Archive for the ‘San Francisco Giants’ Category

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Chris Arnold

March 29, 2012

Satori

One

“Satori comes upon a man unawares, when he feels that he has exhausted his whole being.” – D.T. Suzuki

I’m exhausted. I’m pretty unaware, too. I’ve been banging into the sharp corners of things, tripping over things, walking out the front door without necessary things. Fucking things! Can we just abolish all things and live in a world of pure idea and sensation? What I mean to say is, can’t I just return to bed for a little while and fall back asleep, where there are no things? No? No, it seems the world is made of things, and life requires repeated departures from sweet unconsciousness to the tangled entrapments of things. So I wonder what things I will smash into and trip over and forget today. Yesterday I forgot my bicycle helmet. I didn’t use a bicycle helmet when I was a kid, but now that I’m riding every morning and night up and down a potholed city avenue crowded with swerving eyeless buses I do, and I felt strange as I started out riding yesterday without one and without realizing that I was without one. Something was different. A breeze massaged my hair, a sensation from childhood, and the vague sense that something was off ferried the feeling of implacable nostalgia into implacable dread.

***

The baseball season has begun, I guess. Way over in Japan. I didn’t pay much attention. I used to think I would someday not only pay attention to everything but master attention. Relatedly, I used to think I might, if I could muster the guts, end up in Japan, in a Zen monastery, my head shaved, my legs pretzeled beneath me, my spine straight, my mind no mind. Big mind. It never came to pass; if anything my unhelmeted mind keeps shrinking. This I suppose would fall under the category of a failure to live up to the dreams of my younger days. Is “dreams” the right word? Convictions, maybe, or perhaps arrogances. There is something arrogant about being seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, no skills, virginal and drug-addled and buried in adherence to beat generation yowling, believing that enlightenment, that is to say complete and unsurpassed understanding of the universe, is not only possible but near at hand. One more acid trip, a few more mornings of meditating in front of a cheap K-Mart candle burning on top of the cover for Bob Marley’s album “Uprising,” maybe a trip to Japan, and boom. Perfect connection. Satori.

***

This card from 1977 is the last Topps offering to feature Chris Arnold’s blandly handsome visage and includes the entirety of his major league exploits. He hit one home run his first season, 1971, one home run in 1972, one home run in 1973, one home run in 1974, then zero home runs in 1975 and zero home runs in 1976. It’s meditative somehow, like a mantra—one, one, one, one—that centers one’s thoughts until eventually all thought falls away to nothing. The card clutters the purity of this dissolving into zero with some text at the bottom circling back around to Chris Arnold’s earlier days in pro ball, before the majors, when in the Arizona Instructional League he “set all-time loop record for most Triples with 12.” That was back in 1970. In 1977 he returned to the minors, and in 1978 he joined that early wave of American journeymen who fought their encroaching disappearance from professional baseball by going far, far away, to Japan.

***

I was unaware of the obscure migration eastward of players at the borders of the majors that occurred during my childhood. It was only in my years of ridiculous conviction that I began to think about Japan. In my weathered copy of Dharma Bums, I read about Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder (or, rather, their stand-ins, Ray Smith and Japhy Ryder) looking east together. Those two went in different directions afterward. Kerouac became a suburban wine-addled recluse, withdrawing from the world, souring, bloating, while Snyder actually went east, to Japan, to be a monk in a Zen monastery for a while before returning and resuming his passionate attachment in words and deeds to this continent. Kerouac died young, while Snyder is still alive, one of the last beats standing, I guess, though I suppose—his genuine affection for Kerouac notwithstanding—he’d chafe at being considered a beat, or as any one thing. He was and is a lot of things, environmentalist, activist, family man, Zen monk, lumberjack, beat, what have you. I’m getting off track here. I was going to talk about baseball in Japan, or about my own enlightenment, or something. Who remembers? As Kerouac once put it, channeling his western dissolution through his eastern fascinations:

Well here I am,
2 PM -
What day is it?

