If the Red Sox had won their one-game divisional playoff with the New York Yankees in 1978, there’s certainly no guarantee that they would have beaten the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship series. They had a better record than the Royals that year, but the fleet Royals often seemed to give the Red Sox fits, especially on the artificial turf in Kansas City. In 1978, the Red Sox won three of their first four games against the Royals, but the Royals struck back to batter the Red Sox in five of their last six meetings. The turning point in the season series between the two teams came in late July when Royals rookie Clint Hurdle drove in six runs in a dominating 9-0 beating of the Red Sox. Though Hurdle didn’t have a chance to inflict further damage on the Red Sox in the playoffs, he provided evidence that he may well have done so by hitting .375 in the Royals’ four-game loss to the pitching-rich Yankees. Two years later, Hurdle again performed admirably in a postseason defeat by hitting .417 in the Royals’ six-game loss in the World Series to the Phillies. By the time Kansas City finally broke through and won a World Series in 1985, Hurdle was still only 27 years old, but he was already two teams removed from the Royals, a fading journeyman who had been expected to be a superstar. He played in a few games that year for the up-and-coming Mets, who barely lost out in the divisional race to the St. Louis Cardinals. After that season he was drafted by the Cardinals in the 1985 rule 5 draft, which caused him to miss out on the Mets’ 1986 World Series campaign, then he signed back on with the Mets as a free agent just in time to watch the Cardinals leapfrog the Mets in the standings and win the 1987 pennant. At that point Hurdle called it a career, his 32 career homers and .259 lifetime batting average far short of the numbers predicted by the many pundits who upon his major league debut pegged Hurdle as the next Mickey Mantle.
I haven’t yet quite figured out how to deal with disappointment. Though I can’t really complain (I’m relatively healthy and have people to love, plus the team I routinely disappear into has made it to the World Series, so like any junkie in possession of good shit I really don’t care about anything else right now), I’d have to say my adult life has been characterized by some disappointment. Certainly no one ever thought I was going to be the next Mickey Mantle of anything, and on one level I didn’t ever really believe I’d amount to much either, but in the daydreamy realm where I have spent much of my life I believed that at some point I’d be writing and publishing novels, that I’d find a way to give back to the world the kinds of books that have kept me going as I stumble and nap and cringe through the days and weeks and years. It’s disappointing to me that this hasn’t happened, and I’m not that young anymore, definitely not young enough to ever be considered promising, so some days I wonder if I’m just swinging at pitches I can’t possibly hit. Clint Hurdle, like all athletes, must have come to a point in his career when he asked himself this question. It must have been a difficult question, especially for someone who was supposed to have creamed those pitches but who except for a few sweet days never did.