AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY: REMEMBERING MY FRIEND MICKEY MEISTER 

by Steven Travers

In 1979, of all the graduates of all the high schools in Marin County, California, the single student who was considered most likely to succeed was my friend Mickey Meister. Marin is a highly affluent suburb of San Francisco, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It likely has the highest household income for a county of its size in America. It is filled with beautiful rolling hills, rugged mountains overlooking a magnificent coastline, and dense, tree-filled forests. Its spectacular homes offer magnificent views of the bay, the ocean, two bridges, two cities, and everything in between. Any student competing for the title most likely to succeed is up against the sons and daughters of tech millionaires, entrepreneurs, attorneys, doctors and academicians. Its high schools routinely send graduates to Stanford, the University of California, USC, UCLA and the Ivy League. When Dr. Michael Savage came to Berkeley in order to obtain his PhD, it was in Marin where he settled and raised his family. His children attended the same high school as Mickey, Redwood, where in my freshman year there the student body had the highest SAT scores of any high school in the U.S. Redwood was literally the national champions of academics!

But today, in 2022, I come to you to report not the great life and success of the once-promising Mickey Meister, but rather a Shakespearean tragedy, a cautionary tale of wasted talent and failed promises. He was a man of extraordinary flaws, yet also one of great gifts and charisma. It is the fervent hope of this old friend of Mick’s that somehow that charisma, combined with Mick’s spiritual knowledge of death’s impending harvest – and hopeful repentance – impressed God enough to grant salvation to his soul. I write this not to criticize my old friend, but to warn others of the pitfalls of life, that pride goeth before the fall. We will all be made meek and humble before the Good Lord, and as we know, the meek shall inherit the Earth.

But in his youth, Mickey was not meek. I first heard of him in the summer of 1975. I was coming off my sophomore year pitching for Coach Al Endriss at Redwood High. Redwood was already considered one of the top prep baseball programs in America, and Coach Endriss was nationally recognized. My father, Don Travers, was in his second year managing Redwood’s summer Joe DiMaggio League team, Italian Club of Marin. 

Coach Endriss called Dad and told him that there was a 14-year old eighth grader pitching in the Central Marin Babe Ruth League who was sure to become the greatest pitcher in Redwood history. He was already well over six feet tall and threw blazing heat. Since little league he had been unhittable, and even though Mickey was two years away from eligibility for the Joe DiMaggio League, Coach Al wanted him to pitch a game against our varsity-level competition to size him up.

It was around this time that I went with my father to practice baseball one day at College of Marin. The baseball field was next to the tennis courts, and I started to hear a loud commotion from the courts. Somebody kept yelling, “I dominate!” every time he would hit a booming serve for an ace. Curious, I wandered over to see what was going on, and saw a very tall kid wearing gleaming tennis whites, using a very expensive racquet. He would serve big aces past his opponent, a mere mortal eighth grader, and the balls would lodge into the fence. The big kid would then yell, “I dominate!”

I immediately knew the big kid was Mickey Meister.

I was two years older than him, and pretty good in my right, but it was immediately obvious this guy was a wunderkind, or as his German name emphasized, a master when it came to pitching. In my junior year, we would return to the lockers after games and I would inquire how the freshman team did. Invariably somebody would say, “Meister pitched a no-hitter,” or “Meister pitched a shutout.” Quite naturally, Mickey got called up to the varsity, a rarity for freshmen.

My senior year was in 1977, and I thought this was going to be my big season; the year I would achieve accolades, be recruited by top colleges and get scouted for the pro draft. Instead sophomore Mickey Meister stole all my thunder. He was easily the best pitcher in the league and the star of a team that wound up being named national champions by Collegiate Baseball magazine and the Easton Bat Company. To this day it is considered the greatest prep sports team in Marin County history. Any notoriety attached to me came from tangential association with Mick, since we were both about six-feet, five inches tall. The papers took to calling us the “twin towers.”

Over the next two years Mickey set every pitching record in sight. He finished as the second-winningest prep pitcher in California history. He was a two-time All-American and in his senior year was named by Student Sports magazine the National High School Athlete of the Year. Huge crowds flocked to see him hurl. He remains the best ever in the MCAL and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. He was probably one of the two or three best high school pitchers in America in 1978-79.

