Archive for the ‘Pittsburgh Pirates’ Category

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Jim Gott

May 6, 2013

Exif_JPEG_422I had stuffed animals as a kid. The dog shown here isn’t one of them. I don’t have them anymore. My favorite was a stuffed dog named Spot. He and I used to have brawls. I used to punch him and throw him across the room, and I’d pretend he was doing the same to me. The key element of the whole recurring fantasy was that Spot was beating the shit out of me as I was beating the shit out of Spot. I suppose I imagined that in the end I threw the final, decisive punch, but this victory was secondary to the central function of the whole endeavor, which was to pretend that I was in a horrible fight. I don’t know why I was so prone to imagining violence, specifically violence being done to me. There wasn’t any actual hitting of me or anyone else in the house I grew up in, besides my older brother sometimes becoming so exasperated with my incessant needling commentary and questions and need for attention that he’d punch me in a “phaser-set-to-stun” kind of way in the arm.

And yet, I still imagine my face getting smashed in on a fairly regular basis. Life is one fucking invisible worry after another, one thing breaking after another, one long day after another. And now, for me, there’s a small boy in the center of it, not even two years old, and it’s up to me to protect him, as if I could do so by draping my arm around him like the stuffed dog in this photo is doing to Jim Gott, one of the cards my son plays with sometimes. But I can’t protect him. I’m at the mercy of forces far beyond me.

Spot is in a landfill somewhere, I guess, probably all but disintegrated. He was full of white Styrofoam pellets. Because of all the fighting I subjected him to, he sprung several wounds and would bleed the little white pellets everywhere. I imagined bleeding all over the place, too. Then the two of us would lie there together in the wreckage, arm in arm, and make peace.

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Guest post by Ted Anthony: Rennie Stennett

August 21, 2012

Today on Cardboard Gods guest writer Ted Anthony marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of a bad day for Rennie Stennett. Anthony, a journalist for The Associated Press, has been a national and foreign correspondent and has covered, among other things, China, Iraq, Afghanistan and how American culture is changing in the 21st century. He is the author of the cultural history Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song (Simon & Schuster, 2007). A Pittsburgh native, he was deeply traumatized as a boy when his parents dragged him off by the hair to Asia in 1979, the year the Pirates won the World Series. They have not done so since.

Rennie Stennett

by Ted Anthony 

He looks off camera, to the side, as if distracted by something coming toward him. And something was.

Rennie Stennett was one of the best second basemen of the 1970s. That’s saying something, given that Rod Carew spent half of the 1970s at second base and names like Willie Randolph and Joe Morgan were also occupying the bag in those years. 

Stennett could run, he could field, and oh — could he hit in the clutch. On Sept. 16, 1975, as his card trumpets on the back, he went 7 for 7 in a nine-inning game. What it doesn’t say is that his hits were part of one of the most lopsided games in baseball history: The Pirates beat the Cubs, 22-0. We in Pittsburgh don’t have games like that anymore. It would be a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Stennett was a thrilling part of the 1976 Pirates, a team that, in retrospect, I loved even more than the 1979 “Fam-a-lee.” This was “The Lumber Company,” a team full of Stargells and Hebners and Zisks and Candelarias and Mooses and Robinsons and a young rightfielder named Dave Parker whose days as a battery throwee were still in the future. We even had Mario Mendoza, he of the now-famous line. I can still hear Milo Hamilton saying our second baseman’s name in a deep voice: “And RENN-ie STENN-ett pulls into third with a standup triple.”

Yet Rennie Stennett is mostly forgotten, because of what happened 35 years ago today.

It was August of 1977, and we had embarked upon the first major cross-country trip of my childhood. The Pirates were well en route to a respectable five-games-out finish in the NL East behind their rival of the time, the Phillies, when my parents poured me into the back of my mother’s powder-blue Maverick. With my father driving, we set out from Pittsburgh to Jacksonville Fla., to see my uncle and many cousins. 

We largely bypassed the interstates and pointed our car toward Plains, Georgia. You’ll recall, of course, Plains, Georgia — home to the freshly minted president, peanut farmer Jimmy Carter, and, perhaps more famously, home to the gas station belonging to his brother, the indefatigable Billy. (Wikipedia enshrines Billy this way: “Carter’s name was occasionally used as a gag answer for a Washington, D.C. trouble-maker on 1970s episodes of The Match Game.”)

