Archive for the ‘Tommy Helms’ Category


Tommy Helms and Vada Pinson

October 8, 2015

Tommy Helms Vada PinsonALDS preview, part two (see part one here)

First of all, before we get to any predictions, can we take a moment to imagine the World Series that never was? I’m talking about 1980, when the two most exciting teams of my childhood came within a couple Del Unser base hits from meeting in what would have been a blazing festival of speed. In 1980 the Astros and Royals both led their leagues in triples and amassed a combined 379 stolen bases. Nothing against the long-suffering Phillies, whose first-ever World Series triumph that year clinches that season of end-to-end thrills as one of the greatest ever (in Benchwarmer I describe how for several feverish weeks during the panicked early days of fatherhood I grasped for sanity by imagining penning a Pulitzer-worthy Halberstamian ode to 1980 to be titled The Highest Season: Racing for the Pennant, Chasing .400, Philly Soul, Super Joe, and Blow), but some part of me mourns the loss of a World Series that would have been an exhilarating blur of rainbow and sky-blue racers.

There’s a decidedly muted version of the excitement of the Royals and Astros of that era in the two cards shown here. With Tommy Helms, the excitement is embedded in the uniform, which seemed altogether of a piece with Jose Cruz smashing a liner into the gap and flying around the bases but that seems a bit at odds with the worldly resolve in Tommy Helms’s creased expression. His perm somehow also cuts against the grain of the space-age threads; both are wholly of their era, of course, but the hairstyle seems to point away from the action on the diamond to a time in the near future when Tommy Helms is going to be out of baseball altogether and renting you a canoe.

Helms’s erstwhile Reds teammate, Vada Pinson, presents his own muted version of excitement by predating the Royals heyday slightly while also being in the twilight of his own career, which at its pinnacle showcased dynamic talents that would have fit in perfectly with the dynastic Royals. He could have been the prototypical Royal—imagine swift, impeccable fielding coupled with 200 slashing hits a year, doubles, triples, homers, steals, Amos Otis and George Brett somehow joined in the version of Vada Pinson suggested by the statistics of his early years—had he only been able to carry his youth with him into the professional athlete’s version of old age.

Of course, both of the wizened veterans here are, in real-world terms, still young men. But in sports the end comes earlier and as such begins to loom not that long before the beginning. Just as my cards suggested that the other ALDS series is about beginnings, the cards here seem to imply that the series at hand is about endings. So which of the estimable 1960s Reds shown here is venturing more gracefully toward the end? Tommy Helms will make it OK to the other side, surely, and will hobble on through the rest of his life just fine, but Vada Pinson seems like he’ll be able to bring with him across that border into our leaden everyday life a small, singing note of buoyancy and repose. We all hope to continue on that way somehow.

Edge: Royals


Tommy Helms and Dick Tidrow

October 6, 2015

astros yanks

Here is my preview of the first game of the 2015 playoffs, based on two randomly chosen baseball cards from my childhood collection and their relation to the basic existential question of life.

What are we here for?

No one knows the answer to this question. Dick Tidrow represents the classic American hero’s response to this question, which is to ignore that it even exists, to squint with gunslinger toughness straight into the question, past the question. Why are we here? What kind of pussy question is that? We’re here to win. But of course winning, ultimately, isn’t an option, as attested to by the black circle with 40 in it on Tommy Helms’s jersey, a tribute to Don Wilson, who a few months after pitching a two-hit shutout in his last start of the 1974 season died of smoke inhalation in his garage. (His death was ruled an accident.) Tommy Helms was the hitting star of Wilson’s last game, homering and driving in three runs. The following season, with that somber number on their jersey, was a brutal one for the Astros, who dropped 97 games. Tommy Helms, nearing the end of his career during that loss-filled campaign, seems quizzical, bemused, perhaps a little more aware of life’s sorrowful twists than Dick Tidrow. Tommy Helms is not defeated, but he’s not going around imagining that our whole presence here is not just a little absurd.
Edge: Astros

Coming tomorrow: Preview of the National League Cubs-Pirates Wild Card game


Tommy Helms

April 23, 2009


Some of childhood’s confusions:

