I asked five of my friends if they would write an essay about a mystery topic. I wouldn’t tell them what it was unless they agreed to do it, but assured them it would be something they’d enjoy writing about. All five said yes. The topic was RBI Baseball, a 1987 Nintendo game that I’ve spent hundreds hours playing with all of them. Here is the fourth entry, by Derek Moore
Read all the essays in the series here
“It was like coming this close to your dreams . . . and then watching them brush past you like strangers in a crowd.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham.
We all have dreams. My dream, and the dream of many others just like me, was dashed on November 5, 2004, the day Wally Backman was fired as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Arizona Diamondbacks became a full-fledged big league ball club in 1998. Barely an afterthought in Phoenix and totally ignored by the baseball-watching public, the Diamondbacks needed a spark.
The team’s turnaround began in the spring of 2001, when Bob Brenley was hired to manage the club. Brenley enjoyed a fairly undistinguished career as a major leaguer, never batting .300 and never hitting more than 20 homeruns in a season. Prior to his days managing the Diamondbacks, what most remembered Brenley for was batting sixth for the San Francisco Giants in the seminal Nintendo game RBI Baseball.
No doubt inspired by their new manager’s video game heroics, the Diamondbacks enjoyed an historic season in 2001. Brenley’s clever lineups and deft handling of the pitching staff led Luis Gonzalez, Curt Schilling, and Randy Johnson all to have career years. The season ended predictably with the Diamondbacks winning the World Series in six games over the New York Yankees, ending that team’s streak of three consecutive titles.
After their victory in the World Series, Brenley’s vaunted inspirational tactics began to wear thin on his players, who had let the success of 2001 get to their heads. In the middle of a lackluster season in 2004, Brenley was let go. But management had a plan. They had Al “Pedriq” Pedrique on speed dial.
Pedrique, like Brenley, was a middling ballplayer whose star shined even brighter than Brenley’s because of his role in RBI Baseball. Pedrique batted eighth in the lineup on RBI’s NL All-Star team. Pedrique’s role in most contests was similar to Moonlight Graham’s: playing the field but never getting to hit. But Pedrique made his contributions off the field; he was routinely the first man off the bench to congratulate Andre “The Hawk” Dawson or Dale “Dalay” Murphy on another soaring home run. Nevertheless, Pedrique fared no better than Brenley in motivating Arizona’s lackluster roster and was let go after the season.
Believing firmly in what had become known as “the RBI way,” the Diamondbacks next turned to Wally Backman. Backman was most famous for his invaluable contribution to the RBI Mets, providing much-needed protection for Darryl Strawberry in the lineup. Yet Backman’s tenure as the Diamondbacks’ manger was even more short-lived than Pedrique’s.
Don Henley sang about the boys of summer. He also sang about the end of the innocence.
Backman lasted four days as Arizona’s manager. Befitting his association with the contemptible New York Mets – that franchise’s moribund existence is outshone only by its fans’ delirious commitment to rooting for the bad guys – Backman was fired for lying to the Diamondbacks’ management about defrauding the IRS and a prior arrest for DUI.
And then the Diamondbacks hired Bob Melvin, a former ballplayer that had no affiliation whatsoever with RBI Baseball. The world’s dream of an unbroken chain of RBI heroes managing the Arizona Diamondbacks ended in disgrace. The franchise that had hitched its wagon to the RBI star pinned all its hopes on Bob Melvin. Bob Melvin who knew nothing of the RBI Way.
I stopped paying attention to the Diamondbacks after that. Maybe I was upset. Maybe I was disillusioned by Backman’s disgrace. Maybe I was just tired.
And then a funny thing happened. In 2010 the Diamondbacks hired Kirk Gibson, a keystone for RBI’s Detroit Tigers, the team with the most fearsome non-all star lineup in the game. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the RBI Way was born again in Phoenix.
“Dreams can come true. Look at me babe if I’m with you. You know you gotta have hope. You know you’ve got to be strong.” Gabrielle.