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Wayne Granger

March 1, 2010

It can mean a lot to hold something in your hands. Consider the feeling of being a kid and holding a brand new card in your hands. Say it’s 1976 and the card shows a previously unseen (or even imagined) Technicolor eruption of colors virtually bursting from the two-dimensional limits of the card. That feeling is one I’ve been trying to describe on this site for a few years now, and it’s the feeling that is at the center of my book, due out in about a month.

I just held the finished version of the book in my hands for the first time this past Friday, and it gave me a thrill like being eight years old and seeing the dazzling colors of the Houston Astros for the first time. For almost as long as I’ve been holding these cards in my hands, I’ve been wanting to write a book that, like the books that I’ve loved the most, such as The Basketball Diaries or Stop-Time or The Catcher in the Rye or On the Road or Jesus’ Son or This Boy’s Life or A Fan’s Notes, holds within its covers the story of a life. And in the years that I’ve been writing about my childhood baseball cards on this site, my primary aim has been to pass along the feeling of what it’s like to hold some kind of fleeting magic in your hands. The book, because of some great design work by my publisher, Seven Footer Press, has the look and even the feel of a brand new pack of baseball cards from the 1970s, and within the book are the color images of four packs worth of cards, the next best thing to me being able to hand you sixty of the gods of my childhood so that you too can hold them in your hands.

I already made a link to this above, but in case you missed it, I’ve set up a page on this site with more information about the book, including where and when it can be purchased and what some people have been saying about it.

Lest anyone be tempted to dream that a book called Cardboard Gods might mean that I’ll finally stop droning on incessantly about my childhood baseball cards on this site, please allow me to use this incredible Wayne Granger card to pass along the perhaps demoralizing news that I won’t be shutting up anytime soon, or perhaps ever, not counting debilitating medical problems or death. Put another way: I’ll never say it all, but I’ll keep trying. That’s the feeling I got when I first looked at this Wayne Granger card from 1976 this morning. I opened my shoebox full of cards and took the rubber band off of the stack of Astros cards, and this is the first card I saw upon opening the stack at random. I wanted to post something today that pointed toward this whole project of writing about all my childhood baseball cards, and I figured the Astros would be a good start, since their uniforms say so much about the strange woozy era I grew up in, and also about the hold it will always have on me as the time in which dizzying wonder roamed the land without a map or a compass or even a destination.

Wayne Granger seems to feel it, too, leaning slightly to the left as if a little unsure of his moorings, a look on his face like his catcher is flashing him sign language interpretations of the essays of Umberto Eco. He has been a star in the league, back when things made more sense, back when he was on a team, the Reds, with strict rules about how to dress and how to wear your hair. Those years are behind him now. He has been traded for a player to be named later and has twice been afloat in the strange new ether of free agency. He can grow his hair long and put on vestments that could just have easily been the chosen garments of a 1970s cult dedicated to communal living, past-life regression hypnosis, and chanting at rainbows. Granger (who because I was too young to know him as a star was always confused in my head with that early symbol of the excesses of free agency, Wayne Garland) carried a record of 34 and 35 into the 1976 season. He had not even had a baseball card in 1975, so there may have been some sense that this photo shoot might be his last. (It was, though after the Astros released him he did manage to hook on with the Montreal Expos and win one more game to even his all-time record forever at 35 and 35, perfectly even, a fact that affirms the conviction that I will never exhaust the great and small wonders of this era.) I wonder if he knew to be grateful for that feeling of holding something in his hands, a baseball inside a glove: childhood itself. That feeling ends for everyone eventually. Some of us keep trying to bring it back.

28 comments

  1. I’m leaving for vacation this week and wish I had a copy with me. Exciting!


  2. Was that pic shot at Candlestick?


  3. It was generally thought that the Astros, with those jerseys, were the best-dressed team in our Little League. I was on the Padres, with the brown cheeseburger uniforms, and ours were considered the second-best. Of course, the air and water where we grew up was highly contaminated.

    I just pre-ordered the book. Did Don Stanhouse make it in?


  4. piehead: Oh man, if a team in our little league had Astros colors, they would have ruled.

    Thanks for ordering the book. Much appreciated. (Fullpack didn’t quite make the cut.)


  5. getting your hands on a brand-new pack of cards, or a brand-new book, is sort of like getting a birthday present even when it isn’t your birthday.

    but it feels even better when it is your birthday.

    happy birthday, josh!