Pre-iPod, pre-XM, AM radio was our constant companion. Local stations faded in and out as we passed through West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina. Various iterations of Stuckey’s appeared at the side of the road, then receded. We stopped only if my mother wanted some pecan clusters or if I needed a new pack of Colorforms or a bag of pork rinds. On the morning of Aug. 17, I remember hearing some Southern-accented announcer cut in on a song — was it Alan O’Day’s “Undercover Angel”? — to tell us that someone named Elvis Presley had died the previous day. “The King is dead,” I remember the announcer saying. My mother, generally progressive when it came to the arts, had this to say: “I didn’t much like his music.” I made a mental note to find some and prove her wrong.

And so we proceeded to Plains. We stopped at Billy’s gas station, and he wasn’t there, but we came away with a lot of peanut memorabilia and a few 7-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbons etched with “Billy” and the date in an electric pencil by some forgotten attendant. These would be great traders to build my beer can collection. We vacationed in Florida, saw cousins, went to beaches, sweated. And then, a few days later, we drove back. 

On the way home, an announcer came on during some South Carolina sportscast and told us that Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Rennie Stennett had broken his right leg while sliding into, of all things, second base. He was batting .336 at the time. He was gone for the season and, though we didn’t know it at the time, for good.

We kept hurtling north, back to Pittsburgh. The summer of 1977, fading, was hurtling equally fast toward fourth grade. Rennie Stennett’s ankle was broken, and he would not become the Hall of Fame second baseman I was certain he was destined to be. He would leave the Pirates quietly at the end of 1979, their year of triumph. His career, an asterisk to Pirates history, would peter out early in Reagan’s first term. 

Somehow things weren’t what they should be anymore. Elvis was dead, and I knew that mattered, but I wasn’t quite certain why. I certainly couldn’t drink the PBR from Billy’s gas station, and I didn’t even want to yet. Disco was rotting my brain. And there was Rennie Stennett on his baseball card, gazing off camera a bit warily as if something was hurtling toward him. And something was.

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Ed Kirkpatrick

April 10, 2012

Satori

Three

The smallest communicative symbol on this card, the hyphen joining the positions inside the baseball in the lower right corner, identifies Ed Kirkpatrick as a major league handyman. He crouches in the posture of the second of his two hyphenated roles, but he does so without wearing a chest protector or shin guards, ready at any moment to toss aside his catcher’s mitt for a first baseman’s glove or, perhaps more likely, to walk back to the bench. That’s the implication of the hyphen in a hyphenated cardboard identity. You might be useful but you aren’t terribly important.

I have a job at which I might be useful but I’m not terribly important. My job is to test the suitability of hyphens, among other similar tasks. When not at my job, I write, so when I am presented with the dreaded question “What do you do?” I usually hyphenate that rendition of myself, sometimes putting the “writer” part in front of the hyphen, sometimes after, the hyphen a kind of permanent scar in between the two things. I sometimes attempt a healing of the scar by writing about my job, and whenever I mention this job in my writing it comes off as a complaint, implying that my life should be pure creativity and growth but isn’t. Why must there be cubicles, long bus rides, boredom, upgrades, meetings, processes, layoffs, anxiety? But the truth is I’m glad I have a job, and if I were any kind of a decent honest human being I’d wipe the constant grimace off my face and even smile for the camera about having a job, as Ed Kirkpatrick does in this 1975 card. If I may veer into religious diction for a moment, as a hyphenated Jew-Christian who was raised neither and who just spent the Passover/Easter weekend as if Jesus was only the lesser Alou and Moses was only a hyphenated outfielder-first baseman from the 1980s: thank you Lord Almighty for my job. Life could be a hell of a lot worse. Word of calamity is always so close at hand as to seem inevitable. We took a walk this past weekend, my wife and baby son and I, and near the end we passed a flier for a candlelight vigil. Someone was shot a few blocks from our house last Thursday, a gang thing I guess. Ed Kirkpatrick was the card I picked at random from my shoebox this morning. I knew him only as a hyphenated guy on a card from my childhood, so I checked the internet and learned that soon after his playing career ended he got in a car accident that put him in a coma for five months and left him paralyzed. He kept going for many years beyond that but died of cancer in 2010.

