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Ross Grimsley

June 25, 2010

Two nights ago, I punched a bag of pretzel nuggets. I needed to punch something but the thing I really wanted to punch, an air conditioning control box, would have broken if I’d punched it, and then I would have had to explain to my wife and then the landlord that I had punched and broken an electronic device, and then I would have had to pay for its costly repair. It was a very hot, humid evening, and I just wanted to turn on the air conditioning, but this device, my nemesis, is extremely complicated. You can’t just turn on the air conditioning but have to program it to turn on; however, all the options for programming make no sense to me: wake, return, sleep. Return? Which one gets the thing to turn on? I could not figure it out and eventually resorted to pushing all the buttons randomly in hopes that I’d luck into turning it on, but that didn’t work, so I stalked around the apartment sweating and hurling obscenities until I came upon the bag of pretzel nuggets sitting on the counter and I punched the shit out of it. Goddamn bag, fuck you! And oh, it knew it had been punched. Many of the nuggets inside the bag were instantly pulverized into dust upon impact with the human TNT encased in my right fist, and the structural integrity of the entire bag was also ruptured significantly, so much so that I had, while tidying up the mess from the incident, heart still pounding from battle, to move the surviving pretzel nuggets into a Tupperware container. Even the surviving pretzel nuggets felt my wrath. They were traumatized crumbling versions of their former selves. I know this because yesterday evening when I got home from work I ate a few of the pretzel nuggets out of my cupped hand and my wife chastised me for scattering pretzel crumbs all over the floor. I hadn’t told her that I’d punched a bag of pretzel nuggets. She wouldn’t necessarily get a thrilling charge out of imagining her 42-year-old husband stomping around our apartment assaulting snacks. But the point is this: don’t fuck with me, pretzels.

***

The point is this: I have been trying and failing all week to write something about this 1974 Ross Grimsley TRADED card. I had six pages of really shitty material even before getting into it about the pretzel nuggets, which, in case you were wondering if you missed something, do indeed have nothing whatsoever to do with the 1974 Ross Grimsley TRADED card except maybe that I bought both of them, one item a few days ago and the other thirty-six years ago.

***   

The point is this: I started buying packs of baseball cards when I was six. It was near the end of the summer of 1974. A high percentage of those first cards I ever obtained were from this disquieting 1974 TRADED cards series, those first packs rife with these indelible testaments to transience and rejection. Maybe Topps slapped together the cards late in their production cycle that year. This makes some sense—the cards depicted relatively late-breaking events from the previous year. Or maybe the gods were trying to tell me something. It was, after all, a summer of trades. You could say that I had been traded from New Jersey to Vermont, or that my New Jersey friends had been traded for Vermont strangers, but the biggest transaction involved my dad. He had been with the club from before I’d joined via the family’s expansion draft in 1968, but just before the move to Vermont he’d been traded elsewhere. There was no TRADED card explaining the trade.

***

The point is this: During this week’s failed attempt to use words for some clear purpose, I read a fair amount about Ross Grimsley. He was known as Scuz and Crazy Eyes. He believed a witch helped him win games. He refrained from bathing while on winning streaks. He is shown here just before he was allowed, upon being freed from the constrictive, conservative Reds, to grow a mustache and let his hair bloom into a big greasy bush in which, some argued, he secreted ball-altering substances. The back of the card has a fake newspaper story from a fake newspaper, “The Baseball News”:

GRIMSLEY TRADED TO ORIOLES

“The Baltimore Orioles, shopping for another starting pitcher, today obtained Ross Grimsley . . .,” the story begins. It then notes some highlights from Grimsley’s time with the Reds and mentions that he’d be joining two other lefties in the Orioles’ rotation. If things were going a little smoother inside my mind or soul or whatever, maybe I could find a way to connect Ross Grimsley’s interesting story (related entertainingly in a good recent post by crack baseball historian Bruce Markusen) to my own life. I don’t know, it has been one of those weeks when things don’t really come together. I have gone to my job and come back from my job. My interaction with other humans has been minimal. I have a portable satellite radio with ear bud headphones. I jam the buds into my ears as I am walking out the door and take them out when I get to my cubicle, then several hours later I shut off my computer and leave my cubicle and shove the buds back into my ear and don’t take them out until I get home. Were birds singing? Did anyone call my name? I don’t know.