I was an enormous USC Trojan fan, and desperately wanted a scholarship from USC. But Meister had been recruited by Rod Dedeaux and USC since his sophomore year. They showed me no love. Instead, not one but two of my illustrious teammates, Meister and Jim Connor, were given full ride scholarships to the University of Southern California. 

But aside from Mickey’s great talents on the diamond, there was so much more to the story. Much of it I would not learn until years later, and it would help fill in some major blanks in this seemingly perfect sports story. 

On Mickey’s first day as a freshman at Redwood, he met the best looking blonde girl in the frosh class. She immediately became his girlfriend. Was Mickey handsome? He looked like a young movie star in the Robert Redford/Troy Donahue mold. He ran a swath through the female population like none before or since. 

Academics? Mickey had a photographic memory and was considered a math genius. He aced his way through classes without effort. He was also unbeatable in any card game, as he could count the deck. His male friends were like sycophants just hoping to absorb some of his sunshine. He was the greatest “put down artist” in history, but always did it with a smile on his face. Everybody considered it an honor to be the butt of a Mickey Meister joke.

But Mickey drank and did drugs. He loved to party, was a wild child, but somehow nothing ever effected his performance on the field. He never seemed hung over.

Then there were his parents, and herein we begin to find a crack in his armor, even though as mentioned many truths were hidden for years. His father Jack was a big, tall, handsome ex-professional baseball player in his own right, I believe hailing from Southern California.

His mother June was a beauty from Oklahoma who had moved to Hollywood looking for movie stardom. She claimed to have dated Marlon Brando. She met Jack in L.A. They married, moved to Marin and their only child, Mickey, was born. 

Jack had what appeared to be a successful insurance business, but in talking to associates in later years I discovered he was always struggling. Still, he kept up appearances. He rented office space in a stylish bayside complex, and they lived in a mansion in Ross, one of the wealthiest towns in the country. Again, it was years later I learned they rented that house. All I saw was June giving Mickey a large per diem which he spent like a drunken sailor. He wore the fanciest clothes, had the most stylish haircut, and by all appearances had it made. 

Mickey’s family never went to church and he grew up with no spiritual or moral guidance as best I could tell. After winning the NCS title in 1977, my dad and I drove past his house the next day to see if he wanted to go to an A’s game with us. Jack answered and said Mick had to “hit the books” and could not go. I just laughed. I knew he was sleeping off the wild party we had after winning, or was shacked up with one of his girfriends. He certainly was not studying.

June was a drunk, and this could not be hidden. Stories about her were legion, the one embarrassment for Mickey. She would sit in her car watching her son pitch, all the while draining a flask. She also worked as his “social coordinator.” She would spy a cute girl at school, stop her and ask if she’d like to go out with her son, or perhaps Mickey would see a nice looking girl and ask June to intervene.

Lacking the full ride scholarships offered Mickey, Connor and most of my ballyhooed Redwood teammates, I ended up at Santa Monica College, from where I was made a “recruited walk-on” at USC until at the last minute the University of Nevada offered me their last scholarship. I ended up setting records at Nevada before pitching professionally in the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland A’s organizations. Finally, injured and out of options, I returned to college to get my bachelor’s degree . . .  at the University of Southern California! This was where I picked up my personal story with Mickey Meister.

Mickey was USC’s ace pitcher as a sophomore. He was even more of a ladies’ man at USC than in high school. One former Trojan told me he reminded him of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, only with a 95-mile an hour fastball. 

“My impression was that life was better being Mickey Meister, a college baseball star at USC, than to play pro baseball or even Major League baseball,” the man recalled. Mick introduced me to all his teammates, many of whom remain lifelong friends to this day.

Another friend from high school came to visit Mick, then living in the Mid-Wilshire District. He knocked on the door and a stunning model in a bikini answered, Mick’s latest squeeze. 