  6. Thanks, seaver41. My favorite development around the release of the book is that the release date, originally scheduled for Opening Day, looks like it’ll be moved back a bit to April 12, which is my mom’s birthday.


  7. Looking forward to the book. I’m wondering, since there is a $10 difference between amazon and borders, is there a difference in your royalties between the two, or does the extra just go to pad borders profits? I wouldn’t mind paying the larger sum, if that also means you receive a larger royalty, as it is a way to also say thanks for the great writing on this site. So any insight?


  8. bdpratt: Hm, I don’t know why the prices differ. The Borders price is the actual list price (about the going rate these days for hardcovers, I think), while it looks like Amazon has a lower “Pre-Order Price Guarantee.” (Not sure how how they pull off that discount.) I’m no expert on this, but I don’t think differing retail prices affect author royalties. Thanks a lot for checking though. I appreciate it.


  9. I do believe that was Candlestick, based on the glimpse of seats and light standards available in the background. Odd thing to me is that the Astros apparently had the same home/road uniforms (per the Dressed To The Nines feature on Baseball-Reference.com). That certainly simplified the clubhouse manager’s chores! As for Wayne Granger, I was surprised to see he had a 3.14 ERA over 638 innings and 9 seasons. Not too shabby.

    Can’t wait to get the book!


  10. Excellent Art Work on the cover of your book, good luck with it Josh.

    It’s hard to imagine now but those Astros uniforms were considered the best in baseball by many people back in the 70’s. Classic Uniforms like the Tigers/Yankees/Red Sox were perceived as boring and dull.

    Is it me or were a lot of players forced to assume awkward posses like Granger in the above photo?


  11. I hate to admit it, johnq11, but I was one of those people. I think a lot of us who first started following baseball in the 70’s didn’t know anything else. Most of the existing photos and film of anything from prior decades seemed to be in black and white, which made the colors stand out even more. Plus, the polyester effect tended to make even classics like the ones you mentioned look a little cheesy. But yeah, all in all, pretty horrible. I miss ‘em.


  12. godfreyjon65,

    as a 10 year old in 1976, I and almost all of my friends thought the Astros uniform was the best in the majors.

    In retrospect a lot of the uniforms from the pre-1960’s still look kind of terrible because they’re so baggy and ill-fitting. Some of the those players literally look like they’re wearing potato sacks. So when the stream-lined polyester uniforms came out, players just looked so much better even though the uniforms were kind of garish looking.

    I think they finally got it right around the late 80’s-early 90’s with they took the look of the old uniforms with the material and tailoring of the 90’s.


  13. Anyone remember when the Bad News Bears visited the Astrodome in ’77? Those uniforms on the big screen almost blew out my retinas. Cameos by Bob Watson, Joe Ferguson, Enos Cabell, Ken Forsch, Roger Metzger, J.R. Richard, Cesar Cedeno and Bill Virdon were also awe-inspiring to an 11 year old weened on Detroit Tigers’ apparel.

    Ordered “Baseball Gods” from Amazon today. Should be here first week in April. Bring it!


  14. tfender: Would you believe I’m watching Bad News Bears in Breaking Training right this moment? (I own the DVD and have watched it many times–this viewing is mainly for research for an upcoming writing project.)

    There actually is a book called “Baseball Gods” for sale on Amazon, but it’s not my book! Looks like that book is a “metaphysical guide” to playing the game, written (according to a note on the Amazon page) by a member of the college baseball hall of fame. Much more useful than my book, no doubt.


  15. I can’t believe you own the DVD! “Let them play! Let them play!” One of the best sequels ever.

    Thanks for the note about your book too. I checked and thankfully did order your book, though in the above post I mistakenly said “baseball” instead of “cardboard”. Obviously distracted by thoughts of 70’s era Houston Astros.


  16. Congratulations, Josh. About five years ago, a package made its way from the East Coast of the United States to the South Island of New Zealand, where I unwrapped it and held in my hands the first copy of a book I had spent seven years writing. I’ll never forget the feeling of all those years of notes and Word documents culminating in one bound volume.

    I do not know which stories from this blog have made it to your book, though I suspect and hope that the Dick Sharon entry is one of them. Regardless of what is within those covers, I know from reading what you’ve put on the internet that it will be rewarding to anyone who picks it up. Again, congratulations.


