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Mike Squires

December 30, 2011

The Cardboard Gods Ass Backwards ABCs of Parenting

S Is for Squires

What if baseball experimented with a rule similar to the one in volleyball where everyone has to keep rotating periodically throughout the game? That’s the question that occurs to me this morning after several days of sporadic contemplation of this somewhat dour Mike Squires card from 1980. In 1980, Mike Squires played two games at catcher, the first time in decades that a left-handed thrower had done so. A few years later, Squires would appear in 14 games as a third baseman, far and away the most games played at the position by a southpaw since the hazy early days of the major leagues. Squires, an excellent first baseman (the 1981 Gold Glove winner at the position), can lay claim to being the most versatile left-handed thrower the game has ever seen, as in addition to first, catcher, and third, he also played at least one game at all three outfield positions and, in 1984, he made a brief scoreless appearance as a pitcher.

***

My son is five months old now. He is learning how to do things. Lately, he has learned how to reach out and pull my glasses off my face. About a month ago he learned how to roll onto his stomach. He figured out how to roll from his stomach onto his back more recently; at first he did this in a way that caused him to tumble down too quickly and bump his head on the carpet, but now he does it smoothly. I was as impressed by this last development as by anything he’s done, as it reveals a process of trial and error, of refinement, and shows that he is not simply being moved along through various stages of development by instinctual evolutionary imperatives but is turning things over in his whirring little mind. He is experimenting.

***

Mike Squires’ unprecedented journey around the diamond got its start in 1980 with the two games behind the plate, an experiment spurred by White Sox owner Bill Veeck, then in his last year at the reins of a major league team. No one would have been surprised that Veeck was behind the stunt, just as no one would be surprised by the supposition that of anyone ever associated with baseball, Veeck would be by far the most likely to seize on my random thought about baseball, or a version of baseball, experimenting with a rule that required fielders to keep periodically rotating to a new position. Throughout his legendary career, Veeck was always experimenting. He’d try anything, driven by the impulse to reveal baseball for what it was: a game.

***

My son experiments as much as anything with language, or perhaps more accurately with sounds. His most utilized sound is a whine, which he learned how to produce with nerve-jangling effect some time ago. He whines when he’s tired or hungry or bored. This last whine-provoker is a new one, and it’s not something I identified right away. I was under the wishful assumption that since everything was brand new to him, everything—even within the modest limits of our apartment—would be infinitely fascinating, but now I’m realizing with yet another shading from the kaleidoscopic prism of dread that accompanies parenting that he is and will continue to be insatiably voracious for new experiences. He wants to see new things and do new things. He wants to sit up and he wants to stand and he wants to run. He wants to pull down every book from every shelf. He wants to shove entire closets full of athletic equipment and wrapping paper and light bulbs in his mouth. He wants to find out what everything tastes like and feels like. He wants to try everything.

***

In 1980, when Mike Squires ventured behind the plate and Bill Veeck spent his last summer in the big leagues, I was playing my final season of little league. I played third base more than anywhere else, but I also pitched a little and donned the tools of ignorance for a few innings at catcher and made appearances at second, short, and first. At the end of the year, on the All-Star team, I logged a couple innings in the outfield. My experience that year was not unusual, I don’t think. This is what little league was like for everyone, more or less. You play here and there and everywhere. The year that’s about to come to a close, 2011, has been, because of the arrival of my son, a good year, the best. But until this year my best year has always been the one in which I played all over the baseball diamond.

***

Baseball is often considered to be a part of some ideal bucolic America, a green agrarian dream, but in truth it sprang fully alive during the industrial revolution and shares with that development in human civilization a tendency toward specialization of task. Once upon a time, this was a country of farmers who did a little bit of everything to make it through the day. Those days are long gone, and now if we are lucky to be employed we most likely have a fixed position, a spot on the assembly line (or in the cubicle), and we cling to it with all our might, lest we be cast out into the harrowing realm of being without a position at all. Predictably, Karl Marx was against this specialization, according to my dad. My mom was talking about how she has discovered in her retirement that she has the patience and interest to do one thing for no more than two hours, at which point she has to move on to something else. My dad said that this was in line with Marx’s view on how the world would run if it weren’t organized into a system that enslaves most everyone in monotonous menial labor while funneling all the fruits of that labor upward to a tiny mind-bogglingly wealthy percentage of the population. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along those lines, anyway. So I guess if Marx liked sports, he might have gotten on board with my hypothetical new Veeckian version of baseball, in which everyone has to keep rotating to a new position periodically throughout the game.

