What Politico is to cheesily Drudge-baiting, manufactured political scandals, I am to Washington Post sportswriter Chico Harlan. I own this beat. Power and speed. Win the news cycle. Cover the fuck out of a guy I didn’t really actually know existed until like a month ago. Sorry.
But: but Harlan’s long story in the Post today on Marquis Grissom — longtime Big Leaguer and current Nationals coach — is really good. (Makes you wonder what Harlan could write if he wasn’t so embarrassed to be covering stories like this instead of, you know, food) Grissom was a guy I always kind of dug as a player — cool name; always on non-threatening-to-the-Mets teams; the fact that he essentially had the same season in three-fourths of his big league campaigns. His brief resurfacing a year or so back as an apostle of black baseball was also intriguing. But simply by asking good questions without looking for some cheap-heat Wally Matthews angle and letting his subject talk, Harlan has revealed a guy who has to qualify as one of the more admirable and interesting baseball personalities I can think of. Here:
His parents, Marion and Julia, had once earned 50 cents per hour picking cotton. Marion had built the Grissom house from scratch, front doors always open wide, food from the garden available for whatever nieces and nephews stopped by. The Grissoms had 15 kids of their own. Marquis was the second-youngest.
“I went from drawing water out of a well and burning a stove for heat in the house to making $1.5 million,” he said. That’s when he started buying the houses.
First he gave a house to his baby sister, just because she was the baby. That cost Grissom $78,000. He paid in cash, and because his salary kept rising — $3.575 million in 1994, $4.95 million in 1995 — he kept buying more houses, paying them off in an instant. He bought a house for his parents. He bought the nicest house for his sister Barbara, who always took care of him. For one brother, he threw in a car, too. Sometimes, he let the siblings pick out the property, or at least the neighborhood. He asked them to stay within a price range — about $215,000. He bought a house for every brother and sister.
Not every sibling flourished — one of his brothers was on drugs — and Grissom worried about how the handouts might set a bad precedent. So he talked to them about how to use the money saved on house payments for education, for their kids’ college. The houses weren’t just places to live; they were parts of a foundation.
…He kept thinking about something bigger, spreading the foundation beyond family. That’s when he started building fields.
The Marquis Grissom Baseball Association was granted nonprofit status in 2006. Grissom wanted to mass-produce the good fortune that gave him a chance, which meant a lot of work. Kids in the Atlanta area needed gloves, fields, funding, coaching, attention. Grissom tried to create all of that. The MGBA had (and has) two employees, counting its namesake.
But its burden — and its potential — expanded quickly. In the first year, Grissom rebuilt an old baseball complex, laying the chalk, painting the dugouts, buying the foul poles. (“Two of ’em will set you back $1,500,” he said.) He talked to Coca-Cola about scoreboards and a local gravel company about warning tracks. Soon, Grissom’s association was responsible for dozens of teams and at least 200 kids, 7 and older. Grissom paid for many of their registration fees, burning more than $500,000 of his own money. He picked some of the kids up from school. Sometimes, he paid for their meals, too.
It’s worth reading the whole thing.