Archive for the ‘New York Mets’ Category


Vada Pinson and Ron Hodges

October 26, 2015

Vada PinsonRon hodges 78World Series preview

Tonight after my wife and I got our two boys to sleep I came down to our carpeted basement and cleared out a space in the thick tangle of baby toys and toddler toys and flipped these two baseball cards at the wall, best four out of seven.

Earlier, while I was dancing the younger boy to sleep, I was wondering about baseball, specifically about whether there’s any other player in history besides Bret Saberhagen who, arguably, centered one franchise’s best moment and another franchise’s worst moment. I was seventeen years old and living in Boston when that first moment occurred, Saberhagen’s shutout victory as a 21-year-old in Game Seven of the 1985 World Series. I’d gotten my GED earlier that summer, and a few months later, in January, I’d realize I hated working and start college. Boy, those were some in-between days. I was working a few hours a week in an ice cream store, playing solitaire Strat-O-Matic, smoking resin shavings, going to matinees of Teen Wolf and Fletch. Sometimes I’d write in my journal. It was starting to dawn on me that this, writing, was really the only thing I’d want to do with myself upon my expulsion from childhood. Saberhagen’s win inspired a column by a Boston Globe writer, probably Bob Ryan, that I really liked. I cut it out and put it in my journal, something I never did before and haven’t done since. I carried it with me for some time, but I don’t have it anymore. I’m not sure why I cut out the article. I loved to read about sports, but I knew I wasn’t going to be a sportswriter. I wanted to write The Catcher in the Rye or On the Road. Still, something about the article—I think it was probably an ode to how baseball keeps us young forever, something like that—spoke to me. I was pretty fucking lost right about then, and yet not that far from when life had made sense, back when I was a kid collecting these cards.

Anyway I went off to college and studied writing, avoiding writing about sports because it didn’t seem, I don’t know, literary. I think most young writers are dumb assholes in this way, avoiding who they are in hopes of being someone else altogether. When college was over, sports edged its way onto my pages as I wrote a novel about kids playing basketball in Tompkins Square Park. I finished it in the fall of 1991, and I spent quite a while hoping I could get it published and begin immediately living entirely off my writing. By 1993, this dream had pretty much run its course, and I was back to another long round of in-between days, this time in New York City. I worked some hours a week in a liquor store, read Dostoyevsky and the sports pages, watched late afternoon Charles in Charge reruns with religious constancy, if not fervor, and every few days drank cheap beer with my friends at the International Bar for hours, through the night, until the sun started pushing up over the gray buildings in the east like a bruise.

I went to Mets games periodically. Somewhere in there Bret Saberhagen threw bleach at some sportswriters. It epitomized the depths of one of the most miserable seasons ever by any team, not just in terms of how bad they were or even how disappointing they were (this was the high-salaried team that inspired a book titled The Worst Team Money Could Buy) but in just how unhappy they all seemed to be, the absolute opposite of the idyll of joy captured, to my young hungering ear, at least, by the Globe column on Saberhagen’s World Series heroics.

My baby fell asleep in the carrier I wear on my chest as I was thinking about all this. I sing to him as I’m getting him to sleep, mostly stuff I make up off the top of my head. Today’s song was pretty bad, insufferable treacle, but true.

I’m so glad you’re my baby
I’m so lucky you’re my baby
I’m so grateful you’re my baby
You’re my little sweet baby boy

A few refrains of that and he was zonked out on my chest. There was a time when I didn’t think I’d ever escape the feeling of wanting to throw bleach on the world. To sting it, harm it. To get it to back off. To wipe it clean, drain it of color. How is it even possible that the world didn’t listen?

When my baby was asleep I handed him to his mother, who went to lay him down, and I came downstairs to figure out who was going to win this year’s World Series. The problem was, I was now thinking about all those Mets game, not just the ones I saw as a kid that may or may not have featured Ron Hodges but all those games in the ’90s when I was in-between this and that.