***

Those four home runs Chris Arnold hit, one per year, they must stand out in his mind, little bursts of perfect connection. The superstars with bushels of homers every year, surely some of their glories blur into one another. Not so with Chris Arnold. His first home run came in his very first major league start and was struck off the most unusual, unpredictable pitch in baseball history, the knuckleball, thrown by the master of the mystical offering, Phil Niekro, a future Hall of Famer. His second home run was not as momentous, perhaps, as it was hit off journeyman Ron Schueler in a loss, but then again it was his second home run, proving the first was not a fluke. Then Chris Arnold really got cooking. His third home run was a grand slam pinch-hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth that keyed an incredible comeback from a 7-1 deficit. His final home run also came in a win and was hit off another Hall of Famer, Steve Carlton. For good measure, later in the season Chris Arnold also stole his lone major league base off the battery of Steve Carlton and Gold Glove perennial Bob Boone. Consider the sweet lucky life of Chris Arnold, and of us all. We stumble into things, lose our grip on other things, go to Japan or don’t go to Japan, whichever would be more indicative of life’s tendency to expel us from our dreams, and yet once in a great while we connect in such a way that there is no feeling whatsoever, the bat meeting the ball just right, no mind, big mind, and we round the bases, tracing an imperfect oval with our route, a woozy zero, our misshapen bliss.

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Ed Halicki

April 28, 2011

This dinged-up Ed Halicki card from 1976 seems to be a relic of a relative nobody. The photo on the front is a stiff, uninteresting posed shot, the actual human somehow less lifelike than the similar but decidedly jauntier pitcher icon in the lower left corner. On the back of the card, a 10 and 21 lifetime won-loss record is listed, as are a scattering of minor league stops. The number of the card in the set is 423, confirming that Ed Halicki is not one of the chosen few to have his card number end in a zero or two zeros. Most of all, there is no mention made of the no-hitter Ed Halicki notched the previous year. There would have been plenty of space to allude to this most glorious of single-game feats, given the meager space demands of Ed Halicki’s relatively short tenure in pro ball to that point, but the 1976 card set’s style of space-filling was to include a cartoon featuring general baseball info that had no relation to the player on the card. This particular card relayed the yawn-inducing news that Dick Wakefield was “baseball’s first ‘bonus baby.’” (The cartoon is of a player with a bat over one shoulder and on the other shoulder a big sack with a dollar sign on it.) The 1976 use of random cartoons contributed to a general indistinct flatness in the cards that year, a year, now that I think about it, that has always seemed sort of flat and overcast to me, like the 1976 cards. That year the cards were still my primary way of following baseball, though my brother’s new subscription to Sports Illustrated had begun to bring more of the daily world of the game into my life. He’d started getting the magazine the year before, but I didn’t read every word of the magazine until later, and so I missed the report of Ed Halicki’s no-hitter, which was heralded not in an article all its own but instead confined to a weekly major league wrapup and within that wrapup to a clause at the end of a sentence about something else in the middle of a paragraph that began with this apparently more urgent news: “San Francisco leads the majors in snuff users (14), permanents (eight) and, now that Catchers Dave Rader and Mike Sadek have come clean, in Telly Savalas-type skullheads (three, Dave Heaverlo being the other).” So I missed that there was greatness in this Ed Halicki card. It was the card among all past and future Ed Halicki cards that should have been most aglow with the recent no-hitter, and yet I likely did not give it a second glance. I must have handled it some, however. The upper left corner seems to have fared the worst during this object’s almost completely unnoticed passage through time. The card is also a bit off-center, the right bordering thicker than the bordering along the left-hand side. There are faint scratch marks across the face of the card, as if it has scraped up against an abrasive surface. The most visible scratch bisects Ed Halicki’s cap on a slightly bent diagonal. Ed Halicki, despite this neglect, went on after the no-hitter to do pretty well for a little while, winning 14 games in 1977 posting a career-best 2.85 ERA in 1978 to help the Giants contend improbably for the NL West crown. He finished up his career two seasons later, with the Angels, his lifetime won-loss record halting at 55-66. Of the 29 no-hitters thrown in the 1970s era of permanents and Telly Savalas, Ed Halicki would be the no-hit author of the decade to finish his career with the fewest lifetime wins. In a way, considering the relative anonymity of the rest of his career, his no-hitter should have stood out more than any other that occurred during the 1970s, and now I wish I’d known about it at the time. I would have loved this card.

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Chris Speier in the All-Time Franchise All-Stars

November 2, 2010

When a team breaks through and wins a championship after decades of trying and failing, the decades of trying and failing are transformed into one long season, a championship season that just took a little longer than most. The roster of the 2010 World Series Champions already seemed unusually voluminous throughout the playoffs, a product of the team’s reliance on all its parts, and now, with last night’s title-clinching win over the Rangers, it includes every last Giant ever to pass through San Francisco.

