Why have I spent the last several months delving on a nearly daily basis and with alarming thoroughness into the shadow cast on my life by the baseball cards I collected in the mid- to late-1970s? Here are some theories:
1. I am afraid of dying. Once every couple weeks I wake up in the middle of the night and all the distractions are gone, leaving a clean view at our raw deal. How could this all end? Everyone’s in the same boat on this one, but of course not everyone seems as crippled by the news. Cardboard Gods is my ultimately futile attempt to crawl into a fetid, familiar bunker and hide from the inevitable.
2. I am afraid of living. Living leads to dying. Better to hold fast to the rectangular shards of the past than venture out into the unknown.
3. I am seeking the wonder of childhood. “We all dream of being a child again, even the worst of us. Perhaps the worst most of all.” – Don Jose, The Wild Bunch
4. I am trying to invent a religion that will work for me. Several years ago I hitchhiked from Vermont to Boston to see a Red Sox game. I was 19 or so. A guy picked me up on the on-ramp to the interstate in Montpelier. He had black, fake-looking hair, a black, fake-looking mustache, and skin like raw tofu. “The Red Sox, huh? Rico Pepper-celli,” he said, mispronouncing the name of the Red Sox infielder who had retired years earlier. “Right,” I said. Then he abruptly changed the subject. “I was like you,” he began. “Messed up on drugs. Aimless. Drifting. Then one day I got down on my knees and gave myself over to Jesus Christ.” As we drove on the guy talked a lot about death and heaven, but his heaven seemed a brightly-lit eternal meat locker, terrifying in its lifelessness. I need a different kind of heaven, different gods. Many gods. Gods both admirable and faulty, heroic and obscure. Which brings us to . . .
5. Tim Jones. Tim Jones reached the major leagues in September 1977. His first two appearances were in relief in games the Pirates were losing badly, and his third was as the starter in the first game of a doubleheader on the final day of the season. He won that game, pitching 7 shutout innings, and in all pitched 10 major league innings without being scored on. He was traded in March 1978 to the Montreal Expos for Will McEnany and never appeared in another major league game, his lifetime record unmarred, 1 win, 0 losses, 0.00 ERA. This card represents Tim Jones’ sole appearance on a baseball card. The three players he shares his lone card with, on the other hand, all went on to have several individual cards produced in their likeness, Mickey Mahler lasting a few years as a largely ineffective southpaw starter, Larry Andersen enduring as a useful reliever for 17 seasons, long enough to stumble into undeserved infamy as the less weighty entity in one of the more lopsided trades in baseball history (in which he was exchanged for a minor league first baseman named Jeff Bagwell), and Jack Morris, whose all-star career and post-season mastery have prompted more than a few fans and experts to call for his induction into the baseball Hall of Fame. But for Tim Jones, this is it. His one and only moment. All of us are Tim Jones, in a way. All of human history is but a tiny blip in the life of the universe, and each individual life within that history is an even smaller blip. In that light, even Shakespeare’s collected works don’t amount to much more than what Tim Jones appears here to be thinking: Wait, what?