Once I rode the subway to Shea with my friend Pete. We’d gotten our hands on free tickets to a rainout-generated single-admission doubleheader that was already in progress between the Mets, who were nearing the end of another bad season, and some other team whose identity escapes me now. Nothing was left to be decided. Rosters had expanded to include players who’d never played in the majors before and never would again. We arrived as the doubleheader opener was in its last innings. Pete asked a security guy near the entrance the score. We had been hurrying. I don’t know why.

“Losing,” the guard told us.

“Yeah?” Pete said. The three of us stood there. It seemed like someone should say something.

“Who’s pitching?” Pete said.

The security guard shrugged. A few people were leaving.

“Some guy,” the security guard said.

Some teams win for a fallen teammate, such as, most famously, the Gipper. I want the Mets to win this World Series for Some Guy. Whoever he was.

And because I want them to win I’m going to have to recuse myself from any sort of rational or even irrational prediction. Instead, I’m going to bring this all the way back to the beginning, to when I was a boy alone in my room with my cards.

So I flipped these two cards, best of seven. It went back and forth. I admit I was trying to will Ron Hodges to a win without sabotaging my Vada Pinson throws. But you are looking at Game 7. Hodges made it tough, but Pinson swooped past him, graceful to the last, and stood up tall against the wall.

Edge: Royals, in seven

hodges and pinson


Rick Reuschel and Ron Hodges

October 17, 2015

Rick Reuschel 77Ron hodges 78NLCS preview

Predictions are asinine. This probably holds true for everything, but it’s particularly applicable to baseball, in which even the best teams lose forty percent of the time. The nature of the sport resists certainty of any kind. Everyone on the field is in the middle of a baffling slump or an even more inexplicable hot streak, and either direction is subject to change immediately. A great team might have a sixty percent chance of beating an average team on a given day, but put two good teams against one another, and it’s a coin flip.

Or maybe I just don’t want to predict this series. I don’t really want to see either team lose. I have a connection to the Mets that goes back decades, to my once-a-year trips with my brother from our home in Vermont to New York, where our father, with reluctance and without looking away from his New York Times throughout the game except to grimace up at the low-flying air traffic into LaGuardia, took us to a game every summer, where we saw Ron Hodges and the rest of the lackluster late 1970s Mets get trampled. I was a Red Sox fan and will always love that team the most, but somehow the Ron Hodges era will always also reside deep in my psyche. In many ways, those Mets, the echoing malaise of empty Shea, sunshine and loss and a scattering of strangers, reflect my persona much more than the star-studded 1970s Red Sox. And after that childhood orbiting of the Mets I lived in New York for years, through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, and forged my closest adult friendships. Most of these friends are Mets fans. I guess anyone could use a win, but since these people are my friends I know what a win would mean for them. I don’t want the Mets to lose.


I live in Chicago. I’ve been here for eleven years now. It’s as long as I’ve ever lived anywhere, at least consecutively, but I still feel like I’m from somewhere else. The again, I’ve always felt that way no matter where I’ve lived. Anyway, last winter I was digging the car out of deep snow and cursing, and a helicopter started hovering loudly above me. It was unpleasant, but it’s not like I was enjoying the task without it. I kept shoveling and cursing. My wife stuck her head out the window of our condo and yelled at me.

“There was a shooting at the McDonald’s on Clark, the gunman’s on the loose,” she yelled. I realize her line of dialogue contains a comma splice, but that’s an appropriate recreation of how the words came out. Gunmen on the loose don’t engender felicitous punctuation.

“You done shoveling, daddy?” my son yelled when I came inside.

“Not exactly,” I said.

“Let’s play!”

Snow and nearby gunplay and awareness of comma splices and my yelling family: that’s my Chicago.

Chicago’s where I got married, where I wrote some books, where I got and kept a job correcting comma splices, where my two kids were born. If one of the stray bullets flying around kills me and you want to do something with my ashes, add them to the gunk in the part of Lake Michigan that laps up against the little sandy area a few blocks away from our place. It’s called Hartigan Beach, and more often than not I’m frazzled and annoyed there, trying to prevent my children from eating sand or drowning, but I’ve also managed to look out at the wide water once in a while and see the world as my boys are seeing it, this their timeless place, what they’ll always be dreaming their way back to. I’ve never loved a place more than that modest chunk of churned-up sand, pocked with cigarette butts and my own persisting anxieties.

