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Doyle Alexander

May 25, 2010

I didn’t think to look at the odometer of my rental car when I started on my east coast book tour a couple weeks ago, so I don’t know how many miles I travelled. A lot. I drove from Chicago to Pittsburgh, then from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn, then out to Huntington, Long Island, back to Brooklyn, up to Boston, then to northwestern Vermont, then central Vermont, then southern Vermont, central Vermont again, and then back to Chicago. My wife met me in Boston, so we shared the driving from that point on, and she was at the wheel of our regular car as we drove home from dropping off the rental car. We were both exhausted. A sedan spun out in front of us, the byproduct of a near-collision with a minivan. The sedan swerved onto a spit of land separating the highway from an off-ramp, a cyclone of dust kicking up. The car then swerved back into traffic, coming right at us.

A kind of complacency sets in while you travel all your miles. The monotony, hypnotic, lures you into believing that you’ll always be traveling this road. On the trip east, desperate to break up the boredom, I had listened to a speech on a religious radio station from ex-major leaguer Frank Pastore, who related how an injury to his pitching arm had led him to a religious conversion. Somehow this conversion ended up involving inflammatory anti-Semitic asides (during his speech he made sure to implicate “a Jewish tribunal” in the death of the central figure in his religion, exactly the kind of vitriol that catalyzed deadly pogroms for centuries leading up to the Holocaust). But I understand the need to search for some solid ground when the ground you thought was solid disintegrates. Later on in my long drive, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “You will meet God.” We all will live to see moments when the monotonous, comforting pattern of life suddenly gives way to a terrifying chaos. The defining quality of this chaos is that it will seem to have always been there, below the flimsy veil of everyday life.

The out-of-control car on the expressway came within a few feet of spearing us in the passenger side, where I was sitting. Somehow, it didn’t hit any cars at all, and as we drove on toward home the only aftermath was the sound of other cars honking to protest the disruption in the illusion that we will all go on forever. After a while, I told my wife I felt like Samuel Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction after he’d lived through a hail of bullets. It was actually the crystallization of a grateful feeling that had been building throughout the trip. I’ll try to write some more about the trip throughout this week, but even before the near accident at the end, I had already begun to get the feeling, repeatedly, that my life was passing before my eyes. People from all parts of my past reappeared in front of me wherever I went: friends from my twenties and early thirties, friends from college, friends from high school, friends from junior high, even one of my elementary school teachers. Even a couple of real-life Cardboard Gods. The fast pace of the tour blurred this procession into one long joyful and also faintly melancholy farewell parade, like you see in movies when someone is breathing last breaths and seeing everything ever seen and loved one more time before going. This life is a short, sweet blessing. Things will change.

Doyle Alexander surely began learning this lesson around the time of this singularly odd 1977 card, the only card I can remember seeing in which an attempt was made to doctor the cap and uniform of a player in the midst of an action shot of sorts. In all other cases that I know of, the practice of altering the cap and uniform to place a player on a team he’d moved to in the offseason was restricted to posed shots, which were certainly easier to manipulate into a new version of reality without creating as much of a profound sense of a figure being divorced from his environment as is shown here on Alexander’s card. I guess it’s the smudgy altered cap against the Rembrandtian darkness in the background at the top of the picture that goes the farthest in making Alexander into a flimsy provisional interloper in this mortal coil. Before the previous year, Alexander had played for several years with one team, the Orioles, but from that point on he became noted for being a well-traveled guy, often going (at least in my memory) from one team to the next during pennant pushes, his veteran steadiness called on to shore up fraying starting rotations. He became a traveler. It started around the time of this card, in which he seems easily removable, as if you could flick him loose from the picture with one fingernail, and then he’d flutter to the ground like a feather, still locked in his ambiguous open-mouthed pose. 

21 comments

  1. Before I realized the photos were doctored, I can remember wondering why these players were wearing felt caps.


  2. I still don’t get the reason behind airbrushing. Was it a union thing? Did Paulie Walnuts control that racket?


  3. Airbrushing an “action” shot was definitely unusual for Topps. It looks like it was taken in Yankee Stadium, 1976. Topps went the extra mile by painting Alexander in a road blue Texas jersey.

    Doyle Alexander always reminded me of a great name for a fictional character.

    He was an important member of those ’84-85 Blue Jays teams that had great pitching, Steib, Key, Alexander and Henke and came up just a bit short for the world series.

    Alexander’s other claim to fame was being traded for John Smoltz during the end of the 1987 season. Alexander had a great 2 months for the Tigers and helped them win the Eastern division and Smoltz went on to have a HOF career.


