Saturday, July 7, 2012

C.A.: 1993 Topps Spike Owen

(We're cruising into the final days of Cardboard Appreciation Week. Elated? Disappointed? Gassy? Well, I can't help you. All I can say is welcome to Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 152nd in a series):

Today marks the 22nd anniversary since I covered my first major league baseball game. Twenty-two years. That's crazy. Twenty-two years ago should be about 1968, not 1990.

But that's what the calendar insists. And that's how long I've felt guilty about not giving Spike Owen his due.

Owen was your typical eighth-place-hitting shortstop. He was a switch-hitter, but mediocre at the plate, with periodic bursts of outstanding. He was a good fielder. Someone you knew was destined to become a coach or a manager. And that's what he is today.

But on July 7, 1990, he was batting eighth in the lineup for the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium. His team was facing Jim Deshaies of the Houston Astros. Deshaies was the reason I was in Montreal. When my boss told me I was going to Montreal to cover Deshaies, I practically fell over. I was less than five months into the job, just getting adjusted to asking high school kids questions, and now I was going to handle what would be considered an event at the highest level of my profession.

Even at that moment in my career, I knew the story was Deshaies and how he did in the game. It wasn't about the game. Deshaies was a local guy, and the readers wanted to know how he did.

Well, Deshaies lost. It wasn't a terrible performance. But I dutifully talked to Deshaies and the manager and his catcher and wrote the story in a panic.

But I felt bad about avoiding Spike Owen.

Owen was the star of the game. He went 2-for-3 with a home run and his homer to lead off the seventh inning was the winning run. If I was a regular beat writer covering the game, I would've talked to Spike Owen. And then Owen would be a subject in my Brush With Greatness series -- true immortality for Spike Owen!!!

But I ignored him. Because my readers didn't care about Spike.

When I was young and thinking how cool it would be to cover a baseball game as a journalist, one of the drawing points for me was that I would be able to capture a player's moment of greatness in a story to be preserved in history. As a sports journalist, every day you could go to the ballpark and feature a different player. Baseball has a habit of bestowing star status on a different player unlike any other sport. You can't predict who will emerge. But it is the writer's job to sort it out.

That was very cool to me.

According to the young me, I botched my job that day. I should've featured Spike Owen. But instead I wrote about the loser. I'm sure I even had to subconsciously reconcile that with myself as I prepared to head down to the locker room, and turn under where it said "visitors" and not "home."

After I talked to the Astros, I actually did go into the Expos locker room. It was very fancy. I saw the Expos manager, Buck Rodgers, in his very fancy manager's office talking to some media members. I thought about going in there and asking about Owen. And then maybe someone would show me Owen's locker, and I'd ask him what pitch he hit for that home run.

But I just turned and walked out. I didn't have the time and my readers didn't care.

So, now, because of that, you have just been burdened with a story about Spike Owen.

I'm sorry, it's just been waiting 22 years to come out of me.


  1. Nice post. Deshaies is a terrific color man on the Astros' broadcasting team these days. Makes their miserable games almost bearable.

  2. Great post and first hand account. I'd say happy anniversary, but you don't sound happy about it being 22 years already. It looks like both teams are almost wearing the same unis.

  3. Love Spike! And this card! Spike is one of the coaches for the minor league team nearest me, the Round Rock Express (Rangers AAA). Spike also happens to be the name of the Express' mascot, which is a dog.

  4. I remember when Spike was called up the majors and my buddies and I were convinced he was going to be the next big thing. I don't know why, we just did.

  5. Still have the article? I think it would be fun to read it!

  6. Wow, thanks for sharing your Spike story. He was favorite player as a Seattle youngster and it bummed me out to see him head off to Boston in 1986, but at least he got to play in a World Series and build a long career elsewhere.

    Good point about how baseball can talk about a different player every day. Are there any players you're especially glad to have talk with early in their careers?

  7. Just about all of the players I've interviewed have since retired. But the ones I interviewed early in their career that made the biggest impression were probably Craig Biggio and John Doherty, a starter with the Tigers.