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Origins: The pink phone

August 28, 2010

I promised no pink.

I’ve grown to hate pink in baseball. I hate the pink team caps and baby-doll T-shirts that are apparently intended to help me reconcile my core femininity with my butch love of baseball. I hate the pink bats and pink wristbands that the players wear on Mother’s Day. Sure, they’re honoring the women in their lives by Raising Awareness of Breast Cancer, and only a truculent little troll would be uncharitable about their efforts—but let’s get a few things straight: Awareness is a fine and lovely thing, but a preventative and/or a cure would be preferable, on the whole. The reflexive linkage of breasts and pink as shorthand for “appreciating women” is fundamentally icky to me. And the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the entity chiefly responsible for the pinkifying of the disease, may be the wealthiest and most visible organization fighting breast cancer today, but by many standards it’s not the most effective, and its pink-tinged efforts often work at cross-purposes to its stated mission; go see Think Before You Pink to learn more. Better yet, set aside a bit of time and read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Welcome to Cancerland,” an intimate and devastating indictment of all that’s counterproductive, cynical, and inherently sexist about the breast-cancer industry.

Yep. I hate pink.

And yet….my earliest tangible connection to the world of baseball was pink. As a child—my family remembers this well, and my friends have all heard the story—I had a pink plastic phone with one purpose: To make calls to the Cardinals.

I knew the Cards only on the radio and the TV in those years, as a bunch of scrappy, strapping guys in robin-egg-blue uniforms (home games weren’t televised then). I know now that those teams of my early childhood, the squads of the late seventies, before Whitey Herzog came to town and cleaned house, weren’t very good, but that didn’t matter at the time. They were to me what the saints were, I imagine, to my Catholic-school friends: iconic figures whose exact nature I didn’t yet understand but whose significance was eminently clear, whose simultaneous closeness to and remoteness from mortals like me somehow didn’t conflict with each other.

And they needed me! It was my self-appointed duty to call them from my spot on the living-room rug, to instruct them when to steal a base, when to hit a home run, when to throw strike three. There are two kinds of sports fans, the anticipatory ones and the reactionary ones, the ones who know what needs to happen next and the ones who know what should have happened just now. I credit the pink phone (and the solid instruction I received from my mother and others) with creating me as the former.

Last month, thirty years after I last hung up the pink phone, I got to meet the player who received more of my calls than any other: Lou Brock (a damn fine choice as childhood sporting heroes go, if I may say so on behalf of my five-year-old self). My girlfriend and I went to a large-scale baseball event with the explicit purpose of seeing him up close, and when we found ourselves in a packed question-and-answer session with him, I sat and kicked myself for my shyness as a dozen men and boys peppered him with eager questions.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, the session’s host stood up and said “All right, folks, that’s it—Mr. Brock has to get going now.” I’d missed my chance.

But then Lou held up his hand. “Actually,” he said, “I’d sure like to take at least one question from a lady before we go.”

Fate! I shot my hand in the air and the microphone found its way to me. “Mr. Brock,” I said, “You were my childhood idol. I used to watch all the Cardinal games with a pink toy phone that I used to make calls to the players, and most of my calls went to you. So I have two questions: First, who were your childhood idols, and second….did you get my calls?”

Laughter all around. Lou smiled his beautiful smile and said “My heroes were Stan Musial and Bob Gibson….and….let me get this right….you had a pink phone that you used to call me?” Pause. “Why, yes, I believe I did get some of your calls.”

I’m not ashamed to tell you it was the highlight of my summer, and perhaps of my whole fanatical baseball life. And because of the pink phone, I was virtually the only one in the room to get a photo op with Lou Brock that afternoon. Maybe that’s why I’ve grown to hate all the other pink in baseball: Because I know what pink’s capable of at its very best.


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