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Denny Doyle

May 30, 2007
 

I Need You

Chapter Four

I.
When I was 21 I followed my college writing teacher to China, where he was scheduled to take part in our college’s teacher exchange program with a Shanghai university. There was no corresponding student exchange program, but my teacher figured I and another guy who decided to tag along could figure something out once we got there. The other student, Jay, wasn’t interested in learning Chinese, so he got a job teaching English. I started taking Chinese classes with a bunch of Japanese guys and a droopy-mustached Hungarian. One evening Jay and I were eating noodles at one of the ephemeral food stands that periodically materialized and disappeared just outside the gates of the university. A Chinese woman walked over and asked if she could practice her English with us.

This was in September 1989, just a couple months after the Chinese government sent in the tanks to snuff out the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing. Shanghai had had similar protests, which had come to a similar end. The mood among Chinese students during my time there seemed bleak and desperate. I need you to teach me English. I need you to help get me out of here.

The woman who spoke with Jay and I at the noodle stand didn’t seem to have the same aura of desperation as some other would-be English practitioners who’d accosted me. She was cheerful and quiet, only asking a couple questions before Jay commandeered the conversation, going off on one of his increasingly frequent impromptu civic lectures to Chinese people on What It Means to Be American. Afterward, Jay and I walked back to the dorm room we shared. We were both major league virgins, but I had at least a couple drunken breast-gropings listed among the otherwise blank sex stats on the back of my imaginary baseball card by then. Jay, a guy who back at our college in Vermont had spent most of days making sarcastic remarks in the campus computer lab and most of his nights playing Dungeons and Dragons, was likely even less experienced than me.

Wow,” Jay said, eyes lit up behind his thick bifocals, his acned face flushed. “She was really something.”

Jay kept talking about her when we got back to our room, lying on his bed and staring starry-eyed up at the ceiling, his hands clasped behind his head. I kept my mouth shut. I’d liked her too. A lot. What was it about her that I liked? Well, maybe I can explain by way of something Larry Fine once said at the end of a Three Stooges episode, when the famed trio of bumbling sado-masochists was for some reason surrounded by adoring members of the fairer sex.

“You’re my type, baby,” Larry said up to his admirer. “A woman.”

So what did I like about her? She was a woman. Plus she was decent-looking and acknowledged my existence. And in China I was even lonelier than I’d been in America. Boom, boom, boom went my heart.

I guess we had some plan to meet up again, all three of us, but for some reason before that the woman, Li Hong, asked me to show her how to play guitar. We went into a park near the school and I strummed my cheap acoustic and sang “Blowin’ in the Wind,” for god’s sake. Then I went back to my room and wrote her a poem. The three of us met up a day or so later, as planned, and Jay again dominated the conversation, sweating nervously as he boomed explanations of such things as the lyrics of Bob Seger and how a bill becomes a law. But then at the end, as Jay and I were saying goodbye to her, I slipped my sappy ode into Li Hong’s hands. She was stunned. So was Jay.

Jay and I walked together back to our dorm. Jay was just kind of shaking his head and laughing bitterly through his nose. He couldn’t look at me, nor I at him.

“Sorry, man,” I mumbled.

II.
Nobody, but nobody, can perform the crouching middle infielder baseball card pose like Denny Doyle. There have been many admirable practitioners of this imitation of ready, steady, utterly lifeless anticipation, many who have brought the necessary “good glove, no hit” standards to their rendition of the pose’s backstory, but Denny Doyle is the best there ever was, the best there ever will be. The 1977 card shown above is a perfect example, in that Doyle’s intense concentration on the task (or lack of a task) at hand has produced the impression that he has literally frozen into his crouch and will be forever unable to move. George Scott will have to be called to pick Denny Doyle up and carry him back to the clubhouse, then carry him back out to second base when the game is about to start.

Doyle lasted eight seasons in the majors, batting .250 with no power, no speed, and little ability to draw more than the occasional walk, in my mind the perfect record for the world’s greatest baseball card croucher. Even his name seems to contribute to the “unity of effect” (to use Poe’s term) for this particular art form. Denny Doyle. He sounds like the harmless, mild-mannered alter ego of a cut-rate superhero whose only power is the ability to turn into a statue.

Denny Doyle had his career year in 1975, when he helped the Red Sox get to the World Series by hitting .310 in 89 games after being traded to the club from the California Angels. Doyle only managed a .513 OPS in the 1975 World Series, but he did get a hit in every one of the seven games played, a perfect Denny Doyle performance in that it was both steady and of negligible worth.

