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Dave Cash

October 19, 2006

“That’s strange. All the sudden I don’t feel like myself.” — Daffy Duck

But why would someone want to be an imposter? Perhaps it’s a way to feel a sense of control over the inherently transitory nature of life. Everything changes, so maybe it’s comforting or empowering to feel like the most intimate change possible, that of your identity, is something you can engineer. As a kid I often toyed with the idea of shucking my often burdensome identity as a Red Sox fan to become a supporter of the team that played in a domed stadium that was almost exactly as close to my Central Vermont home as Fenway Park (according to Google maps, the difference is less than two miles), vowing to become a Montreal Expos fan on the many occasions when the seemingly insurmountable (i.e., unchangeable) in-game or even divisional leads of the Red Sox melted like popsicles dropped on hot pavement. I think these vows, which I never really believed in, were ways to fantasize about

a) hurting the Red Sox as they had hurt me, as if Carl Yastrzemski would weep inconsolably and Dick Drago would attempt to harm himself and Fred Lynn would begin questioning the existence of God, etc., when news of my defection reached Yawkey Way, and

b) entrusting my psychic health to the stable if unremarkable fortunes of a team that had never won anything, rarely threatened to win anything, and, as it turned out, never would win anything before in essence ceasing to exist. Painless, in a way, or so it seemed.

(Thinking of what did eventually become of them makes me wonder now whether the Expos, by moving their franchise out of Montreal and changing their name to the Washington Nationals, have in fact completely ceased to exist. If not, what’s left of them? In George Saunders’ story “Brad Carrigan, American”–from his brilliant new book, In Persuasion Nation–a character who gets written out of a television show attempts to hang on to his identity by repeating his own name while floating in “the bland gray space he’s heard about all his life, the place one goes when one is Written Out.” He knows that he will eventually exit the grayness to come back to life as a completely different character, and he senses that if he doesn’t hold tight to his identity he will have no memory of ever being Brad Carrigan, American. But he allows his mind to wander to certain reminders of the immense worldwide suffering that went on at the borders of the profoundly insipid sit-com that had until moments before made up his entire world. He thinks of people killed in a horrific Central European slaughter and of starving children from the Philippines–“The poor things, he thinks.”–and the digression from the simple repetition of his name is enough to doom his attempt to hang on to his identity in the midst of the obliterating grayness of his purgatory. The story concludes:

“He is going, he realizes.

“He is going, and he will not be coming back as Brad.

“He must try to at least retain this feeling of pity. If he can, whoever he becomes will inherit this feeling, and be driven to act on it, and will not, as Brad now sees he has done, waste his life on accumulations, trivia, self-protection, and vanity.

“He tries to say his name, but has, apparently, forgotten his name.

“‘Poor things,’ he says, because these are now the only words he knows.”

So maybe, similarly, somewhere deep within the Washington Nationals is the vanished essence of the Montreal Expos uttering the words “Poor things.” I certainly hope this is true, and even if it isn’t, I’m going to believe it is.)

Anyway, though I rooted peripherally for the Expos, I never did dump the Red Sox to become a full-blown Expos fan. I guess I don’t enjoy changing or disguising my identity. (The idea of having to go to a costume party, for example, fills me with dread.) On the contrary, I think when push comes to shove I go to great lengths to reaffirm that my identity is fixed, that even when things are changing all around me there is a central point that cannot change. It’s probably the fiction to which I hold most tightly.

Judging from the look on his face, I think Dave Cash might know what I’m talking about. His expression is a pungently soulful counterpoint to the flat, affectless masks of the chameleon posing as Craig Swan and Carmen Fanzone. He seems acutely and sourly aware of what is happening to him: he is–as I never did–becoming a Montreal Expo before our eyes. Look closely at the unnatural white in his uniform and cap crown, at the unnatural blue on the bill of his cap, and, most especially, at the obvious pen-scribblings on the right half of the M on his cap. One interpretation of this is that Dave Cash moved from the Phillies to the Expos so close to the beginning of the 1977 season that Topps had to doctor their photo of him in a Phillies uniform. But I see this card as something akin to “Duck Amuck,” the immortal Warner Brothers offering in which an unseen cartoonist keeps erasing the scenery around Daffy Duck and replacing it with completely different scenery. In other words, Dave Cash, against his will, is being transported by a possibly inebriated and/or incompetent employee of the Topps art department from his place as an all-star second-baseman on a division-winning Phillies team to an expansion squad in a foreign country with a suffering exchange rate, where he will waste the remainder of his prime toiling on fraying Astroturf in front of the empty plastic seats of a dome that will echo quietly with muttered Gallic curses that Dave Cash will be able to understand in his bones even though he doesn’t speak a word of French.

Why would someone want to be an imposter, to create and inhabit the persona of someone they’re not, to for once take the reigns of ceaseless change? I’m not really sure. But ask Dave Cash. He might know.

8 comments

  1. 1.  To me, it looks as though someone, perhaps a lowly ballboy, just off camera, has cut a fart, and that Dave is just now smelling it, and that, when this photo taking is done, he is going to lay a serious beat-down on that person.


