In 1979, Mike Barlow pitched more innings in relief than all but one of his teammates on the division-winning California Angels, but he recorded no saves and was involved in only two decisions, winning one and losing the other.
Barlow did not get into any of the first three hotly contested games of the best-of-five American League Championship series, watching from the bullpen as the Baltimore Orioles took Game One on a John Lowenstein home run in extra innings and watching the teams trade one-run victories in Games Two and Three. In the top of the ninth inning of Game Four, with the Orioles ahead 8-0 and just a few moments from wrapping up the pennant, Mike Barlow got the call. He pitched a scoreless frame as seats emptied and exits filled. Had the Angels been able to stage what would surely have been the greatest comeback in post-season history in the bottom of the inning, he would have been the winning pitcher, perhaps the answer to a trivia question, but the Angels went down meekly. Significant things tended not to happen when Mike Barlow was involved. He’s not the answer to anything.
* * *
I watch a lot of sports. When you watch sports you end up watching a lot of advertisements. These advertisements often call my inner strength into question. I am asked if “it” is in me. I am urged to kill the coward within. I can’t remember at the moment any of the other current slogans. But I know that I need a more muscular body than the one I have, and a more competitive nature, and a faster car, and less self-doubt, actually no self-doubt. But fuck all that. If there’s a coward within I’m not killing it. I’m not killing anything. The whole idea seems kind of fascistic, actually. If there’s a coward within me I’m inviting it out to join me on the couch and watch sitcom reruns. I caught part of one yesterday, a Seinfeld where George initially recoils from the opportunity to have an affair with a married woman.
“An affair?” he says, wincing. “That’s so . . . grown-up.”
Who wants to grow up?
* * *
Later, I called my dad to ask him about Moshiach. I’d just finished reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and I wanted to know more about this figure that most of the people on my dad’s side of my family tree spent the last few thousand years waiting for.
“Yes, my mother and father spoke about Moshiach when I was growing up,” my dad said. “The idea is he’ll come and there will be peace on earth, a return to Eden.”
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union features a figure being looked to with unendurable need as Moshiach. This man can’t bear the pressure of everyone’s hopes for redemption. He desires more than anything to disappear, to be insignificant.
* * *
Who wants to be in the middle of the action? Not me. I want to be a mop-up man. If I’m ever officially involved, I want the announcers to be telling stories that have no connection to the action on the field. I want to hear the sound of foul balls clattering around vacant sections of seats. I don’t want to hear the roar of the crowd. Most of the time I’d rather just watch, leaning on a fence, daydreaming, drowsy, a towel around my neck like the towel draped around a fighter as he’s being led away from a fight, the trainer reassuring the fighter that it’s over, that there’s no more need to punch and get punched.