In the ninth inning of Game Six of that classic series, Doyle was thrown out at home by George Foster after tagging up on a fly to foul territory in shallow left. Doyle claimed he’d heard the third base coach Don Zimmer saying “Go, go, go!” Zimmer’s alibi was that he was in fact shouting “No, no, no!”

Either way, I blame Zimmer for the play, which could have easily cost the Red Sox the game (as it turned out, the game, frequently cited as the best ever played, would be won thanks to Dwight Evans’ defensive heroics and Carlton Fisk’s famed foul-pole homer). I have always blamed Zimmer on principle, because I do not like him, but on further inspection it seems there are some actual grounds for this blame. According to a 2005 article by Bruce Markusen, Zimmer had been involved in a similar miscommunication earlier in the series:

In the first inning of Game One, Dwight Evans believed he had heard Zimmer shout “Go!” when the coach had actually yelled “No!” on an infield hit by Fred Lynn. Evans rounded third and ran for home, only to be cut down by Dave Concepcion’s accurate throw to the plate.

This is infuriating to me. Don’t you think a third base coach, after being involved in one key World Series play that went awry via miscommunication, would do everything (or at least something) in his power to see that that same miscommunication was not made again? I mean, how fucking hard would it have been to come up with a word signaling to the baserunner not to run that doesn’t sound amid crowd noise exactly like a word signaling the baserunner to run? What, is third base coaching too demanding a job to allow for such an adjustment? And there seems to have been no owning up by Zimmer to being part of the problem, just an attempt to shuffle the blame off onto Doyle or else just mark it up as “one of those things.” But whatever. Don Zimmer didn’t earn his status as a New England pariah for nothing. A college friend of mine, who was from Maine, once told me that when he and his friends went swimming as kids in the late 1970s they used to run toward the water saying “Last one in is Don Zimmer!

Right after Game Six, Zimmer continued auditioning for the managing job he would eventually earn in time to steer the 1978 Red Sox to one of the biggest collapses in baseball history. In an article by Jim Prime on The Baseball Biography Project, Zimmer nemesis Bill Lee explains:

We were leading 3-0 in Game Seven of the World Series. The Reds had a runner at first in the sixth inning. For some reason, Zimmer waves Denny Doyle a few feet away from second base, making a double play impossible. Sure enough, Johnny Bench hits the ball to Burleson at short and Doyle is out of position to make the pivot. The ball goes by Yastrzemski and Bench is safe at second. I lost it and threw the blooper. Two-run homer. Someone should have come out and calmed me down. No one did. The next inning I get a blister and walk the leadoff man and he scores the tying run. The rest is history, but it should never have reached that point. 

III.
My Chinese girlfriend and I were mashing our faces together while sitting on my dorm bed. It was a few weeks after I’d shoved my poem into her hands. To this point all Li Hong and I had done was kiss, and mostly we’d done that in various parks around town. In fact our first kiss had been at the foot of a giant statue of Chairman Mao. Now we were in a room, alone. My roommate Jay was out somewhere, maybe teaching his class or exploring the city on his bike. I figured I was probably expected to get a little more invasive in my pawings than I had been during our more public displays of affection beneath the blank bronze gaze of various heroes of Communism. So I grabbed clumsily at a couple previously ungrabbed spots. Li Hong didn’t stop me. In fact, she kind of gasped a little, her eyes closed.

“I need you,” she added.

I need you? I thought to myself. That’s kind of an alarming thing to say.

The funny thing is, we’d already said “I love you” at this point. Many times. That phrase was pretty cheaply flung around, the Chinese-English exchange rate on it for me about the same as the actual exchange rate, which allowed the two of us to dine at Shanghai’s finest restaurants practically every night for the approximate price of a Cumberland Farms burrito. I mean, rampant utterances of “I love you” were an integral part of our necessarily childish diction, Li Hong’s rudimentary English and my stunted emotional development coalescing into a shared language suitable for fairy tales. But I need you? That wasn’t suitable for fairy tales at all. That would rip a fairy tale apart at the seams.

I felt, hearing the whispered sentence, something like Denny Doyle must have felt when he saw that foul ball flutter down toward George Foster’s glove in the ninth inning of Game Six. The crowd screaming, the third base coach seeming to say “Go, go, go!”

Go, go, go? Are you serious? You mean now?

“I need you,” Li Hong said.

I’ve ranged around a lot in this long yarn, so maybe the best thing now is to just say it plainly: by the time I was a 21-year-old virgin sex scared the shit out of me. I had always thought it had been the thing I wanted most in the world, but I guess I wanted it abstractly. I wanted it to be some sort of magical gravel pit scenario in which I wasn’t myself and my partner wasn’t really anything more complicated than an exciting idea.

