Case of the ill-timed french fries

Milton Bates

January 25, 1991|By Milton Bates

DEAR Dave:

You'll never guess who I was thinking about today. Smart as you are, Dave, there's just no way you'd come up with this one.

Charlie Spikes. Yes, that Charlie Spikes, Louisiana-born, journeyman outfielder -- mostly with the Indians -- in the '70s. Batted .246 lifetime and just fair with the glove. The best thing old Charlie had going for him in the bigs was his name.

That name evokes the tragic story of the french fries jinx, right? Mid-summer 1975 (you were just 10 then, Dave) and Cleveland had come into that great ballpark, Memorial Stadium, at a time when our high-flying Birds were neck-and-neck with the Red Sox. Under new manager Frank Robinson, the Indians, then as now, were something less than a .500 ball club.

Still, as often happened, they played us tough that week. The game we saw, and one we'd have won if it hadn't been for me and those damned fries, started well enough but, by the end of the seventh, they'd closed our lead to 5-4.

That's when I made the crucial mistake, buying a Coke and fries before they came to bat in the eighth. When they threatened but didn't score, I thought we were home free. After all, if it hadn't been for a couple of our traded heroes -- Boog Powell, dealt to Cleveland just that year, and Frank, who occasionally penciled himself in the lineup as DH -- there would have been no punch at all on that team. But when, in the top of the ninth, they got a couple of men on, I instinctively knew the source of the trouble.

Never before had I eaten anything after the Birds took a lead into the eighth, and we had prospered beyond belief, the envy of all the baseball world.

Hadn't we, under Earl's magic touch, won the tough AL East five of the six previous years? Weren't we -- bolstered that year by the acquisition of Kenny Singleton in right and Mike Torrez to buttress the great Palmer on the mound -- flat out even with hard-hitting Boston? Yes, and yes again.

But I'd tampered with both of life's cardinal rules: Don't Assume Anything, and If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It.

Two out, men on second and third and Doyle Alexander, solid in relief all year, pitching to Charlie. Righty vs. righty. I looked longingly at my last half-dozen fries, still warm and tasty, knowing deep inside I had greatly erred in making that purchase. How well I remember your plaintive, child's cry: "Dump 'em, Uncle Milton. You could cost us the game."

A mental calculation. If Frank goes to a left-handed pinch hitter, the taters go, too. But, surveying his slim bench, he stays with Charlie, and I, emboldened, chomp yet another one. Charlie, the stats say, is having a poor year, even for him; the Bogalusa Bomber he ain't. No way Alexander, 3.0 ERA, can't handle him, right? Wrong. A line single to left-center scores both and the Orioles lose, abetted by one man's weakness. Poor Earl; he never knew.

Well, Dave, not since have I let appetite interfere with loyalty. If ahead at the end of seven, starve thereafter, no matter the length of extra innings. Resist the tempting kosher dog and beer until we've scored once. If hat is on when we take a lead, keep it on. Wear the lucky pants to the stadium judicially; put them on -- one leg at at time -- and break any appointment in order to get to the park once a losing streak hits four. Others can raise their eyebrows, Dave, but we know what's important. Rules are rules; rooting requires sacrifice.

A final note, Dave. Why does Charlie Spikes come to mind now? Well, as nobody knows better than you, we're well on the way through the off-season, and the O's have made some fascinating trades. I can't wait for the last opening day at Memorial Stadium April 9. The place is a storehouse of memories for both of us, some painful, most incredibly sweet. In this throwaway society, they're building a new one down by the harbor, doing their best to avoid sterility, to provide character. We'll see, we'll see.

I'm sure they are trying hard, but I wonder. Will the tried and trusted rules work in the new setting? I'm getting along in years, Dave, and in these late innings I'd hate to have to whomp up a new set of rules. As for building memories, that will take even longer. So just let's cherish the old ones, and please, Dave, tell me I'm forgiven in the matter of Charlie Spikes.

Milton Bates is a retired Baltimore businessman.


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