In the late spring of 1975, something weird happened: Hank Aaron hit a 200-foot home run in a football stadium in his first-ever appearance against his long-time former team, the Atlanta Braves.
Back in the day, before eBay, before Fanatics.com, before the seemingly endless online options to buy branded merchandise of your favorite baseball team, I wanted a jersey of the St. Louis Cardinals. Bad. It was 1978. I was about 12. So I made my own.
Back in the spring of 1987 — I think it was the spring of 1987, could be 1988 — I was covering Memphis State baseball for the university’s school newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, and needed to write a preview of the Tigers’ upcoming season.
I obsess about baseball. My dad didn’t. But for some reason, my virgin baseball memory is watching the Oakland A’s in the World Series with my dad back in the 1970s. Don’t ask me which World Series it was, ’72, ’73 or ’74. I haven’t a clue.
I called Tommy Lasorda.
No, let’s clarify that.
Tommy Lasorda took my phone call.
I’ve written about baseball in Anniston, thought about baseball in Anniston, researched baseball in Anniston, lamented the lack of baseball in Anniston, and I’m too young — translation: not old enough — to have watched a game during the heyday of Johnston Field.
One of the quasi-mysteries about Ty Cobb’s overhyped weeks spent in Anniston, Alabama, in the summer of 1904 is the park where his team played. Its location isn’t a secret. But there are no known photographs of Cobb in an Anniston uniform or on the Anniston field. You want a holy grail? Find me a picture of Cobb wearing an Anniston jersey.
If the Cleveland Indians are methodically ridding themselves of Chief Wahoo, and if the Atlanta Braves quietly threw away their spring training hats bearing the caricature of a Native American, and if the Washington Redskins are tone deaf about their racist helmet logo and name, then what does that say about the Memphis Chicks?
I’ve never thought about it until recently. Harmless ignorance, possibly. But if the St. Louis Cardinals are my team, then the Memphis Chicks are my first love — the hometown team I grew up watching and cheering from the exquisite awfulness that was Tim McCarver Stadium.
Baseball, God’s sport, has lived in Anniston, Alabama, since, well, forever. You’d never know it today since Alabamians are brainwashed by the superiority of college football at the expense of everything else, the religion of Bear and Shug and the Football Capital of the South, that old, gray lady on Graymont in Birmingham. Bless their souls. If only they knew the truth.