In Florida and Arizona this past week,one of the great American traditions is taking place. No, we’re not talking about your parents taking a week at your grandparents trailer while you fill the house with every coed within a 100 mile radius, though that’s a fine tradition in and of itself. No, we’re talking about Major League baseball’s spring training, where hopeful rookies, prideful veterans, and drugged up A-Rods gather in places like Dunedin, Sarasota, and Lake Buena Vista at Walt Disney World, Florida, and Mesa and Surprise, Arizona. During February and Mhow’arch, from anywhere in the continental United States, if the wind is blowing just right, you can smell the pine tar, rosin, and syringes promising summer’s game.
So, as Latino players in Arizona, and African American players in Florida prepare for a month of handing over identification every time they step out in their Bentleys, Headshots takes a look back at some of the stranger spring training moments from baseball’s lauded history.
1. Sidd Finch
In the spring of 1985 George Plimpton penned an article for Sports Illustrated entitled “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch.” According to the piece, Finch was a 168-mile-an-hour tossing prospect for the New York Mets, who was raised in an English orphanage, and had learned yoga in Tibet. Hayden Siddhārtha Finch wore but one shoe whilst he pitched, a heavy workman’s boot at that. In an era before Twitter, the story still spread around baseball and the US like wildfire, with other media outlets reporting the story as fact. Finch was soon revealed as an April Fool’s day prank, and ever since baseball has been humorless and riddled with ego and rampant PED abuse.
2. Wife Swap: Yankees Edition
When Headshots suggested a wife swap to Mrs. Headshots Number Two, the response was a quick, “F**k no!” followed by a decade of alimony. Perhaps it’s because the swap we suggested was the Missus for three Misses who danced at the local gentleman’s club. Either way, our inspiration was admittedly from the tale of Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, who in the spring of 1973 announced to the world that they had agreed to swap families, with Peterson moving in with Kekich’s fam and Kekich rolling at the Casa Peterson. Yanks’ GM Lee MacPhail quipped, “We may have to call off Family Day.” Peterson’s pitching failed him soon after, as he was roundly booed across baseball’s ballparks, Americans so well known for their fidelity. Though Peterson did remain with the former Mrs. Kekich, Kekich and the former Mrs. Peterson’s relationship failed and he eventually took his career to Japan.
3. Goodbye, Vietnam
The Toronto Blue Jays have beens also ran for the two decades since they won back-to-back World Series in the early ’90s. As the team’s fortunes sagged in the late 90s, they brought in former MLB infielder Tim Johnson to manage the team back to its glory years. In order to rally his troops, Johnson told the team the stories of his service in the Vietnam War, and the team finished 3rd in the AL East during his first season as manager. Unfortunately, Johnson had never served in Vietnam, and when the story came to light it was too much for the Jays franchise to bear, and in the spring of 1999, just days before the season, he was replaced by Jim Fregosi. Johnson has not been heard from since, and the Jays continue to suck while playing in the worst ballpark in the world in the frozen tundra of Canada’s least beloved city.
4. Urine Trouble Now
Back in the day, before Human Growth Hormones and blood doping, the drugs consumed and abused by major leaguers were either injected with a dirty shared needle or railed through a brand new $100 bill. Drug tests were performed on occasion, and mostly for show, and were always urine tests. Journeyman outfielder Jay Johnstone was a noted prankster, having set fire to teammates cleats, cut the crotches from their uniforms, and grabbing a hot dog from the concessions mid-game in full gear. As Johnstone was being administered one of these drug tests in the spring of 1976, the MLB tester was suspicious of the outfielder’s sample, so Johnstone promptly drank the specimen. Witnessed contend it was apple juice, but our sources say it was indeed a cup o’ pee.
5. Dead Bird
Headshots grew up a fan of the Montreal Expos, the great team of La Belle Province that was robbed of a World Series shot in 1994 by a work stoppage, and promptly moved…somewhere else.
Besides the heartbreak of ’94, the Blue Monday of ’81, the biggest regret of Expos fans was a trade that sent Johnson and others to the Seattle mariners for Mark Langston. Langston would bolt the Expos as a free agent soon after, and the 6’10” Johnson would go on to a Hall of Fame-quality career. Hating every bit of success Johnson had after leaving the ‘Spos, we were still pained by the strange moment in the spring of 2001 when Johnson killed dove with a pitch. Killed. A dove. While pitching. We hated Johnson, but not enough to wish a bird dead. Maybe a feral cat or vampire bat or a member of the Tea Party’s pet rattlesnake, but not a bird.
What strange tales will accompany this spring? Already we’ve had the explosive news of more PED involvement by major leaguers, but that’s hardly out of the norm. MLB players are drawn to drugs like an intern to the possibility of a paycheck. But rest assured, something weird will happen during Grapefruit or Cactus league play. Like, wife swapping dead dove weird. We’ll raise a glass of urine in celebration when it does.