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Tony Solaita and Craig Kusick

April 20, 2008
 

It’s Sunday and I haven’t written in long enough that I’m starting to worry if I’m done so the thing to do is go straight into the silence and start thrashing. This is what I would tell someone I cared about if they were in the same predicament: just write and let it flow and don’t worry if it comes out stupid, for you as everyone is are full at all times with the immensity of the universe, etc, etc, and all that remains is the practice of opening to it so open to it with sincerity and love and in the name of Jack Kerouac and his tenets of spontaneous prose just go. OK. So. The men pictured here. The two men pictured here are done. I mean they played no major league baseball the season these cards came out or ever after. Also, they have both passed away, Kusick at the age of 59 and just months after his wife died and Solaita even younger, shot to death in his native American Somoa. They had somewhat similar careers, both playing sparingly for a few years in the early 1970s before becoming semi-regulars in 1974. Solaita was a left-handed batter who had trouble hitting lefties, and Kusick was a right-handed batter who had trouble hitting righties. Neither was ever a full-time player, but for a few years they were productive part-timers. They both came to the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of July 1979. The Blue Jays were well on their way to their third 100-loss season in their three years of existence. In fact, they would end up losing more games in 1979 than in either of the previous two seasons, which must have made it seem that they would never get any better, that they would languish forever in the basement. Kusick and Solaita did little to contribute either way. Maybe this was the plan all along, just bide time while the young guys slowly mature. The Blue Jays did get better eventually, becoming a good young team throughout the 1980s and then a championship team in the early 1990s. Maybe in 1979 they just needed bodies, and it didn’t matter if you were half a ballplayer or a whole ballplayer. Together, Kusick and Solaita made a whole ballplayer. On their own, they were aging, limited, slow, flawed. They were backup designated hitters. They sat behind two other aging slow sluggers, Rico Carty and John Mayberry. But I have not written for days. This bothers me. The less I write the more I wonder if I’ll never write again. I can’t think of anything to say and also have everything to say. I wasted my day yesterday and I worry that I’m wasting my life. How long can I last? I just read Pete Maravich’s biography and he died when he was my age, 40. John Marzano, who I remember as a hero in the only bench-clearing brawl I’ve ever witnessed in person, died a couple days ago, not much older than me. He had a heart attack and fell down the stairs. Back in 1991, my brother and I made a trip up to Boston just to see the Red Sox, and Clemens was pitching, and he got taken deep a couple times early and took out his frustration on the next batter, John Shelby, drilling him. Shelby rushed the mound, bat in hand. Who knows what he would have done with the bat? Had Marzano not gotten one of his rare starts at catcher that day we might have found out, and maybe Roger Clemens would be living in a 24-hour care facility, his brain sluggered, John Shelby buried in some prison somewhere. But Marzano tackled Shelby from behind just feet from Clemens. The picture in the Boston Globe the next day brought tears to my eyes for some reason. It was all there—Shelby, the bat, Clemens, Marzano heroically taking Shelby down. The hero! I have this need for heroes, I guess. As I’ve made abundantly clear, repetitively clear, probably, my first hero was my brother. My favorite times playing in the yard with him were when we pretended to be a team together. He’d throw the passes and I’d catch them, or vice versa. Touchdown! But this was boring to him. Music was the same way. I listened to what he listened to, for the most part, always lagging a little behind and then at times inhabiting the just-abandoned step of his path with an intensity that outstripped his own, making it my own only by means of skewed worship. This is bullshit! Why can’t I be coherent? The thing is in 1979, the year Kusick and Solaita became one whole ballplayer between them on one of the worst major league baseball teams in history, disco was dead. We had listened to disco together, my brother and me, together. We owned the Saturday Night Fever record jointly, as I recall. Also we once had a dispute over who would get to buy Leif Garret’s single “I Was Made For Dancin’.” But by 1979 my brother had moved on to Rock with a capital R. His blue three-ring notebook was covered with Rock names. That summer we went to New York City to visit our dad, as we always did, and the highlight of the visit for my brother was a Ted Nugent show at Madison Square Garden. Somehow he convinced our dad to take us to the concert. I didn’t know any Ted Nugent. I went along. It was terrifying. There were these older guys sitting in the seats behind ours, and they were resting their booted feet on our seats. They moved their legs slowly, reluctantly. One of them wore a cowboy hat and dark shades. I felt very awkward and scared and out of my element. There were disco sucks signs. There was one sign that two guys carried around that said “Disco Is Dead But Rock Is Rolling.” The band