Where Have You Gone, Alan Bannister

Let me, fair maidens, tell you the story of the greatest chick-magnet of all time. His legendary exploits are still talked about in Anaheim even though he is now in the far-away land of Texas...

I was gathering links for today's Halolinks post when I came across this article over at The Hardball Times:

Cooperstown Confidential: Stories of Bobby Grich 

Within this article is this quote:

Earlier this month, longtime baseball historian John Thorn raised a ruckus on the Internet when he suggested that too much of today’s baseball writing focuses on statistics and sabermetrics and not enough concentrates on the colorful stories of the game’s past.

"For a whole generation of fans and fantasy players," Thorn writes, "stats have begun to outstrip story and that seems to me a sad thing. Even the unverifiable hogwash that passed for fact or informed opinion in baseball circles not so long ago seems today wistfully enticing, for its energy if nothing else."

I agree with Thorn.  It seems lately that any time I read a story about baseball history, it's mainly about a player's WAR or how a current player compares statistically to a player from another era.  Seldom do I read about a player's personality, game-saving play, or how on a personal level he touched a fan's life.  These are the stories that stick in a person's mind much more than citing a player's UZR.  Sometimes these stories get embellished or the lore heightened to make the player or his accomplishment more appealing, but isn't that okay?  At least just a little?  Maybe Babe Ruth didn't call his shot against the Cubs in the 1932 World Series, but it makes a great story.

What I'd like to hear are your stories about a game you were at, a play you saw, or the time you met your favorite player.  I'll start with my story of Alan Bannister (which I wrote a couple years ago):

During the summer of 1974, I was a 13 year-old getting ready to start junior high.  While with my parents visiting some family friends, I met a young woman who was married to a professional baseball player.  Because of this chance meeting, it started a relationship that lasted over 20 years.  The player’s name was Alan Bannister and from that day forward, every summer’s day started by looking through the sports section of the newspaper to find the box score of Bannister’s current team.  Did he play?  Did he get a hit?  Just as routine as eating the morning’s bowl for cereal and then later, drinking the morning’s first cup of coffee,  the need to find out how my favorite player had done the previous day was a morning necessity.  This ritual lasted through my high school years, through the 4 years I spent in the Marines, and finally the beginning years of my professional life.

In 1985, Bannister’s career was winding down as he spent the season with the Texas Rangers as a utility player and pinch-hitter. On September 12th, my wife and I went to the Angels game down the street from our home in Anaheim to see the Angels play the Rangers.  The main reason for going to this particular game was to see Bannister play.  The odds of him playing this day weren’t very good; he had managed only 1 at-bat in the previous 5 games, but any reason to go to a ballgame is a good reason.  When the line-ups were announced, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bannister was starting at 2B and hitting second in the order.  In the top of the first inning, Bannister hit into a fielder’s choice and then was forced out at second two batters later. 

During his second at-bat in the third inning, Bannister hit a deep fly ball to left off of Angels’ starting pitcher, Mike Witt.  I clearly remember standing as the ball floated up and thinking, hoping that it would go out.  Could it be possible?  While I’m not naïve enough to believe in fairy tales or magic, I’m not cynical enough to not think that something special happened on that Thursday night in September as the ball sailed over the fence.  I clearly remember my wife saying, "You’ve got to be kidding me" as she too realized the significance of the moment.  Up to that point in his career, Bannister had hit only 18 home runs.  Obviously on that night, neither Bannister or I knew how his season or career would end, but that homer to left was his last and I was there to see it.  Was it pay-back to me for all of the years of devotion, or was it just a random coincidence?  Many, many people feel there is something magical about baseball and that it’s not just a sport, but something much deeper.  Baseball runs so deep into people’s lives that it takes on more than just a past-time, it becomes a part of their lives, just like a friend.  Bannister’s last home run was baseball’s way of saying "thank you" to me.  Thank you for noticing, thank you for watching, and thank you for caring.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize I should be the one saying thanks.

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