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Clarence Gaston

February 10, 2011

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 24 of 25)

(continued from Rob Belloir)

Most of life is made up of forgettable moments. Clarence Gaston, better known by his childhood nickname Cito, which he earned by bearing a resemblance to a Mexican wrestler with that name, had some moments in his life that towered above the usual range of human moments and even surpassed the reach of most major leaguers. He had some success as a player—for many years, before the arrival of Tony Gwynn, Gaston’s .318 mark in 1970 stood as the San Diego Padres’ team record for batting average—but reached the pinnacle of the sport as a manager, leading the Toronto Blue Jays to back-to-back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. Only eight managers have ever won more World Series titles than Cito Gaston, who even ranks above his 1978 manager, future Hall of Famer Bobby Cox, in that category.

So it’s hard to imagine that Cito Gaston would remember the moment captured on this 1978 card. It was one of many days in a decade as a player in the big leagues, Gaston complying with the request of a photographer to get in his batting stance but not caring enough about trying to simulate actual game action to so much as shed his warmup jacket. The presence of the jacket, along with Gaston’s bored expression, suggests that Gaston let go of the moment forever the second he sauntered away from the harried photographer’s murmur of thanks, or even that Gaston was never really in the moment at all but was thinking ahead or back to something else, some other hypothetical moment that did not and would never exist in the way he was imagining it.

The past is gone and the future isn’t here, and the present is something we often barely show up for. While traveling from forgettable moment to forgettable moment, we have an air of distraction, like many of the players on the 1978 set of Atlanta Braves cards. Most of these cards are like the one for Clarence Gaston, a desultory quality bordering on some kind of forfeit emanating from the cardboard like a scent of stale gum. Still, maybe there’s a trace of each of us everywhere, a kind of perfection left behind as we stumble forward, losing. I’d like to think this trace can be seen here, stretching out on the grass in dark relief beyond Clarence Gaston. A pure form, waiting.

18 comments

  1. yes, i can’t take my eyes off that amazing shadow either, perhaps one of the best ever captured on a baseball card. it looks like it might even have been doctored, so much straighter than cito’s sorry excuse for a batting stance. it also looks almost impossibly small, perhaps foretelling gaston’s eventual move to pittsburgh for two final games that year, the last of his career, in which he went 1-for-2 for a batting average of .500.


  2. Alan Watts said the past seems fixed and permanent and the future stretches out to infinity and the present seems to be only a thin, illusory dividing line between the two, but that in fact, the opposite is true, it is only the present that is infinite and real. I have very mixed feelings about Alan Watts, but I thought that was a good line.


  3. A similar shadow, likely from the same day, shows up on Pat Rockett’s card:

    http://cardboardgods.net/2011/01/13/pat-rockett/

    But it’s not quite as pure. There seems to be another form (the photographer) encroaching on Rockett’s.

    That is a good line from Watts. Whatever else you can say about him, he certainly had a way with words. I used to love to sit around in the afternoon watching a beam of sun move across the floor as I listened to one or another of Watts’ hypnotic lectures being replayed on WFMU (way back in the early 1990s).


  4. Pat Rockett’s shadow appears to be wearing a top hat, or maybe a bowler. Either way, he probably has a goatee. That’s how you know it’s the evil Pat Rockett.


  5. This ’78 card was not quite Gaston’s final appearance as a player in cardboard form. Here’s an interesting look at his last hurrah one year later:

    http://fleersticker.blogspot.com/2010/02/cito-gaston-is-morphing-from-brave-into.html


  6. Josh, your prose is so wonderful. That it is in the context of the examination of a baseball card that you say “The past is gone and the future isn’t here, and the present is something we often barely show up for. While traveling from forgettable moment to forgettable moment, we have an air of distraction…” is all the more stunning.

    Plus, I cannot get over how you look at these cards and find things in them that, in my youth when I first held such cards, I could never have even given any thought to. He’s wearing a warm-up jacket, so he didn’t take the time to work the photographer. He isn’t in a proper batting stance, the stadium is empty, etc. I think I knew that some cards were a little bit odd, but from my earliest memories, they just were that way.