came out. It was deafeningly loud. It was painfully loud. I couldn’t fathom how loud it was. Worse, each loud sound pained me in a way I can’t quite explain but that had to do with my father. I knew he was suffering immensely. Also, I don’t know, I didn’t… I’ve never really figured out why it pained me so much. We went into the bathroom, my dad and I, while the show was still going on. The bathroom was completely empty. I told him I was sorry. He didn’t hear me. I repeated myself a couple more times. He finally nodded as if he’d heard me, but I think now that he was just sick of trying to decipher my mumblings. He had cotton stuffed into his ears through the whole concert anyway. But why was I apologizing? I mean, I was really mortified by the whole thing. I really did feel sorry. But why was I so guilty about his presence at the concert? I hadn’t even been the driving force on the thing anyway. I was just going along with my brother. It was torture, the whole thing. I remember a couple things about the show. I remember one longhaired young dude of Rock turning to another in front of us and giving an appreciative, “these guys are not bad at all” nod. This only really made sense afterward, when we found out the details of what exactly we were seeing. I remember that the one scrap of lyrics that I could pull out of the general painful noise was “sin city.” The singer kept repeating those words, sin city. And at the end, or near the end, the shorts-wearing guitarist got up on the singer’s shoulders and they waded out into the crowd, the guitarist soloing. As soon as they finished their set my dad stood and marched us out of the Garden. No one else seemed to be heading for the exits; in fact, some people seemed to still be straggling in. I remember crossing the mostly empty avenue and asking my brother, my voice sounding weird and small after all the shrieking decibels, “So which one was Ted Nugent?” I didn’t know Ted Nugent very well, but I recalled from one of my brother’s album covers that he carried a guitar and also seemed to be singing, or at least screaming, into a microphone. The act we had just seen, which we assumed was Ted Nugent, had a singer who did not play guitar and a guitarist who didn’t sing. I think my brother and I exchanged a couple thoughts along these lines and then fell silent. The next day we went to Crazy Eddy’s on Sixth Avenue and thumbed through records by AC/DC. I guess we didn’t really understand how concerts worked, because for some reason we were holding out hope that we hadn’t missed the very act we had been trying to see even as we understood, I guess probably by looking at our tickets, that there was an additional act somehow involved with the concert. Anyway our foolishness didn’t become official until I located the song “Sin City” on one of AC/DC’s albums. Of course, pictures of the shorts-wearing guitarist were all over their albums too. We were the stupidest motherfuckers in the history of the planet. My brother ended up writing an essay about the concert for an English class that fall. He didn’t let on that we hadn’t seen Ted Nugent, not to his friends and not in the essay. He got a lot of praise for the level of detail in the early parts of the paper and was criticized for his vague description of the Ted Nugent part of the paper. As for me, I never really did get into Ted Nugent beyond buying a cassette by him that included Wango Tango and Terminus Eldorado. But within a year or so I had become a huge AC/DC fan. They got big right around then anyway, Highway to Hell’s big success giving way to Back in Black’s monstrous status as one of the biggest, greatest albums in all of the history of capital R Rock, but I think part of my interest in them was due to seeing them in concert, not because the concert had been enjoyable but because it had been huge and frightening and painful, and by learning all their music by heart I mastered that chaos, brought it inside myself, made it my own. Interestingly enough, my brother never really got into AC/DC as much. His music tastes changed, shifting toward new wave and punk, and while I followed him into that I did so taking AC/DC along. AC/DC was mine alone. I was 11 that year, 1979, and in a way I was done. Tony Solaita and Craig Kusick were done that year and so was I, done with grade school, done with childhood. Puberty followed, AC/DC the perfect soundtrack. It was dim-witted, the music, and straightforward, pulsating, angry, explosive. Uncertainty and shame and guilt and fear all dissolved in the span of one of their 4-minute three-cord stomps. Angus Young, the shorts-wearing guitarist, became a new hero, the schoolboy gone wrong, expelled for bad behavior, unrepentant. On the cover of Highway to Hell the band looked like cavemen. The two-guitar attack was the best part of the music, the older brother Malcolm Young laying down the riff and sticking with it unwaveringly like a starving Neanderthal bashing a rock on ice, Angus following the riff until a crack formed and then stealing though the crack to a wilder wider life with his incendiary solos. God they were good. God they were idiots. My two favorite bands when I started getting hardons and learning new forms of loneliness were AC/DC and the Ramones, bands of brotherly impassioned idiocy and stomp, riffs to burn your brain clean. The seventies were done. I was done. Touchdowns in the yard with my brother were done. I was half of a whole. And disco was done. And Rock was rolling.