So with congratulations to the Giants and all their fans, and a special nod to Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, who has entertained me for years as a screaming-himself-hoarse loose cannon sports radio host (and who is a rabid Giants fan and Chris Speier idolizer from childhood), I thought I’d try to name some of the bygone guys coming along for the ride when the 2010 Giants parade through their city as champs. Here’s my stab at coming up with an all-time franchise all-star team for the San Francisco Giants, off the top of my head (it’s more fun that way), and with some notes and one prefatory remark in celebration of this year’s amazing collection of odds and ends: not a single player from the team that finally won it all could make the franchise’s all-time all-star starting nine.

C: Dick Dietz. The current Giants catcher, Buster Posey, is a spectacular talent, but it doesn’t seem fair to me to place him on the all-time franchise all-stars after just one season. Dietz had a relatively short career but packed it full of productive offensive seasons. He drew a ton of walks and had decent power.

1B: Willie McCovey. An easy call, though it bumps another all-time Giant great, Will Clark, to the bench.

2B: Jeff Kent

SS: Chris Speier. The back of the card at the top of this page testifies to Speier’s one-time and long forgotten status as an elite player in the game: “Chris has been on the past 3 N.L. All-Star Squads.” Speier was a good fielder and, at that time (possibly the low point in baseball history in terms of the hitting abilities of shortstops), among the best offensive threats at his position. He would never make another all-star squad, but he’d go on to have enough good seasons for his next team, the Expos, that a certain blogger would argue for his inclusion on the Expos’ all-time franchise all-star team, too.

3B: Matt Williams

LF: Barry Bonds

CF: Willie Mays

RF: Bobby Bonds

SP: Juan Marichal

RP: Rod Beck

Human victory cigar: Johnnie LeMaster. This category in the All-Time Franchise All-Stars feature was formerly known as the “wild card”; I’ve renamed it in honor of the Giants’ triumph, in that this slot is really reserved for the guy not named above whom you’d most like to see riding in the victory parade. How can you not want to see the player once known as Johnny Disaster bathed in the light of redemption?

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Bruce Miller

March 31, 2010

Bruce was a pretty big name in the 1970s. Bruce Jenner, Bruce Banner, Bruce Lee, Bruce Springsteen. There was even a kid in my elementary school named Bruce who, I am convinced, was the best kickball player of all time. Using a left foot clad in farm-roughened shitkickers, he could pummel the red ball over everyone and into the corn field bordering the school’s property. The ball made a different kind of sound when he kicked it. Deeper. Toom. A sound that tattooed the air.

According to the back of this card, the player featured here was not officially a Bruce, as his given name was Charles Bruce Miller. He played professional baseball for seven seasons. In three of them, he played only in the minors; in three others, including his last, he split time between the majors and the minors. In just one season, he was a major leaguer from start to finish, free of the harried life of someone who is neither here nor there. He is on the grinning brink of that season in this 1975 card. That year, he would share third base with Steve Ontiveros and also play a little second base and shortstop. A usefully versatile guy to have around, though not exactly an offensive weapon (a .239 average with 1 home run, few walks, and no stolen bases). In the offseason, the Giants traded a young lefty, Pete Falcone, to the Cardinals for regular third baseman Ken Reitz, and a re-marginalized, 29-year-old Bruce Miller spent most of the 1976 season back down in the bushes, managing to log only 25 at-bats with the Giants during a month-long span in late summer. His last chance came on August 28, when he was inserted for Charlie Williams as a pinch-hitter in the third inning of a game against the Pirates. Williams had entered the game in the first inning after starter John D’Acquisto had surrendered three hits and three walks to the first seven Pittsburgh batters (his one recorded out was a fly ball deep enough to drive a run home). Williams wasn’t quite as bad as D’Acquisto had been, but he wasn’t Bruce Sutter at the 1978 all-star game either (to name another prominent 1970s Bruce). By the time Bruce Miller got his last turn at bat, the Giants were already down 7-0. Bruce Miller struck out.

