I'm really trying to avoid all the baseball doom and gloom going on lately. But I guess it's probably my fault that I started a baseball card blog at the onset of middle age.
Charlie Lea died Thursday at age 54. You don't need me to tell you that, as you've probably already read about it here and here and here, along with the usual news web sites. But I've been running around caring for a wife with bronchitis. I haven't had much time to check the news today.
Appropriately, I learned about Lea's passing from the newspaper of all places. It was a little blurb in the baseball roundup. It's appropriate because that's also where I learned of Lea's most famous feat as a major league player, becoming the first French-born player to throw a no-hitter in the major leagues.
I've already written about the impact of no-hitters on my life and profession. I've also already written about Lea's no-hitter. So there's a connection there, no doubt.
But as with a lot of players who competed in the majors at that time, I can associate a personal moment in my life with his no-hitter.
I was a paper boy in the early 1980s. It was a morning paper, and the alarm clock would rouse me before dawn each weekday so I could spend a half hour -- from 6-6:30 a.m. -- plopping newspapers on people's front porches, back steps, garage floors and through mail slots.
I would usually get up around 5:30 to sort the newspapers and stuff them in my carrier bag, emblazoned in orange with the newspaper's name. During that foggy first half hour before I would head out on my route, I would read the morning's breaking news.
It was a tabloid style paper, so you could get through it quickly, and they were easy to handle (I've wondered why the majority of newspapers aren't tabloids rather than broadsheets). The sports started on the back page, so I would flip to the back first -- except the morning when I found out John Lennon was killed -- and read that day's big sports news.
There are certain moments that occurred during that time that, if I recall them now, the first thing I think of is sitting at the kitchen table in the early morning hours, surrounded by copies of the Sun-Bulletin, reading the news first-hand: Dave Winfield signing with the Yankees for an unfathomable amount of money, John Elway ditching baseball for football, the baseball strike, the Dodgers winning the '81 World Series. Charlie Lea's no-hitter against the Giants was one of those moments, too.
After his performance, I couldn't wait to get a baseball card of Lea -- only in his second year in the majors at that time and someone I had never heard of before the no-hitter. Both Topps and Fleer had cards of him in 1981, but both eluded me. Without extensive knowledge of the checklist back then, I just figured he wasn't well-known enough to have a card that year.
Years later, I did land Lea's fantastic 1981 Topps rookie card that you see here. It was long after the end of his career, which was rudely cut short by arm trouble after a promising first five years. When I did acquire it, in a trade, I thought of that spring morning when I read about Lea's no-hitter while it was still dark out.
I didn't enjoy getting up that early -- I was a night owl even then -- and I really didn't like going out every Monday evening collecting money from my customers. But I did like being the first to know about the news of the day. Kids at school would bring up this sports feat or that and I would say, "Yeah, I know," and think to myself "I bet I knew it before you." (Hardly anyone had ESPN back then, so it's not like kids were staying up the night before grabbing the latest sports news).
Those mornings at the kitchen table were my Today Show, my Good Morning America. That is, if that's what people still consult for their first glance of the news -- it's been a long time since I've woken up at 5:30 in the morning.
Today, I found out about Lea's death at around 12:30 p.m., while eating lunch, reading the paper -- at the dining room table. Old habits die hard.
It's been a difficult week-and-a-half for baseball pitchers of my youth. First Mickey Scott. Then Bob Forsch. Now Charlie Lea (and going back to summer, Mike Flanagan). All of them were too young. At my age, this sort of stuff isn't supposed to happen for another 15 or 20 years.
But the clock still ticks ...
The Sun-Bulletin is now The Press & Sun-Bulletin. I often drive my old route just for kicks when I go visit my folks. Some of the homes on my route have changed residents three, four, five times. I'm sure at least one apartment is housing drug dealers. One street I won't even walk down anymore.
And the Expos don't exist.
RIP, Mr. Lea.
Now, let's put a moratorium on players from the '80s passing away. I'd like to confront my own mortality as a senior citizen, like most everyone else, please.