Yesterday I asked a Cubs fan I work with if he remembered 1969. I wasn’t sure if he would. He’s older than me, but not by a whole lot.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “When the Mets clinched, I went into the backyard and burned all my Mets baseball cards.”

Now he’s watching the games with his teenage son. He says his son is nervous.

I don’t want to see the Cubs lose either.


But this is supposed to be a prediction. I notice that some observers are bringing up the Cubs’ record against the Mets this year: they beat New York in all seven meetings between the teams. To emphasize how pointless I think it is to refer to these games to foretell what’s going to happen in the championship series, I’m instead going to pick a game not long after my tenth birthday instead. It was on April 22, 1978. Rick Reuschel started the game and pitched well. In fact, he held the Mets hitless through five innings in forging a 2-0 lead. In the seventh inning, the Mets finally broke through for a run on a Ron Hodges sacrifice fly. An inning later, in the eighth, with the score now tied, Hodges’ spot in the order came up again. There were two outs and two men on. In his twelve-year career, Hodges’ batting average against Reuschel was a pathetic .148. But he came through this time with a single that drove in Willie Montanez with the go-ahead run. The game wasn’t over there. The Cubs loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth but couldn’t score. Reuschel blanked the Mets in the top of the ninth, and in the last of the ninth they got their leadoff man aboard. After a strikeout, Rick Reuschel’s spot in the order came up. He was a good hitter, but of course in that spot you go to a pinch-hitter. The pinch-hitter grounded into a game-ending double-play.

His name was Bill Buckner.

Edge: Mets


Manny Mota and Ron Hodges

October 9, 2015

Mota Ron hodges 78NLDS preview, part two (part one here)

One of the last classes I took as an undergrad, many years ago, was in Chaucer, and the only thing I remember was the tale of the knight concluding with a discordant pratfall, the knight falling off his horse. It seemed to me a brilliant commentary on the myth of heroism, if not on the absurdly random nature of life itself. Nobody is a superstar bound to some shapely, impeccable narrative. Really the best you can hope for is that you stick around for a while, maybe find a place you can call home, figure out a way to make yourself useful, and try to steer clear of trouble.

The two players shown here managed all but the last of these elements in their careers. Both had some trouble. Probably trouble is unavoidable. But there’s trouble and then there’s trouble, and Hodges was lucky enough to run into the lesser of these two gradations. He played 12 years for the Mets as a part-time catcher but is most often remembered, at least if his fan memories page on the Ultimate Mets Fan Database is a guide, for fracturing pitcher Craig Swan’s ribs while trying to throw out a young base stealer named Tim Raines. This is the kind of Chaucerian physical comedy that seems to come up with irresistibly appealing regularity on the fan memories page of the Ultimate Mets Fan Database (along with conflicting eyewitness reports of the Met in question’s treatment of fans—on Hodges’ page he is derided by one fan for grabbing his crotch and saying “right here” to him, and he’s lauded by another fan for tirelessly signing autographs for kids), and for that reason I always have to pry myself away from the site to avoid spending the rest of my days browsing through anecdotes about the stumbling, pockmarked humanity of the likes of Bob Apodaca, Doug Flynn, Bill Pecota, etc., etc., into infinity.

If the worst thing that ever happens to you is you fracture Craig Swan’s ribs, life isn’t so bad. Manny Mota would surely agree. Mota, after some time on the Giants, Pirates, and Expos, stuck for many years with the Dodgers, settling in under blue skies to become arguably the most effective right-handed pinch-hitter ever (he ranks third all-time in career pinch hits, after lefties Lenny Harris and Mark Sweeney). It’s a specialized skill requiring that the practitioner know how to effectively sit and wait, just you and all the spiraling directionless tales in your mind. How Mota did this is a mystery, as he had by then lived through the second kind of trouble, the kind most of us never even want to imagine. In 1970, some years before his shift from part-time starter to pinch-hitting specialist, a foul ball from his bat struck and killed a 14-year-old boy in the stands.