Bruce Lee was dead by then (in fact he had died a couple weeks before Bruce Miller’s major league debut, in 1973). Bruce Banner would continue to be the alter ego of the Hulk in Marvel Comics, but when the character moved to television in the first year of Bruce Miller’s life beyond pro ball, the scientist who turned into a muscular green Ferrigno twice every episode (at twenty after and ten of) was named David Banner, the name Bruce gone without a trace. Bruce Jenner’s time at the pinnacle of American cultural life had come and gone, too, his soaring, feathered-hair 1976 Olympic win in the decathlon the kind of thing that cannot help but make all subsequent existence into an increasingly absurd, plastic-surgery-enhanced aftermath. Bruce Springsteen and Bruce Sutter kept churning out anthems and fanning Juan Samuel for a while, respectively, but their efforts weren’t really enough to keep alive the feeling that the name Bruce was somehow more magical than other names.

I don’t know what happened to the kickballing Bruce of my elementary school. He wasn’t interested in any of the official team sports offered in junior high and high school. He wasn’t a good student. He certainly wasn’t someone who would have gone on to be among the ironic twenty-something urban types who in the 1990s began “playing” “kickball” in “leagues.” I wasn’t one of those people, either, but only because I was lazy and wary of getting involved with others. I passed these kickball games from time to time, populated by people my age who seemed to all be from my species of the pale, stooped, spindly, and bespectacled. It looked like they were having “fun,” and maybe even bordering on having actual fun, i.e., without the air quotes, i.e., the kind of fun I didn’t really allow myself to have. I probably could have joined in, but somehow I felt compelled to be loyal to some sadness within: We had all grown up in the Age of Bruce, but the Age of Bruce was long gone.

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Charlie Williams

March 8, 2010

The American Dream is to find home. This dream shaded a 1972 trade featuring Charlie Williams. Charlie Williams was not the focus of the dream, however, and so ended up actually being taken from his home and moved elsewhere. This is the problem of the modern world, I guess, or one of them: the dream of home, always elusive and often invasive or worse (ask an Indian, if you can find one, how he or she feels about the American dream of finding a home), ends up making everyone more or less rootless and adrift.

The trade I’m talking about is the one that sent an aging Willie Mays from San Francisco back to New York, the city where he had begun his incredible major league career. The Mets sent Charlie Williams west to facilitate this homecoming, not balking at the fact that Charlie Williams had an even stronger tie to the Mets’ home than Mays ever could: the young pitcher was then and remains (according to Brian Joura) the only player in Mets history to hail from the very ground the Mets stood on: Flushing, NY. [Update: as pointed out in the comments below, Ed Glynn was another Flushing native who played for the Mets.]

The back of this 1977 card confirms the plumbing-evocative neighborhood name as Charlie Williams’ point of origin, and also relates that the pitcher decided after the 1972 transaction to try to make his new home in Foster City, California. Right around the time of his arrival, events in Foster City inspired an article in the San Francisco Examiner that went on to gain some renown entitled “Mouse Packs: Kids on a Crime Spree.” I haven’t seen this article, but its reputation is of a sensational report on rampant youth vandalism in a recently formed community that had been planned out with the highest aspirations.

A few years ago, a student looking to gather information for a project on the trouble in Foster City posted a question on an internet site hoping to get memories from any Foster City residents from that time. The responses almost all professed surprise that there had been any trouble at all. To them, Foster City was and is just fine. One responder did hint at some trouble out beyond the margins of the vision of the American Dream. It’s interesting to note that in this commenter’s description, the opposite of trouble in Foster City is a world saturated with baseball and with players, or one player in particular (a player who will forever pull Charlie Williams at least slightly into the limelight), who decades later can serve as a potent symbol of home, if not the whole idea of home altogether. Everyone wants to find home. For some of us, home means this game, these cards. Anyway, here’s the take of the commenter, “Joe2,” on the two versions of Foster City, one within the safety of the baseball field, and one beyond that safety:

I remember the “Mouse Packs” clearly. I was 13, it was summer of 1973 and it was baseball season. We played in a big field that used to be behind the fire station. We were good kids, we played in the parks, went swmming/sailing in the lagoon, joined a father & son group called “indian guides” and rode our bikes to Safeway to buy baseball cards. I still have my Willie Mays in action cards. There were a couple of bad influence kids arround, and I know they were going arround pulling hood ornaments off cars. They pulled the BWM crome plates off with screw drivers. I remember Dad told me about the Mouse Packs story, and I thought it was about these kids . . .

There were some bad apples, but we were good kids.

 

***

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot, as I am prone to do, about Kelly Leak, specifically the particularly iconic version of Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, and I have even gone so far as to begin trying to imagine Kelly’s life away from the baseball field.