For the previous ten years I had pleaded in my mind, again and again, I need you, I need you, to everyone from Daisy Duke to my sweatsuit-wearing Dorothy-Hamill-haired 10th grade health teacher. Now someone was saying it to me. Someone real.

I made some mumbling excuse about how Jay was probably going to come bumbling through the door at any minute, so that cut short our grope session and saved me from having to respond immediately to Li Hong’s three-word whisper. But shortly thereafter we planned a trip to an island full of Buddhist temples off the coast of Shanghai. We’d be all alone there, no chance of Jay storming into the room while we were in the middle of something. Just the two of us. My stomach hurt in the days leading up to the trip, worse and worse the closer it got.

Go, go, go.

We arrived in the morning. During the day we visited a bunch of the temples. When the sun went down we went back to the hotel. All it took was a few seconds to undo 21 years of virginity. I had a walkman with me, plus a cassette of some benefit concert that included the song “Show Me” by the Pretenders. That’s what I remember most about that night, the solitary aftermath, listening by myself to Chrissy Hynde.

“Welcome to the human race,” she sang.

27 comments

  1. 1.  You are the first person and I would venture a confidant guess only person in the history of the world since the beginning of sex and baseball who tells the story of losing his cherry in the context of a Denny Doyle baseball card and a Don Zimmer miscoach. Johnston State would be proud of you. Vermont is proud of you. I am proud of you.


  2. 2.  Brilliant.


  3. 3.  Yeah, a Thousand Character Classic. :-)


  4. 4.  Great flow of the story, I liked the back and forth. I think any male of age can understand exactly what you are saying here.

    Frequent(everyday) reader, first time commentator. Appreciate your writing style-

    How about Topps using a photo on a 1977 baseball card that is at least from 1976? Look at the background, it is Shea Stadium, circa 1975, when the Yankees played there during the renovation of Yankee Stadium. Bad enough they had to play at Shea, worse to see a bunch of 1976 Yankee card photos taken at Shea-God, the place was a dump then-it has not gotten any better in the ensuing 30 plus seasons since.

    Isn’t half the fun looking at cards seeing what is going on in the background, as you have pointed out many times before. The Pete Broberg commentary(I know, off on a tangent) is a good example(though, of course, nothing at all is going on in that background).


  5. 5.  Fucking awesome! Little I read can make me laugh out loud . . . but, your posts have me cracking up every day. Love it.

    If you think about it, back in the 1970s that is all a young boy thought about . . . baseball cards and girls. Every waking hour, there were only two driving thoughts.

    A 21-year old virgin? Damn, that’s a painful existence. I made it to 15, and couldn’t ever get enough. Your lack of fear to share self-degrading facts is what makes your writing so original and funny.

    Josh, you rock!


  6. 6.  How you tied those two things together was absolutely top notch. Great post.


  7. 7.  1: Thanks for conferring upon me such an honorable distinction, The Mick. What can I say? When I think of sex the first thing that comes to my mind is always Don Zimmer.

    3: “Look at the background, it is Shea Stadium, circa 1975″

    I’ll take your word for that keen observation. I mean it looks like it certainly could be Shea but I can’t clearly call to mind all the other A.L. parks from that era to rule them all out. If that’s true that they had to use a photo that was over a year old that’s pretty funny, if not further evidence that Doyle had indeed frozen himself into an eternal crouch, ruling out his availability for further photo shoots. (Of course it would then be even funnier that nobody noticed for at least a year that Doyle’s play was suffering from premature rigor mortis.)


  8. 8.  Looking at my copy of Green Cathedrals, I found one other stadium from around ’76 that had three decks that ended abruptly in the left field corner: the Big A in Anaheim.


  9. 9.  Now there is something that Roger Angell or Kahn ever managed to do. Make a baseball post sexy. Nice stuff. Kind of like Before Sunrise, if Ethan Hawk was a nerd and Julie Delpy was Chinese.

    My first real girlfriend, who I discussed way back in the annals of thejuiceblog (http://thejuice.baseballtoaster.com/archives/203999.html)
    happened to have 2 Chinese foreign exchange students as roomates.

    This was 1987 and these women seemed frightened to do anything but study, as I guess they worried about being sent back to China. I can remember trying to talk to them about what it was like where they grew up and they barely would speak on the subject. Kind of stuff that does make you appreciate the freedom of speech that Americans have. That was the most jingoistic sentence I’ve ever wrote. Must burn a flag or something to cleanse myself.