My first day on campus I met Mick in the accompany of an All-American shortstop named Dan Davidsmeir at a place called the 32nd Street Saloon. I trailed behind Mickey and Dan as they did a “tour” of the bar, each booh filled with what I called “Christy Brinkley’s,” beautiful, wealthy USC blondes from Newport Beach and San Marino. Each one called out, “Hi, Mickey,” “Hi, Dan,” “Call me, Mickey.” Mickey would turn around, raise his arms in triumph, and declare to me, “I dominate!” I certainly agreed. Then “Break On Through” by The Doors came on and Mickey turned around said, “ ‘Break On Through,’ The Doors first album, 1967, produced by Paul Rothchild, released by Elektra Records.’ ” He had perfect recall of anything to do with rock music or Hollywood films.

One time I had a night class and met Mick at a place called the 502 Club. He was chatting amiably with a lovely young coed, and motioned me over.

“Steve, meet Jennie,” he said.

We said hello, and then Mickey leaned over and stage whispered, “As in Jennie Nicholson, Jack’s daughter.”

At that point I smoothly said something like, “Hey Billy, you can’t be serious you’re in here voluntarily. A young guy like you oughtta be out ‘bird doggin’ chicks.” 

Having heard all of this many times before Jennifer rolled her eyes and left.

“Very smoothly handled,” said the Mickster.

I became a graduate assistant baseball coach in the USC program and one time walked into the trainer’s room, only to see Mickey seriously wooing a six-foot female freshman track star who really did not know what hit her. We would go to bars and Mickey would hit on all the girls, and if at the end of the evening he was still without company he would make a call and one of his lovelies would show up ready for “booty call.” 

On another occasion he and I were walking on campus when a pretty girl approached him and asked, “Did you play baseball at Redwood High School?”

“I was Redwood baseball,” he replied. 

Another time Mickey came into the 502 Club with his baseball pals. An attractive waitress walked up to him and said, “Hi, I thought I should introduce myself since you’ve been telling everybody we’ve been sleeping together.”

Mick just laughed it off, unfazed and unembarrassed. This kind of boast was expected of him; whether it was true or not was immaterial. It was always amusing.

But his parents managed to embarrass him in a way he never could himself. This time it was Jack. He had divorced June the minute Mick graduated from Redwood and had taken up with a black woman, who he brought to Dedeaux Field one day. Mickey’s teammates called her “Aunt Jemimah.” Mickey was mortified for once. 

Unfortunately, Mickey lacked work ethic on the field. A star in his sophomore year, he struggled in his junior and senior seasons, years in which his teammates included Mark McGwire, Randy “the Big Unit” Johnson and Jack del Rio. He did not do his running, never lifted weights, and was a slacker. He was highly competitive in games but alcohol and drug use began to take its toll. Other less gifted but more dedicated pitchers took his place in the starting rotation. The Los Angeles Times took to calling him “the enigma.” 

In 1983 the Seattle Mariners made him a low draft pick, paid him a modest bonus, and sent him into their farm system, where he lasted a couple of lackluster years. Once a surefire big league prospect, a Cy Young award talent, he was released and out of baseball. 

Despite his intellect he never came close to getting his degree, having wasted a valuable private school scholarship on easy classes. He took so many film courses he could have graduated from the Cinema-TV School, but never did. 

Over the next two decades, I had little contact with Mickey. Most of what I knew about him came from our mutual friend Kevin McCormack. They even roomed together in San Jose for awhile. 

One day Kevin’s computer was stolen. Suspecting Mickey, he scoured the San Jose Mercury-News want-ads until he found an item describing his computer, with Mick’s phone number.  

Naturally Mickey thought Bill Clinton was just wonderful. One good thing I could say about him, however, was that Mickey never harbored any racist tendencies.

Mick worked in a bank vault for a time, which was like hiring Willie Sutton. He told his friend he was stealing money but had a system in place in which he would not be caught, which he never was.

“It’s really pretty easy when you get past the morality of it,” he told his friend.

Mickey always had girlfriends and wives. He was married three or four times, I really do not know for sure, but would still sleep with exes even after hooking up with new girls. These girls, always lookers, would come to Kevin with sob stories. 

“I thought he really loved me.”

Poor Mac could not think of anything much to say. That was Mickey.