I have to go switch to the other side of the hyphen soon and head for the bus. Throughout the first half of my long ride, the bus fills with community college students about as old as Ed Kirkpatrick was when he first started playing pro ball, a teenage phenom seemingly destined for stardom. By the time of this 1975 card, Ed Kirkpatrick’s first spectacular years in minor league ball were far behind him, as was a sputtering major league start with the franchise he came up, the Angels. He’d moved on to the Royals, where he’d played well, if not superlatively, and by now, on his third team, he’d settled fully into his major league identity, a useful if not essential handyman.

The community college students chatter. They complain about teachers, recite their philosophies, brag that this girl or that girl is “on my balls,” and explain to one another that they soon will be transferring to a better college. This last snippet doesn’t surface every ride but it’s definitely the most common topic of conversation among the students, I’ve noticed. I’m here, yes, but the real me is somewhere better, just a step or two into the future. I’m glad for the extra elbow room when the bus pulls up at the college and the bus discharges all these youth, but the ensuing silence among we few solitaries who remain is always a little sad.

The bus ride goes on for quite a while after the stop at the community college. I could spend it watching my breath, trying to get back to what Shunryu Suzuki called beginner’s mind, but instead I listen to Howard Stern on my satellite radio. Suzuki was a Zen teacher who helped establish the practice of Zen meditation in America. His book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, was an important one for me, but the practice I once believed would grow stronger and stronger until finally I was “enlightened” has instead flickered in and out like a bulb connected to faulty wiring. Unlike the “other” Suzuki who brought Zen to America, D.T. Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki didn’t stress the idea of satori, of a shattering moment of enlightenment, in his teaching, but he did stress constancy. Watch your breath every day. Watch your posture every day. Straight spine. Beginner’s mind.

It was easy to seize on the idea of beginner’s mind, of being open to each moment, when I was the age of the community college students who ride my bus. It’s a little tougher now. Life is full of tedium, repetition, and I’m complicit in it. I complain about tedium, yet this is the life I’ve built, and I did it for a reason. When the bus empties out at the community college, the few of us left behind are all sitting alone, scattered throughout the bus, older, beyond the years of promise, looking out the windows and worrying.

Ed Kirkpatrick is not worried in this 1975 card. He never attained the satori he seemed as a teenager to be destined for, and by now whatever uniform he wears must certainly seem tentative, but none of this troubles him. Within a couple years he’ll move to another team, then another, then be nudged out of the big leagues altogether. Not long after that, car accident, coma, paralysis. Finally, gone altogether. Here and now, he is everything you would want for yourself or for anyone you love. He is glad to be a part of something. He is glad to have a place. Who knows what transfers will occur a step or two into the future? What can you do but try to take a breath and let it out with a little smile? What can you do but try to assume a solid yet relaxed stance for receiving? Where can you ever be but here and now?

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Bruce Kison

February 8, 2012

How Strange the Design

Four

There’s a trend toward the unusual, even the bizarre. That was the horoscope for Mike Torrez on October 2, 1978. But what use could this information have been? Torrez may or may not have read his horoscope that day, but he did go into the game with a plan, at least for the batter who ended up proving the accuracy of the horoscope.

“I wanted to pitch him in,” Torrez said in a 2001 USA Today article, referring to the Yankees’ light-hitting shortstop, Bucky Dent, “get him off the plate, then go away from him with a good slider, give him an outside pitch down and away. I never got to throw him an outside pitch. I got too much of the plate.”

He wanted to get him off the plate but being human and fallible failed in his attempt to use a plan to stave off the unusual, even bizarre. The day was undone.

Which reminds me, I never finished telling you about Luke Walker. When last seen on these pages, he had just thrown a historic pitch—the first ever in a night game in the World Series—for a strike and was ahead in the count to Orioles leadoff hitter Paul Blair. Things rapidly disintegrated. Blair singled, as did Mark Belanger and Merv Rettenmund, loading the bases with no outs. A passed ball scored Blair, Frank Robinson was walked intentionally, and Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell plated two more runs with back to back sacrifice flies. Down 3-0 in the first inning, Luke Walker was lifted from Game 4 of the 1971 World Series, and a call was made to the bullpen. A tall, thin rookie named Bruce Kison moved toward the center of the diamond.

