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Dick Sharon

September 18, 2007
 

When I was a kid I hated that I had Jew blood in me. My brother often checked out large library books about World War II and left them lying around open to photos of concentration camp corpse-mounds. He also bought a lot of comics set in World War II: Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury and His Howlin’ Commandos, Weird War Tales. Every so often the Jews would make an appearance in the panels as background for the tales of heroic American conquest, and they’d be emaciated and hollow-eyed, penned up in filthy cells or jammed like cattle into train cars or lined up meekly for the gas chamber. That’s what the Jews were, as far as I knew. Thin gray prison-clothed victims.

Why didn’t they fight back? I wondered. It made me angry. How could they just line up to die?

My father had been raised in a strict Orthodox home, but by the time he met and married a shiksa, my mom, he had become completely irreligious (unless you’re a big fan of irony and want to count his passionate adherence to the theories of religion’s most famous critic, Karl Marx, as religion). There were no traces of Jewish life in my upbringing, and even if my father had lived with us I don’t think it would have been different. There were no traces of Jewish life in his tiny apartment in Manhattan, either, though I subconsciously came to think of everything in the apartment as Jewish, from the relative lack of furniture to the fact that he kept his small black-and-white television in the closet, rarely watching it, to his crude cinder block and board bookcases, to the yellowing Ellis Island photos in the hollow of a cinder block of his mother and father, to the persistent smell of garlic, to the giant jar of wheat germ in the refrigerator.

Occasionally my father would take my brother and me to see his mother, our grandma, and it was like venturing to the very source of the garlicky strangeness and unfamiliarity that permeated everything in my father’s apartment, like going to the very heart of Jewness. I was frightened of her. She had a strange accent and was tiny and hunched and impossibly old. My father, perhaps wary of revealing to my brother and me that he was a good deal older than my mother, had always tried to evade our questions about his age by saying he was “a googol” (which he explained was a number far larger than a billion). It was one of those slippery pieces of childhood info that you neither fully believe nor disbelieve. But if he was a googol, his mother, the stooped woman who constantly forced mysterious and complicated Old World food on me, must have been infinity.

“Eat! Eat!” she implored. The bowl of homemade soup in her ancient veined hands roiled with thick gray noodles and gristle. I clamped my lips tight and shook my head no. No, no, no.

When I was around her I wanted to go back home. Back to my Chips Ahoys and Spaghettios. Back to television sit-coms and baseball. Back to my painless solitary hours in my room. Back to the nerf-soft confines of my daydreams. Back to the Cardboard Gods.

I had no idea that the one Cardboard God who seems to have made the most visits to me, with five, had a Jewish father. Just like me. (Just like Skip Jutze, too, according to Baseball Almanac. And just like Ryan “The Hebrew Hammer” Braun.) I doubt I paid much mind to any of the five 1975 Dick Sharon cards that came into my life, except perhaps to become mildly annoyed that the guy kept clogging up my new packs with his repeating self. (I doubt I even noticed the shadow of the Topps photographer visible in the picture, possibly the only time one of the medievally anonymous artisans responsible for creating the Cardboard God universe appears in any form in one of their images.)

As far as I knew there were not, nor never had been, Jewish baseball players. I knew from studying the baseball encyclopedia who Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg were, but I didn’t know they were Jewish. From what I’d seen from my father Jews couldn’t even throw a baseball. They were also generally uncoordinated and pale. You’d hear them from time to time slipping and falling in the bathtub. They drove cars slowly and jerkily, their citified shoulders tensed. They listened to classical music and wore thick glasses and button down shirts and ties. They had jobs with titles so long they were impossible to understand.

They were certainly not the dashing figure presented above in quintuplet. Dick Sharon’s chiseled jaw, his drooping Marlboro Man stache, his steely gaze and swaggering body language and smile: they all exude dashing athletic aptitude and confidence. On the back of the card, Sharon is described as a “sure-handed flyhawk.” I doubt I even really understood what this meant, but it probably sounded to me like something that could have been used to describe one of Sgt. Rock’s brave men or one of Sgt. Fury’s colorful and able Howlin’ Commandos. I focused my twisted attention on imagined heroes battling for victory and glory. In these imaginings the Jews were barely there at all, just figures in the background, weak and capitulatory. I tried to believe I had nothing to do with them.

Why didn’t they fight back? I still wondered sometimes, unable to completely get them out of my mind. How could they just line up to die?

I’ve learned some things since then. I learned my father’s oldest brother, Joe, joined the Navy soon after Pearl Harbor and saw heavy combat in the South Pacific. I learned my father’s other brother, Dave, joined the Navy too, as soon as he was old enough, and when my father was old enough he also joined, all three of my grandma’s sons away from her embrace, prepared to fight. There is a picture from that time of her with my father and my Uncle Joe, both home on leave. My uncle looks Dick Sharon-dashing in his tailored combat-used sailor uniform, while my daydreaming scholar father, barely out of his teens, looks in his baggy ill-fitting standard issue sailor uniform like he is moments away from inadvertently tripping over something. In between them stands my grandma, low and thick, indestructible. She had raised the family by herself, her husband unable to contribute even before he wound up floating in the East River. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to experience the hardships she had to go through, losing one of her children in infancy, leaving her parents and the whole world she grew up in to come to a strange country, toiling long hours as a housecleaner to keep her family from starving, her husband gone silent and strange, living through the grisly death of her husband, soldiering on with love. Fighting back. In the photo she exudes pride and also this overwhelming sense that she would make you very, very sorry if you ever messed with her family.

