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Pat Putnam

June 2, 2010

After a bit of a return to my normal life as a couch-bound shut-in, I’ll soon be leaving my house again to try to use my corporeal presence and astonishing ability to sign my own name to politely strongarm civilians into buying my book. On Saturday I’ll be sitting at a table with a stack of hardcovers and a Sharpie in the Barbara’s Bookstore on the lower level of Macy’s in downtown Chicago. A few days after that, at the request of the great Baseball Reliquary, my wife and I will fly to Los Angeles for a reading and signing at the South Pasadena library, and on Saturday we’ll be at the Upstart Crow Bookstore in San Diego. The following day, I’ll be back in Chicago, on a panel with novelist Billy Lombardo at the Printer’s Row Festival. (Please see my “book tour events” page for more details on those and other upcoming appearances.)

If you’re around for any of those events, I’d love to meet you. I honestly would! I don’t think of myself as a people person, but I really did like meeting people on my trip through the northeast. At a lot of stops, I saw people I hadn’t seen in decades, including some old high school buddies in Manhattan and one of my elementary school teachers in Vermont. I also got to meet people who are readers of the blog, and to talk with them and others about the joys of old cardboard.

One of my favorite meetings occurred with a fellow baseball card lover in my old hometown, East Randolph, where I hung out for a couple hours at the general store that had provided most of my childhood cards. Halfway through my visit, the son of Amy and Joel Messier, who now own the store, showed up, home from a little league game, and he and I spent a while digging through a lovingly protected selection from his baseball card collection. (Both of us were in uniform—Darrin in his little league Dodger duds and me in a Papelbon jersey.) He had some older cards of superstars and, being a fellow Red Sox fan, he also had several Red Sox cards from different eras. One card in this penthouse of his collection might not have seemed to fit in with such lofty company, but being from East Randolph, that little town that is really only a few houses along Route 14 in Central Vermont, I knew why there was a Pat Putnam card mixed in among the likes of Yogi Berra and Willie Mays and Wade Boggs and Dustin Pedroia.

Baseball was the center of my world growing up, just as it seems to be now for Darrin. I understood on some level how far from the action I was in East Randolph. East Randolph was not Mobile, Alabama, or some sun-drenched hotbed of talent in Florida or California, or San Pedro de Macoris. Baseball players did not come from East Randolph, Vermont. They rarely came from Vermont at all. Even Carlton Fisk, born in Bellows Falls, which was a long way from my town anyway, stridently defined himself as a native of New Hampshire, and not of Vermont, where he’d been born only because that’s where the closest hospital was located.

But Pat Putnam, somehow, some way, was born just down the road a few miles from East Randolph, the next small town over: Bethel.

“Bethel!” I said upon spotting Pat Putnam’s card in Darrin’s collection. Darrin’s father, Joel, said it, too.

“I couldn’t believe he was from Bethel,” Joel said, shaking his head and smiling.

Putnam had not, as far as I could ever tell, stayed in Bethel long. There were no local legends of his exploits as a child and teen titan of baseball prowess. I assumed early on that he and his family had quickly moved away to somewhere more populated and warm, and from there he’d begun his ascension to the big leagues. But he’d been there, in Bethel, at least for a second. And by making it to the big leagues, and making it onto a card, his birthplace immortalized on the back, he’d brought my faraway part of the world within reach of the gods.

28 comments

  1. When I was at UVM, there was a story in the Vanguard that listed all the Vermont born major leaguers. That’s when I first learned about Pat Putnam. Somehow I never noticed it on his cards (maybe I didn;t even have one of his cards).
    I know it is not the same thing, but it was a pretty big deal when Kirk McCaskill made it to the Angels. He was gone from UVM by the time I arrived, but anytime he pitched in NY or Boston it created a buzz in Burlington.
    Tom Browning, from across the lake in Malone, NY got a lot of coverage in Burlington too in the late 1980’s


  2. I remember rooting for McCaskill for his UVM “roots.” Partial credit counts (as it would have to for me, who wasn’t even born in Vermont and doesn’t live there now.) Robin Roberts also got some retrospective love from me for playing some ball in Montpelier at one point in his early days (I think it was for a Cape Cod League type setup–top quality amateur summer league kinda thing).