That kind of thing, making sense of it, is beyond me. It’s beyond anyone, surely; there’s no sense to be made of some things. But I don’t even really want to think about it. So:

Edge: Mets


Bobby Valentine

April 21, 2015

BobbyValentineMustacheGlassesDisguiseYou Are the Eyes of the World


Yesterday I wore a tail for a few hours. It started in the morning when my older son, Jack, not wearing any clothes, as is his wont, walked out of the bathroom with a long strand of toilet paper hanging out of his butt. He’s a couple months shy of four.

“This is my tail,” he said. “You get a tail too, Daddy.”

“I’m not sticking anything in my butt right now,” I said.

“My tail! My tail!” Jack hollered. It had fallen out. “Mommy, stick my tail back in!”

“OK,” she said. She was dazed from being sick for the past few days. Halfway through the process, kneeling, she said, “Why am I always dealing with butts? This is my whole life now. Jack, things aren’t supposed to go up your—”

“Daddy, put a tail up your butt!”

“No more putting things up butts!”


You have to also picture throughout this exchange the high-pitched yowling of a screechy woodland ogre. This is the general conversational style of my younger son, Exley, who’s a little over ten months old.

“But, Mommy!” Jack said.

“Eeeyyaaooowl!” Exley said.

“Holy God!” I yelled.

“I’ll give everyone tails!” my wife yelled. “But not up butts! That’s it!”

She tied a rope around Jack’s waist and fastened another rope to it. She looped the belt from a bathrobe around a belt loop above my butt. Jack and I ran up and down the hall a few times with our tails flying around. The younger boy crawled after us yowling. Eventually the yowling turned to crying and I picked him up. Jack got bored without me in pursuit and took off his tail. After a lot of bucking and crying, Exley fell asleep. I eased him down into the bassinet. I noticed that I still had a tail on. I started taking it off and then I stopped. I would be walking to the beach with my family later, then to the grocery store. I’m 47 years old. I was going to do all that with a tail? Out there in society?

“Why are you wearing a tail still?” my wife asked as we walked to the beach.

It was a fair question. I looked like an idiot, surely.

I can’t really explain it. I’m losing my mind, probably? More specifically, I’m excited about my book coming out in a couple of weeks, but I’m also terrified. I don’t remember being this scared when Cardboard Gods came out. Maybe I was. All I know is I’m overwhelmed by anxiety. The process of writing a book for me is one saturated almost perpetually with doubt, but then right at the end, aided by exhaustion, the doubt abates a little and I get this feeling that what I did was OK, that I did the best I could, that I wrestled with whatever was inside me and got it down onto the page in some kind of an artistic form or whatever. This feeling goes away, and the words that were once so close to me go cold on the page, and I can’t make heads or tails of what I’ve done. So I worry that this book will be the door I’ve always worried about, the one that opens to the suggestion that even my best effort is the work of a fraud.

This is the general feeling of fatherhood, too, I’ve found: continual fakery. This is perhaps why yesterday for several hours I wore a tail. On the beach, on a playground, waiting in line to buy bread and beer and wintergreen Trident at the grocery store. Fuck it: Here I am world, the fool, the fraud. For the first time in weeks I felt great.

Which brings me to this great moment in bench-sitting. It was in June 1999. Bobby Valentine was tossed out of a game as the manager of the Mets and shortly after the expulsion reappeared on the bench in the most ludicrously flimsy disguise imaginable.

There are days when you can’t lose. When just sitting on the bench is a victory, even if on the bench you’re a fool, a fraud. Yesterday was one of these days. I sat on the bench by Lake Michigan with my son for a few minutes and watched the swift little waves bash into the shore and beyond that the wide water stretching to the horizon and felt no pain and when I got up to follow Jack to a playground my tail, just briefly, got stuck in a gap between metal slats. One little tug before I was able to go on, a grown man wearing a tail, free.

To be continued.