Kison had started the 1971 season in the minors. While there, he was featured in a Sports Illustrated article by Pat Jordan on bush league life in the Pirates’ system. The piece included this telling sketch of the young unknown:

Kison retires the side in the fifth, but in the sixth he gives up two singles with one out. He gets the fourth batter to pop out to third base and then he fires two quick strikes past the potential third out. [Catcher Woody] Huyke crouches behind the right-handed batter and sticks two fingers beneath his glove. Kison flicks his glove fingers. Huyke responds with one finger and Kison nods slightly. Woody then hunches over the outside corner, but before he can set himself Kison flicks his glove again. Huyke shifts to the inside corner and places his glove at a level with the batter’s knees. Again Kison flicks his glove. The catcher raises his target until it rests inches from the batter’s chin. Kison goes into his motion and fires a fastball directly at the spot where the batter’s head would have been if he had not fallen to the dirt.

Kison was promoted to the majors in July, where he contributed to the Pirates’ pennant drive with 6 victories (and 6 hit batsmen) in 95 innings of work. In relief of the battered Luke Walker in game 4 of the World Series, the Pirates teetering on the brink of a 3-1 series deficit to the defending champs, Kison hurled 6 and a 1/3 innings of one-hit shutout ball, earning the win. The key line from the box score would have to be this one:

HBP: Etchebarren (1, by Kison); F Robinson (1, by Kison); Johnson (1, by Kison).

The three hit-batsmen in one game established a World Series record. An AP article about the game attributed the high-speed assaults to Kison’s “history of wildness.” Pat Jordan revisited Kison in another Sports Illustrated story after the World Series, and the former pro pitcher turned legendary sportswriter provides a more nuanced view of Kison’s propensity for hit batsmen:

Those Orioles were simply being served notice that despite Kison’s virginal appearance he was not one to treat idly. Kison had hit a high proportion of batsmen in his three-year professional career. He hit seven batters in one minor league game, which he won. His difficulty stems from a fastball that breaks sharply in on a right-handed batter at the last second. This break is often misjudged and can result in bruised ribs. Also, because his curveball is such a brief affair and anxious batters tend to lean far over the plate hoping to paste it to the right-field wall, Kison must protect himself by firing an occasional pitch inside. This combination of a batter leaning one way and a fastball breaking the other accounts for the knockdowns. There is a feeling among Kison’s friends that he is not particularly upset when he hits a batter, that he feels it helps compensate for his limited repertoire (two basic pitches) and his boyish appearance. Yet, in the fourth game of the Series, he claimed his youthful wildness was responsible for the three hit batters—Dave Johnson, Andy Etchebarren and Frank Robinson. Strangely enough, he did not walk a single batter during that span.

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“Any pitcher who permits a hitter to dig in on him is asking for trouble. I never deliberately tried to hit anyone in my life. I throw close just to keep the hitters loose up there.” – Carl Mays

“I wasn’t trying to hit anybody. I can’t help it if my fastball runs in on the right-handed batters.” – Bruce Kison

Bruce Kison uttered the above quote in 1974, after a game between the Pirates and the Reds. Kison’s pitches had been sizzling under the chins of Reds’ batters all game, and finally in retaliation Reds pitcher Jack Billingham plunked Kison. Billingham was ejected, and manager Sparky Anderson came onto the field to argue the ejection with home plate ump Ed Sudol. During the argument, Anderson stepped on the foot of Pirates’ catcher Ed Kirkpatrick, who reacted by shoving Anderson. At that point, according to the powerless would-be peacekeeper Sudol, swarms from both teams “ran onto the field like animals.” A prolonged fist-swinging brawl ensued.

Three years later, Kison plunked slugger Mike Schmidt, who took offense and began jawing at Kison. According to Pirates manager Chuck Tanner, the dialogue between Schmidt and Kison proceeded like this:

Schmidt: The next time you do that I’m going to come after you.

Kison: Why don’t you come now?

Within moments, both benches had emptied. Pirates catcher Ed Ott, a former wrestler known for body-slamming and choke-holding fellows during brawls, grabbed Schmidt, and Phillies man-mountain Greg “The Bull” Luzinski grabbed Kison.

Kison, seemingly always ready to send a purpose pitch, remarked of Luzinski afterward, “Boy did he have B.O.”

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Luke Walker

February 2, 2012

How Strange the Design

Two

One day when I was young and stupid, my brother and I walked down the road together. It was a summer day. I wore a green cap with a white felt M on it, the cap from our little league team. We walked toward the general store, as usual, but that day we walked past it, over a short bridge above the river. Just past the bridge, a road split off from our road and climbed up out of the valley. The house at the intersection of the two roads had spilled things onto the lawn, and they were for sale. We found a box with some baseball cards. The cards were all beaten up and featured players we’d never heard of. This 1970 Luke Walker card was among them. I didn’t recognize the name. He was gone from the major leagues by then, and his brief moment in the national spotlight had occurred years earlier, when I’d been too young to notice. The obscurity of his name and of his worn-away face made the card seem strange and ancient, as if it had traveled through centuries to reach me. All the cards were like this. My brother and I thought we had found mysterious, valuable relics selling for pennies a piece. We thought we’d struck it rich.