***

After some early experiments in laugh-like moans, my son has learned how to laugh. A few weeks ago, when he was first learning to do so, my wife took a video of me scatting like an unhinged tone-deaf crooner down to the boy, who was lying on his back in his crib, and at the end of every line of scat he smiled and smiled wider and then finally let out his goofy little low-voiced chortle, my favorite sound in the world: Uh huh huuh. I don’t know—or I didn’t know at the time—what prompted me to start going “Bibby dooby dooby de doo! Ribdoobydooby dooby dee doo!” to the boy, but then my wife posted the video on her facebook page and my uncle Bob left a comment under it: “Grandfather Andy is chuckling too.” I had thought that the sounds were just randomly spilling from my mouth, but with Bob’s comment I realized that I had unconsciously picked up the playful scatting from my grandfather, J. Andrew Squires. He had been a professional musician as a young man and had never let go of the compulsion to experiment with the making of playful sounds, sounds that looped here and there, up and down, skipping and bopping everywhere loonily. He used to make me laugh. He’s been gone a long time now, but here he is again, J. Andrew Squires in all his glory, making my baby laugh, too.

***

I have decided to name my new version of baseball Squiresball. The first rule of Squiresball is that that you do not talk about Squiresball. (Sorry. Just “joshin’.”) Seriously, the first rule of Squiresball is that everyone has to rotate to a new position at the start of every inning. Also, because I do not yet know what hand my son will throw with and because I want him to be a part of this game, and in honor of Mike Squires, each team has to employ at least one left-handed thrower. Finally, there would have to be some limitations on substitutions. I haven’t figured that one out yet—maybe each team gets two substitutions per game, and neither substitution can come so late in the game that the inserted player avoids playing more than one position. These substitution limitations would prevent loopholes allowing for specialization, such as using a player for just one inning at the pitcher’s position in the ninth inning. Squiresball would cause team management to greatly recalibrate their views on players. David Ortiz, for example, still a valuable asset to a team in baseball as it is currently conceived, would almost certainly go undrafted in Squiresball, considering that 89% of the time his team was in the field he would be a gaping black hole where outs turned into triples, and the other 11%, where he would be on the slightly familiar footing of first base, would not exactly be poetry in motion either. Ortiz’ liability in the field would more than cancel his lingering prowess as a hitter. But in cases not quite as severe as Ortiz you’d probably see some allowances made, teams mostly stocking rosters with guys with all-around skills but taking a chance or two here and there, figuring they can cringe their way through a few outs with Ryan Howard trying to turn the double play in the middle of the infield if it means he gives them a lineup-anchoring crusher. For the most part, however, you’d have to think that versatility, an ability to play everywhere, would be at a premium. (With all this in mind, and as a year-end tribute and embracing of my own brand of playful bedoobying useless digression, here is the all-time Squiresball all-stars: C: B.J. Surhoff, 1B: Mike Squires; 2B: Scott Sheldon; SS: Bert Campaneris; 3B: Shane Halter; LF: Tony Phillips; CF: Cesar Tovar; RF: Pete Rose; P: Martin Dihigo; Utility: Psycho Steve Lyons)

***

I have found myself hoping that my son will turn out to be left-handed, like Mike Squires. I’m not a lefty, and neither is my wife, but her sister is, and on my mother’s side of my family there’s also a slight tendency toward left-handedness. My mom and my uncle Bob are right-handed, but their older brother, my uncle Conrad, is left-handed, like his father, the aforementioned J. Andrew Squires. My grandfather never really played sports until taking up golf in his golden years, and by that point I guess he had reconciled himself with living in a right-handed world because with characteristic pluck he hacked and flailed his way around courses using right-handed clubs. It may have been difficult to get left-handed clubs back then, but this limitation would not have been one to stop my grandfather. My brother and I went with him on his golf outings sometimes, and as he went from hole to hole playing terrible wrong-handed golf he mixed in flustered outbursts of frustration with the muttered soundtrack of his inner life, that wide field of musical play that sustained him throughout life’s narrowing tendency toward failure. “Bibby dooby dooby de doo,” he intoned, softly, as he took a moment to rest between his fourth and fifth hapless attempt to propel his ball out of a sand trap. “Ribdoobydooby dooby dee doo,” he muttered, later, while wandering around the woods in search of a ball he would never find.

