Annie-thing Goes: When the underdogs don't take the field

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APRIL 11, 2012

So here’s the thing: I was originally going to write about the Stanley Cup Playoffs. About how the next few months are the greatest of the year, purely because the NHL is in full-on frenzy mode. About how my San Jose Sharks are once again poised to make a deep run judging by how white-hot they are these days. I love the Sharks; I’ve always loved the intangibles, the things that cannot reward me.

But I can’t seem to fill 12 inches extolling the virtues of America’s most under-appreciated sport. I cannot find the words to effortlessly urge everyone reading this – my inaugural column under its punny new headline, by the way – to click off whatever inane reality show they have queued up on Netflix and watch the Sharks’ first-round game against the St. Louis Blues today.

I can’t think about that right now. Partly because there’s a distracting din in the office that makes prophesizing a little difficult. Mostly because I’m thinking about the Utica Blue Sox.

Threw you a curveball there, didn’t I? Just when you thought I couldn’t get more obscure. But while the subject matter is pretty unknown, the story boils down to something grand: a classic underdog tale. See, that’s not obscure at all.

Way back in 1983, the Utica Blue Sox were the only truly independent minor league baseball team in America. They were ragtags; no pro ball team wanted to sponsor the Blue Sox. There wasn’t any higher god footing the road trip bill or shelling out the cash for spankin’ new uniforms. Instead, there were rampant debt and stadium lights that wouldn’t turn on because the previous owner ran out without paying for electricity.

So a writer named Roger Kahn did something a little crazy. Like, “Here’s Johnny!” crazy. With no athletic talent of his own (a tribulation many of us sportswriters face) he did the next best thing. He went out and bought the Utica Blue Sox, that bumbling bunch of rejects. And through the Blue Sox, Kahn vicariously lived a season.

Everyone else in the New York—Penn league wrote the club off as dead. The Blue Sox simply they didn’t have the money or the resources to survive.

Yet like their owner, the Blue Sox did something a little crazy. They started to win. A lot. The players dominated their own unkempt Murnane Field and trampled opposing parks. Utica’s antics reignited passion and energy in its hometown and big-league offices. But more than that, the Blue Sox proved all those haters wrong. And they capped off that wonderful Cinderella run with the league pennant.

It sounds like a movie. It should be a movie, if you ask me. But real life never gets to watch the credits roll and hear the closing music swell. Real life is a little messier.

By 1985, Philadelphia bought the team – saved it, as the Phillies most likely saw the situation – and transformed it into yet another farm factory product.

And independence gasped its final dying breath.

The idea of true independence has been a hot-button topic around The Daily Cal lately – hence my current lack of concentration. To strive for success, even in the face of insurmountable odds, is a noble goal indeed. It’s a recurring theme I see in sports from time to time (how else could America’s 1980 Olympic hockey team crush the Soviets?). Yet it’s unnerving to see the underdog story played out, not on a silver screen or a green park, but in the office I consider my second home.
The Blue Sox were good enough to dream; The Daily Cal is better.

It still makes a great underdog story.

Contact Annie Gerlach at 


APRIL 11, 2012

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