Friday, March 1, 2013

No 461 – At Seventeen

Performer: Janis Ian
Songwriter: Janis Ian
Original Release: Between the Lines
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: None

The truths I learned at 17 were that my digestive system hated me and that Major League Baseball didn’t care about me. All things considered, I’m not sure that the two lessons weren’t related. (The truths that Janis Ian sings about so eloquently in this song I learned in seventh grade.)

1981, when I turned 17, was the year of the strike, lowercase. I knew nothing about the first baseball players strike in 1972. I cared not at all about the business of baseball—only that the games were played. In 1980, talk of a strike was everywhere, and the players that time targeted the middle of the season, instead of the beginning, which was far more damaging. A strike was averted at the last second through an agreement that put off the main issue for a year. In 1981, that issue—free-agent compensation—caused the first disruption of the season since I really became a fan.

The players walked right at the beginning of summer vacation, and it couldn’t have been worse timing. Now, armed with all the time in the world, I had no games on the radio and worse—no box scores in the morning paper or stats in The Sporting News that I could pore over for hours.

It was a summer of great agitation, which undoubtedly added to the tumult in my stomach. In 1994, the year of The Strike, uppercase, I had a more than satisfactory diversion—Debbie. I had no such outlet at 17: Vegging out to Pac Man or Centipede wasn’t good enough.

In 1981, I was against the players. This wasn’t because of some macroeconomic point of view—I had no real political awareness yet—but the simple fact that it was the players who walked. Therefore, it was they who were denying me baseball. In the end, I didn’t care who won; I cared only that baseball returned, which it did in August, of course.

The players struck again in 1985—a strike that lasted two days, of course, so it was easy to forgive and forget—but it opened my eyes. The players might have walked, but now I blamed the owners. Why? When labor talks began, the first thing the owners did was ask to toss out the free-agent compensation system.

That’s right: The same system that they said was essential to their existence in 1981, for which they were so unyielding that the players went on strike to prevent was the first thing the owners wanted to get rid of the next go-round. In other words, I realized that THE OWNERS wrecked 1981 for NO REASON. I was firmly on the players' side from then on.

But the thing I immediately took away from the strike, lowercase, in 1981 was that the fan didn’t matter. We were mere pawns in a larger money game. It would take me another 14 years to reciprocate in kind. I know you don’t care about me beyond the fact that I spend my money at the ballpark, so … fine. You put out a suitable entertainment, and I’ll be there. If you don’t, I’ll do something else.

I wasn’t ready to learn that truth at 17.

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