***

The point is this: I can picture a 1974 TRADED card for my father. I can see the headline on the back:

DAD TRADED TO NEW YORK  

“New York added another solitary today,” the story would begin. The image on the front of his card would feature some doctoring, as all the traded cards did. Of course, my dad did not wear a baseball cap, then or ever, so it’s unclear what could be doctored in or out. Maybe a pair of large headphones, which he began to use extensively as soon as he moved into his studio apartment in Manhattan. He listened to Bach. He shut himself off from the sounds of the present to envision patterns of perfection beyond time.

***

I shut myself off from the sounds of the present but am mostly just looking for distraction. I listen mostly to chatter, Howard Stern or sports talk. Sometimes I mix in some music, too. Yesterday on the way home from work to my wife and my terrorized Tupperware container of pretzel nuggets I listened to some “classic alternative” music from the 1980s and thought about myself from that time and my friends from that time and the feelings from that time, which seemed in retrospect, backed by the poufy-haired British music in my ears, to mostly amount to a sort of swelling romantic melancholy. I started missing the way I was sad in the 1980s. It was somehow larger and more heroic than the measly lowgrade glumness I often slog around in these days. Plus I was thinner. Such is the way of the world. We get older and softer and weaker and fade. There are no TRADED cards marking the changes. There are no stats to analyze. There aren’t even any words. The point is this:

19 comments

  1. how’s this for a pseudopsychoanalytical stretch? your dad was on your mind because this is your first posting about a baseball player since father’s day. (the only other post was mascot-related.) many people assume that ross grimsley, a left-handed pitcher who was accused of hiding foreign substances in his unruly hair, is the father of jason grimsley, a right-handed pitcher who admitted using steroids, but in fact he is the son of a a left-handed pitcher, also named ross grimsley, who played one season with the white sox in 1951, a kansan “traded” to chicago, much like a certain vermonter by way of brooklyn.


  2. hey Josh, I conquered my programmable thermostat by Googling it and downloading the instruction manual. Presumably Mr. Landlord did not supply that to you…


  3. “don’t fuck with me, pretzels”- my new,favorite, pre-snacking quote.


  4. A girlfriend in college smashed me over the head with a bag of pistachio nuts once, and I looked like the Jewish Ross Grimsley at the time, so my point is this:


  5. By the time I graduated high school my family lived in five places so the traded cards also resonated with me.

    Looking at this ’74 it cracks me up how much of the photo is taken up by the TRADED tag, like it’s a WANTED poster from the old west.

    Josh have you returned to collecting, or at least occasionally picking up a few cards? I collected until I was around 20, when I decided it wasn’t a cool thing for a college-aged guy to do.

    A few years ago – at the ripe age of 40 – I was vacationing in Seattle and, on a lark, picked up a few packs at a card shop. They were worthless, overpriced packs but triggered something in me that led to a quick return to my love of cards.

    I’m now back to being a full-blown collector. I dug up all my old cards, 15,000 dating from 1968-1986. In addition to filling in the gaps of cards from the early/mid-70s and late 1960s I’ve also bought new ones in recent years.


  6. I want to pity your writer’s block but it’s so much fun when you get it. Don’t fuck with me, pretzels.


  7. Do you think Grimsley and Bill Lee ever dabbled in some ‘substances’ when both were on the Expos?


  8. josh, this isn’t all that interesting, but at least it’s relavant…

    About a year and a half ago I was on a plane and sitting next to me was Ross Grimsley’s wife (I guess we got on the subject of baseball by me talking about my son playing little league or something)… Anyway she asked me if I remembered him and I said “of course!.” But, honestly, I didn’t remember anything about him EXCEPT the way he looked in his Topps cards (the crazy hair years after ’74 mostly). I actually mentioned his “crazy afro hair and ‘stache” and she laughed. He is now the pitching coach of the Double A Richmond Flying Squirrels (where I live) and I recommended, over the winter, to their front office that they should do a Ross Grimsley hair day… still waiting for a response… if they had only seen those cards, they’d have understood my request…

    If you punch a bag of pretzels, can you get arrested for A-Salt?


  9. mwarneridx: I’ll give that a try, though I’ve been known to punch my share of instruction manuals in my day.

    Brian: No, I haven’t yet leaped back into collecting. I’m still trying to make sense of the cards that I already have. But the itch is still there for sure.

    smedindy: I can see those two Expos lefties having some interests in common besides the strategy of throwing a lot of “salad.”

    ohnoonan: That’s a great promotion idea. If Ross Grimsley hair day comes to pass, please let me know.


