San Diego Padres pitcher Eric Show at work, 1985.
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narrative / culture

Remembering Baseball’s Right-Wing Rotation

When three Padres pitchers joined the John Birch Society in 1984, the sports world was challenged by a different kind of political activism.
Baseball has always offered a safe space for a conservative athlete, the first baseman who squints and spits tobacco into a cup as he talks about big government. But in July 1984, it was still something of a shock to hear three pitchers stand in a major league clubhouse and talk about America’s slide toward communism.

“Capitalist nations will crumble and die from the inside—not the outside,” one of the pitchers said.

“Communism is not the end in itself,” another pitcher said. “It’s only a way to socialize the entire world, so special-interest groups will be the master. And we? We will be the slaves. If, that is, we even live.”

A third pitcher nodded at these ideas and said: “Before, I was just one of those people ignorant of what really goes on.”

The pitchers were Eric Show, Mark Thurmond, and Dave Dravecky of the San Diego Padres. As Los Angeles Times reporter Mike Granberry later noted, they comprised three-fifths of the Padres’ starting rotation.

Today, an athlete who tweets something ragged about politics usually claims his account has been hacked. But the Padres pitchers were spouting something like dogma. They were members of the John Birch Society, a right-wing group that had become infamous in the ’60s by warning of communist infiltration of America and then, by the ’80s, had receded into the conservative hinterlands. But if Birchism was less chic than Reaganism, the pitchers hardly seemed to mind. They appeared at the society’s events, gave interviews to its publications, and tried to sell the idea that?—?as one society slogan had it—“Happiness Is Being a Bircher.”

Granberry collected the pitchers’ quotes in a story that ran in the Times on July 8, 1984. The reaction within the sports world was electric, like the first time Colin Kaepernick knelt on the sideline. “Though this word didn’t exist so much in 1984, that story went viral,” Granberry told me. Newspapers around the country ran headlines like “3 Padres Admit Ties to Birchers.”
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