For a while I thought there was a musician named Bob “Dillon” and another completely different musician named Bob Dylan (first syllable pronounced “die”). I think I understood that they were somehow connected, that they might even maintain some sort of a friendship despite the stark differences in their personalities. Probably keeping with the fact that I knew of the former personage from hearing the word out in the world and that I knew the latter from reading the name silently to myself, I envisioned Bob Dillon as a somewhat grizzled, road-toughened adventurer (when he finally died off in my mind he did so by fading into my growing awareness of that singer of hoarse-voiced odes to the road-going past, Bob Seger), and I envisioned Bob Dylan as a reclusive bookish enigma, a guy who wrote songs for others to sing, perhaps including Bob Dillon. Maybe once in a while the recluse would appear in a club where another musician was performing and they’d beg him to come up to the stage, but he’d wave them off, preferring to stay in the shadows, sipping from a complicated, umbrella-garnished drink.

For a while I thought my father was “a google” years old. I thought this because it’s what he told me when I asked. I guess he didn’t want to tell me his actual age. (By the time I started asking he was in his late forties and early fifties.) I understood on one level that no one could actually be a google years old, but on another level I believed that if anyone could be it would be my father. He didn’t live with us for most of my childhood, and when he came up for visits it was always apparent to me that he was not like the other adults in the Vermont town where I lived, who were either hunting-jacket-wearing natives or gradually aging hippies. A lifelong clean-cut urban intellectual with thick glasses, a button-down shirt, and a tendency to daydream and absent-mindedly trip over things, my father didn’t fit either category. So maybe he was another category altogether, a man who had been around forever. Who would, it followed, always be around. That’s the thing with these childhood confusions. They are on some level at least partially willful.

For a while I believed I could fly. I sometimes had these dreams that were so realistic I was never completely sure, nor did I want to be sure, that they had not actually happened. In them I would be walking around my town and feeling the grit of the day, the weight of the earth, the actual indisputable details of existence, and I would suddenly remember that I could step up into the sky. Part of what made the dreams seem real was that my departures from earth were never seamless liftoffs. Instead they involved some work. It was like getting a bicycle moving from a dead stop on an incline. And then, as altitude increased, it was more like making a bicycle move on a straightaway. I would fly through the sky all over my town, amazed by my freedom, amazed that I kept forgetting that I had access to such unspeakable joy.

For a while I thought Tommy Helms was an immortal. The fact that he didn’t ever show up in lists of other immortals in any of the baseball books I was constantly poring through actually lent even more mystery and magic to his person, though as time went on I had to strain to continue willing this persisting misapprehension of reality. The singular source for this sweet confusion was this 1972 card, my only 1972 card, which I got along with a few other cards from before my time at a tag sale in my town.

I believe the odd combination in the flashy, battered card of sparkling celebratory newness and what seemed to be great age fostered the notion that Tommy Helms somehow existed outside of time altogether. I had never seen a 1972 card, so the design, particularly the brassy three-dimensional letters of the team name, surely wowed me, as it was more spectacular than any of the cards I had, and in my mind the more spectacular something was, the newer it was, so the card must have seemed by some miracle to have come to me from the future. But the extremely weathered condition of the card, which was in worse shape by far than not only all my cards but than any of the other cards I got at the tag sale, along with the plain fact that the player pictured seemed to come from an earlier time than any player I’d ever seen on a baseball card, set the card in a far distant past. The immortals I knew about, such as Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Babe Ruth, all stood outside of time, their iconic status immune to the erosion of years, but Tommy Helms achieved immortality by seeming to levitate above time. The card, already deep into the process of fading away, would only increase Tommy Helms’ magic as time went on, his gradual disappearance only widening his vast presence on a timeline stretching far into the distances of the future and the past.

It didn’t hurt that the card was so beaten up that I couldn’t study what were in actuality decent but decidedly mortal numbers. It also didn’t hurt that around the time I got the card at a tag sale Pete Rose made a gripping run at Joe Dimaggio’s unbreakable 56-game hitting streak, and in doing so he broke the estimable National League hitting streak record set by an old-timer named Tommy Holmes, who I immediately assumed, despite the difference in their last names, was the same player as the immortal in my tag sale card.

I eventually admitted to myself that Tommy Holmes and Tommy Helms were two different players altogether, and that even if they were somehow the same guy—if they somehow formed one amazing player who set a hitting streak record in 1945 and then magically stuck around long enough to add several solid seasons in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a slick-fielding middle infielder—I still wouldn’t own a card as priceless as the card that, for a little while, I thought I owned.


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