Ron Darling

July 18, 2013

darling houseThere are always people above me. As of this second, which finds me at a table in the basement where I write books or don’t write books, depending on the relative shittiness of my resolve that day or depending on the gods or on whoever or whatever is to blame for my failings, the people above me are my wife and son, still asleep upstairs. I got up in the four o’clock hour and have been doing so for a while to try to write my book before I go to work. As I write I brace myself for sounds of wakefulness above me. Sometimes it stays quiet for a while and I can get some words down. Other times it stays quiet for a while and I waste the time Googling Eugenio Velez. Eugenio Velez is still active in Triple A baseball, which means he has the chance to return to the major leagues and put a stop to his major league hitless at-bat streak, which currently stands at 46 at-bats in a row without a hit, the all-time record for non-pitchers. I don’t want to miss his call-up to the majors, even though it seems increasingly unlikely that such a call-up will come. There are always people above him.

In a short while, I’ll go to work, where the people above me are supervisors and middle managers and directors and vice presidents. I sometimes pass one or another of these personages as we are wending our respective way through the pasteboard cubicle maze. They are outwardly no different from me, especially in the preference to avoid eye contact while afoot within the maze. They are outwardly no happier or secure than me. There are people above them, too. This means, this always means, that decisions could be made somewhere, somewhere above, that result in things ending, by which I mean paycheck, insurance, etc.

This would be terrible. I dread it, the possibility of it. Sometimes it makes me angry that there are people above me, always, always the possibility that a decision will be made above me to send me packing. So I go to work, work all day, do what I can. I come home. My son, almost two, now runs at me when I come home. Not to me but at me. We go down to the basement. He likes it down there. It’s carpeted, i.e., a softer  landing spot for falling, and there are baseball cards and balls and my old guitar, which he likes to strum. Sometimes down there he orders me to participate in one or another of his rudimentary games. He’s above me, the one true boss of my life, so I have to comply. Other times he gets interested, inexplicably, in some random task that happens to be more solitary, such as dropping a pair of earphone buds again and again into the binder of a photo album jutting out from the bookcase. In those rare instances I either lie on the ground, exhausted, or, if I have some shred of life still in me, I fiddle around with his baseball cards, which are usually strewn all over the floor. Lately I’ve been building little houses of the cards. They don’t last long, these houses, because a certain party eventually gets interested and, even if he initially contributes to the house by laying a Dennis Rasmussen or Mike Proly on the roof, inevitably gives in to the joy of demolition.

But I managed to get a picture of one of the houses before it was destroyed. It would be nice to live in such a house forever, I sometimes think. To look up and see nothing above you but numbers, knowable and distinct. Maybe there’d be a faint scent of gum.


Jason Isringhausen

June 8, 2012

(This post originally appeared on The Classical.)


Last month I got an email from my friend David, a philosophy professor I used to work with at a liquor store on 8th Street in Manhattan back in the 1990s. I knew what the email was about without opening it. The subject line read “Morty.”

I used some credit card points to fly to New York for a memorial gathering. There were photos of Morty on the wall. Morty out in front of his store, arms crossed over his chest, the bald, fearless 70-year-old World War II combat veteran built like a linebacker from the leather-helmet era. Morty at the back of the store, behind his desk, the retail-business survivor, gnawing ferociously on his pipe and pounding on an adding machine. Morty yelling, Morty screaming, Morty cackling with laughter. Morty standing beside his friend Larry, 8th Street behind them, both of them with chins upraised, unbeatable.

The best photo was a simple close-up of the man. Everyone at the gathering gravitated toward it, had a moment with it. The photo showed just his bald head, his face, his eyes. Beneath all the toughness, the Yiddish insults and obscenities, the screaming, there was always something utterly gentle and watchful in his eyes. This came through in the picture. Morty was there when you most needed him. He took care of us.

“Be good to yourself, Joshua,” he said to me more than once through all those years when my formidable self-pummeling tendencies were at their worst. Morty was the only person who called me by my full first name. “If you won’t be good to yourself, Joshua, who else will?”

Most of the people at the gathering were ex-clerks like me, hired in our twenties, now all middle-aged. Morty’s silver-haired friend Larry came, too. The two of them used to sit in the back of the store together every day. When he saw the close-up of Morty, he said, “I miss you, you old fuck,” and began to cry.