This past weekend, I finally watched the 1979 film Over the Edge (which has come up several times in conversation on this site) while wondering about what might have happened to the star of the Bad News Bears after his heroics in the Astrodome (note: while asking “Where have you gone, Kelly Leak?” I do not and never will recognize the existence of the execrable, useless third Bears movie, The Bad News Bears Go To Japan). Put another way, as the 1970s came to a close, was there a place in America for Kelly Leak?

For a possible answer, I turned to Over the Edge, which focused on a community built on the core American Dream idea of perfect safety and harmony, of home, far from the dangers of the city.

Over the Edge was originally supposed to be set in Charlie Williams’ adopted home of Foster City, California, as it had been inspired by the aforementioned San Francisco Examiner article on the “mouse packs.” Because of some restrictions in the child labor laws in California, the production moved to a planned community in Colorado with significant similarities to Foster City, according to the filmmakers, most importantly the element that gave the film a haunting visual look that corresponded to and enhanced the central theme of alienation: building after building of eerily sterile and lifeless architecture, a dream of perfection that had forgotten to include a beating heart.

The community, called “New Granada” in the film, was intended to be the perfect home, a place of security and harmony and prosperity. But the community in Over the Edge is not well: the adolescent teens of the town are not given anything to do or anywhere to go. They have been left out of the plan for perfect American prosperity. What is there to do but wander around, smoke pot, drink, maybe break shit?

It is not too difficult to imagine Kelly Leak among these kids, especially the imagined, implied, offscreen Kelly Leak, who reminded every boy raptly worshipping his every move in the Bears movies of his own town’s cool, tough kids, who wandered around and smoked pot and drank and broke shit.

In the Bears films, Kelly is a loner, but that is only in the context of the boys on the team and their childish pursuits. In the first Bears movie, before he has joined the team, Kelly initially rebuffs Amanda’s attempts to get him on the team, telling her that the Bears (presumably because they still care about baseball enough to pull on their little yellow-trimmed uniforms and happily prance onto the field) are “fags”; early in Over the Edge there is a prominent piece of graffiti on the school that reads “jocks are fags.” Kelly Leak and the kids in Over the Edge seem to speak the same language and seem to be oriented in similar ways toward the world. It’s not that much of a stretch to think they might, once Kelly and his rapidly aging body are finally barred from pounding the pitches of small children, fall together some night at a darkened playground and share hits from a skull-headed bowl before going down to the highway overpass to throw lit M-80s at cars.

The scene of greatest exhilaration in Over the Edge is when the two main characters, Carl (Michael Kramer) and Richie (Matt Dillon, in his film debut) make a getaway from a cop in a vehicle Richie has swiped from his mother. Though the moment of freedom is brief and much more realistically rendered than the ultimate scene of male adolescent fantasy in Breaking Training when Kelly and his teammates start out toward Houston in a stolen customized van, I saw a key correspondence between the two scenes. Though presented in completely different ways, in both scenes there is joy. It’s the joy of believing that the world, after a whole life of wanting, is finally at the command of those who have seized the wheel.

Unlike the irresistible fantasy of Breaking Training, the scene of escape in Over the Edge lasts for just a few moments and ends grimly. Events in the movie escalate from there, and the action climaxes with a scene of a wildly destructive spree by the kids that reminded me acutely of Disco Demolition Night, which just happened to have occurred the same year that Over the Edge came out. It’s pretty much the same thing: Longhaired white kids getting high and setting things on fire and rampaging: rebellion, yes, but impotent, useless. Next stop for America: the candy-colored teen films of John Hughes, the reactionary reign of Ronald Reagan, and, by virtue of beefed-up security at ballparks, no more longhaired mobs going wild across the fields of the American Dream.

And Kelly Leak was nowhere to be seen. 

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Dave Rader

February 24, 2010

The Blue Jacket

(continued from Jim Bibby)

Three

It’s late February, the beginning of spring training, at least for pitchers and catchers. Everything is still to come. But sometimes it feels like everything has already gone. It’s almost always felt that way for me, the exception being the rare moments when I’m holding something strange and new and beautiful in my hands.