  10. 10.  I totaled a Chevy Impala in high school turning left across traffic out of a Wendy’s Restaurant due to the dreaded Go!/No! confusion. Don’t turn left when a tractor trailer is blocking your view of the oncoming left lane and don’t ask your passenger if you should go or not. I got t-boned, my car shot across 4 lanes and I went through the shrubs of the Burger King across the street. Some old dude eating a burger in his car came over to tell me I really should be more careful. I wasn’t 10 seconds removed from almost dying and I had some fart telling me what I did wrong. Thanks for the concern Gramps.

    I remember the Red Sox going from Denny Doyle to Jerry Remy at a time when the AL had a lot of good second basemen (Willie Randolph, Frank White, Lou Whitiker, Bobby Grinch). Other than a year or two of Jody Reed in his prime the Red Sox haven’t had a really good 2B since Bobby Doerr in the 50s.


  11. 11.  Back to the stadium comment,since it has generated some questions.

    It is Shea-No Doubt. Look, if you can magnify the card a bit, at the brick color(beige-ish) above the fence in the LF corner-that is what Shea had in the late 70′s-still does actually, just covered over more now. Also, the scoreboard on the first deck, that may still be there, but at that time, no doubt was there in the 70′s at Shea.

    Also, Topps at that time was still(maybe currently) based out of Brooklyn. Often, many shots of players not based on NY teams were taken at Shea or Yankee stadium for their card sets. Did you ever notice in the 70′s the abundance of players in their away uniforms, but check out Yankee and Met players, they are almost always pictured in their home pinstripes. (I know, there are always exceptions-maybe Topps bought some photos-or actually paid their photog to travel somewhere), but in general, this is the way it was.

    Josh, the comment making Denny’s stance locked into position since 1975 was pretty good.

    I have the Green Cathedrals book also, but because the Big A had 3 decks does not mean this is the Big A. I remember the background of the Big A pretty well from watching the Yankees against the Angels many times out there, and remember the feature there, the actual Big A steel structure that was used to hold the scoreboard behind the left center field fence. (Complete with a halo held by wires around the top of the A).

    Certainly no evidence of that here, it is the Shea light towers in Left Center field.

    Now, back to the real good stuff of the post, I saw a couple of 16 year olds the other day while I was jogging, in that awkward way 16 year olds are trying to hold hands when just starting out on their Mystery Dance.

    Just seeing that, it was the summer of 1982 all over again, kind of when my card days started to run amok. (though, I am lucky enough to say I got my first girlfriend from that time into collecting. She ended up buying a bunch of 83 Fleer-which somehow ended up in my possession before the breakup), haha.


  12. 12.  9: “Kind of stuff that does make you appreciate the freedom of speech that Americans have.”

    I had a similar feeling upon returning from my semester in China, where people were generally afraid to say anything critical of the government. There seemed to be a lot of surveillance going on, too. One American teacher went out to a restaurant one night, and the next morning one of the shady dudes in the school administration office asked him if he enjoyed the food there.

    10: Great story about the ol’ nonono/gogogo, joejoejoe.

    Also, “Bobby Grinch” is the typo I’ve enjoyed the most since comment 1, in which The Mick 536 identified my college, Johnson State, as “Johnston” State, which made me wish I’d gone to a college named after the legendary bass player for Giant Prospects (http://tinyurl.com/2y5b36). From now on I’m imagining that that is in fact the case, and that there was a statue of Greg Johnston’s scraggly likeness in the center of campus near where I used to ride out my pot highs playing hacky sack.

    As for Red Sox second-sackers, I agree, though I’d hold that Marty Barret rates a mention alongside Jody Reed and Jerry Remy as the guys who’ve risen a little above the 1990s temp workers such as Luis Alicea, Mike Benjamin, and Rey Sanchez. But yeah, second base has always been the biggest no-brainer when filling in the Red Sox all-time all-star team. Nobody’s ever come close to Bobby Doerr (though vacant-eyed Mark Bellhorn deserves special mention for being the starter during The Year).

    11: Thanks for the excellent sleuthing and interesting points about the predominance of New York based photos on the Topps cards, TRA.

    Funny that you mention the Mystery Dance. When I’d started writing the “I Need You” posts I was going to try to quote from Elvis Costello’s “Black and White World.” But “Mystery Dance” works pretty well, too:

    “Well, I remember when the lights went out/ And I was tryin’ to make it look like it was never in doubt/ She thought that I knew, and I thought that she knew/ So both of us were willing, but we didn’t know how to do it.”


  13. 13.  I agree — that’s Shea. Same shot taken today would reveal a gigantic Dunkin Donuts coffee cup above Doyle’s right shoulder.

    Occurs to me now that the child Chrissy Hynde sings to in “Show Me” is now at least 20 years old.