That was over 30 years ago. Now I wake up early every day while it’s still dark so I can write a little before everything resumes its unstoppable forgettable forward lurch. I usually have about an hour. Sometimes I waste most or all of it. Sometimes I cast around the internet for pieces of the past. Two mornings ago instead of writing I found a newspaper article on Luke Walker from 1971. He’d won 15 games in 1970, and in spring training before the 1971 season he brushed aside a reporter’s suggestion that he was primed to win 20 in the coming year by rhetorically wondering why the reporter was limiting him to that benchmark. Why not 25? This is how you feel when you’re young and stupid. You hold cardboard in your hands and it feels like great riches. You hold a ball in your hands and it feels alive. Luke Walker didn’t remotely approach 25 wins in 1971. He didn’t even reach double figures in wins after 1971, and by 1974 he had thrown his last pitch in the big leagues.

One day when I was young and stupid I walked back home with my brother, my pockets bulging with what seemed to be a fortune in unfamiliar currency from a vanished civilization. It was a summer day. I wore a green cap with a white felt M on it. I don’t have that cap anymore, but I still have the 1970 Luke Walker card that was in my pocket, and yesterday morning instead of writing I found a trace of a moment of great promise in Luke Walker’s life. Most of the video containing this trace is taken up by pregame chatter and player introductions, but the very end includes the historic first pitch of the first night game in World Series history. The camera is set up behind home plate, providing a daunting view of the pitcher, a twitchy, bristling lefthander named Luke Walker. He winds and fires, and the ball comes in fast and with a darting downward snarl to it, catching the low outside corner of the zone for a called strike, an unhittable pitch. The game is halted so that a suited lackey can jog onto the diamond and retrieve the ball for posterity, and at that point the video ends, with Luke Walker on the mound under the lights in the World Series, ahead in the count.

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Richie Zisk

September 16, 2011

The Cardboard Gods Ass Backwards ABCs of Parenting

Z Is for Zisk

This morning, the start of my 48th day as a parent, while groping around in my shoebox of cards, exhausted, unmoored, looking for some kind of anchor, I randomly pulled free this Richie Zisk card and started thinking—because of the unusual first letter of his surname—about the alphabet, and at that moment in another room of my home my son began to cry, a sound that spikes the air with barbed invisible question marks, and I began to wonder as I hurried toward the sound what it might be like to know everything I need to know. What if—instead of knowing nothing at all—I knew the terrain of parenting backward and forward? My life has been nothing if not an exercise in palliative fantasies, so why stop now? And so we begin a Cardboard Gods ABCs of parenting at the end, with Z, first things fuckin’ last, to use the phrasing of Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs, when he was trying to piece together the details of a situation that had gone completely to shit and was clearly only going to get worse. Am I hinting with this cinematic reference that parenting for me has been like a botched, bloody heist scheme threatening to destroy everyone involved? Are you imagining that me, my wife, and our baby are currently in a Mexican stand-off, weapons drawn and cocked, shirts stained with the liquid of soured internal processes, eyes reddened with fatigue and weeping? Well, it hasn’t been like that, or at least not all the time. It is one moment at a time, some better than others, each a volatile enigma. Yesterday, the boy took a break from a long stint of red-faced grunting unhappiness and smiled up at me for a few minutes. Two days ago, he gnawed on a Red Sox pacifier and seemed content, briefly. Three days ago, when I was almost done with my bike ride home from my commute, I spotted my wife on the sidewalk, carrying the boy in a baby bjorn. I got off the bike and fell in slow step with them, the three of us meandering around the neighborhood for a while on a mild fall evening, an awareness falling down on me that in moments like this I could not be more blessed. (Key detail: just before my arrival, the boy had abruptly stopped screaming and fallen unconscious.)

