I don’t know where the Jeff Burroughs Louisville Slugger we had at the liquor store came from. I also don’t know where it went when the store closed for good in the late 1990s. On the store’s last day, my friend Pete and my brother, Ian, who were both in the employ of the store during the End Times, packed up a rented truck with the remaining inventory. The owner, Morty, oversaw this work and probably ended up zealously pitching in, too, even though he was crowding eighty by then and probably under strict orders from his wife, Goldie, to leave the lifting to the two “boys.” Once the truck was loaded and the store empty, my brother and Pete transported the booze upstate to Morty’s son-in-law’s liquor store.
But I don’t know what became of the non-alcoholic odds and ends, such as the Jeff Burroughs Louisville Slugger. There were a fair number of odds and ends. In the store’s two-plus decades of existence it had had one constant, Morty, and a long parade of young men who were either aimless by nature or going through an aimless phase in their lives. None of these aimless guys owned much stuff while they were working at the store, but once in a while a piece of their meager collection of possessions dislodged from their porous grasp and accrued in one of the nooks and crannies of the store. One member of the long parade of aimless young men left behind a crate of scratchy, mediocre records in the basement, another a well-thumbed baseball encyclopedia in the back by the stereo, another a half-empty bottle of saline solution on the shelves by the sink, another a book on origami jammed in among Morty’s collection of Beverage Media Guides. The last aimless guy hired to work at the store, i.e., the anchor of the entire twenty-five-year parade of aimless guys, was a pale young divorced mumbling NYU dropout named Dan who took most of his weekly paycheck in vodka. Dan left a collection of little flickable paper footballs behind the champagne rack, residue of his chosen method of time-killing, flicking paper footballs at the bottles of liqueurs above the champagne, each bottle assigned a unique point value, the stumpy, ornate bottle of Chambourd worth 10 points, the Mrs. Butterworth’s-looking Frangelico worth 7, the large Bailey’s gift box worth 5, etc., etc. Dan bestowed intricately layered personalities to each paper football and kept a running log of their exploits, complete with league statistics and player biographies. When one of the paper footballs fell into the unreachable space behind the champagne rack it meant that the player had, like Duk Koo Kim, Ray Chapman, and Dale Earnhardt, passed in a blaze of glory directly from the field of athletic battle to the Great Beyond. A eulogy was inscribed in the commissioner’s notebook and black armbands were imagined onto the fallen hero’s grieving fellow paper footballs left to carry on bravely in their unforgiving gladiatorial clashes.
Anyway, some aimless guy who had preceded me must have one day brought a Jeff Burroughs Louisville Slugger into the store. Maybe it was his own from earlier days (if memory serves, it was a 28-inch bat, in other words a little league model) or maybe he’d been sent by Morty to buy one from the sporting goods store up near Union Square (I forget the name right now, but the guy who played Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken in Slap Shot
once worked there). Who knows? Maybe that aimless guy or another aimless guy sank the two nails halfway into the strip of wood behind the counter from which the bat hung from the handle. It’s all a mystery to me, really, which is fitting in a way, because Jeff Burroughs himself, represented solely in my childhood by this one unusually early (1974) card, was himself mysterious to me. All the other guys who had been awarded the Most Valuable Player award in the 1970s came to loom in my mind as ever-present, larger-than-life figures. Once or twice a year I was thrilled to find one of their dynamic action-shot baseball cards in a new pack; I read about them in Sports Illustrated; I saw them repeatedly in the All Star game; I thought about them, imagined them, sometimes even imagined being them. Bench, Reggie, Rose, Lynn, Carew . . . Burroughs? Part of the problem was that after getting this card, one of the few 1974 cards I own, I never got a Jeff Burroughs card again. He also never showed up in the All Star Game (his 1974 appearance had preceded my attentions, and while he was chosen to be a part of the 1978 National League squad he didn’t get into the game). There was, to me, an aura around him. He actually seemed sort of scary. His lone MVP win, coming from what seemed to me to be nowhere, struck me as unpredictably explosive. Who was this Jeff Burroughs, and when was he going to strike again?
He did, I now know, have more than just that one good year, and in all fashioned for himself a respectable power-hitting career before becoming, with the help of his son, Sean, a two-time world champion little league coach. He will also be remembered by some for being a key participant in two of the more famous forfeits in baseball history (interestingly enough, he also was later a part of the most famous forfeit in little league history, the team he coached winning the first of their two World Championships after it was discovered that the team from the Philippines that had thumped them in the Little League World Series final had been stocked with deep-voiced over-aged ringers):
Forfeit #1 (September 30, 1971): The final game of the second edition of the Washington Senators
In this game, Burroughs, who would endure long enough in the majors to be the final active former second-edition Washington Senator (I believe Jim Kaat was the last of the original Washington Senators), was in left field when fans poured onto the field in the top of the 9th inning. Who can blame them? Their team was doomed, gone, not only bound for Texas but bound to be stripped of its name, just as the earlier Senators team that moved to Minnesota had been stripped. They stormed the field to rip up and take home anything they could, clods of dirt, the bases, pieces of the scoreboard, clumps of grass. (I wonder if anybody still has their clump of RFK Stadium grass.)
Forfeit #2 (June 4, 1974): 10-Cent Beer Night
Earlier in the 1974 season, at a game between the Indians and Rangers in Texas, Len Randle took out Jack Brohamer with a hard slide, which prompted Milt Wilcox to throw at Len Randle’s head, which prompted Len Randle to drop a bunt down the first base line, which prompted Wilcox to race over to cover first on the play, where Len Randle rammed into him with a forearm. At this point, a melee ensued. During and after the violence Texas fans showered Indians players with beer.
The rematch between these two teams occurred in Cleveland on 10-Cent Beer Night. Many fans came to the park already well-lathered (a detail that offends my instinct for cheapness–why get drunk somewhere else when you can buy thirty beers for three dollars?) and with pockets full of old batteries, golf balls, rocks, and other assorted throwable items. They also brought smokable items, Jeff Burroughs saying afterward, “the marijuana smoke was so thick out there in rightfield, I think I was higher than the fans.” In the ninth inning, the game-long fan unruliness reached a point of no return when one in a constant trickle of intruders onto the field swiped Jeff Burroughs’ hat. Burroughs slipped and fell as he moved to get his hat back. In the Texas dugout, Burroughs’ manager, Billy Martin, did not have a full view of Burroughs at that moment, and thought that his star player had been chopped down by one of the fans now pouring onto the field. Martin seized a bat and led his team onto the field to fight the entire ballpark.
Here’s a few moments of the call from Indians broadcasters Joe Tait and Herb Score, courtesy of an excerpt of Cleveland Sports Legends quoted on The Sissybar:
Tait: Hargrove has got some kid on the ground and he is really administering a beating.
Score: Well, that fellow came up and hit him from behind is what happened.
Tait: Boy, Hargrove really wants a piece of him–and I don’t blame him.
Score: Look at Duke Sims down there going at it.
Tait: Yeah, Duke is in on it. Here we go again.
Score: I’m surprised that the police from the city of Cleveland haven’t been called here, because we have the makings of a pretty good riot. We have a pretty good riot.
Tait: Well, the game, I really believe, Herb, now will be called. Slowly but surely the teams are getting back to their dugouts. The field, though, is just mobbed with people. And mob rule has taken over.
Score: They’ve stolen the bases.
Tait: The security people they have here just are totally incapable of handling this crowd. They just–well, short of the National Guard, I’m not sure what would handle this crowd right now. It’s just unbelievable. Unbelievable . . .