  2. 2.  Actually Cash left the Phils as a free agent – the 1976-77 offseason featured one of the wildest free-agency free-for-alls ever, I think because it was the first one after the Messersmith decision – so it’s a stretch to say he changed his identity against his will. On the other hand, his career with the Expos was a big disappointment. His only two full .300 seasons, & his only three all-star appearances, came with the Phillies; he never hit better than .289 in a full season in Montreal. He spent one disappointing year in SD, then was cut before the 1981 season. So maybe he has that expression because, a split-second before the shutter snapped, he glimpsed his future.

    His replacement with the Phils was the forgettable Ted Sizemore, and maybe his departure explains why they didn’t get to the WS the next three seasons. So the future looked bleak all around.


  3. 3.  The Expos died several times. They died on august 12 1994, they died on april 5 1995 when the trade of John Wetteland started the great fire sale, Grissom was traded the following day and Walker signed with the Rockies two days later. Yet, they only missed the playoffs by two games in 1996. There was hope. Then the Expos really died to me : on november 18 1997 the Expos, nos zamours, traded the greatest pitcher who ever played the game to the Boston Red Sox for… well they could have traded him for two bags of balls it would not have made much of a difference. I guess I’m complaining for nothing, when you get the greatest pitcher ever for Delino DeShields, you can’t really expect the baseball gods to give you much more in return, but still it was Pedro. After I heard the news on TV, it was over, the Expos were dead. Vlad was still there, but it was only a matter of time before he took the same path as the others. Things were broken never to be the same. I can root for players even if I know they will leave if there is hope they can win it all before leaving. With Vlad it was just a waste of talent.

    And to finally answer your question Josh, except for a funny cap on Gary Carter’s head on a plaque in Cooperstown there is nothing left of the Expos there should not be anything left either. The Nationals are a new franchise, they don’t need old, dusty and powder blue memories. Just that weird logo on Carter (and hopefully Raines)on plaque in some museum, a few pictures there and there maybe a story about El Presidente’s perfect game or about the time Steve Rogers outpitched Steve Carlton twice in the same playoff series. The Expos will live the way the cleveland Spiders live, but it’s not the same thing as “existing” there is no present, just past and fewer and fewer people to remember it. May the Expos rest in peace, they deserved better.


  4. 4.  3 : I love to hear thoughts about the Expos, so thanks for those deep ones, JP246.

    As a secondary level Expos fan (i.e., they were a team I always rooted for but never lived and died with) I have to defer to the real Expos fans on this, but I hope on some level the team isn’t dead and that it never dies. Like Faulkner said: “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”


  5. When I was a kid, I recall thinking about Cash’s 1975 season. Wow, 699 AB’s and 213 hits?! I recall punching the numbers into the old over-sized calculator: .304721. Over the years, jokingly I fooled children, my kids and even girlfriends. I tell them how smart I am at math. They of course doubt me and laugh. And, then I challenge them. I say, “You grab the calculator and I’m going to throw some numbers out there and I’ll give you the answer.” “OK, ya right,” I would hear. I tell them, “punch in, oh I don’t know, say 213 divided by . . . um, how about 699.” They punch it in. I tap my temple a little and then say, “Uh, the answer is . . . it’s .304721. Correct?” They always respond, “What?! How did you do that?! Do it again, do it again!” Of course I refuse, but all the while laughing and smiling. ;)


  6. A note on Canada having a “suffering exchange rate,” according to historical exchange rate charts (i.e. this one on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CAD_USD_Exchange_Rates.png), Dave arrived at a time when the Canadian dollar was worth more than the US dollar…yet it dropped off considerable the following decade…

    …maybe the free agent signing of Dave Cash crashed the Canadian economy? Food for thought.


  7. oops, the bracket went with the link there.

    Link unbroken:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CAD_USD_Exchange_Rates.png


  8. Horks,

    That’s an excellent point as far as the exchange rate goes, and it’s a factor that never received enough attention when people discuss the history of the Expos.

    I remember there was an excellent article on this subject in the New York Times during the late 90’s. Basically the article was pointing out how difficult is was for the the Expos and Blue Jays to compete for free agents when they have to deal with a poor exchange rate.

    The only thing that saved the Blue Jays was the opening of the “Skydome” in 1989 which was the first modern cash-cow ballpark. This essentially offset the poor exchange rate.

    As far as Cash goes, Basilisc referred to Cash’s tenure with the Expos as a “Big Disappointment”. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of Cash’s 3 years with the Expos.

    In 1977 he hit: .289/.343/.375, which were essentially his career numbers up until that point and actually improved his slugging percentage by .40. Those were very good offensive numbers for a second basemen back in the 70’s. Plus he hit a career mark 42 doubles which ranked him 2nd in the N.L.

    1978 was a disappoint as his numbers dropped severely.

    1979 was a pivotal year for the Expos and Cash was limited to 200 P.A. I don’t remember if he was injured or what the story was but he hit .321/.358/.422 for the season in a limited role. Maybe it was because they had Rodney Scott, but seriously giving Scott 645 plate appearances with a .238/.319/.294, and batting him second no less was a horrible decision. One of the all time worst blunders. And Williams did the same thing in 1980!!!

    The Expos only lost the East by 2 games in ’79, giving Cash 30-50 more plate appearances instead of Scott wins the division. Hell, batting Scott 8th probably wins the division.

    Who knows they win in ’79 or ’80 they might still be in Montreal.



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