  10. nothing to say about Russ Grimsley. But I truly loved your book, which I had to have sent to me here in Buenos Aires where I live. Even more so being as far from Brooklyn where I grew up (born 1949) and avidly collected cards until the fateful day when, ignoring my mother’s repeated warnings to not practice my swing (as well as my Hector Lopez stance) in front of her bedroom oval beveled mirror, I connected and shattered said mirror, resulting in the awful punishment of all 2,100 cards being given to Kim Saal, and never to be seen again. My Argentine wife would never be understand the psychological impact of this on a 9 year old, but I’m sure you, Josh, do.


  11. Speaking of assaulting inanimate objects…as a kid in the ’70s I spent a lot of time putting together plastic model cars. Just whiling away the afternoon with a tube of rubber cement and a scale model of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme’s Funny Car.

    At some point I decided I was ready to tackle the Visible V8 (http://amzn.to/dc3CBq), which evidently was beyond my skill level. Getting those pieces to fit together was a bitch and a half. The thing was about halfway completed when my frustration boiled over. I grabbed a hammer and spent the next 15 minutes methodically pulverizing that son of a bitch into thousands of tiny pieces, while my brother stood by in stunned silence. It was quite a thrill, even though I was aware I’d gone off the deep end. I never bothered with plastic models again.


  12. Don Mossi fucked with me once and look what happened.


  13. I hated those 1974 Traded cards when I was a kid.

    Ross Grimsley is one of the luckiest pitchers in the last 40 years. Basically he was a boderline replacement level pitcher who was able to have a 12 year 1200 inning career because he was on some great teams which tended to mask how mediocre he was in reality.

    His 20 win 1978 season is one of the most overrated and lucky 20 win seasons of the last 50 years. He won 20 games that year because he was lucky, got good run support, had a great bullpen in Knowles, Dues and Sanderson and had one of the great defensive outfields of the last 40 years with Cromartie, Dawson and Valentine. Plus he had Spier at short and Carter behind the plate.

    If you want to point to a reason why the Expos aren’t in Montreal, you can look at Grimsley. He was awful in 1979 with a negative (-2.7) War. The Expos lost the east by 2 games that year. And he was awful during his limited run with the 1980 Expos, negative (-1.5) War. The Expos lost the division by 1 game to the Phils.


  14. Two thoughts about today’s post: 1. I once saw the original Ross Grimsley pitch in a semipro game in Emporia Kansas in my youth. 2. I never knew there was a snack called pretzel nuggets-they sound dangerous. I suggest the next time you want to take out your frustrations, you try a bag of Cheese Puffs. If a Red Sox player would have punched the nuggets he would have been on the 15 day DL at a minimum.


  15. jimmykc1,

    I took Elsbury in the second round of my fantasy draft which has basically turned into no second round pick.

    I made a typo on Grimsley he had 2000 innings pitched in the big leagues. There’s been 353 pitcher in ML history since 1901 to accomplish this and Grimsley by far is one of the worst.


  16. I loved the severity of the TRADED cards – and the frequently velvety paint jobs of players in their new uniforms. Ross Grimsley, based on his lefthandedness and abundance of hair alone was always a favorite second-rate player. When my hometown Philadelphia Phillies acquired his son Jason I was initially excited, thinking the Phils would be adding a hairy, mustachioed chip off the old block. Instead we got a crewcut-wearing blockhead. He couldn’t pitch either. Thankfully he was flipped for Curt Schilling, but to this day I still regret that Jason didn’t take advantage of his hairy genes.


  17. If Storm Davis had won 1 more game for the 1989 A’s that would have easily been one of the most overrated 20 win seasons ever.


  18. @momodidi:

    Kim Saal? Who or what is that? According to Google, he’s a corporate doctor in the Boston area. Huh? Recipient of charity gifts or something?


  19. I grew up in a small town in Indiana. While with the Reds, Ross Grimsley was dating a girl from another small town nearby. She brought him to our county fair.

    On the midway was a dunk tank where you got three chances to throw a baseball at a tiny target and soak the loudmouth carnie behind the cage. Ross dropped the guy so many times he finally got pissed, climbed out, and stalked away down the midway.

    Simply seeing a pro baseball player in person is awesome stuff when you’re 10 years old. This was off the charts.



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