For some reason he gravitated to the San Jose area. Mac said he liked to pick up on “slutty Mexican chicks in the bars down there.” 

But he always managed to make good money. This was a real mystery to me. He lacked work ethic, had not graduated from college, and had no real resume, but he could talk his way into anything. He settled into a job as a counselor at the Silicon Valley School of Technology in Fremont. This puzzled me no end.

He was not a tech guy, had not learned to code as best I could tell, and was the least academic person ever, yet he was entrusted with counseling students on a future in the Silicon Valley chip industry. The whole time he was there, Mick would call Mac and boast, “I took the afternoon off to play golf,” or to hook up with some hottie in a hotel or some such thing.

As best I could tell he seemed always playing hookie from work, yet held that job for years making decent money, which he spent as fast as he made it.

In 1995 I saw Mickey after June’s funeral. He looked fantastic, with his great hair and his fine threads, hitting on the waitress in the bar we were at. Nothing had changed. But at some point his employer had enough and he was fired. This was when my friend Don Rasmussen, a fellow Redwood star athlete, saw him at a Rolling Stones concert, reporting that he looked shockingly bad. He was stumbling, spilling the beers he carried, and seemed to have aged 20 years overnight.

He had cirrhosis of the liver. 

Around 2003, Mac visited him and was shocked at what he saw. He was dying and he knew it. He was unemployed with no money, but somehow landed a job selling used cars in Tyler, Texas, the hometown of ex-football great Earl Campbell. A few of his close friends put him on a bus, and he was described to me as “going to Texas to die.”

This was when I wrote an article for TheAmericanReporter.com about Mickey’s up-and-down life. I had previously written about Mickey in Barry Bonds: Baseball’s Superman, since he had squared off against Bonds numerous times in USC-Arizona State games. Word came back to me that Mickey felt I was “obsessed” with him, probably jealous because he was a far greater high school pitcher than I, even though I was probably a better college and professional pitcher, since I had total work ethic and made full use of my less impressive talents. 

Once a Marin I.J. columnist wrote about me, calling me the former “ace” of the Redwood Giants. Meister had sought me out in a bar and made a big deal of calling anybody but himself “ace.” But he had the gift of self-contemplation when he told somebody, “Travers may be obsessed with me but every word he writes is true!”

The truth is, I was then and still am, if not “obsessed” with Mickey, remain totally fascinated. He was a conundrum, a “question mark wrapped inside an enigma.” As a writer he was an unsolved mystery.

But this is not the end of the story; not quite yet.

After some months, maybe a year or so into his time in Texas, I began to get emails. These emails – there were probably between five and 10 of them – basically said something like this:

    Hello, my name is (name). I have a (sister/friend/co-worker) who works with/knows a man     named Mickey Meister. I found an article you wrote about him. I have concerns. My     (sister/friend/co-worker) is not very attractive and frankly is a member of the “lonely heart’s     club,” yet this man named Mickey has shown inordinate romantic attention towards her. He     claims to have a PhD from USC and to have pitched in the Major Leagues. My (sister/friend/co-    worker) meets him every day at TGIFriday’s where she has set up an account that allows this     Mickey fella to eat and drink all day every day at my (sister/friend/co-worker’s) expense. When     I confront her she just says, “I’m in love with Mickey,” and insists he loves her. Can you tell me     if this man can be trusted?”  

Well, as you can imagine, I generally would email these people that Mickey could not be trusted, that while I liked him and considered him a friend, he was a deeply flawed human being. I would not trust him. I would not leave my wallet around him. It was rumored that at USC he had stolen money from the purses of girls left in a spare room at frat parties. At my own wedding a lady guest had money stolen, I suspect by Mickey. Kevin McCormack had caught him stealing his computer red-handed.

Not wanting to be the only disparager of his character, I offered the email addresses of some of Mick’s other friends. One concurred with me, telling somebody he could not be trusted and for the girl in question to get as far away from him as possible, and he was one of his best friends. This was just the Mickey Meister equation. The best anybody could say of the guy was that he was a “complex personality.”

