I'd like to share with you a theory of mine.
Much has been written about the War on Drugs, and whether or not it has been effective. Some say that millions of dollars spent on educating children about the dangers of drugs and on enforcing laws has been worth it. Others say the millions spent has resulted in overcrowded prisons but has not driven down demand for drugs all that much. The Lympho Bob blog doesn't get into politics, so whether or not it's been effective isn't really my point.
What is undeniable is that millions of dollars have been spent on attempts to combat drug use bykids. It was part of a major shift in our culture.
Some hold the theory that the war on drugs started with Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign in 1982. Others say it started much earlier, perhaps as early as 1967, as a backlash against the glorification of drug use during the so-called Summer of Love.
My theory? The War on Drugs started on May 15, 1976, when Mark Fidrych made his starting pitching debut for the Detroit Tigers. Millions of kids that summer started talking to their baseballs, imitating Fidrych. Their parents thought they were (a) insane, (b) watching too much TV, or (c) doing drugs.
Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan, nursing his wounds from a brutal primary campaign against Gerald Ford, had begun to reassess his political life, even before the primaries were officially over in early June. On May 18 (a mere three days after Fidrych's debut), Reagan lost the Michigan primary by a wide margin, 65% to 34%. Deciding that he needed a new issue to rally social conservatives, he turned on the TV and saw Fidrych pitch, talking to the ball, reshaping the mound, running out to the outfield to congratulate a teammate on a good defensive play. Like many of the parents in the country, Reagan assumed Fidrych was on some serious drugs.
He had found his political issue.
Masterfully reading the social zeitgeist, Reagan planned an entire political campaign around the War on Drugs, with Fidrych (no-doubt a communist from the People's Republic of Massachusetts) as his cover boy/target. At the same time, he'd get to punish the people of Michigan for the trouncing he received in the primary.
But by the 1980 election, Fidrych was out of the majors, and the hot political issues were the Iran hostage crisis and the long gas lines. Reagan tabled his War on Drugs, eventually tossing it to Nancy as a way of keeping her busy. The rest is political and cultural history.
Sports Illustrated has a nice appreciation of Fidrych, who died on Monday. Those of us who are of a certain age will forever remember his awesomeness. Since he was a Massachusetts kid himself, that made it even better for me.
Rest in Peace, Bird. And know that you not only made lots of wiffle ball games in the mid 70's much more interesting, you also were responsible for a major political and cultural shift.