As for my dad, the war ended before he ever saw combat, but he tells a story about a camp boxing match in which he was pitted against the largest man on the base. He suspects that anti-Semitism was behind the obvious mismatch, the match-makers hoping to enjoy a nice quick Jew-beating. He says he never even saw the first punch. One moment he was standing there and the next moment he was on the ground. He got up. Soon he was on the ground again. He got up. Then he was staring at the lights above the ring again. He got up. Then he was kissing canvas again. He got up. Finally officials had to step in and end the match because of my father’s refusal to stop fighting.

28 comments

  1. 1.  P.S.: Happy New Year.

    Also, I wanted to keep up my new practice of noting when new comments are added to older player profiles:

    There’s a great new story about a Reggie homer added in the comments for the 1975 Reggie Jackson card (grouped with the Oakland A’s in the “Archive By Team” links). There are also some comments still trickling in about Skip Jutze and Billy “Innermost Wish” Martin.


  2. 2.  There’s a chilling passage in Irwin Shaw’s amazing WWII novel The Young Lions about a similar army camp beating. The scene is excruciating to read.


  3. 3.  It is amazing the things we learn about our granparents after it is to late to appreciate.

    I’d love to talk to them now.

    I’ve got those Dick Sharon cards, and I remember the Sgt Fury comic books. He would fit right in.


  4. 4.  Nice entry. The last paragraph reminds me of that scene in Cool Hand Luke where Dragline is beating up Luke, and he refuses to quit.


  5. 5.  4 “He” referring to Mr. Lucas Jackon, of course.


  6. 6.  2 : I haven’t read that book; thanks for pointing it out.

    3 : “I’d love to talk to them now.”

    Well put.

    4 : Yeah, I thought about that too. No accompanying story from my dad about eating 50 hardboiled eggs.


  7. 7.  “Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand…”


  8. 8.  The phrase “sure-handed flyhawk” should come up more often in print an/or conversation. It sounds like Sharon could also be a wide receiver (where they still called flankers and split ends back then?)

    I pride myself on remembering most of these guys, but I’m drawing a blank on Sharonand Jutze.


  9. 9.  I just realized that the image of the Dick Sharon cards as it appears on the site is probably too small to show with any clarity his Marlboro Man features, or the fascinating (to me, anyway) shadow of the photographer. But if you click on the image it’ll display enlarged on a new page. If you do so you will see how the shadow not only includes the photographer but also Dick Sharon, the shadow of photographer and photographed actually enclosing the “real” Sharon (the enlarged elbow of the photographer in front, the rest of the shadow to his side and rear). I’m a little too logy, or not logy enough, to start pontificating about the postmodernist commentary on the inherent inescapable subjectivity of art embedded in this imposition of the photographer into the photo, but I would like to point out that it has been a signature element in the work of one of the modern masters of photography, Lee Friedlander. Go to the below web address for an example of one of his shadow photos (the site also has a link to a main Lee Friedlander page):

    http://tinyurl.com/3azwfg


  10. 10.  Josh, from that shadow, we can determine when (rough date and time) that picture was taken if we know what park they are in. Who’s the guy that knew this stuff. Is it Oakland? He’s wearing long sleeves.


  11. 11.  10 : “Who’s the guy that knew this stuff.”

    Yeah, I’m no good at figuring that stuff. I know that “The Rhyme Animal” did some really good “What ballpark is it?” sleuthing in the conversation about the Denny Doyle card.


  12. 12.  I read all of your Cardboard Gods entries but don’t comment often because I find myself thinking ‘Yeah!’ and agreement and satisfaction don’t make for a great blog comment.

    I’ll say ‘Yeah!’ anyway. Great post.


  13. 13.  It was down to Scrappy Out Machines or Sexy Action School News (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quest_for_Ratings for more information) as finalist names for my 2008 roto-baseball team… and then along comes Sure-Handed Flyhawks.

    Thanks, Josh, for making my winter deliberation delightfully uncertain.


  14. 14.  As the secularly-raised son of a shiksa and a Jew, I can totally relate to this. I lost count of how many overnights and weekends I spent at my grandmother’s house desperately wishing I had my Atari and a droning television escape all of that Romanian Jew weirdness, only to now wish that I had paid more attention.


  15. 15.  11 Well, I’m no dick, but Sharon’s wearing what looks like a white uniform, but did Detroit ever have home unis that looked like that?