  17. tfender,

    The “Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” was kind of the ultimate fantasy for a 10-13 year kid in the 70’s. Hanging out with a cool 14 year old Fonzie want-to-be and stealing a van and driving to the “Astrodome” to play in a baseball tournament was pretty awesome even though the logic/premise of the plot is completely absurd.

    There’s a lot of nostalgia about those old parks that were still open in the 70’s but honestly a lot of those parks, Tiger Stadium, Cleveland Municipal, Comisky Park, were complete dumps left in total disrepair.

    Even venerable parks like Wrigley & Fenway Park were kind of dumps during the 70’s. It’s only in the late 80’s-90’s when they really started to repair those ballparks did they start to look good.

    Plus “The Astrdome” just seemed so ahead of it’s time with the closed-in roof.


  18. kelly leak has been mentioned often here, along with the kid who played him, jackie earle haley.

    for those of you who need a jackie fix, he’s now a regular on the new show “human target,” which is pretty good. it’s on wednesday nights on fox or can be seen here: http://www.fox.com/humantarget.


  19. Amazon (a former employer of mine) regularly discounts new releases, often up to 70%. Along with WalMart, Amazon is treating new releases as loss leaders to drive customers away from brick-and-mortar stores like Borders and B&N. Once they succeed in driving them out of business (there are no profits at Borders to pad, let me assure you), expect those discounts to disappear.

    That said, there are few things I like more than saving a few bucks, so I’ll probably order this from Amazon myself. Congratulations, Josh, on the completed project and high-profile blurbage!


  20. Very exciting to see your book, Josh — and I’m looking forward to getting my copy on the release date. Congratulations!


  21. Hey are you doing a book tour? I can recommend a local shop in Brooklyn that does these events very well and they usually move a small pile too.


  22. johnq11: Well-put synopsis of “Breaking Training” as the ultimate kid fantasy.

    seaver41: I haven’t watched that show yet, but as a JE Haley completist I will. His work in Little Children was chilling.

    sansho1: Thanks for that explanation of the inner workings of Amazon. Interesting.

    mbtn01: I was just talking to the editor about trying to work up an “east coast swing” in May. Thanks so much for offering info about the Brooklyn store. Can you email me at the address in the upper right of the home page here? Thanks!


  23. Thanks for describing that feeling of fleeting magic! I love the old Astro’s jerseys. If you get a chance let me know what you think of the new baseball card show I just kicked off at http://www.openingdaycards.com. We’re trying to bring that feeling back.


  24. Haley also takes a great turn in “Shutter Island” with Leo DiCaprio. I didn’t realize he was in the movie until he was on-screen, though. He reminds me a little of Clint Howard sometimes.


  25. Sansho1,

    I don’t have much sympathy for the big mass merchant book sellers like Borders because they basically did the same thing to the small mom & pop stores.

    Borders kind of sucks now anyway, they never have a very good selection of baseball/sports books on hand. They seem to cater most of the store towards women and especially teens and adolescents with all that vampire/twilight B.S. Every year places like Borders & Barnes & Noble become less like Book stores. More and more of the place is taken up by games/toys, calenders, greeting cards, and then a bunch of memorabilia for whatever is the latest fad like Twilight, mugs/hats/shirts etc.

    Case in point, I went to Borders on 2/22 to pick up the new Baseball Prospectus 2010, they didn’t have it even though it was available at Amazon for $15 less, and Barnes&Noble had it for full price. I asked the lady, when will it be in, “Try 2/25-2/26″. I came back on the 27th, they still didn’t have it in stock. I Went to another Borders and the lady gave me some bizarre story about it being in a box that she couldn’t find. I had a Gift Card that I received from my sister otherwise I would have just bought it online. Finally on 3/1 they got it in.

    I think everything is leading up to digital anyway. I bet in 10 years or so there’s going to be a book site like Netflix where you pay a monthly fee and then basically rent books one at a time for your kindle.


  26. Congrats Josh! I will be half expecting a stick of gum to fall out of the book when I open it.


  27. Can’t wait to read the book. Great news that it’s about to come out.


  28. Something about this photo makes me want an orange creamsicle.

    Congrats on the book, Josh. I hope that stick of gum is as stiff and stale as they used to be.



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