This Dave Rader card would have produced that sensation, back when I first held it in 1975. The close-up, intimate portrait of a man seemingly unaware that the camera is on him: it’s strikingly different from the occasional action shots and from the awkward, self-conscious wax figure portraits that were so common especially in that first year of my baseball card collecting. From the blurry backdrop, more likely some training compound trees than the stands of a major league park, it appears the figure in the extreme foreground must be at spring training, perhaps in the very early days of it, in late February, just pitchers and fellow catchers and him. Dave Rader is wondering about his place in it all, wondering if it’s all still to come or already gone. (As it turned out, he was just about in the middle of a decent ten-year career as a part-time catcher with an above average left-handed batting stroke.)

Many years earlier, in the 1950s, another young catcher in the Giants’ camp may have struck a similarly pensive pose, though no Topps photographer was around to document it. This catcher was a short, powerfully built young man from the Little Italy section of Manhattan, and his name was Larry. Larry didn’t end up lasting that long in pro ball, just a couple seasons in the Giants’ minor league system.

“Couldn’t hit,” he told me years later across the desk in the back of the liquor store. “If we really needed a baserunner I leaned into one and let it smack me in the arm.”

This was about four decades later, in the early 1990s, but it was still easy to imagine the now silver-haired Larry as a good-glove, no-bat catcher. He still had, as he crowded sixty, a squat, muscular build, featuring powerful shoulders and huge mitt-like hands. Every evening he came into the store to give his friend Morty shit and to usurp Morty’s seat behind the desk and drink a couple quarter pints of Smirnoff with Sprite, surveying the scene in front of him like a catcher perusing the field, sometimes barking out pointed, expletive-glutted commentary on the various occurrences at the store, sometimes just taking it all in quietly, as if wondering if it was all already gone. Whenever he came in I switched the store radio from Morty’s classical music to the oldies station. Once in a while a song from the fifties like Earth Angel or I Wonder Why or Why Do Fools Fall in Love would come on and Larry would smile and look up at the cracking paint on the ceiling and say, “Ah, Josh, this takes me back.”

I love to think of Larry drifting on the doo-wop harmonies back through the years. He may indeed have been a romantic at heart, like all the rest of us who ended up at that store, but by sheer force of will he managed to not let it influence the path he forged in his life. After his short foray into professional baseball came to an end, Larry quickly got on with his life in an unsentimental, undelayed way that surely made it difficult for him to understand the customary existential hemming and hawing by all the lazy romantic clerks who had come and gone at the store, including myself, all of us propped on a broom, waiting for our life to burst through the front door and shower us in kisses instead of going out and looking for it. On the contrary, when Larry had been a young man no longer connected to a childhood-inflected dream life, baseball, he promptly got an accountant’s degree and entered the business world. He became a very successful executive, eventually climbing high up the ladder in a worldwide tobacco conglomerate before being forced out in some kind of a political shakeup not long before I started working at the store.

Though he was still young enough to continue working, he had made more than enough money to stop, so he did. He spent his days as a man of leisure, in the summer rarely appearing in anything but tinted wire-rim glasses, a tank top, a gold necklace, shorts, flip-flops, and a tan that George Hamilton would have envied. He walked up and down 8th Street like its heaven-ordained ruler, slowly, his head at a slight upward tilt. He spent time at various stores, mostly hanging out for a while with the Greeks in the back of the florist shop down the block before moving on to the liquor store to bust Morty’s chops. Morty left for the day halfway through Larry’s “shift,” leaving Larry alone with me and whoever I was working with that evening. I was always sad to see him call it a night.

I am hoping that this story doesn’t turn out to be one digression after another, never arriving at the titular blue jacket, but I can’t help it, and anyway digressions are sometimes the only way I can get to my love of the world and all the people I’ve known. I can’t tell it straight. It has to spool out of me, one memory catching and pulling loose and unfurling the next.

I spoke to my father yesterday. It was his 85th birthday. We talked about health issues. My wife and I (and even one of our cats) have been sick with an initially violent, puke-filled, and, for a couple days, completely debilitating stomach problem; my dad’s begun having more and more trouble seeing out of his left eye. We talked about the liquor store. He lived on 11th Street back then, less than a five-minute walk away. He stopped by from time to time, talking with me and everyone else there. Morty usually swaggered up to the front to make my dad laugh by telling him what an asshole I was. After I stopped working there Dad asked me periodically about the people there, including the philosophy teacher Dave, and Morty, and Larry.

I’d started out thinking I was going to write yet another in a long line of my young man’s blues with this story The Blue Jacket, and I still intend to circle around to that feeling of being 22 or 23 and not knowing if it’s all still to come or already gone. But today, as I start to come out of my pulverizing stomach issues and scratch my chin like pensive Dave Rader and have a look around at this life, I don’t feel like singing that kind of blues but another, more complicated, more bittersweet song.

