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John Knox

July 26, 2011

Lately, I’ve added a check of baseball-reference.com’s “players born on this day” page to my morning rituals. Today, July 26, now four days beyond my wife’s due date, offers some interesting baseball birthdays. Perhaps the most peculiar career to ever lead to induction into the baseball Hall of Fame got its start on this date in 1922 when knuckleballing journeyman reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever Hoyt Wilhelm was born. Wilhelm did not even reach the majors until he was 29, surely the oldest rookie besides Satchel Paige to ever wind up in Cooperstown. He lasted until he was 49. If any prediction about the life of someone born on this date could be gleaned from the most accomplished baseball player to be born today, it would be that life is strange and beautiful.

On Sunday my wife and I went to the beach near our house. There was some kind of large Hare Krishna gathering going on in the park bordering the beach. We walked past it and put down our folding chairs on the sand. Oddly, no one else was around. I walked over to ask the lifeguard, a teenage girl, what was going on, and she said that heavy rains a couple days earlier had caused raw sewage to spill into the lake, and she was waiting to hear if the beach would be closed or not. I walked back, and Abby and I sat there and watched a seagull pick at something slick and rubbery that once was alive. The music of the Hare Krishnas wafted intermittently over the beach, along with the groans of a garbage truck and the sound of the little waves of Lake Michigan.

A couple other notables born on this day were known by adjectival nicknames: Sad Sam Jones and Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons, a couple of 200 game winners from the Ruth era. To get one of these memorable adjectival nicknames, you have to have a personal trait that can be described with a word that shares the same first letter as your first name. I have never attained such a nickname. Maybe there’s still time. Jumpy Josh Wilker? Jittery Josh Wilker? Jaundiced Josh Wilker? I actually did come out jaundiced when I was born, and the nonmedical definition of the term might also apply: “exhibiting or influenced by envy, distaste, or hostility.” Unfortunately, none of these words is as elemental and catchy as “Fat” or “Sad.”

Eventually, a green flag was raised on a pole beside the lifeguard chair, and people here and there began appearing on the beach and wading out into the water. “My dream was to sit with my feet in the water,” Abby said. This is the kind of dream that seems manageable. Other dreams have side effects. But this one: easy. We picked up our chairs and moved down to the water and sat and let the ends of the little waves wash over our feet. The sound of the water was now all we heard. We ate Pringles and stared out at the water and made each other laugh. Jumpy Jittery Jaundiced Josh Wilker relaxed.

Other notables born on July 26 include Norm Siebern, the date’s leading hitter, key part in the trade that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees, and bit player, at the end of his career, with the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox; Ellis Kinder, tireless country boy Red Sox hurler from the team’s late 1940s-early 1950s excruciating bridesmaid years; and Sibby Sisti, who despite or in part because of his underwhelming hitting skills served as the cleanup batter in one of the greatest baseball books ever written.

On the way back from the beach, I felt very tired, as if instead of sitting in a beach chair with my feet in cool water I had crossed over to Michigan and back doing the Australian crawl. I think most of the time I live as if I’m braced against an invisible but somehow crucial wall that seems as if it will crumble down and let in all manner of ruin if I let up for one second. It’s exhausting. Probably pretty stupid, too. There’s nothing you can do anyway. No wall to hold up I mean. Ruin, chaos, it’ll just come. Other things will come, too, good things, but probably if you’re spending all your time and strength bracing against a nonexistent wall you might miss it.

John Knox is like most of the baseball players born on this date. He played for a little while, didn’t really attach himself to any particularly significant moment in baseball history (though he did appear in a game in which Hank Aaron set the career record for RBI), and then moved on to other things. He was not a bad player, at least as far as his stats show, his .274 lifetime batting average one that most players would be proud of, especially if they were, like Knox, utility infielders, who usually spend their solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short major league existences foraging for enough basehits to push them over the Mendoza line. It’s actually a bit of a mystery why Knox didn’t stick around any longer than he did. He even looks confident in this 1976 card, his last. The Tigers sold him to the Reds early in 1976, but he never cracked the major league roster of the reigning World Champions, who were with Joe Morgan and Pete Rose about as covered at second base and third base, Knox’s two positions, as any team ever has been. Knox knocked around in the minors that year, hitting poorly, and that was that. Occasionally a player who skirts across the margins of the majors will for some reason or another impress himself on the collective memory of the game. But most guys who play the game are just names with dates and numbers attached to them. Still, they had their day. They got to move their chair down close to the water and for a little while live a dream.

10 comments

  1. Josh, glad you linked to the Flipping and Trading book again. Sometimes when I’ve had a rough day I just open it up to their Don Mossi description, or the Tommie Aaron card caption (“Why Tommy, why??”) and laugh myself back to happiness.


  2. I came across the Boyd/Harris book back in the 80s and — like so many other things in my life — I can’t explain to too many people just what makes it so wonderful. But you are a worthy keeper of the flame!


  3. Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance was a rookie with Brooklyn in 1922 at age 31.


  4. I see what you mean, in terms of still being an official rookie, but it looks like Vance had a few cups of coffee before that, going all the back to when he was 24:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/v/vanceda01.shtml

    I don’t know much about Vance, except that for a long time I sort of thought of him as the third Dean brother. Wonder what took him so long to get it together.


  5. back to john knox…i remember more from those 4 panel topps top prospect cards…he was going to be big……he walked as a pinch hitter in his final game


  6. tom veryzer was also one of the topps up and coming phenoms!
    Imagine the left side of Tiger infield with Knox and Veryzer patrolling.
    The combined power of what about 2 career HRs


  7. I too somehow thought of Dazzy Vance as the third Dean brother…

    And I also always kind of figured Vinegar Bend Mizzell and Van Lingle Mungo were related…


  8. I’m going to go out on a limb here are guess that the little Wilker has been born… If so, congratulations, Josh!

    A couple of days ago, I finished reading Cardboard Gods (the book, which Josh signed for me in Oakland a couple of months back). It makes it a pleasure for me to wish Josh a warm welcome into the land of fatherhood.


  9. I am going to second your guess bldxyz, congrats to Josh and the new family!

    Really interested to see how the next card is going to be incorporated into the birth experience!

    Give us a name, weight, etc, your long time followers from here and the old blog(and book of course), actually are interested.

    Congrats Jubliant Josh!


  10. What I find interesting is John Knox is listed as a 3b by Topps, yet in 4 seasons he only played 4 games a third and 69 games at second.

    What inside info did Topps have that he would be the tigers third baseman?

    Topps was the baseball bible to me. I believed everything they said…and still do : )

    I remember having Ed Kirkpatrick 75 card and he was squatting in a catcher position. I thought he was a primary catcher…..when in reality he only played 6 games at catcher and 90 plus at other positions.

    I guess TOPPS lacked a quality control department



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