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John Montefusco

March 23, 2009

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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.

15 comments

  1. It’s amazing what a collection of negative words can invoke online. I wrote a rather scathing profile of Bad Pennington at the height of the Sox/Rays AL East race, which was kind of common for me at the time. Dump on a guy who played for both teams, but did worse for the other team. About 7 months afterwards, someone from his hometown asked for my MLB stats.

    This kind of thing makes me wonder if friends and family are going to respond years later to a Derek Lilliquist post where I called him ‘fairly crappy’.


  2. Yeah, I have worried for years that my “impressionistic” (to put it pretentiously) takes on baseball players of the past, especially those takes that have ventured in the direction of satire, would result in me being tarred and feathered by a posse of old-timers headed, naturally, by Don Stanhouse. I try to make the general tenor of the site one of supreme self-absorption, i.e., all about me, and when that self-absorption spills over the edges I try to have it take the form of praise. But certainly I can see someone interpreting my efforts differently. However, so far, besides the famous (at least to me) threatening message from Full Pack, I have received only a couple angry replies that I can recall, from one fan mad about my portrait of Rick Bosetti and another angered by some thoughts of mine inspired by Mariner Skip Jutze.


  3. You gotta love how the Internet makes not only for facinating conversations but amazin’ handles like “dick allen the king mega superstar top 5 dead or alive greatest ever” who comments on that Montefusco thread.

    You are probably familiar with the Ultimate Mets Database (ultimatemets.com) which has a “fan memories” feature that has gathered in some amazin’ stuff, including the son of an ex-Mets player looking for his dad and his uncle chiming in that he’ll pass along a message. Heartbreaking.


  4. I think in my five years of blogging, the only comment I got from someone truly connected to a player was when I posted some Baseball Bunch stuff on YouTube. One of Tug McGraw’s very young sons commented about his father, who he barely knew. This was the son Tug had in the mid-90s, Matthew.

    Josh, as a fellow proofreader, I certainly appreciated what was surely my first-ever sighting of a “Montefusco stack.” (fourth paragraph) Thanks.

    And how is the “Ultimate Mets Database” not called the “Ulti-Mets Database”?


  5. meanwhile, this very cg entry on the count has already leaped up to sixth on the google search engine for “john montefusco.”


  6. I think that thread is an exception rather than the rule. Most internet discussions that I run across have a rather short shelf life. Arod was with a hooker? Send a postcard to yesterday when we cared about it.

    But the best was some thread at Baseball Primer about Colin Farrell making a drunken cameo in the announcer’s booth. Several months later “tina” dropped by to defend him. Hilarity ensued.


  7. I’m obsessed with the Google autofill. Whenever I Google a name now, I type it in slowly to see how long it takes for the name to appear in the ten most common results. Sort of a q-rating kind of thing. Does anybody else do this?

    I’ve turned it into a game — now I try to predict before beginning typing at what point the name will appear, if at all. I thought “John Mon” might be sufficient for Montefusco, but it actually required “John Mont” and even then he was eighth, between “John Montone” (a NY radio newsman) and “John Montgomery tattoo”.

    (FYI it’s extremely gratifying to know that one needs only enter “Jo” to find the name of my congressman, John Lewis. He’s sixth, just below the Jonas Brothers….)


  8. I love the spam comment on that thread from 6/27/07. If you’ve been keeping up with Cardboard Gods recently you’ll know why. I wonder if Josh clicked the link…


  9. gedmaniac:
    I also liked that spam comments were a part of the Montefusco narrative quilt; makes for some great non-sequitor moments…

    “. . .I would be proud to say to someone next time they asked, ‘John Montefusco’, yes he is my secon cousin. Thanks and I hope to hear from you or someone in your family.”

    Posted by: Larry Montefusco | June 08, 2007 at 12:00 PM

    “You like gold? You search for gold? Then you will like this site.
    http://zborxs.info

    Posted by: BollyHmuro | June 27, 2007 at 06:13 PM

    “I am John’s sister and I am so proud of you Alexandra! You are a wonderful young lady and your parents should be very proud of you, too… (etc.)”

    Anyway, to answer your question, though I am always on the lookout for ways to pan for real and imaginary gold, I’m afraid to click on links with url addresses that read like they were created by a monkey pounding on a keyboard. So, no, I didn’t click on the “http://zborxs.info” link.


  10. In the Spring of 1995 I was in a shopping mall in, of all places, Cancun Mexico, when a friend of mine convinced me to hit up the indoor batting cages they had there.

    They were those newfangled “video” cages, in which the ball emerged from a hole on a giant screen upon which the image of a major league pitcher making his delivery was depicted.

    The pitcher on the screen that day in Cancun? You guessed it. John “The Count” Montefusco.

    True story.


  11. Good to hear from you, bluenatic.

    Wow, emblazoned on a video-enhanced pitching machine in Cancun a decade after it all ended… If that’s not immortality, I don’t know what is.


  12. Well I knew John while he was in California before n after marrying Dori, his wife. Even was around for the birth of his 2 daughter. It pains us that knew him then. Drugs took him away. The sight of being an outstanding pitcher was too tough for John. He lost sight of the real important items in his life.

    I wish his girls knew him back then.


  13. But, what about Naomi? I mean, John Candelaria?


  14. To tallblondeinca-
    I am John’s sister and I have a feeling I know who u are. Dory is his “ex-wife” thank God as I am sure u are well aware of that…need I say more…
    Anyway, to clarify for our readers, drugs never took John away from anything perhaps that was you. Obviously, you do not know John as well as you state or perhaps your only interest here is to slander John because you are a friend of his ex-wife. Which ever catagory you fall into you are lying. John has played baseball since he was like 5 years old. He was always the shining star in schools, leagues, professionally.So,as far as you saying fame was too tough on my brother clearly shows that you do not know John or just making a comment to attack him. Please refrain from your ramblings…..
    To everyone who really knows John and our family or John the baseball player thank you for your kind words. Angel Montefusco


  15. Angel:
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Your brother looms large in the minds of all of us who grew up loving baseball in the ’70s and ’80s.



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