17 comments

  1. Great work. I think about baseball variants all the time. (I think about what it would be like to have a son all the time too.)

    When you think about it, there’s nine innings and nine guys. Surely that’s not purely coincidental. I figure your fear of liberal substitution undermining the spirit of the enterprise could simply be dealt with not by over-writing the substitution rules, but by setting the roster size so as to frustrate the substitute-happy manager.

    You would also need to chalk up the field to designate the areas a player would have to position himself, lest a secondbaseman position himself over by the third base line (and the thirdbaseman replace him at his vacated location), while arguing that he still maintains his role as a secondbaseman but has assumed a sort of extreme alignment.

    Strange that you felt a need to include positions for your All-Star team, when your new wrinkle in the rules would obviate such designations.


  2. Edward Hoyt: Good points all. I figured it’d be fun to use positions for that all-star team so as to find a guy who played a lot of games at each position for all nine spots around the field. Also, it seems to me a team might start each game with each player at their “strong” position so as to get off to a good start and to guarantee they all got time there (in case of a rain-shortened game or something).


  3. I’ve have a weird version of baseball in my mind for some time which employs something similar to yours. The home team runs the bases clockwise but the visitors run counterclockwise. So it involves being able to have lefties in the right spot. (Also, on the basepaths, when you hit third, you’ve scored. So you run right through third into your dugout. Or first if you’re running clockwise.)


  4. The challenge for Squires all-stars would be to find players who can pitch or catch, and play other position(s). Regarding your team, Tovar and Campy are great choices, both having played all 9 positions (in one game – so I guess they’d be Hall of Fame Squiresball players).

    For my team, I’ll go with Greg Pryor, Randy Velarde, Larry Biittner, Rick Ankiel, Greg Gross, Jose Oquendo, Bill Pecota, Todd Zeile,…..and Babe Ruth. Cory Snyder on the bench (his 1987 Fleer card listed his position as IF-OF, almost perfect for Squiresball).


  5. What about Derrel Thomas? Shane Halter? Bob Bailor? Fernando Valenzuela? All would be great choices on any Squiresball team


  6. Of course I have to chime in on this one. It has a novel idea for baseball (for some reason, it reminds me of Calvinball, from Calvin and Hobbes fame) and Mike Squires, my all-time favorite player.
    I wish the internet was really around back then. I’d love to see a good picture of Squires catching or pitching for that matter.
    I always wondered why Veeck didn’t try to have Squires play all nine positions. A lefty ss or 2b couldn’t be much harder than a lefty 3b. Besides, the Sox of that time were not exactly in contention.
    Great post all around. I hope Squires sees it, too.


  7. Hey Johngy: Thanks for chiming in. I enjoyed reading your posts about Squires.

    I did find one posed shot of Squires catching in an old Baseball Digest: http://tinyurl.com/7pjkvv3


  8. Great post. I think baseball is missing something with the specialization. Trim the rosters down to eighteen. A guy like Martin Dihigo would shine!

    On a semiunrelated note, I had an idea for a short story where Bill Veeck signed some beerbellied softball player/ One of the ones from Chicago where you guys play with a huge ball. He was a firstbaseman-relief pitcher who would occasionally switch positions with the starting pitcher so the starter could conserve himself for the late innings. The rainbows our softball player tossed were nigh unhittable because they really effed up the opposing batters timing.


  9. Great photo. Thanks for sharing it.
    About Jon’s idea…I thought you were talking about Kevin Hickey for a minute there. He came from the softball fields to pitch in the majors. He definitely could have played a position, although he didn’t have much of a beer belly.
    On the topic of softball, the big ball (16 incher) is the only way to play. 12 inch softball has been ruined by the bats, which can turn a small guy into a crusher.


  10. The only autographed bat I own is a Mike Squires model secured for me an uncle who had access to the White Sox clubhouse in the 80’s. If you can get “Squiresball” to catch on I might finally find a buyer.


  11. We used to play a variant of Squiresball for years in Grade School that I thought was pretty common called “work up”. If you were up to bat, as soon as you made an out, you became the pitcher, and the right fielder ran in assumed the last position in the batting order–everyone else “worked up” to the next fielding position. You could play with a variable number of kids, and if someone had to go home for lunch or something, it was no real problem. “Invisible men” ran the bases if you had fewer than 13 guys, or you could pull out the second baseman and rf and if you had only 8 or 9 players. Tons of fun–no coaches or umpires or even a final score really. Obviously it would never work today with all the over involvement of parents in youth sports.

