My father-in-law, Pete, is a complete baseball nut.
As an added bonus, my father-in-law Pete is also completely nuts.
Actually, truth be told, he's only wacky about two things.
Joe DiMaggio. And The Cleveland Indians.
Thanks to Pete, I know that Joe DiMaggio struck out only 369 times in his 13-year career with the Yankees.
It might not have sunk into my pea brain the first time Pete told me that Joe DiMaggio struck out only 369 times in his 13-year career with the Yankees. But after a decade of being told that Joe DiMaggio struck out only 369 times in his thirteen-year career with the Yankees, I've now memorized the fact that Joe DiMaggio struck out only 369 times in his thirteen-year career with the Yankees.
Joe, according to Pete, was the best baseball player ever. Pete's read every book about Joe. He's seen every special about Joe. He even watched a PBS show on Joe.
I have reason to believe that was the first and last time Pete's remote control stopped on PBS.
I haven't quite figured it out, but there's some sort of strange mystical aura Joe holds over a certain group of men in this country. Working-class men in their sixties and seventies who lived at a time when baseball ruled the sports world. Joe was this mystical figure whose legend grows in their minds with every passing year.
I imagine thirty years from now, our generation will feel the same way about Benny Agbayani.
Pete is very protective of his Joe. And like any great public defender, Pete feels the need to state his case as loudly and as often as he can about the greatness of his Joe.
Which is the true beauty of Pete. Because Pete, you see, has the remarkable ability to put Joe DiMaggio in any situation.
EXAMPLE #1: WE'RE WATCHING A BASEBALL GAME. ANY BASEBALL GAME. THE CENTERFIELDER MAKES A NICE RUNNING CATCH.
ME: Jeez, that was a nice catch.
PETE: Yeah, but let me tell you something. Joe woulda been standing there, pounding his glove, waiting for that ball. He never had to chase a ball like that in his life.
EXAMPLE #2: WE'RE WATCHING A FOOTBALL GAME. ANY FOOTBALL GAME. THE RUNNING BACK MAKES A COUPLE OF NICE MOVES AND HEADS DOWN THE SIDELINES FOR A 50-YARD TOUCHDOWN.
ME: Boy, that was a nice run.
PETE: Reminded me of the way Joe used to run. Didn't even look like he was trying out there. That's how smooth Joe was. You don't know, because you never saw him. I saw him.
EXAMPLE #3: WE'RE AT A BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR A NEPHEW TURNING 13. IT'S THE MIDDLE OF NOVEMBER. THE CARTOON NETWORK IS ON TV.
ME: I can't believe Bobby is thirteen already.
PETE: He's really getting big, isn't he? FIVE SECOND PAUSE. Y'know, Joe wasn't that big for as much power as he had. He had 361 lifetime homers, y'know. If he hadn't missed those war years, he'd be way the hell up there, y'know.
When it comes to Joe DiMaggio, Pete is extremely focused.
When it comes to the Indians, however, Pete is obsessed.
Truth is, there are a lot of Johnny-Come-Lately's with the Tribe. And from the looks of Jacob's Field lately, they're turning into Johnny-Come-On-Let's-Go-Do-Something-Elsely's.
But Pete? My father-in-law is old school. He's been there with the Indians through thick and thin. The good times. The Andy Allanson times. And he'll continue to be there as their biggest fan and their loudest critic.
Unlike most, however, Pete doesn't just complain to the game on the TV set. Which of course, he does.
He doesn't just bitch and yell about the Tribe to his family. Which of course, he does.
He doesn't just call his son-in-law in the middle of the seventh inning to tell him what a complete idiot Charlie Manuel is.
Well, everybody does that.
No, Pete takes it a step further. After all, Pete has a lot of opinions about the Cleveland Indians. And Pete doesn't like to keep his opinions to himself.
So at least once a week, Pete makes a phone call.
Not to the sports talk show guys. Not to other fans. To the Cleveland Indians front offices.
As soon as he hears the words, "Hello, thank you for calling the Cleveland Indians," he starts. Nagy this. Thome that. Fryman. Shuey. Blah, blah, blah.
He'll talk to whomever he gets on the phone. For as long as they'll talk to him.
I mean listen to him. Baseball phone calls with Pete tend to be, um, one-sided.
In the past, when he called the Indians, he'd tell whoever was listening that Hargrove didn't know how handle pitchers and that Brian Giles should be playing everyday and that Colon needed to keep the ball down.
The person he was talking to would always politely listen and tell Pete that they'd pass his message on to the general manager.
I'm almost certain that the person Pete was talking to was not passing his message on to the general manager.
But Pete's no dummy, though. After six or seven years, he saw through this charade. And so this year, Pete decided that he was going to take a slightly different approach to contacting the Indians.
This year when he called, he didn't just talk to anyone. Instead, he asked for Mark Shapiro, the Indians assistant GM.
Week after week, Pete left messages on Mr. Shapiro's voicemail. Complaining about giving Vizquel too much money. About how Lofton doesn't know how to go back on a ball.
About how Manuel is a moron.
Well, everybody does that.
Then last Sunday, in the middle of the game against the Rangers, something during the game pissed my father-in-law off. So Pete picked up the phone and called. Like always, he asked for Mr. Shapiro.
Only this time, something strange happened. He didn't get Mark Shapiro's voicemail.
He got Mark Shapiro.
"Hello, this is Mark Shapiro."
Finally. The Man. Face to face with the Man.
Did Pete panic? Lose his train of thought? Hang up?
Hell, no. This is my father-in-law for god's sake. It's Pete. A man who knows no fear.
Except for mice. But that's a whole other column.
At any rate, before Shapiro could get a word in edgewise, Pete told him everything that was wrong with the Cleveland Indians. Everything.
When he was done, Shapiro spoke.
"Sir," he said, "I've heard the messages you've left me. You obviously know your baseball. I'm impressed."
For the first time in the history of my father-in-law, he stopped talking.
"I'll tell you what I'm going to do," said Shapiro. "It's important for me to hear from the fans. So I'm going to give you the direct number of my personal assistant. Anytime you have problems or concerns about the team, I want you to give him a call."
And with that, the future general manager of the Indians gave my father-in-law a phone number to his offices.
He also gave my father-in-law a woody.
Finally, someone was listening to Pete. Other than me.
Was he just pawning Pete off on some underling? Probably. But regardless, my father-in-law felt like he just conquered the world.
Dear Mr. Shapiro: Thanks. You just made Pete's life. Seriously.
Of course, that meant there was only one thing left for me to do. Bring him back down. Fast.
So on Monday, I called Pete.
PETE: What's going on?
ME: Did you call the Indians today?
PETE: Nah, I'm not gonna bother them everyday. If I've got something to say, I'll use this number he gave me and I'll call them.
ME: See what happens when you deal with us Jews? We're nice people.
PETE: Is that right? Y'know, Hank Greenberg was a helluva player for the Tigers. Joe was the best, but I'd say that Greenberg is right up there with him.
ME: Joe? Joe who?