“Those were good days,” I said yesterday to my father, who was in his home in North Carolina as I spoke to him from mine in Chicago.

“Having you stop by the store,” I said. “That was really a great thing.”

“Yes,” he said. “It was a wonderful time.” 

(to be continued)

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Dave Heaverlo

February 4, 2010

Heaverlo, normally a blithe spirit, who shaves his head and wears rubber noses, was disconsolate.

That sentence, which would make a great first line in a short story, perhaps one about a circus employee with suicidal ideations, was a part of the April 22, 1980, sports page of Washington’s Ellensberg Daily Record. Dave Heaverlo, a native of Ellensberg, dominated the sports page of his hometown paper that day, showing up not only in the recap of the Mariners game he had lost the night before (and which presumably caused the temporary moratorium on the brandishing of rubber noses) but also in a feature story titled “Dave Heaverlo: Glad to Be Out of Oakland” and in a large photograph in which his notoriously clean-shaven dome is being rubbed by an unidentified teammate.

When I was a kid, Dave Heaverlo definitely barged deeper into my consciousness than a journeyman reliever for distant second division teams otherwise might have, mostly due to his last name, which for reasons I can no longer fully access always made me laugh. “Heave” is kind of a funny word already. People heaved up their breakfast sometimes. Grizzled hurlers with spare-tire midriffs heaved easily sluggable meatballs toward the plate. And then you add the “her low” to heave, and, well, I don’t know. I guess you had to be there. My brother would probably understand. In other words, Dave Heaverlo is one of the select Cardboard Gods, an ineffable inside joke between me and my brother and possibly shared, though I can’t say this with any certainty, with other kids who found him in packs of cards and laughed.

I never knew he shaved his head, because he always wore a cap in cards, and I wasn’t observant enough to notice that, as in this 1977 card, the total absence of hair (besides eyebrows and the cop mustache) below the cap suggested that some information on the back of the card (“Nickname is ‘Kojak’”) was not there because Heaverlo enjoyed solving gritty New York City crimes while sucking on lollipops. 

Oh, how I want to pause for a while and talk about Telly Savalas. There was no better decade than the 1970s! When else in the history of humankind could such a man, with a pear-shaped body, sloping shoulders, and liver-spotted, child-frightening head, become a famed sex symbol? But there is no time. I’m already running late for work and want to say a couple more things about Heaverlo.

First, the shaved head. The 1970s were renowned in baseball history for various grooming innovations, most notably for the first appearances of mustaches on major league diamonds since before Ty Cobb started gashing guys’ shins with his sharpened cleats, and for the Afros that began bulging out from under caps, but in both of those cases baseball was trailing behind trends in the wider culture. When Heaverlo shaved off all his hair, no one else was really doing it, except Telly Savalas. Heaverlo deserves some credit for that, I think.

I wonder if his iconoclastic tendencies hurt his career. In the edition of the Ellensberg paper quoted above, it is reported that in the spring Heaverlo “wouldn’t let his hair grow out until [A’s owner Charlie] Finley traded him.” The 1970s came full cycle in that situation, as it was Finley who played a huge part in the hair explosion earlier in the decade, when he encouraged players to grow facial hair (first doing it to coax a bearded, attention-seeking Reggie Jackson into losing the beard, then backing the encouragement with monetary rewards when the mustaches proved to be good for publicity). Heaverlo’s bald-man-alone stance did get him out of Oakland, but in the following season, according to another Heaverlo-heavy edition of the Ellensberg Daily Record, he was having trouble finding a team to employ him. This seems odd given Heaverlo’s decent stats and reputation for being able to pitch often and tirelessly. Maybe his head-shaving ways had gotten him a reputation as a troublemaker. I don’t know. But it seems odd to me that a guy who could still get outs had to struggle to find work. He did make a few appearances that season, with Oakland, of all teams, so maybe there wasn’t any attempt to steer clear of him. But his ERA in ’81 was below 2, and after that season he was restricted to the minors for a couple years and then out of organized ball altogether. I don’t know why, but it seems that major league teams, or big businesses in general, don’t really like the wearers of rubber noses. And now I’m a little disconsolate, too, and late for work besides, me and my conventional hair and humorless nose.

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