27 comments

  1. 1.  OK, Josh.

    I haven’t written in a long while. The only writing I get to do these days are scribbles on student papers; some of it insightful that I know will be ignored, some of it scribble. I’m 44, I’m just starting a career that some consider heroic but that I’ve realized what my colleagues have long known–it’s a job. And it gets in the way of much that I consider creative–family time, do-nothing time, friends, baseball and yes, writing.

    My brother turned 43 in November. I called him and said that any dreams he had of being a professional athlete were over. It was funny when I said it, we both laughed but I’m stressed and saddened thinking about it now, not that either of us had a shot but the dream was always there whenever we executed a professional move in the games we played. I bet dollars to damn doughnuts every boy has hit a perfect drive at least once. At least once.

    Yeah, I’m going to stop here. Except to say this: I read every word, Josh. A remarkable essay, containing for me universal truth. It’s what I look for in reading, it’s what I hope to find when I write. And you’ve inspired me to write more. When my students tell me I’ve inspired them (it’s rare), I smile. There’s a moment where everything is worth it–desire takes a momentary vacation and it’s polar opposite, satisfaction, takes its place. And then I think of how often such a thing actually happens and I think about why it doesn’t happen more and the moment goes. I’m thinking now of the sweet spot of ball meeting bat perfectly that I know Solaita and Kusick must have experienced at least a few times in their painfully short baseball lives. And I’m very sad but somehow more complete for trying to express how I feel about it.

    Thank you, Josh. I think I’ll be writing more. I won’t guarantee it because that way pain lies. But thank you.


  2. 2.  Great stuff, SB. I think about the perfect line drive a lot in various ways. The Maravich book (by Mark Kreigel) actually addressed that, in a way: Maravich was always after that perfect moment; the search for perfection contributed to what was for most of his days an unhappy life. So maybe the perect line drive only can be looked at in the rearview. To thirst for it is to invite constant disappointment. Bob Dylan once said something like “I stopped trying to be perfect a long time ago.”

    Also, on another note, an FYI: There are some new comments on older posts for Reggie Jackson (Yankees, not A’s), Wilbur Wood, and Johnny Oates (a particularly good comment there).


  3. 3.  Solaita and Kusick are kind of like stand-ins for Angus and Malcolm.
    I see Solaita, who had a bit of a temper, as the Angus-figure, while Kusick is the stolid Malcolm type.

    You got to see Bon Scott-era AC/DC?
    I would give multiple limbs to have done that.
    (Even the losers get lucky sometimes.)


  4. 4.  Seriously, seeing Bon Scott was alone worth missing Nugent! Also, the Scott era of AC/DC was done by the end of ’79. (he died in Feb. 1980). Great essay Josh.


  5. 5.  3 : Yes, though I’ve seen my share of live music I’ve only been at envy-worthy shows twice, both times only aware of my good fortune much later. The show with Bon Scott, who I later became a huge fan of, was the first, and then a few years later I saw the peaking Replacements at Irving Plaza, the doomed Bob Stinson bounding around in a dress. I wasn’t a Replacements fan until later and actually passed out during the show due to lack of sleep (I’d been up for 48 hours in a row trying to make up for a semester of pure laziness at boarding school).


  6. 6.  Here’s the date of the AC/DC show and the setlist, according to a post at a website called “All Answers” (http://tinyurl.com/5h5qoj):

    August 4 79: New York, NY (Madison Square Garden) Supporting Ted Nugent

    Set list supporting shows :
    Live Wire
    Problem Child
    Sin City
    Bad Boy Boogie
    The Jack
    Whole Lotta Rosie
    Let There Be Rock
    Also:
    Dog Eat Dog


  7. 7.  I had an obit for Kusick up last year:
    http://griddle.baseballtoaster.com/archives/524947.html

    The link to the local paper still works.


  8. 8.  7 : Thanks for that link, Bob. From what I’ve read, both Kusick and Solaita seemed to have led rich post-major league lives: Solaita as a tireless builder of a youth league baseball program in his native land, and Kusick as a beloved and successfull high school baseball coach in Minnesota.


  9. 9.  I never really thought about AC/DC and The Ramones in the same sentence, but it makes sense, I guess. Simple straight ahead rock. And it was pretty easy to figure out you were listening to a tune by either of them, I’ve heard AC/DC described as “disco for white boys.” They did have that 4/4 beat.

    Kusick looks a little like Lt. Howard Hunter with those aviators.