  16. 16.  This is off topic, but since there are some Dodger fans who somtimes check in, I have to ask them, or anybody else who might have some insight:

    What the hell is Eric Gagne’s problem? Why does he seem bent on single-handedly destroying the Boston Red Sox? Why can’t he go back from whence he came and leave us alone? Furthermore: arrrgggggggghhhhh!!!!! Finally: I hate baseball so much.


  17. 17.  Mets fans and Red Sox fans united in hate again.


  18. 18.  16 Gagne’s problem is that time didn’t suspend itself in 2003.

    Josh, this is a fantastic post. I don’t have any other words for all you manage to convey in a relative brief space. Thank you.


  19. 19.  12 : Much appreciated, joejoejoe.

    13 : South Park makes me laugh even in Wikipedia recap form.

    14 : “…only to now wish that I had paid more attention.”

    So true. I’m glad my grandfather on my mom’s side lived long enough for me to sort of surface from my teenage haze long enough to appreciate him, at least a little.

    17 : “Mets fans and Red Sox fans united in hate again.”

    My Mets fan pal Ramblin’ Pete concurs. For reasons that cannot be explained and perhaps do not exist, he has begun marking every Red Sox loss by clogging my answering machine with his rendition of a Billy Joel song, a new song for each loss. So far I’ve heard him scream “We didn’t start the fire” and croon “The Piano Man.” P.S., neither the Mets nor the Red Sox have won since this practice has commenced. I’m hoping for a nice “Allentown” when I get home tonight, or maybe the one that starts “Bottle of red, bottle of white…” or even (dare I dream?) “Captain Jack”. Are these the only pleasures left in this rapidly disintegrating season?

    18 : Much thanks, BIDF. Now please, as an envoy for Dodger fans everywhere, come and reclaim “Gags” before he does further damage to his reputation and my sanity.


  20. 20.  10 Yes, that picture is in Oakland.


  21. 21.  20 And judging from the direction and length of the shadows, it is late afternoon, probably before a night game. It’s probably also more likely to be in May, June or July than the other months; when the sun comes from that direction in April or September, it is too low, and the seating bowl casts a shadow over the whole field.


  22. 22.  21 : The Tigers made a late May trip to Oakland in 1974. Sharon got into two of the games, both against lefties, both losses:

    May 27, 1974 at Oakland:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/OAK/OAK197405270.shtml

    May 29, 1974 at Oakland:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/OAK/OAK197405290.shtml


  23. 23.  OK, my official guess is that this picture was taken on May 28, 1974.

    May 27, the first game of the series, was a day game; I doubt they would have taken the picture after the game.

    It could also have been May 29, I suppose. But why not take these pictures the first chance they got?

    There was also another series in August, but I’m sticking with my May guess.


  24. 24.  That’s awesome, Ken. I wonder how many cards can be dated like that.


  25. 25.  Uptown girl!
    I’ve been livin with an Uptown Girl!

    Sorry. Billy Joel ruins everything. Did you know he’s angling to be the final performer before they bulldoze Shea Stadium? Complete fraud, and a Yankee fan.


  26. 26.  It’s torturous, when you read history like that, and you want to scream at them-”Don’t you SEE?”

    But you can’t.

    It happens to me when I read a story about John McGraw (it usually is McGraw saying this) “I’d pay $50,000 for you (Ray Brown or Jose Mendez) if you were white.”

    I want to scream at him across the generations, “THEN DO IT, ferchrissake. You’re John FUCKING McGraw. They won’t stop you. Break this fucking stupid rule now, so we won’t have to wonder about Charleston and Gibson and Paige and Redding. Jesus, man, you KNOW what to do. DO it.”


  27. 27.  Hey Josh, another great blog. Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve been able to read, due to the holidays and everything. L’Shana Tova and Happy Succos (even though technically, with only a Jewish father you are not “Jewish” – you are very much an honorary member of the tribe ;)

    After reading this I’d just like to recommend a documentary I’m sure you’ve already seen—”The Life & Times of Hank Greenberg” – he’s actually a distant cousin of mine.

    Also, I’d like to recommend “Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero” by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein (who formerly was a location manager/scout in the film business in London, before becoming a Rabbi.)

    And finally, I’m not sure if you know of Dmitriy Salita—a currenly undefeated Jewish boxer, but here’s a little somethin’ somethin’:

    Being that my grandfather was a great Jewish basketball and baseball player back in the day, I’m naturally very interested in Jews in sports….and disproving the stereotypes. :)

    Hate to make this poliical, but I find irony that this guy’s last name is the same as the most recent leader who helped Jews to not fight back. Once a great warrior, he became a traitor who had to run away and withdrawal, with nothing in return….the giving up of Gush Katif and the uprooting of the 9,000 Jews by the other “Sharon” was just another huge example of Jews not fighting back, but running in fear. I’m STILL depressed about it… even 2 years later.


  28. 28.  I think everyone had one player who would show up over and over again in their packs of cards. For me it was Larvell Blanks. I think I had at least 8 Larvell Blanks cards one summer.



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