I have spent most of the moments of my life wishing I was in some other moment. This affliction may have been at its peak during the slower lulls at the liquor store, when the only thing to do was stare across the counter at the vaguely Mrs. Butterworthian bottle of Frangelico liqueur on the opposite shelf while worrying that a gun-wielding maniac was about to burst in from the street. There was a bell above the entrance, the kind more often associated with the screen doors on general stores in cozy valleys where everyone says “y’all.” I perpetually imagined that the inevitable summons back into the Now would be that homey bell introducing something violent into the limits of my Frangelico trance.

I never did get held up. The worst thing that happened while I was there was when teenage shoplifters swept through the store, shouting and pointing and misdirecting and grabbing. This happened routinely. It was scary and, in the aftermath, enraging. After it was over, every time, I used to grab the Jeff Burroughs Louisville Slugger we kept behind the counter and imagine smashing heads.

One of the instances struck me worse than the others, maybe because the raids had simply happened one too many times, maybe because one of the shoplifters this time had addressed me directly as he was leaving. He looked me in the eyes. His own eyes narrowed to a squint.

“Ghost,” he said, his mouth a scowl. A bullet hole.

I sat down on a stack of boxes of wine. I sat there for a long time. Ghost. The next morning I took the train in from my apartment in Brooklyn and sat across from Morty at the desk in the back of the store and told him I was quitting. I didn’t have anything else lined up. I was 27, the age when rock stars frequently perish. This seemed significant to me, I guess because I was an idiot.

“Joshua, Joshua,” Morty said.

I didn’t know what to say. Where is the story of my life?


I walked back toward the front of the store, the door.


A few months went by. I don’t feel like describing them. I went back to 8th Street, took a deep breath, put my hand to the door.



Jason Isringhausen made it to the big leagues midway through that year when I quit and then, begging and pleading, unquit. There was a television up front, behind the counter. This sometimes helped pass the time.Jeopardy. Mets games. After I returned to the store, I must have seen some of Isringhausen’s earliest innings with his first team, the Mets. I vaguely remember the hoopla around him and a couple other young pitchers. Generation K, I think they were called.

I could easily look it up, but I worry my writing is deteriorating with my habit of bailing midsentence every sentence to graft Google discoveries onto my porous memory. I’ve already bailed on several sentences so far, most recently to see how Jason Isringhausen did when he was 27, and I found out that age 27 was a better year for him than it was for me, and much better than it was for D. Boon, Pigpen, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, etc.

When Jason Isringhausen turned 27, his narrative changed. Unlike those rock stars, his story changed for the better. His first public narrative, Here Comes a Fireballing Youngster Upon Which We Can Rebuild Our Franchise, had given way to a central role as a luckless brittle disappointment in the second narrative, Here We Go Again With The Fucking Mets. But at 27 Isringhausen landed with a new team and found a new role, that of the guy who gets to enact enthusiastic greeting rituals with the catcher at the end of wins.


Baseball was always a part of the store. At the memorial, on a table below the photos of Morty, there were two ticket stubs from the 1986 World Series. There was also a box of 2012 baseball cards. The day after I returned home from the trip to New York, I opened a pack of these new cards while sitting on the floor with my nine-month-old son.

He liked putting the cards in his mouth and gnawing on them. He did the most damage to this Jason Isringhausen card, and it’s the only one I’ve been able to form a bond with. The rest are still too much in their original condition of unreachable slickness. My connection with Now, which has been diminishing since my childhood, seems to be epitomized in my connection, or lack thereof, with the new cards. Everything in this world seems slick and shiny and unfathomable now. Most names I don’t even recognize.

But I do recall the name of the player who, courtesy of my son, now has a small chunk of his head missing. On the back of the card this gap has demolished most of the part where team names are listed. You can make out that his first team was the Mets, and you can see that this was not always true. But here he is, back again with the Mets. He got to return. He got to enact an enthusiastic greeting with a catcher.