  10. 10.  Tonight for some reason I google the video for the NBA Celtics Day After Day Day video. It makes me happy, but my interest goes further and I wiki Badfinger and found they were part of the power pop movement. Click one more and I find The Records who had a couple of minor hits in 1979. The ssme year I saw them open for Joe Jackson in Asbury. In 1979 I had a chance to see AC DC, Van Halen, and Judas Priest that year, but I chose Kinks, Jackson and Renaisance. Years later, I as father took my daughter to The Cure when she was 11. She didn’t enjoy it at the time. Now she is 19, and she says that was the best concert as compared to the Backstreet Boys the same year.


  11. 11.  9 “I’m Craig Kusick, Professional Hitter, reporting for duty.”


  12. 12.  My older brother was my first hero too. I remember him going to concerts in the 60’s when I was too young to go. Cream at the Olympic Auditorium stuck in my mind as important. I listened to his records all through my teens. Then a funny thing happened. The Sex Pistols hit when I was 20 and my life changed. And my brother started following my lead, going to clubs and listening to all sorts of new music. It really was one of my first “adult’ feelings, that I could influence my legendary big brother. We became even closer, taking lots of fishing and camping trips together, as well as seeing music. He died suddenly 10 years ago and I still really miss him.

    Josh, your writing often makes me think of my brother. And I enjoy that, thanks.


  13. 13.  9 : Yesterday I came across this interesting tidbit about AC/DC on Wikipedia:

    “AC/DC came to be identified with the punk rock movement by the British press.”

    That’s definitely not how they were “presented” over here. But they and the Ramones shared the strategy of channeling their misfit angst through basic old fashioned rock and roll, Chuck Berry for the Aussies, Beach Boys and Phil Spector for the Queens gluehuffers. Not that I thought about any of that as a kid.

    12 : It’s funny. Somehow it makes all the sense in the world that the Sex Pistols–rather than leading to the downfall of civilization, as some hysterical prognosticators surely predicted–actually led to more brotherly fishing trips. Punk rock was (is) human music.


  14. 14.  I also had a fear and misunderstanding of AC/DC when I was young. It stemmed from the cover/back cover of their “If You Want Blood” album, which was my introduction to them. I knew what was on the radio for what was on the radio and what was in the record store by the album cover.

    I in fact didn’t much care for AC/DC until a few years ago when I finally rejected the lie of “album rock” and saw past the myth of the band-as-brand and freed my mind to appreciate songs on their own merits again.


  15. 15.  In the summer of 1967, my sister and a friend went to see the Monkees at the Forest Hills tennis stadium. (My father, in one of his most selfless acts, went with them.) The opening act was Jimi Hendrix. Seriously. He was essentially booed off the stage.


  16. 16.  14 : That album cover (Angus bloodily impaled by a guitar) was a key early step in me becoming a giant fan. I don’t know why. KISS Alive II, an album that was a slightly earlier favorite, also had a lot of blood gushing around on the cover.

    15 : That’s great. I think there are a lot of incongruous opening act pairings, but that must be the topper. I don’t know how concert promoters or labels or whoever’s in charge come up with some of them. Conversely, there probably wasn’t a crowd that would have been more open to AC/DC in 1979 than a Ted Nugent crowd.


  17. 17.  A co-worker of mine tells a story of going to a Herman’s Hermits concert where The Who opened for them.


  18. 18.  A few years ago I went to a Black Crowes show where the opening acts were the Drive-By Truckers and Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I left after the two opening acts.

    Here tomorrow night, there’s a show I’d love to go see–but its only the opening act I want to see. Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers are opening for, ahem, Hanson.

    Since I’m roughly the same age as you, Josh–my odometer rolls over in October–did you go through that “classic rock” stage in the early 80’s? I went through a phase where the Doors were in VERY heavy rotation in my ears and cassette player.


  19. 19.  18 : The Who was the big “classic rock” band in heavy rotation for me in those years.


  20. 20.  Thanks to your link in 6 , I see that the AC/DC show I witnessed was about four weeks earlier, in Des Moines, Iowa (where I was visiting my cousins), opening for Cheap Trick. I was 18 that summer, just finished my first year of college, and was musically transitioning from my mainstream progressive rock leanings (e.g. ELP), through the latest straightforward power pop (the aforementioned Cheap Trick), on my way to the lyric-driven anger/angst of Elvis Costello. Nonetheless, I appreciated the AC/DC sideshow that night; they played loud, their power chords rang (and rang and rang in the rafters of the acoustically awful Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium) and the Angus Young perpetual-motion machine was a crowd-pleasing spectacle, a perfect match for our group of 18-year olds full of seemingly boundless, but undirected energy.