Anyway, on to today’s lesson, while I still am within this narrow gap of time between tasks that have otherwise banished my writing to regions so distant and hypothetical as to border the hoary regions of frustration in which occurred my long-gone pubescent imaginings of sexual intercourse with the intangible pop culture sex symbols of my youth, such as Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman and Bailey and Jennifer from WKRP in Cincinnati (yes, the gnawing ache of knowing that in reality I would never be able to fondle Cheryl Tiegs’ boobs has now reentered my life as a yearning for having time to sit down and write, say, a literary ode to Cheryl Tiegs’ boobs): Z is for Zisk. Z is also for zero, as in nothing. When I became a parent, I suffered the feeling of being back at zero, knowing nothing. I suffered unto feelings of despair, no lie, sprinting past fantasies of Cheryl Tiegs or writing about Cheryl Tiegs to imagine scenarios of sheer desperation involving the witness protection program or the foreign legion. And it’s not accurate to put these statements in the past tense. That feeling of zero is with me right now and from now on, probably. I will always be at zero as a parent, always knowing nothing, a tenuous and agonizing way to be when someone is looking to you and depending on you to know what to do.

So Z is for zero but Z is also for Zisk, and in terms of this 1977 Richie Zisk card this can only mean good things, possibilities, unpredictable but not necessarily negative changes. The year this card came out, Zisk, after logging a few years as a prototypical good-hitting, dubious-gloved member of Pittsburgh’s vaunted Lumber Company, shifted over to the city where I now happen to live and where my son was born, Chicago, and had the best season of his career. Sometime during that season, Topps included Zisk in its line of cloth stickers, and in that product the picture shown here has been airbrushed so that Zisk is shown as a member of the White Sox. That year was the best of the decade for the White Sox, as they led the American League West deep into the summer before succumbing to the charge of the dynastic Royals. The team was one of the oddest in history, in that it had been consciously built by owner Bill Veeck as a desperate one-off, the roster fortified through trades for players acquired at bargain prices because they were on the brink of free agency. Veeck knew he would soon lose these players (most significantly Zisk and Oscar Gamble, the heart of the team’s slugging attack), but he apparently figured one brief shot at glory was better than none at all. And it almost worked. The following year, Zisk indeed cashed in on a free agency deal with the Texas Rangers, and White Sox fans had to pack away the bedsheets that they’d carried with them to the ballpark in 1977 festooned with these words: “Pitch at risk to Richie Zisk.” This slogan has stayed with me since I was a boy, and has always imbued the name of the player shown at the top of this page with a sense of sizzling hazardous excitement, all the good qualities of the unknowable and unknown.

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Mike LaValliere

July 19, 2011

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place today. Though they spent a few days in first place in 1997, they haven’t really been a first place team—or even finished a season above .500—since 1992, Mike LaValliere’s last full season with the team. He had come to Pittsburgh in 1987 along with Andy Van Slyke in return for Tony Pena. LaValliere won a Gold Glove his first season in Pittsburgh and anchored the Bucs’ defense through three straight division titles from 1990 through 1992. After that last season, the team’s superstar, Barry Bonds, left for San Francisco, and the franchise fell into one of the most dismal droughts in baseball history: eighteen years of unrelenting losing.

It makes for a good, clear story to say that the Pirates were never the same after losing Bonds, one of the greatest athletes to ever play the sport. What couldn’t he do? He stole bases, smashed home runs, gazelled across the outfield to chase down would-be doubles and triples in the outfield. Mike LaValliere, who was released by the team in early April of 1993, was something of a polar opposite to the blazing, explosive Bonds. LaValliere was short and tubby and slow and couldn’t hit for power. But he’s probably the kind of guy you don’t miss until he’s gone. He wasn’t a total black hole on offense. He was a good contact hitter, drew some walks. In a couple of seasons he even hit .300. For what it’s worth, he could lay down a bunt. Mostly though, he could catch. I am not sure what the stats say about the overall worth of having a catcher who can field his position and shut down the opposition’s running game, but as a fan I know that having a catcher who is bumbling and fumbling around behind the plate seems to doom the team, the ineptitude at the center of the action casting a pall of ineptitude over everything.

Speaking of disintegrating situations, the air conditioning in my home is broken, and it’s hot and getting hotter. I can’t write much lately anyway, but the heat is reducing me to barely literate. So how about we end this lackluster congrats to the first-place Pirates with the thought that Mike LaValliere was for the Pirates in their last winning era like the air-conditioning unit in your home. It chugs along quietly and effectively most of the time, allowing you to focus on all sorts of other lofty endeavors, but then when it’s gone, you’re screwed.

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