He was not the primary catcher-greeter for the Mets last season, but he appears to have been the backup greeter, jumping in when the main guy was all hugged out. In one of his fill-in appearances, he recorded his 300th save. I imagine this is what is being captured in the photo on his 2012 baseball card. It’s a nice moment. A triumphant return. Some glory, some love.


Sometimes the bell above the door signaled the return of a friend of the store—a friend of Morty—who had been away for a while. Maybe it was a salesman, maybe it was someone who used to live in the neighborhood, maybe it was a former clerk.


The returnee would stand inside the doorway for a moment, hurling obscenities at Morty, who would hurl them back, and then the returnee would gradually proceed down the center of the store, pausing to cast aspersions on the selection of wine in the racks, broadly suggesting that its presence was the product of some unseemly combination of Morty’s cheapness and a proclivity of foreigners to bottle their urination. Reaching the back of the store, the returnee would take a seat on the other side of the desk from Morty, like in a late night talk show. Jokes would be told. Morty would cackle apoplectically and slam the desk with his hand. Eventually, the voices would get quieter. Morty would listen to the returnee tell him about how he had been doing out there in the world.

I always hoped to make a happy return. I’d push open the door, making the bell ring, and start screaming obscenities at Morty from the doorway. I’d make my way down the center of the store. I’d sit down across from him. Somehow I’d have a joke to tell him. I’ve never been very good with jokes, but I once made Morty laugh by describing in painstaking detail how I was, during the ’88-’89 season, officially and mathematically the worst basketball player in America. Morty wouldn’t mind if I pulled that one out of the attic. He’d laugh and pound the table. He’d call me Joshua. Our voices would get quiet. I’d show him a picture of my son.


Bobby Valentine

February 14, 2012

Between the two of them, Maury Wills and Bill Russell handled the great majority of the shortstop duties for the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise over the first two and a half decades of its existence. Wills arrived in 1959, the team’s second year in Los Angeles, and captained the infield until being traded away before the 1967 season; he returned to the Dodgers in 1969 and remained the starter until 1972, when Bill Russell took over the job for the next twelve years.

Before the 1971 season, the player pictured here arrived in Dodgers camp with the conviction that he would shoulder aside fellow up and comer Russell while wrestling the starting job away from the aging Wills. He mentions both players by name in a February 23, 1971, article titled “Valentine Confident”:

I realize you don’t just step in and move out a star like Maury Wills, but I suspect one of us will be moving to another position. I’m aware that the Dodgers want to make a shortstop out of Bill Russell and move me to third base. Well, no way. I intend to be the Dodgers shortstop for many years.

He can’t be faulted for being confident. He’d been a legendary multisport high school athlete and had just come off a spectacular season at the Dodgers Triple A affiliate where he’d batted .340 with 39 doubles, 16 triples, 14 home runs, and 29 stolen bases. He had also bounced back from two horrific injuries, first from a beaning that came within a quarter inch of killing him and next from an injury to his leg that had doctors seriously wondering whether he’d ever play again. These things didn’t stop him. What chance did Maury Wills or Bill Russell have?

This card from the dusky latter stages of the 1970s makes plain that Valentine’s day never arrived. He’s not wearing Dodgers blue, for one thing, and the “OF” position indicator inside the little baseball icon dangling like a washed-out Christmas ornament from his bat shows that he ended up getting moved as far from shortstop as is humanly possible in baseball without moving a player entirely off the diamond. That latter move is not far away, either, at least going on the diminishing playing time suggested by the meager stream of numbers on the back of the card. The numbers are framed above by personal info, including that Valentine was drafted #1 by the Dodgers, and below by some space-filling prose that has nothing to do with Valentine’s on-field accomplishments: “Bobby’s father-in-law is Ralph Branca, former big league pitcher, 1944–1956.” You might think this gap between great expectations and (at least in terms of his own bold estimations at the start of the career now about end) trivial accomplishment would gnaw at a guy from inside. Valentine does look a little worn on the front of the card, but despite his somewhat forlorn and abandoned surroundings he doesn’t look beaten. By now he knows the drill, so the photographer probably didn’t even have to tell him to pretend he’s waiting for a pitch. He takes his stance and glares out at nothing as if it’s not nothing.


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