    Never stop. Please.


  7. Thinking about the form and poses immediately brought to mind this 1976 Steve Garvey card. http://s.ecrater.com/stores/66095/4a06ce9352e07_66095b.jpg

    It took me a while to find an image of it, but when I did, I was thinking “yes, that pose, so unnatural, yet so very much what I remember from that era.” Heck, when they took pictures of us for T-Ball, they certainly used as awkward or forced poses. It just seemed natural. But it isn’t.


  8. Thanks a lot, bldxyz.

    That ’76 Garvey card is a classic. It’s one of the cards that gets a pretty sizable spotlight in my book.


  9. Pure poetry, Mr Wilker.


  10. Are you sure that isn’t Nate Colbert?

    Before he evolved into “Cito,”
    I was always sort of confusing Clarence Gaston
    with Nate Colbert. That’s what baseball cards will do to you.

    I guess confusing Garry Maddox and Gary Matthews is sort of
    understandable, but it still doesn’t explain why I always
    thought Al Bumbry was Rich Coggins.


  11. It seems pretty obvious that all the ’78 Braves Candlestick shots (which is everyone we’ve seen so far except Matthews, Asselstine, Messersmith, Capra (Capra is Riverfront, I think) and maybe Burroughs) are from the same day.

    Assuming they’re from 1977 (there’s something about Willie Mac and a number on the scoreboard behind Phil Neikro–McCovey had been away from SF for a few years until ’77, and was closing in on 2000 hits and 500 HR in ’77, so that has to be the year), the Braves went to SF 3 times: May, July, and September.

    September were all night games, so throw those out. (Sun, shadows, time behind Neikro reading either 10:40 or 11:40.)

    The May and July series were weekends. And you don’t get long shadows like that a little before noon in July. So I’m saying it was either Saturday May 28th or Sunday May 29th, 1977 that most of the ’78 Topps Braves were photographed. The highs were in the 60s both days but pre-noon in SF with the winds, I can see the need for the cold weather gear they all have on. And the Modesto Bee said it would be fair both days, except for some early and late clouds. And the crowds were sparse both days.

    If I had to guess whether it was Saturday or Sunday, I’d say Sunday, based on not much other than that seems to be the more common day for the Topps photogs of the day. That day’s game was scheduled for 12:45–or at least the radio broadcast was.

    So based on that, on the day of these pics, your hitting star was Willie Montanez, who went 4 for 5 with a double, just two days after coming off the DL. “”When you can hit, you can hit,” shrugged Montanez,” said that day’s AP article. But it wasn’t enough as the Braves lost in 10, the winning run scoring when Jerry Royster bobbled Tim Foli’s sharp grounder.


  12. It always impresses me when someone does the research such as that, pinpointing the date of an event from the few clues in a picture. I’ve been to Candlestick a number of times, but didn’t even notice that these shots were taken there.

    Nice work, gedmaniac!


  13. Thanks, bldxyz.


  14. Josh, I’ll ask you the same question here that jbavi asked you on the ‘Love vs. Hate’ page, maybe you missed it…

    What is the Play Ball result on this card? If it’s a triple or a home run that would be so depressing for team Love.


  15. It’s a single.


  16. I’ve been away awhile. My apologies. I read something about Mark Lemongello yesterday, and it brought everything back to the glorious 70s. All in life seems to eventually bring us home again. It’s good to read the Gods again. I saw some great reviews of your book Josh, and finally I’m determined to go out and get it.

    I have to bring up the shadow in that Cito card. Josh, you are the best at drawing upon meaning from the most subtle of details, but you say nothing of that shadow. Here is my request: Please Wilkerize the meaning of that shadow . . . there are so many directions to go with this, and only you can do it justice!


  17. Hey, Catfish. I agree that the shadow is the best part of the card. The last lines of the post are a reference to the shadow.


  18. Okay. Speaking of Mark Lemongello, I just had to write a story about him. See: http://www.pastimepost.com



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