Mario Guerrero, 1976November 22, 2006
So who is the all-time greatest player to be named later? That is, who most fully embodies the disembodied nameless faceless procrastinating essence of human driftwood embedded in the term player to be named later? The Harry Chiti transaction pointed out by my esteemed colleague, Pete Millerman, in the comments section attached to yesterday’s post certainly bears repeating in any attempt to determine the answer to this question. The Harry Chiti page on Baseball-Reference.com (sponsored, somehow touchingly, by someone named Jo Chiti) summarizes the infamous boomeranging of Harry Chiti with brutal brevity:
April 26, 1962: Purchased by the New York Mets from the Cleveland Indians.
June 15, 1962: Returned to the Cleveland Indians by the New York Mets following previous purchase.
Man. That’s tough to beat, especially since the team, the 1962 New York Mets, that preferred the absence of Harry Chiti to the presence of Harry Chiti is often celebrated as the worst team in the history of major league baseball. Add to that the fact that Harry Chiti had earlier in his career been a player to be named later in a deal to a team, the New York Yankees, that stashed him like a stack of old magazines in the cellar of the minor leagues for a couple years before allowing him to be scavenged in the Rule V draft by the awful 1957 Kansas City A’s, and I think we may be talking about the Babe Ruth of players to be named later.
However, I believe Mario Guerrero also deserves consideration. I realize I have a personal bias in this matter, as I derived comfort throughout my often solitary childhood from the near-continuous, albeit transitory, presence of Mario Guerrero. But it has become clear to me in retrospect that Mario Guerrero’s continuous presence at my side was haunted every step of the way by the specter of the player to be named later. Guerrero, shown here in his 1976 card, had been traded from the Red Sox to the Cardinals before the previously considered Mario Guerrero card, from 1975, ever reached my hands. He did not come to the Cardinals as the player to be named later, but was instead traded straight up for a player to be named later.
I find this somewhat chilling. You see, the player to be named later clause is generally added to a deal with other principles, other named players going back and forth between teams, but in this case there were no other principles. There was only Mario Guerrero, who though seemingly a useful, spirited reserve was offered to the Cardinals for nobody. Here, take him, the Red Sox said. Just take him. Maybe later sometime you can send us somebody. Or not. Whatever. We don’t really care.
By the time this card came into my possession, my family had made another move, which I’ve described in further detail elsewhere, from bucolic Randolph Center, Vermont, to the bully-glutted unofficial northeastern United States’ capital of defunct gravel pits, East Randolph, Vermont, and I had begun attending a hippie-run multiage class based on the experimental free-school philosophy of learning what you want to learn when you want to learn (but only if you want to learn). Right now I don’t feel like getting into who broke whose glasses and who called who a pansy, a faggot, a tard, a pussy, a queerbate, and, somehow worst of all, a dufus, but suffice it say that the regular kids in the school, the ones with their desks in straight rows, did not lend full support to our utopian experiment.
Anyway, in the summer after that first school year, the Cardinals completed the Mario Guerrero deal. There was the possibility, of course, that Mario Guerrero could have joined Harry Chiti at the very pinnacle of dubious transactions by being the player the Cardinals sent to the Red Sox to complete their acquisition of Mario Guerrero. This did not occur; instead, the player to be named later turned out to be a man named Willoughby.
As anyone who has ever gotten a new year off to a roaring start by staring at hour after hungover hour of a New Year’s Day Twilight Zone
Marathon knows, the word Willoughby carries an especially disquieting resonance, particularly when used in terms of some sort of tradeoff. In the episode entitled “A Stop at Willoughby,” a town with the same name as the player to be named later in the 1976 Mario Guerrero deal shimmers into existence as the final impossible refuge of a man who, according to Rod Serling (who would understand as well as anyone the existential implications of the concept of the player to be named later), is “protected by a suit of armor held together by one bolt.
“Just a moment ago,” Serling continues, “someone removed the bolt, and [his] protection fell away from him and left him a naked target. He’s been cannonaded this afternoon by all the enemies of his life. His insecurity has shelled him, his sensitivity has straddled him with humiliation, his deep-rooted disquiet about his own worth has zeroed in on him, landed on target, and blown him apart.”
This man, who at thirty-eight happens to be exactly my age, ends up becoming more and more enamored of exchanging everything he has for what seems to be the long-sought completion of a trade he actually made long ago, subconsciously, pummeled by the slings and arrows of this world, for a yearning to be named later, a wondrous refuge of “sunlight and serenity,” a town of kindness and calm. Willoughby.
I won’t spoil the ending of the episode, but I do want to point out Mario Guerrero’s expression of unsinkable cheer in the photograph on this 1976 card. Here is the man who was traded for either nothing or for the inhabited malignant phantasm of nothing known as Willoughby. The position on his card–third base–is not even really his position. But he’s not throwing in the towel. Let others give up and get off the train at Willoughby. Mario Guerrero still has some more years to appear on baseball cards to comfort the solitary bespectacled youth of America. Mario Guerrero endures.