  14. 14.  Topps must have had some photographers in the Bay Area, too, because there are also many baseball card pictures that were taken at the Oakland Coliseum and at Candlestick.


  15. 15.  Pete Runnells may have been the best post-Doerr Red Sock 2baseman; at least offensively. Defensively, I don’t know, but he spent alot of time at first instead of second. That’s not good. That’s Offermanesque.


  16. 16.  In honor of pennant-winner Denny Doyle (and Mike Andrews, who manned the spot for the ’67 champs), here are the 2nd basemen of the long ago Red Sox glory years:

    Hobe Ferris-Starter in 1903 (champs of first AL-NL World Series) and 1904 (champs of AL; McGraw of NL champ Giants refused to play World Series). In ’03 deciding game, light-hitting Ferris drove in all 3 runs.

    Steve Yerkes-Starter on 1912 squad, the best Red Sox team ever. He drew a walk and scored winning run in bottom of 10th in game 7 of World Series.

    Jack Barry-former member of A’s “$100,000 infield” (as a shortstop), Barry was the starter at 2nd for champs in 1915. He was also the starter in 1916 regular season but Hal Janvrin played second during the team’s second consecutive World Series win.

    Dave Shean-Journeyman had career year as Bosox starter in 1918, then hit .140 the next year, his last.


  17. 17.  Josh,

    Didn’t realize you were an EC fan, obviously you got the Mystery Dance reference. Black and White world, there is a goodie off of Get Happy!!


  18. 18.  goddmamn that’s beautiful! i’ve spent a long time in asia, currently live in Qingdao, and have had more than a few romantic liasons with Chinese women. so this is poingnant for me, and very well written. i’ve really been enjoying all of your posts on these famous, infamous and not so famous cardboard gods. thanks! rgds, will


  19. 19.  18 Thanks for checking in from the other side of the world, Will! I’m curious, any signs of baseball over there? (I played in one pickup game over there, with a bunch of Japanese guys.)


  20. 20.  no josh, not where i live which is surprising considering there are a huge number of koreans living here in qingdao and they love their baseball. i haven’t seen a single ballfield in this city…hell, i haven’t even seen one in this country, though i played some softball in Taipei for a year or two. the women’s softball team for China isn’t bad. they held their own in the World Cup last summer. there is apparently some instructional baseball over here but perhaps it’s in Beijing. a friend of mine is the Asia scout for the Mariners and he says there are some ballplayers here but still pretty raw. rgds, will


  21. This is brilliant! Also, as a side note, I realize that long ago it was established that this card was taken at Shea stadium but as a long time Mets fan I am mildly(extremely) offended that some people could not recognize that beautiful ballpark that now lives in our memories. Josh, you should have been able to see that just to the left of Doyle’s right shoulder is the auxiliary scoreboard where Dave Henderson’s home run in the tenth
    inning of Game Six ’86 Series caromed before coming back on the field and setting off some seriously premature celebrating. SHEA LIVES!


  22. Shea definitely lives in my mind–I’ve enjoyed more games there than any ballpark except Fenway, but one thing I’ve realized while doing these posts is that, compared to many other fans, I don’t have a very keen architectural memory when it comes to looking at these photos. (Also, you mention something called “the ’86 Series” but according to my memory, the 1986 season ended with the Red Sox beating the California Angels for the AL Pennant. I believe they decided not to play a World Series that year, a la 1904.)


  23. Beautiful Josh. Makes me want to loosen up the shoulder and head off to Denny Doyle Camp, looking for co-eds.

    Way to include Marty (brother of Tom) Barrett.

    …and from the angle of Topps esoterica, I had long wondered what park this was. The posts visible over his shoulder and the decking above the other are visible in probably 70% of the 1971 set, just to name one… one….


  24. Jesus, my greatest baseball memory- Dave Henderson, defensive goat-turned-hero. Reggie all confident in the dugout- but it didn’t look like THAT Shea at all….


  25. …and I am aware that game didn’t happen at Shea, but I’ve been looking at more cars-they took almost EVERY pic there!!!!!


  26. cards, that is.


  27. I’d say this was before the 7/27/75 doubleheader sweep of the Yanks. Doyle only played with the Sox at Shea in two series, one the very rainy one in September in which only one game was played (a night game anyway), and the July weekend series. So it has to be July (the shadow also helps this argument), and since Almanac.com says there was a half-inch of rain on the Saturday, I’d say this blue-skied day was Sunday, July 27th. (B-R does show “sunny” at start time for both days, and Central Park had 0.0 inches on the Saturday, so the LGA .051 of precip could’ve been a mistake, but still, I’m going with Sunday.) (Also, wish I’d been here for the original Shea discussion–clearly Shea!)



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