Eric Show sees Reds everywhere. He sees them in the bullpen, in the dugout, even in the batter's box. He's surrounded by Reds.
But he's not worried. These Reds are from Cincinnati, not Moscow. "I don't see any Communist influence in baseball," Show says with an air of unabashed earnestness.
Show, a 28-year-old righthanded pitcher (naturally) who has an 11-6 record for the Padres, has been a member of the John Birch Society since he first came up to the majors in 1981 and has recruited two other Padre starters—Dave Dravecky and Mark Thurmond—to join. (Yankee pitcher Mike Armstrong is also a member.) Show reads Birchist tracts, makes public appearances for the Birchers and promotes the organization by signing autographs at county fairs. Show (his name rhymes with cow) has plastered his locker with the slogans: KICK RUSSIA'S ASS and THIS is A REPUBLIC, NOT A DEMOCRACY—LET'S KEEP IT THAT WAY. One sticker shows a peace symbol next to the legend: WARNING: HITLER USED IT TOO.
The Birch Society is named for a Baptist missionary and intelligence officer from Georgia who, Birchers say, was killed in China by Communists in 1945. The group has found dangerously leftist leanings in every President from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Reagan, not to mention the entire Democratic Party and most of the Republicans. It had its heyday about the time Show was entering grade school in the early '60s in Riverside, Calif.
Show insists the Birchers have been misunderstood. He's troubled by hate mail that brands him a neo-Nazi. "I'm just as much against Hitler as anyone else," he says. "I'm neither a bigot nor an anti-Semite." As evidence, he points out that he has a Jewish agent and a Hispanic financial consultant. And he sponsors a black missionary in Horizon Ministries, a mission in San Diego. He's also got a pretty good fastball and a nasty slider.
When he speaks. Show wears a beatific look and taps you on the knee to make a point. He rarely raises his voice even when condemning the United Nations, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, Social Security, the graduated income tax, big government or the international Communist conspiracy, the Birchers' b√™te noire. "The only problem is my critics can't refute me logically," he says. "They merely have an opinion."
Normally, all a ballplayer has to do to be considered an intellectual is read Kurt Vonnegut or own a Billy Joel album. But Show, whose teammates call him Professor, may be the only player who doesn't think Bacon is something you eat for breakfast. Certainly few pitchers explain their curve by citing Bernoulli's principle. Show was a physics major at University of California-Riverside, and if you ask him about his politics he may launch into a five-minute discourse comparing them to subatomic particles ricocheting around a cyclotron. Yet there's something endearing about a guy who says, "As long as air has weight, I'll have a slider," even if he does accept the Birchist dogma that is soft on apartheid and tough on Martin Luther King Jr.
One clear night when he was seven, Show took the hand of his mother, Yvonne, and pointed to the heavens. "There's something out there beyond those stars and that moon," he told her, "and I'm going to find the answer."
"Sure, Junior," she said skeptically.
"I didn't know it then," he says now, "but that evening I'd made a teleological argument that had been developed some six centuries before. I wanted to find out why we were put on this earth. I just had to know." As it turns out, Show was apparently beamed down to this planet to throw sliders and make profound political statements. "For too long, the media has been singing the praises of misguided left-wing jocks," he says. "Now it's time for a new direction."
Show subscribes to the Birchist belief that a conspiracy controlling the world began in 1776 with the formation of a Bavarian sect of Masons called the Illuminati, but he doesn't always toe the Birch line. For instance, he's not sure that fluoridation of water is part of the pinko plot.
The way Show tells it, he never set out to be a Bircher. The documentation he found in a Birch bookstore during spring training three years ago only confirmed what he already knew. "I'd realized there was a problem in the world," he says. "And I'd deduced conspiracy." Show had worked his way through Catholicism, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, the occult, hippiness, and rock-'n'-roll. "I'd exhausted all the possibilities," he says. "I could see the vacant progression of modern thought from reading Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud and Kierkegaard."
Show never set out to be a pitcher, either. He wanted to be a doctor. His father, Les, an engineer, pushed him into baseball. Young Eric would sit in his bedroom gluing together Visible Men and Women while dad stood in the backyard waiting to play catch. It was just before Show's graduation from UC-Riverside in January 1978 that he found fundamentalist religion and a decent fastball.
Show believes in good old morality, the good old Republic, good old rugged individualism and a few other good old good olds. "I'm not just concerned with mundanities," he says. "I'm interested in truths, probabilities, absolutes." He likes baseball because it's "purely American like a Norman Rockwell painting," only he wishes it were more "orderly." One suspects that by orderly. Show means nobody should hit your best pitches.
The Padres have pretty much taken a neutral stance on the Birch issue. Some of the players still think the Birch Society is a group of nature freaks who love trees. Show's teammates more or less tolerate him. Says Gary Templeton, a former Muslim, "Eric has a right to believe whatever he wants to believe."