John MontefuscoMarch 23, 2009
One of the most interesting things I’ve ever come upon while roaming around the Internet is the long chain of comments following a post at Jaybird’s Jottings entitled “Where Have You Gone, John Montefusco.” Despite the title, the post does not really center on the player shown here in his 1981 Topps card, but it does offer some brief information about Montefusco’s ups and downs after baseball at the conclusion of a positive review of a book called Giants: Where Have You Gone. The post was published on May 22, 2005. It was over a month before anyone commented on it. That first comment probably cost its author about three seconds to complete, as evidenced by its brevity and by the level of analysis shown by the concluding phrase: “What a loser!”
More silence followed, but then two full months later another commenter finally chimed in. By this point, over three months after the original post was made, it seems likely that most anyone visiting the post had gotten there the same way I had, by doing a search on the name “John Montefusco.” With the second commenter’s offering, the communal story that would begin to unfold in the comments moved closer to the subject. Where the first commenter fired a volley from afar at John Montefusco, the second commenter, Joe Settipane, sought to establish a closeness to John Montefusco. They had, Settipane explained, been neighbors, though Settipane didn’t realize the identity of his neighbor until Montefusco had moved out. There is an immediacy to the comment: Settipane has just found out that day, from the movers clearing out Montefusco’s house, that the man who had until recently lived right beside him was a charismatic former all-star of some renown.
Settipane’s comment is not inherently negative—he concludes with the wish that he could have gotten to know Montefusco—but his musings on the reason Montefusco had to vacate his home seems to have combined with the “What a loser” comment to, eventually, draw out the comment that would begin to make the chain of comments into a living, breathing, many-voiced creature all its own. But before that third comment there was more silence, nearly a half a year of it. Finally, the author of the third comment must have done an Internet search on a name that meant as much as any name in the world to her, come upon the Jaybird’s Jottings post and the two comments, and posted the following message:
I am John Montefusco’s daughter and I think that all of you should get lives of your own. I cannont [sic] believe you people have the audacity to talk about a man and a family that you have never met and know nothing about. It is because of people like yourselves that our family has suffered more than we ever needed to. Yes, my parents got divorced, like millions do, no one needs to know the details, or slander anyone of my parents names for it. Get lives of your own, and stay out of ours!!!
A bigger gap than ever between comments ensued. But then, finally, after eight months of silence, another comment appeared. A few weeks later, another followed. And another. And so on. When does an Internet conversation die? I guess in this case it dies whenever there is no longer anyone moved to search the Internet for John Montefusco, and to then add their voice to a slowly growing chorus of voices singing about John Montefusco. Chiming in to date have been former amateur opponents of John Montefusco, people who have met John Montefusco at card shows or in hotel lobbies, people whose sons have been coached by John Montefusco, people whose last name is Montefusco who wonder if they are related to John Montefusco, people who marveled at the pitching exploits of John Montefusco, plus, at the closest proximity to John Montefusco and more than once—in fact often enough that she becomes the cheerful, big-hearted de facto president of the online community growing up in the thread around John Montefusco—John Montefusco’s sister, Angel. One of the most interesting themes evolving throughout the thread, which grew its most recent branch this past November—three and a half years after the original post!—is the desire on the part of many of the commenters to connect with John Montefusco. Some even address him directly, as if he is monitoring from on high the doings of the ever-evolving world of the thread.
But why John Montefusco? Why, for example, have I never, in all my years of dwelling on 1970s baseball, come upon a similarly long and emotional and celebratory thread about a player from that era who had more sustained success and a higher peak of fame than John Montefusco, such as, I don’t know, Jim Palmer or Dave Parker or Rod Carew? What is it about John Montefusco that inspires this kind of organic spontaneous communal testimonial?
I hesitate to make any stab at an answer. I don’t know John Montefusco. But for me, he is a figure of some real magic from the past. He was a more distant and less publicized version of that singular comet of my baseball-loving childohood, Mark Fidrych. Like Fidrych, Montefusco had a great start to his career, going 15 and 9 with a 2.88 ERA in his rookie season in 1975. Also like the Bird, Montefusco had a cool, memorable, kid-friendly nickname, The Count, which was eventually what brought him out of a kind of obscurity to me that had me, for a while, confusing him with John D’Acquisto. Finally, like Mark Fidrych, Montefusco’s meteoric rise was followed by an equally meteoric injury-riddled fall. At the time of this 1981 card, Montefusco had won just seven games in the previous two years, and in 1981 the Giants would ship him to Atlanta, where he would win just two games the entire season.
Montefusco’s beaming smile in the 1981 card seems to suggest a man able to soldier on when things get bad. Think how grim the card would have been, considering the pale concrete backdrop in the photo on the front and the diminishing statistics on the back, if John Montefusco had offered a much more common baseball card facial expression of, say, dourness, or suspicion, or gloom.
Montefusco’s page on baseball-reference.com (which, as of this writing, is along with his Wikipedia entry one of only two Google listings for “John Montefusco” that are above the Jaybird’s Jottings post) illustrates that Montefusco’s cheerful resilience served him well, allowing him to rebound with double-digit wins in 1982 and 1983 and moreover allowing him to last thirteen years in the majors, much longer than his American League counterpart in charismatic rookie sensationalism, Mark Fidrych. The sponsor of Montefusco’s baseball-reference.com page adds one line of text to the statistical tale of talent, disaster, and persistence, and it’s a line that seems to suggest an explanation for the existence of an ongoing online monument to this particular Cardboard God:
“The Count, great pitcher; better person.”
For more on the career of John Montefusco, check out Bob Hurte’s excellent in-depth bio of the Count on the always stellar Baseball Biography Project.