One cold night, after dinner, I took down all my comic books from my shelves in my bedroom — all my Teen Titans, my X-Men, my Spider-Man, my Superman comics, all of those I’d spent my allowance on, all the classics I’d picked up browsing comics stores for hours every weekend.
Bagged ’em all up. All at once.
And it’s because of Darrell Porter.
You don’t understand. I wasn’t a comic book collector. I was absolutely obsessed with comic books. What’s beyond obsessed? I was that.
Let me explain: I used to compose my own superhero adventures and staple them together. In my freshman high school yearbook, there’s a brief story and a black and white picture of me drawing a picture for one of my homemade comics, bright action scenes of figures with rippling muscles filled in with Crayola markers.
I’d save my allowance for the Saturday when my grandmother would take my brothers and me to the long-defunct Readmore Book World location in Rock Island so I could snag the newest comics right off that revolving circular wire display. I got smart — I determined which comics came out which week so I could be there right away when they unpacked the boxes at Greenpark Pharmacy in Colona. I got even smarter — I subscribed to as many comic books as I could afford, even begging my parents and grandma to get me a subscription for my birthday instead of money or toys. I’d see the brown wrappers in the mailbox and it would be like Christmas all over again.
Then Darrell Porter.
Back then, I was a baseball fan during baseball season, but no, I was into comic books. Oh, sure, when I went to see my first Cardinals game when I was 10, nosebleed seats, left field, upper deck, souvenir batting helmet, jacket day on a 90-degree July, I was hooked, sure. And I had my share of baseball cards.
But it all couldn’t compare to my comic book obsession. I mean, you really don’t understand, I’m a kid who knew all the DC and Marvel comic universes, knew all the secret identities, and would assign kids in the neighborhood different X-Men characters to play and would tell them exactly the power they had. I was regarded as THE comic book expert.
Slowly, though, baseball seeped in past the firewall of action heroes. The Cardinals got jobbed out of a playoff spot because Bowie Kuhn gimmicked up the post-strike season. I’d heard that on the radio and thought, hey, that’s not fair. Trading to get Ozzie Smith. Little news, here and there.
I watched the All-Star Game from Montreal in my grandma’s house as I sorted through my newest stash of comic books. But I also read the sports pages of the paper a little bit more that summer. Turns out the Cardinals were in first place, percentage points ahead of the Phillies. Or sometimes they’d be a game back. Hey, that’s pretty cool.
August. Going out to get the copy of the Daily Dispatch. I knew the Cardinals had just a half-game lead over the Phillies, and they were playing two games in Pittsburgh Sunday. I practically sprinted out to the mailbox when I saw the delivery lady drive off. I ran, grabbed the paper, looked at the front page — a doubleheader sweep!
Oops. I missed getting the latest edition of Teen Titans and X-Men. Just forgot.
Cardinals clinch Eastern Division.
Wow, hey, I finally would get to see the Cardinals on TV. I mean, you have to understand, where we lived we got snippets of news about our team on the local 10 o’clock news. No games. Radio, yeah, maybe, on a static filled station that paused giving us the farm reports and country music for three hours to reluctantly carry the Cardinals games.
Phil Niekro. 1-0 Braves in the fourth. Game called because of rain and they’d have to start Game One all over again.
Ken Oberkfell. Game winning double. ABC promo showing the replay of that hit over and over again. Tomorrow night, tomorrow night, tomorrow night!
I wasn’t spending my allowance on comic books anymore.
10-0 loss to the Brewers in Game One. But Busch Stadium looked beautiful, and those red-striped high stirrups, the StL on the red caps, the birds on the bat, gorgeous. And how can you hate Paul Molitor?
Then Willie McGee hit two home runs, and probably robbed the Brewers of two more.
John Stuper in Game Six. Hey, all you fans running all over County Stadium in Milwaukee after Game Five, remember, this is best-of-seven.
Down 3-1 in the sixth in Game Seven, the Cardinals score three times to take a 4-3 lead.
But against Milwaukee, no lead was safe. I was pacing. For the first time in my life, I was nervous, tense, all edge-of-my-seat over a baseball game. C’mon, guys. I was counting outs.
Then the moment which changed my life as much as an English teacher’s decision that school year to assign seats in alphabetcal order.
Darrell Porter singles the other way to make the score 5-3; another hit, 6-3. He did, yes, he did. Darrell Porter came to the rescue — it’s not a one-run lead anymore.
We’re counting outs out loud now. Thanks, Dad, for letting me stay up and watch this on a school night. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Two outs in the ninth. Gorman Thomas keeps fouling them off. Swing, miss, Sutter fist in the air, me, two fists in the air, “Yesssss!” And who knew Darrell Porter was a country boy, talking like that in the postgame interview? MVP, who else would be?
The next day, I wore something red. The day after that. And after that. And after that.
That English teacher who put us all in alphabetical order, put me behind the prettiest girl in high school. And in the quaint socialist tradition of having the person behind you correct your home work paper, I got to correct hers. And day after day, I drew all sorts of stuff over her homework, because that’s what boys do: they irritate girls. “1982 Cardinals World Champions,” and “StL” logos, and players’ names. And she responded in absolute exasperation at my penmanship sprayed all over her homework.
All my graffiti over everything in every class was of Cardinals stuff. I’d do my homework, then on the other side would be the batting lineup of the Cardinals. Or a baseball field with each players’ name at his position.
Because Darrell Porter drove in another run.
Which brings us back to that night I packed up all my comic books. Turns out, I really wasn’t a superhero fan anymore, packing up my comic books for a trip to the shop to trade them for baseball cards. Oh, yes, I went full force the other direction, in a few weeks inventing my own fantasy baseball game to get me through the long winter, writing stories about my made-up players (an algebra teacher once famously said after yet another day of refusing to put my game away in class, “one day, the aliens are going to come down, discover all this and think it really happened.”) and absolutely obsessing over the Cardinals.
I still have the authentic Cardinals jacket my parents bought me that Christmas, hanging in my closet. Only now when I try it on, I look like Whitey Herzog in it.
That fantasy baseball league turned me into a sportswriter (at age 16, for the same newspaper I bolted outside to see for Cardinals results that day). That led to me a couple of years later to enlist in the Navy as a journalist, because I’d gotten plenty of practice writing about my made-up players and teams.
And that girl in that English class? She knew what she was getting into when she married me more than 18 years after that World Series.
I’d like to think it was all because of Darrell Porter.