Finally in 2006, he returned “home” to the Bay Area, and the plot continued to thicken. He came back with a wife, one of the girls from Tyler, who claimed they loved each other very much. He was at the very end and soon died. The one glimmer of hope I can report is that one of his best friends recited the Lord’s Prayer with him at his bedside. Oh God, I do truly pray that Mickey meant those words and, if so, that he is saved. As they say, there are no atheists in fox holes.

Then I started getting more emails, this time from one of Mickey’s wives; my guess would be the third of four including the last one from Texas. She excoriated me for writing of Mickey’s character flaws in my 2003 TheAmericanReporter.com story. I was, she said, “judgmental,” and not Christian. She claimed she was a devout Christian, which seemed really weird to me. Mickey married a devout Christian.? She said she had tried to convert Mick, but at one point suspected he was “the devil.”

But she still loved him, even after they divorced, and when Mickey and his Tyler bride came back, they apparently stayed in this ex-wife’s Fremont house, at least for a time. That seemed really complicated to me.  

I emailed the lady back that she had me all wrong; I too was a Christian, and I had written the article in part to get Mickey to acknowledge his sins and hopefully attain salvation (which as it turns out he may have done). She remained skeptical until Mick’s memorial service, held on the Redwood High baseball diamond. 

I wore a “Jesus Saves” t-shirt and offered a prayer in his memory. Apparently the Texas wife reported back to the Fremont wife that I had been a perfect gentleman whose Christian faith was not an act.

Which brings me to the next phase of this strange tale. The Fremont wife became, how do I say this, obsessed with me! Maybe that is too strong a statement, but she flooded me with emails and some phone calls offering to buy me dinner, to meet her, et al. She began to call me a “man of the mind,” a phrase from Ayn Rand.

To my way of reasoning, I had become a replacement for Mickey; a tall former Redwood pitcher, like Mick a USC guy, like Mick an ex-pro player, but unlike him, a successful writer and honest Christian. 

It was around this time that I published a very successful book on USC football history, and did a lengthy book tour that took me all over the Bay Area and Los Angeles. I showed up to sign at a Barnes & Noble in Fremont and sure as heck, Mickey’s ex-wife was there. She was about 40 and frankly quite stunning. In her youth she surely had been a beauty queen, and she was still very well put together. He hair was expertly coiffed, and she wore a tight address accentuating beautiful curves.

She introduced herself to me and I was speechless. I really did not know what to say. Had I desired to, I am sure I could have had a passionate and maybe even wonderful relationship with her. Maybe I could have found love, which I have found to be elusive since my marriage failed in the 1980s. I have made bad choices regarding women, choosing ladies for their looks, not their morals. Here was one with good looks and good morals as best I could tell, but I found it off-putting and did not encourage her much.

Still, she showed up at another signing in Corte Madera, near where I live. She was again gorgeously attired. My parents, my daughter, and several of Mick’s friends were at that signing. Everybody wondered who she was and why she was there. I had no real explanation. I never pursued her and she stopped contacting me. I hope she is doing well. She was a good person looking for love like anybody else. 

I saw to it Mick had a worthy obituary in the local paper and arranged for a moment of silence in his memory at a USC baseball game. I also nominated and helped elect him into the Marin Athletics Hall of Fame. At events I still ask that we remember our old friend and teammate. 

Among my many Redwood and USC friends Mickey Meister stories are long and wild tales told out of school; of a young buck roaming the West with a fiery heater, the gift of gab and enough charisma to light the Hollywood sign. He remains a subject I desire to write about; a book, a movie, a documentary?

Rest in peace, brother.

Steven Travers is a former screenwriter who has authored over 30 books including the brand new Best Sports Writing Ever and Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now (2016). One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation (2007) is currently under development. He is a USC graduate and attorney with a Ph.D who taught at USC and attended the UCLA Writers’ Program. He played professional baseball, served in the Army JAG corps in D.C., was in investment banking on Wall Street, worked in politics, lived in Europe, and was a sports agent before finding his calling as a writer. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, L.A. Times, StreetZebra, Gentry magazine, Newsmax and MichaelSavage.com. He lives in California and has one daughter, Elizabeth. He can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com or on Twitter @STWRITES.

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