Marc HillNovember 26, 2008
Marc Hill, according to a particularly entertaining entry on BR Bullpen, was a two-sport high school superstar in Missouri. This is no surprise to me; save for one or two oddball late bloomers, every player I’ve droned on about on on this site must have been a god in his hometown long before he was ever a Cardboard God. I vividly remember the most celebrated high school athlete in the little town in Vermont where I grew up, Ron Schubach, our all-state basketball star, a quick, smooth guard with a Chachi haircut and an unstoppable pull-up jump shot. I still think of him as the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. I know that objectively this can’t be true, but to me he possessed the most magic. It must have been the same for all of these players enshrined in these cards. Odd as it may seem while gazing at this photo of a mouth-breather with an uncomplicated frat-boy glint in his eye, Marc Hill must have had that Schubachian mythic glow before he ever became a benchwarming journeyman known as “Booter.”
Mythic glow aside, Marc Hill is surely recalled fondly by more than a few fans. He was a member of the most treasured San Francisco Giants team of the post-Mays, pre-Will-the-Thrill era, the 1978 squad that unexpectedly contended for the division crown. Hill was actually a starter that year, and the next as well, before being sent to the Chicago White Sox. He played for several years for the White Sox, a backup to Carlton Fisk, and was apparently known as a clubhouse joker. He must be more than one fan’s Shlabotnik.
A couple years ago a friend of mine went back to the town we’d grown up in and played in an informal reunion pickup basketball game for anyone who played on the school team and was a member of any of the classes between 1980 and 1984, especially the Schubach-led 1981 team, which made it to the state finals. My teeth started to hurt with longing when I heard about this, in part because I immediately felt excluded, being from the class of 1985, the worst basketball class in the history of the school; in part because one of my favorite things in my life was playing pickup basketball with guys from my town, especially if the pickup game included the older guys from the state finals team; in part because I will apparently always harbor fantasies of righting all wrongs by getting one more chance against those guys and somehow dominating them instead of being a barely noticeable figure at the edges of their games; and in part because I have always wondered what became of Schubach. There was a time, during his legendary high school career, that I thought he could somehow make it to the pros, even though he was a 5’10″ white guy from a state that had never (and still hasn’t) sent so much as even one end-of-bench player to the NBA. In fact he barely played at his Division II college, quitting in his first year because, so the town legend has it, ”the coach was a dick,” and that was that. My friend described the reunion game as a bit of a letdown, a sparsely attended kid-riddled affair with all the intensity of a backyard beer-in-one-hand badminton match. As he described it I could envision Schubach out there among men in knee braces and giggling children: he’s moving slow, the sublime inimitable rhythm of his stutter-step dribble dulled, his hair no longer feathered, maybe no longer even there. I almost asked my friend to give me a report on the state of Schubach’s game to confirm this vision, but I decided I didn’t want to know.
Turns out that even guys like Marc Hill, who change before our eyes from hometown legends to comic figures we fans can festoon with our failings, make inscrutable, mysterious gods. At times their messages are like off-kilter punchlines; other times they’re like wind through the trees. Ambiguous, jarring, haunting, inscrutable. We’re on our own in this quick holy life. Consider the last three mentions of the Shlabotnik named Marc Hill in that ongoing book of stark aphoristic scripture known as Transactions:
May 27, 1986: Released by the Chicago White Sox.
October 2, 1986: Signed as a Free Agent with the Chicago White Sox.
October 8, 1986: Released by the Chicago White Sox.