h1

Clyde Wright

August 10, 2007
 


Adrift

Chapter 1

Sometimes I can barely tell if I’m awake or sleeping. I get up early and try to grip each day like I’m gripping a baseball but my focus falters and the day swells beyond my grasp, a helium balloon escaping, too big and slippery to hold, floating up and away into the blue or out toward the edge of the blurry horizon. Going, going, gone.

I woke up early this morning and the first thing I focused on was this 1975 Clyde Wright card, its background familiar: a world for directionless wandering. It looked less like a baseball field than a deadened seaside heath creased with sandy meandering paths. The presence of the uniformed player in the foreground made me think that the background was actually some special field designed for a strange mutation of baseball that features several diverging basepaths instead of the familiar unequivocal diamond.

In this mutation baserunners must decide which basepath to run down, some runners by chance choosing a route bringing them back home while others branch off into wider and ever more hopeless digressions. The games never officially end, not really, their box scores always marked with multiple asterisks to signal all the runners still spiraling deeper and deeper into an almost surely inescapable maze of bad choices. These games would only be played in natural light and would end when the sun went down, some runs in, some outs recorded, the voices of the unaccounted echoing back toward the half-empty dugouts in the dusk.

Clyde Wright seems to have some familiarity with the game of shadows and fog apparently set to commence on the field behind him. He has just finished a season in which he won only 9 games and lost 20, and by the time this image of him will appear in packs of baseball cards he will already have been shipped off to the Rangers in exchange for fellow Cardboard God netherworld wanderer Pete Broberg, missing by mere months the chance to be a teammate of a third denizen of the era’s ethereal marginalia, Kurt Bevacqua. In fact, due to a mistake, this card relates the erroneous news that Clyde Wright has never yet officially been a Brewer, his statistics listing all of his seasons including the most recent one as being in the employ of the Angels. In truth he had turned in his fresh 20-loss season for the Brewers, but in the world of this card he is only theoretically a Brewer, and when this conditional status is combined with his impending trade to the Rangers the Clyde Wright of this card becomes someone who is neither here nor there, not an Angel, not a Brewer, not a Ranger. He is nowhere.

You can see by the expression on his face that he doesn’t like this. It will only get worse. Within a year he will be out of the majors, then he will play for a while in Japan, where a predilection for alcohol will bloom into fullblown addiction, that eroding realm where one wrong turn gives way to the next and the next and the next until getting back to where you started begins to seem impossible.

But there is some resolve in Clyde Wright’s face, too. This is after all the first Angel to ever pitch a no-hitter (Correction: As pointed out in the comments below, the great Bo Belinsky actually pitched the first Angels no-hitter.), and the team’s second ever 20-game winner, and still the holder of the franchise record for most wins in a season by a lefty. And this is the man who did in fact fight his way back out of all the wrong turns and spiraling, waning cul de sacs, who eventually got sober (he now runs the Clyde Wright Pitching School back in Anaheim). So even though in the nowhere moment of this card he is on the brink of slipping off into oblivion there is something in his tense features that hints of his unwillingness to quietly disappear. And this troubled battler seems to be pointing.

When I woke up this morning, early, teetering between dream-weighted sleep and an unholdable helium day, my gaze drifted past Clyde Wright toward the background of this card. Clyde Wright was trying to point back into my life.

“Don’t come this way,” he seemed to be saying.

But then again he had his glove hand open and nothing in it, as if he required me to grab hold of the day as if it were a baseball and throw it at his target, as if he required me to not turn around and walk away but rather to join him in his world. The day ended up swelling and slipping from my grasp and here I am, once again, inside another Cardboard God landscape, wandering the labyrinth of paths that all eventually dissolve into infinity beyond the falling Angel.

(continued in Ed Crosby)

7 comments

  1. 1.  Wow

    I can’t wait for chapter two.


  2. 2.  as always, i love your writing, josh. this entry made me want to learn more about Clyde Wright – and i thought you might be interested in this…from wikipedia:

    “Not long after his release from the Rangers, Wright went to Japan and signed with the Yomiuri Giants. He pitched for them for three seasons, but his stay in Japan almost ended before the first was over. Early in that first season, manager Shigeo Nagashima pulled Wright from a game tied at 1-1 in the sixth inning, after Wright allowed the first two batters to reach base. Wright refused to hand over the ball, then charged off the mound and fired the ball into the dugout. He then went into the clubhouse, where he tore off his uniform and threw it into a bathtub, which gave rise to another nickname, “Crazy Righto.” This nickname stuck with him throughout his stay in Japan. Fans and sportswriters called for Wright’s release, but Nagashima, ironically, defended his pitcher.”

    it would be interesting to learn where these people are NOW.


  3. 3.  I tried to write a comment earlier in the weekend, but it got eaten. Something about the baselines looking like dirt runways for some primitive airport one might have found in “Chariot of the Gods”.


  4. 4.  Great stuff Josh, again.

    My father just passed away, last Tuesday. He too took many, many wrong turns in life. In 1974, he ran away from his wife and four children living in CT, to hitch-hike to FL with his brother, who was also running from his family. While down in FL in early 1975 (the year of this card), the two were on yet another routine drunken binge at the orange grove where they worked. The tenant farmer got tired of their horses-assery, and drilled my uncle in the head with the butt of his gun. My uncle died. If my dad wasn’t screwed up already, this could certainly do it.

    My dad pretty much ignored his kids for the most part, moving all over FL, and GA for years. I found old letters in his disgusting apartment last week in Atlanta. Most of them were from his kids from the 1970s and 1980s, asking when they would hear from him again. And asking if he had changed address again. Scribblings stating how much they loved their father and missed him.

    He could never hold a job, ended up in jail constantly and drank himself foolish. In his Atlanta apartment last week, my siblings and I found a pathetic, and exceptionally sad existence. A sad and lonely man was he. The place was filthy. His neighbors said he had no friends or visitors. He ate alone and stared out the single window, alone, every day and every night. He paid his few utility bills with money orders, because he would always bounce his checks and his accounts were all closed. The last few money orders were entered into an envelope left on the table for mailing, atop a bunch of pepper on the table which was likely from his final meal. His handwriting was horribly shaky.

    He was an old 63, being on over twenty medications. The apartment was loaded with prescribed drugs and needles for him to take insulin shots. Left on the floor was an empty bottle, save for a splash of green at the bottom, of his beverage of choice. CVS Mint-flavored mouthwash. We knew he drank this stuff all the time. I looked at the back of the bottle and read, “21.6% alcohol”. For $1.90, that’s a big bottle of 21.6.

    Many choices. Many years of decision making. Some never find their way.


  5. 5.  4 : Thanks for sharing this, Catfish. Powerful, painful stuff. I’m glad you’ve got your siblings there with you.


  6. 6.  Josh, you’re too good a writer to have people split hairs on you, so I apologize in advance. Belinsky threw the first no-hitter for the Angels.


  7. 7.  6 : Good lord, that is not splitting hairs. How could I forget Bo Belinsky!?! I am ashamed. Thanks for correcting me; I’ll put a correction notice in now.



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