    As for actual true blue Vermonters–there aren’t many. A current major leaguer, Daric Barton of the A’s, was born in Vermont, but I think he’s kinda like Putnam (i.e., didn’t stick around in Vermont long). I could be wrong about that.

    The best real longtime Vermonter was, I think, Larry Gardner, third base standout of the deadball days and four-time World Champ (thrice with the Red Sox and once with the Indians).


  3. I miss those 1970s Texas Rangers unis. One of my first Strat teams was the ’78 Rangers. Fergie had a great year.


  4. The Rangers of the ’70s had some good Strat-type guys (Hargrove and Harrah come to mind). Putnam would have had a couple decent Strat cards, too, but he kind of petered out after offering a couple early hints that he at least had a chance at a Boog Powell-esque career in front of him. Didn’t really work out that way. His minor league numbers, as captured on the back of this card, are pretty awe-inspiring.


  5. The great SABR biography project confirms that Putnam does have some bonafide Vermont roots, as he lived there for 8 years (mostly in Shelburne, not Bethel) before his family moved to Florida:

    http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&pid=11521&bid=1427


  6. Yeah, and the ’78 club had Bobby Bonds, Al Oliver, Richie Zisk and Jon Matlack, so they were indeed a fun Strat team. Won 87 games in real life and finished second. They also had…wait for it…Kurt Bevacqua.


  7. …and I left out Dock Ellis!


  8. Great story and interesting bio, being related to another Vermont big-leaguer. Though I wouldn’t have wanted my team to wear them, I also dug those wacky 70s TeXaS jerseys.


  9. Those late 70’s early 80’s Ranger teams were very odd & unique teams.

    Those teams always felt like some sort of retirement home for former all-stars: Fregosi, Horton, Campanaris, Perry, Ellis, Bonds, Zisk, Matlack, Jenkins, Rivers, Lyle, Staub, Harrelson, Parish, and Tanana.

    Then they had a lot of former Yankee and Met players for some reason: Matlack, Harrelson, Staub, Mazilli, Flynn, Medich, Gamble, Lyle, Rivers and Dent.

    They had two of the most underrated players in MLB history, Bert Blyleven and Buddy Bell. Plus, they had Mike Hardgrove and Toby Harrah who were underrated players.

    The had two of the greatest defensive players in baseball history in Bell and Jim Sundberg, yet overall the team wasn’t very good defensively.

    And for some reason, they had a lot of players who had the same initial in their first and last names: Pat Putnum, Bert Blyleven, Mike Marshall, Gary Gray, Danny Darwin, Nelson Norman, Buddy Bell, Mario Mendoza, and Dan Duran.

    And 3/4 of the 1979 infield was made up of 3 same initial players: Pat Putnum, Nelson Norman and Buddy Bell.


  10. That’s a funny observation about the ’79 Rangers infield. They should have coaxed Denny Doyle out of retirement to play second for at least one game. And maybe they could have played the Royals in this one game so as to have a moment where Willie Wilson could be caught in an infield-exhausting rundown. Poor Jim Joyce would have to be the first base ump in this scenario.


  11. Gary Gray – how many players have their first and last names anagrams of each other?

    johnq11 leads us into another possible great line-up list – the All Alliteration Line-up. How about this for a start:

    Blyleven, Robin Roberts,Don Drysdale, and Mike Mussina would make a good starting rotation.

