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Buried Treasure (Part I)

Now that I’m back from computer hell as well as my Utah/Wyoming vacation, it’s about damn time to get on with this blog. Here’s one that’s been in the pipeline since my first weekend away, a bit of archaeology. Dig it.

Ever since I left the nest, my mom has been on me to clean out the desk in my former bedroom. Since 1988, a pile of magazines, programs, photos, school papers, bar mitzvah flotsam and other junk lay inert in its darkened drawers and cabinets, taunting my mom with the clamor that only a still pile of papers can make. For years — okay, we were up to a decade and a half — I resisted her pleas to relocate that pile. I’m home a few days at a time, about two week a year, with guests in tow and holidays on the calendar. Who the hell wants an all-day project involving trash bags and boxes?

To her credit, my mother never made good on any half-hearted threats to dispose of this precious bounty. So when my dad’s recent retirement created the need for a new venue for my piles (his piles — yes, this is hereditary — had seniority), I figured I owed my mother one. With some arm-twisting from my girlfriend, I agreed to clear out the desk.

I’d begun to warm to the idea under somewhat morbid circumstances. The sad news that Bobby Bonds lost his battle with cancer sent me scurrying to that desk in search of my autographs from the 1986 Cactus League. Not once in the ensuing 17 years have I seen those signatures, but suddenly I knew exactly where they were: within an Oakland A’s spring training program near the bottom of my photo drawer, wedged between an elementary school yearbook (c. 1978) and a handful of piano recital programs (c. 1980-1983), beneath dozens of envelopes ful of blurry photos of spectacular mountain scenery (crimes against nature, to be sure).

Bonds was the hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians that particular spring, when my father took my brother and me down to Phoenix. Watching the Indians, A’s, Angels, Giants, and Mariners, we saw six games over the weekend, including a split-squad game and an Arizona State one. I took some photos, got some signatures, had a fleeting brush with Reggie Jackson, and even spoke to Lenn Sakata.

Somewhere in there, I vaguely recall getting Bonds’ autograph. But when I first looked through the program, I couldn’t ID it among some two dozen. However, with amazing foresight into my career as an archaeologist, I’d checked off most of the players who signed, and after eliminating the easy ones, I cross-checked some of the more cryptic ones against a few items on eBay until I made matches. Lo and behold, Bonds’ signature was there, partially obscured by a dark panel on the scorecard he’d signed. Score one for the desk.

In the end, I managed to ID all but one signature. Here’s who I got:

Giants: Vida Blue, Bob Brenly (now manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks), Chili Davis, Dan Gladden, Jim Gott, Mark Grant, Brad Gulden, Mike Jeffcoat, Randy Johnson (Randall Glenn Johnson, the infielder, not Randall David Johnson, the Big Unit), Bill Laskey, Jeffrey Leonard (ol’ Penitentary Face), Candy Maldonado, Greg Minton, and special instructor Willie McCovey. McCovey was a thrill — hey, anytime you get an all-time top-ten homer guy (as Stretch was at the time) to sign, it’s pretty good. I braved a swarm of people around the net behind home plate, passing my program through. With glacial speed but infinite patience, McCovey signed everything that came his way. An-tic-i-pa-tion.

Mariners: Jim Beattie (now the Orioles VP), Bob Kearney, Mike Moore, Jack Perconte (an old Dodger farmhand from Albu-turkey), Harold Reynolds (now a Baseball Tonight analysit), Steve Yeager (a Dodger who’d earned his immortality as co-MVP of the ’81 World Series).

Indians: Bobby Bonds, Brett Butler (whose autograph I also got at the 2002 All Star Fan Fest in Milwaukee).

Angels: Doug DeCinces

All in all, there was only one signature I couldn’t identify, and I think it belongs to the M’s Jim Presley, but I have nothing to compare it to. Still, that’s a pretty good haul: a Hall of Fame, 500-homer man, a five-time 30-30 man, a Cy Young/MVP winner, a future World Series-winning manager (groan), a couple of Series heroes, and a squeaky TV star.

I’m amazed that seventeen years later I was able to identify most of those autographs (thanks to some foresighted diligence and the wonders of technology) and to reconstruct the trip based on the schedule within the program. This veritable time-capsule yielded far more reward than if I’d known where it was all along.

Scanning the program, it’s interesting to contrast the A’s outlook going into 1986 with the team that began a three-pennant run two years later. When I saw them, the A’s were managed by Jackie Moore, coming off of consecutive fourth-place 77-85 finishes. The program’s cover featured Gold Glove winners Alfredo Griffin and Dwayne Murphy. Joaquin Andujar was their ace, Dave Kingman their proven power threat, Jose Canseco the good-looking rookie in camp, and Mark McGwire the obscure one.

The A’s canned Moore after a 29-44 start and hired Tony LaRussa, who’d been axed by the White Sox a couple weeks earlier. The team started to win under LaRussa, and the housecleaning began. The only starter still in place when the A’s met the Dodgers in the ’88 World Series was Carney Lansford, and the only member of the rotation was Curt Young, unless you count Dave Stewart, who arrived via midseason trade. Griffin and another A — Mike Davis — ended up on the other side of that Dodgers-A’s series, as a pair of sub-.200 hitting starters. The most pathetic-looking lineup in Series history, and one that scored a huge upset.

Which brings me to the next discovery in that desk: a roll of film from the Dodgers’ spring training in Vero Beach in 1989, the spring following that improbabe World Series victory. That will have to wait for me to hook up the scanner this weekend…

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