prime of his career.
His Wikipedia is a stub, but this much we know. In fact, it will be much easier if I just put in his page.
“Monty Ted Fariss (born October 13, 1967 in Cordell, Oklahoma) was a professional baseball outfielder from 1991 to 1993. Fariss was drafted out of Oklahoma State in the first round by the Texas Rangers in 1988. He did not get to play in the Majors until 1991, and in his two years as a Ranger he only had 197 at bats. In 1993 he was signed by the Florida Marlins, but also faced limited playing time. He played just 18 games, and came to bat only 29 times. Fariss retired soon after.”- Wikipedia
The fact that Fariss hit a career .217 with 4 home runs didn’t phase me in the least. He played for the Rangers, his card had an awesome picture of him rounding the bases (probably in practice), and when I asked my dad about him he said “Monty was a legend in his own mind.”
When you are seven years old, you don’t realize that “a legend in his own mind” means he sucks ass. I took the word “legend” at face value, and that instantly gave Monty a spot at the front of my baseball card binder, next to Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson.
As of 2001, he was running Monty Fariss Enterprises, which handles youth sports for several hundred teams, and he also runs a batting cage in Edmond, Oklahoma.
My next baseball card hero, Jay Baller, did not have the same kind of off field “enterprises” that Monty Fariss had.
He was the James Dean of baseball. He was a white Samuel L. Jackson. Even the name was cool.
Jay Baller AND he was a Chicago Cub!
The gold chain, the awesome stache, the chest hair, his whole mystique. He was a true Wrigley legend.
Unlike Fariss, Baller was too big of a baller to attend college. Instead he was drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round. He made his Major League debut in 1982 pitching a perfect inning against the Pirates.
However, from then on, his ERA and ego went up, while his career went down. Baller wouldn’t make his next appearance in the big leagues until 1985 with the Cubs.
Baller posted a career 5.24 ERA and was out of baseball by 1992.
My dad called him “worthless” and a “bum”, but that didn’t matter to me.
Even the back of his baseball card spelled nothing but success.
“Jay was a 1979 graduate of Canby Union High School where he played baseball and basketball. Also played Little League and Babe Ruth ball.”
If you’re a Major Leaguer and your baseball card says you played Little League, you better have a fall back plan.
As I grew older, my memories of Monty Fariss slipped away, similarly to his Cooperstown dreams, but my admiration for Jay Baller grew.
Until one day, I read a headline about my boyhood hero that shocked me.
“Jay Baller, a Reading Baseball Hall of Fame member, is arrested after authorities receive reports of Baller and other men using drugs and playing with a weapon.”- Reading Eagle newspaper
When I read that headline, I only hoped the incident was not as queer as it sounded. For Baller’s sake, I prayed he didn’t blow the $75,000 in salary he received from the Chicago Cubs.
“A former major league pitcher and member of the Reading Baseball Hall of Fame was arrested after city police found cocaine, a loaded handgun and $15,000 in cash in his vehicle, investigators said Monday.
Jay Baller, 46, of the 300 block of Spring Valley Road, Muhlenberg Township, was arrested Friday after police got a report from a woman who saw him and two other men snorting cocaine and playing with a handgun in a sport utility vehicle parked along North 13th Street, investigators said.”
“That’s pretty stupid to pull over in a residential neighborhood and snort cocaine in broad daylight while playing with a gun,” said the patrolman who made the arrest.
Well good news for Baller, he didn’t see the pen.
“A former major league pitcher who also played with the Reading Phillies was sentenced Monday in Berks County Court to one year of probation for snorting cocaine while he was in his parked vehicle in Reading.”
Jay Baller and Monty Fariss never amounted to much in the Major Leagues, but their literal mug shots still make me smile to this day.
They will always have a place in my heart and a place in my parent’s attic.
Did you have a favorite baseball card growing up?