    Lots of outfielders:

    RF -(Shoeless)Joe Jackson
    CF – Mickey Mantle/Cesar Cedeno/Willie Wilson
    LF – Barry Bonds/Carl Crawford/Minnie Minoso

    But need help on the infield:

    1B – Bill Buckner/Cecil Cooper
    2B –
    SS –
    3B – Buddy Bell
    C -


  12. The sticker albums Topps put out in the early and mid-1980’s sometimes listed team leaders in batting average, home runs, and RBI. Pat Putnam won the team triple crown for a horrible Mariners team in 1983. All the really good players were on real teams, so there would be a split between the BA and HR leaders. All through the next year, I thought Putnam was the shit. He hit .200 for the Mariners in 1984, then was traded for a minor leaguer and hit .079 and disappeared.

    I’m going to try to make it to South Pasadena signing. The girlfriend is insisting that I see Sex and the City with her that night, so my choices are either suicide or dumping the girl and going to the signing. My copy of the book will be the one that smells like rum.


  13. Nominations for the open spots on all-alliteration team: Bob Boone at catcher; Willie Wells at shortstop.


  14. And maybe Bret Boone at second…


  15. Jackie Jensen, Marty Marion, and Steve Sax could provide depth.


  16. …so could Dom DiMaggio. As for 2B, I think Frankie Frisch has to get the nod over Bret Boone. I’d think Harvey Haddix would be a good swingman for the pitching staff, too.


  17. Yes, Frankie Frisch. Good one.

    Maybe HoFer Judy Johnson over Buddy Bell at third, if you ignore that Judy’s given first name was William.


  18. Goose Gossage in the all alliteration bullpen. Dizzy Dean for the starting rotation?


  19. What time will you be at that bookstore in San Diego? And is it this coming Saturday?


  20. Well done, good comments all around. I forgot to list Mike Mason who pitched for the Rangers during the early 80’s.

    We used to play a drinking game in college where 10-12 people would form a circle and someone would start the game by yelling out the name of a famous person. Person one might yell “Paul Newman”, then player 2 had about 3 seconds to come up with a celebrity whose name started with the letter “N”, say “Norman Mailer”, but if a person could come up with an alliteration name like “Nelson Norman” for example, the game would reverse and go back to player 1 and he had to drink. So I would throw out a lot of baseball players like: Denny Doyle, Bert Blyleven, Mickey Mantle.

    Felix Frankfurter, the supreme court justice was another good one.


  21. williemayshaze:

    SATURDAY, JUNE 12TH, 11 AM PACIFIC
    Upstart Crow Bookstore, 835C West Harbor Drive, Seaport Village, San Diego, CA
    Author appearance and book signing.
    Free and open to the public.
    For more info call: 619.232.4855


  22. For manager, you have your choice of Wes Westrum, Bud Black, or Bruce Bochy.

    Josh,
    A couple of San Diego Padres sites that might be a good place to get the word out:

    Ducksnorts
    Gaslamp Ball
    Friar Forecast

    I think Gaslamp recently did a review of your book.


  23. Sammy Sosa and Cesar Cedeno could be on the list.

    And some great old-timers: Harry Heilmann, Goose Goslin, Minnie Minosa, Harry Hooper, King Kelly, Clarence “Cupid” Childs, Joe Judge, and George Gore.


  24. Connecticut natives
    Jay Johnstone, Tim Teufel, and Bruce Boisclair.

    This just occured to me:
    Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa. Maybe it wasn’t the steroids after all


  25. In the early 1980s, the East Meadow School District (on Long Island, a suburb of New York City where I grew up)sent out autographed pictures to all the high school students of the two home town hereos who made it to the big leagues. I still have that phote in one of my cardboard gods album. They were Frank Viola and Bud Anderson. It is cool and a little inspiring to know that someone who went to the same school, grew up in the same neighborhood, whose parents did the same thing more-or-less as your own, who probably got ice cream at the same ice cream store you yourself did as a kid (and bought baseball cards in the same candy store) made it to the big leagues.


  26. I’ll add Scipio Spinks as either a starter or reliever. In either case, don’t expect much.


  27. I remember pulling for Len Whitehouse (Twins) after I learned he was from VT (Burlington?)…probably read it on the back of his card



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