  4. “The defining quality of this chaos is that it will seem to have always been there, below the flimsy veil of everyday life…”

    That’s some profound shit, dude. It’s terrible feeling, too. I’ve experienced it. Maybe you should go lie down for a little bit…


  5. What forever bugs me about Doyle Alexander is that when the Yankees reacquired him in 1982, he stunk! He was awful in ’82 and ’83 for NY and so when they released him, I figured he was done. He looked like a guy who’d had a couple of decent years and then lost it. Then, of course, he went on to have those really solid and sometimes excellent years in the mid-80s! When he went 9-0 for Detroit in ’87, I recall feeling really cheated.


  6. Up until last year, when Smoltz was still active, Alexander was a bridge of sorts between the mid-20th century, when Frank Robinson started playing, and the late “oughts” of the 21st century (Smoltz): Alexander had at different times in his career been involved in trades for both Hall of Fame (or Hall of Fame caliber) players.

    I’m wondering who’s now taken Alexander’s place as the transaction-page “bridge” for the longest span of years now that Smoltz’s inactive status has removed Alexander from that spot. Anybody got any ideas?


  7. Glad you made it home safe, Josh. Love to hear about your encounter with the Spaceman when you get a chance.


  8. Josh,

    I was kind of thinking the same thing when I saw he was traded for Frank Robinson.

    He was also part of that 1976 big 10 player trade between the Yanks and the Orioles.

    And then the Blue Jays traded him for Duane Ward, who was a big part of those ’92-93 Championship teams, and the 1992 team played the John Smoltz Braves. And in kind of an odd twist, he was the one probably most responsible for knocking out the Blue Jays from the 1987 Eastern Division.

    I have to put some thought into the current “Doyle Alexander type player”, someone traded for a HOF at the beginning of his career and at the end.


  9. Hey welcome back, great seeing you on the tour despite all the chaos that night. I have an old This Week in Baseball on videotape where Brad “The Animal” Lesley is asked what the strangest thing he’s ever seen in baseball, and he replies “Frank Pastore’s face.”


  10. Josh,
    Coincidentally, in my own exploration of 70s cards (just yesterday!), I found Paul Lindblad’s 1973 Topps card. It, too, has an action shot with airbrushing (and as I saw it, I wondered about it being the only doctored action shot!)… The “artwork” substitutes the A’s darker green for flourescent green! It’s a beaut. Shockingly, I couldn’t find a good photo of the card online, but may scan and send to you so you may see this rare gem.

    ps, Loved the book. A lot of parallels with my own childhood, and collecting!


  11. @ohnoonan, the ’73 topps set is FULL of airbrushed action shots. See John Ellis, who has the whole front of his uniform erased, and Tommie Agee, who apparently got traded to Houston in a package deal with Wayne Garrett & Bud Harrelson (also pictured, and also airbrushed).

    I guarantee I could find a bunch more without looking very hard.


  12. I don’t have a single 1973 card. I’ve got several 1974 cards (first year of buying packs) and have a few cards from 1972 and a couple cards from ’71, ’70, and ’69, but none from 1973. From what I’ve seen and heard of it (Craig Calcaterra wrote a nice piece about the ’73 set a couple years ago), it sounds like a great year. Even better now–riddled with doctored action weirdness.


  13. By mid 70’s Topps standards, the airbrush job on this card is actually pretty impressive.


  14. I should add here, non-doctored cards of “traded” guys could be every bit as creepy. I have a 1974 Glenn Beckert card where he’s clearly pictured in a Cubs uni but with the card identifying him as a Padre, weirds me out to this day.


  15. I always thought Alexander looked vaguely like a young Frank Sinatra in his 1973 card. He sure as hell doesn’t look like him in this one!


  16. Josh, this may not be exactly what you’re looking for as a “transaction-bridge” player, but Jamie Moyer played with HOFer Nolan Ryan on Texas in ’89 and Ryan goes back to ’66 as a major leaguer. Moyer currently plays with potential future HOFer Ryan Howard who may play until 2020. Also both players have Ryan in their name to add to the fun.


  17. He was also teammates with HOF “Ryne” Sandberg from ’86-88.


  18. I have 2 potential candidates for the Doyle Alexander type player, they only have to be traded for a HOF type player at the end of their careers.

    Carl Pavano was part of the Pedro Martinez, Expos-Red Sox trade.

    Vincent Padilla was part of the Curt Schilling, D-Backs-Phillies trade.


  19. What became of those stellar artists who did the photo edits for Topps? Did they make the transition to the computer age and learn digital editing? Or did they go the way of the blacksmith?


  20. The Orioles traded Frank Robinson for Doyle Alexander. The great Frank Robinson for a guy named Doyle. No joy in Mobtown that day.


  21. There’s actually several of these full-uniform airbrush nightmares out there – some even worse than this one. Check out this post for some more:

    http://reallybadbaseballcards.blogspot.com/2014/08/before-there-was-photoshop-ii.html



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