    Funny, I remember him riding someone’s shoulders for the wading in the crowd guitar solo, but my fuzzy memory didn’t recall it being atop Bon Scott, but perhaps a roadie. Bon makes more sense though.


  21. 21.  20 : I can’t swear that it’s not a trick of memory to have Bon Scott as the guy carrying Angus. It was a long time ago and we were miles from the stage and I was extremely discombobulated.


  22. 22.  21 Pondering a little further, I’d bet on a burly roadie vs. a skinny rock singer for the carrying Angus burden.


  23. 23.  There was a brief period – of about a week – in high school, where for one brief fleeting moment my “classic rock” phase and my “new, cool, punk-ska-reggae phase” overlapped.

    I can remember this millisecond perfectly, frozen in amber, unstuck in time.

    It concertized with the still-vivid act of purchasing Elvis Costello’s ‘This Year’s Model,’ and ‘Exit Stage Left’ by Rush, in one fell swoop, on one particular afternoon, at the DiscoMat near Grand Central on E. 42nd St.

    A month earlier I had been seeing Ozzy (for the second time) and listening to The Doors and Zep constantly.

    A month later I was getting into The Buzzcocks and The English Beat.

    The lines were really cleanly drawn in those days, lads…or at least until The Replacements came along a few years later and made it acceptable to listen to Aerosmith again.


  24. 24.  I have lurked for ages, but nothing like music to bring me out of my shell.

    The most incongrous pairing I’ve seen was the Dead Milkmen opening for Living Colour at the Cannery in Nash Vegas ages ago. Perhaps the most incongrous thing was I was there to see both acts.

    A quick wiki lets me know that Kusick once tied a major league record by being hit by 3 pitches in an 11 inning game.

    Solaita I knew from his stint with the Kansas City Royals – the team that became my favorite because of a 1974 team card serendipitously purchased at the IGA located behind my house when I was 7 years old.

    I’m envious as well that you got to see Bon Scott era AC/DC. I just missed it though I do have vivid memories of all the older kids at the skating rink showing up with Highway To Hell shirts one night during my junior high days.

    Not to turn too sentimental or sappy, but your blog is always a highlight for me as you often express thoughts that go far beyond the common diamond shaped crux upon which so many of my childhood dreams took swings before they hustled around the bases.


  25. Hey Josh, once again I will comment on a long dormant entry that I have discovered while digging around in the archives, sorry about that but I can’t resist. I love music.

    I’m a tad younger than you are, so when I was in college in the early 90s grunge was king. In high school I was all classic rock, with my favorite bands being Rush, Zep, Yes, and (much lower down the scale) Genesis, in that order. In college I started to branch out a lot thanks to becoming good friends with a lot of dorm guys who had varying tastes. Still remember when one of my friends loaned me this crazy album “Mother’s Milk” by some group called the Red Hot Chili Peppers that I loved just for it’s sheer energy. Got hooked on them and that led to probably my most envy-worthy concert, at least for grunge fans. Attended RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Majik tour in 1991 at Illinois State where I was an undergrad. My friends and I were pumped for the concert, and slightly annoyed that there were not one but two opening bands, but whatever. I hadn’t heard of either of them: Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. We liked what we heard! Highlight was still RHCP. Just *watching* Flea play bass was an exhausting experience, that guy had incredible energy. Fun show.

    A few years ago I had the highlight of seeing John Paul Jones play bass with the members of Nickel Creek & some other guy I can’t remember, I think they called themselves Mutual Admiration Society. That was really cool too, and JPJ was incredible! Hasn’t lost a thing, his bass chops were amazing. Played “Going to California” on mandolin w/Sean Watkins, the Nickel Creek guitarist and had everyone there over the age of 30 enraptured…


  26. Tony Solaita was heralded as the next Mickey Mantle in the late 60’s by the Yankees PR department. I did not realize his career extended into the Toronto Blue Jays era, nor did I know that he met a violent death.


  27. Hmmmm, I wonder how many american somoa’s ever played? Perhaps Mr Solita would make the all start american somoa team…..I had him on my 75 royals stratomatic team……i didn’t find much use for him with mayberry at first and harmon killebrew at DH…..i would play jim wolford for his B steal rating and put mcrae at DH. But then again he did hit 16 homers in 93 games….there was just something about wanting harmon at dh…sorry tony…

    Traded by the Montreal Expos to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later. The Toronto Blue Jays sent Dyar Miller (October 24, 1979) to the Montreal Expos to complete the trade.



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