    As soon as your son can hold a bat, make absolutely sure he swings as a lefty. Doesn’t matter if he is naturally right handed or not, there is nothing “natural” about a baseball swing, it is something you need to be taught, and it’s a huge advantage to swing left handed.


  12. A handful of reactions, besides loving this piece:

    1) +1: “make absolutely sure he swings as a lefty”. I bought my kids a hitting T and foam-covered bat and balls when they were four. My boy didn’t know which way to stand, so he hit both ways. Thereafter, I would set him up to swing at ten balls righty, then ten lefty. If he were in the game today, he’d have a greater contact rate righty and greater isolated power lefty!

    2) My son also had the staccato chortle when he was a baby (my daughter’s laugh has always been multi-sylabic, as were here infant cries).

    3) I suppose it is because you came to this with the Mike Squires card that you call it Squiresball, though the people who truly rotated around the diamond were Tovar and Campeneris. (In my head, it was Tony Oliva, but Google proved me wrong). So CampyBall would have been the name I’d have used for two reasons: a) he was first, no? b) Campy! The game would have some Camp to it with all the fielding mistakes we currently take for granted.

    4) I know this is just intellectual exercise, but I am pretty sure that Marx was not talking about specialization the way that specialization has made actual specialists wealthy. Baseball players, earning a minimum of 8x the median income (to say nothing of the limitedly rangey King Albert at $25M per year), Doctors who routinely make more money if they specialize… even business execs succeed when they become expert in one particular domain, mostly…


  13. richardgerehead: Thanks for describing “work up.” That’s great. I always love thinking back to the concept and use of invisible runners (we called them “ghost runners”).

    Re: the Squiresball all-stars: Besides Campaneris and Tovar, Halter and Sheldon also played all nine positions in one game, I think. Lyons played all nine over the course of his career, as did Dihigo, probably. The other guys on my all-star Squiresball list didn’t quite make it around the diamond, but they all have points to recommend them–Surhoff an exceptionally versatile guy for someone who played a considerable amount of games at catcher, Rose an all-star at several positions, Phillips a guy who played several hundred games at each of several positions (and played them pretty well), and Squires the only left-handed thrower to get near a complete tour of the diamond. I have to admit, though, that if I were starting a Squiresball squad and could pick any lefty thrower to comply to the one lefty rule I’d have to go with turftoe’s suggestion of Babe Ruth, who pitched (at a Hall of Fame level) and played the outfield and first base in the majors–and reportedly started out at the Baltimore orphanage as a left-handed catcher.


  14. Two other suggestions for players – Robin Yount, who won an MVP at both SS and CF, two of the toughest fielding positions, and Placido Polanco, who had 2 Gold Gloves at 2B before adding another Gold Glove at 3B this year.


  15. Solid bench players could include Archi Cianfrocco, Joe McEwing and Bill Lyons (a mostly minor leaguer who played all nine positions in a minor league game). Steve Lyons played all nine in an exhibition game once.


  16. We call the rotating position game “Scrub” in this corner of Canada. Great way to experience all the positions, though we rotate the other way, RF after batting, the around the diamond to pitcher. And if you catch a fly ball, you automatically get up to bat.

    Don’t know about making a young kid bat lefty. Just let them do what comes naturally. Though both of my boys are righties that just insisted on batting left-handed.


  17. “Doesn’t matter if he is naturally right handed or not, there is nothing “natural” about a baseball swing, it is something you need to be taught”

    I don’t agree with this at all. I picked up a bat at age 1 and started swinging it lefty (I have a picture of this). I am a right-handed person, but I do two-handed things the “lefty” way because it came naturally to me. Anything that involves two hands (or feet), I do lefty: baseball, golf, chopping wood, snowboarding/surfing/skateboarding. Yet my right hand is my dominant hand. I didn’t just decide to do it this way, it’s the way that came naturally, and I think the consistency proves that. In tennis, I have a kick-ass backhand–I just add the left hand and it’s like wailing away at a baseball with my normal swing. And my forehand is essentially the same as the way I throw a ball–sidearm righty. Add the left had to my forehand or take the right hand away from my backhand, and I’m lost in the woods, doing what amounts to a righty baseball swing or a lefty throw, neither of which I can do (without looking like my sister and having similar results).

    And a baseball swing isn’t natural? I think throwing overhand isn’t natural. When you’re swinging a bat, though, your arms are down low, in a zone they’re usually in.



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