Forty years ago this month, while covering the Blue Jays for the Toronto Sun, the most memorable story from a road trip to the West Coast had nothing to do with baseball, as I recall in this excerpt from my memoir, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism:
I began the season hoping to get along with the people I was writing about. At thirty-one, I was older than most of the players, but not by much. At first, they seemed to accept me more than the other writers.
I’d been a decent athlete in my youth and could still handle a glove and a bat without looking like a klutz. During pre-game warm-ups, I’d play catch or shag flies in the outfield.
The only player I socialized with was pitcher Dave Wallace. He was different from the others, more thoughtful and a lot smarter. I was about a year older. We’d both been born and raised in the Northeast. He was from Connecticut, and had graduated college. We’d talk about baseball but also about other things, books and movies and life.
Early in the season, on a day off in Oakland, I rented a car and took Wallace to Sausalito. I’d called my old hippie friend, Barry Ginsberg, who met me in the No Name Bar while Wallace had a look around the town. Thankfully, after Barry described in great detail being abducted by aliens, he had to go to work, as a chef at the nearby Trident restaurant.
Wallace joined me at the No Name and we settled in for the night. An attractive woman, a blonde about our age, sidled up to us at the bar. “You look like baseball players,” she said.
“He is,” I said.
“I hate baseball players,” she said.
“I don’t like them much either, except this guy,” I said, pointing to Wallace.
She was really drunk. And really wanted to talk. She said she was a stewardess for United Airlines and sometimes worked on charters for major league teams.
On one late night flight, she told us, at thirty-thousand feet, her crewmate had been dragged into a lavatory and raped. She said the airline insisted her crewmate not press charges, that nobody believed her, that everyone assumed she had initiated the event and only cried rape later.
I believed her story. I asked some questions, trying to identify the rapist. But she kept shaking her head and guzzling vodka. “That’s why I hate ballplayers,” she concluded, before staggering off into the night.
Wallace and I were quiet on the long drive back to the hotel in Oakland. We didn’t have a chance to talk much after that night. He was released by the Jays and, when no other team gave him a chance, he retired at the age of thirty.
The cerebral Wallace would go on to have an accomplished career as a major league pitching coach. I would turn the flight attendant’s tale of rape into the plot of a novel.