I went to sleep thinking of baseball, and I woke up thinking of baseball. I memorized the numbers that mattered: Babe Ruth's 714 home runs, Joe DiMaggio's fifty-six-game hitting streak. "That's the only record that won't fall in baseball," Dad said of DiMaggio's feat. "No one will ever do that again." Dad maintained a reverence for the record, but not for the team for which DiMaggio played. When I told Dad that I felt sorry for the New York Yankees because they had had a few poor seasons in the late 1960s, Dad did not suppress the urge to give me another baseball history lesson, right then and there: "Don't ever feel sorry for the New York Yankees!"
I became absurdly superstitious watching games of the teams I liked, often refusing to get up from a chair for as long as an hour if things were going well. If I crossed my legs and the Tigers hit a home run, my legs stayed crossed. Kate and Jim and even Amy, who was just a little girl, were in on this too, helping in their own way, in their own seats. During the 1972 American League play-offs, the Tigers faced Oakland and things weren't going well as the A's were headed to the first of their three consecutive world championships. I told my siblings I was going to stand on the stone hearth of our fireplace to see if that helped.
The Tigers scored. So on the hearth I stayed. For the next two innings, I couldn't move, hoping more Detroit runs would come. They didn't, the Tigers lost, and I finally stepped down onto the carpet.
There was one other way we connected to baseball back then -- by buying, collecting, and trading baseball cards. Topps baseball cards were stacked by the cash register at Ace Drug on Bancroft Street, packaged with a hard stick of pink bubble gum, and available for a nickel a pack. Trading these cards was a very serious matter. Our philosophy was to unload any doubles we accumulated; sometimes we even ended up with three of a kind and really had to wheel and deal with siblings and friends. Kate joined in and accumulated so many Larry Dierkers over the course of one summer -- she must have had a half dozen cards featuring the Houston Astros pitcher -- that she shrieked in delight when she one day opened a pack and found it Dierker-less. A prized possession became a misprinted Jim Bunning card that read "Im Bunning." For a few days, until I showed the card to Dad, we thought his name really might be Im.
Baseball cards were the currency of our sports passion, but after a few years, we were not content to simply covet, trade, and hoard them. We started to send them away to be autographed. I sent cards to two dozen players, including Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ferguson Jenkins, Johnny Bench, Harmon Killebrew, Bob Gibson, and even Ted Williams when he was managing the Washington Senators in 1969. Each one came back autographed, some in envelopes that I swore were addressed by the player himself.