Archive for the ‘Seattle Mariners’ Category

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Mark Langston

June 5, 2012

In an essay of mine that went up today on the Los Angeles Review of Books, I mention a game I went to by myself in the summer of 1986. I wanted to see Tom Seaver pitch. He had recently been acquired by the Red Sox and wouldn’t be in the big leagues much longer. He faced Mark Langston that day. I was eighteen and starting to notice the blurring of the world and wanted the game to stand out from that. I wanted the game to be memorable. I didn’t want it to just come and go.

The presence of Seaver in the middle of the diamond offered some hope that the game would amount to something, but that alone wasn’t enough. The game had to have a story. How often does life feel like a story unfolding? Maybe this is one reason why organized religion is such a draw: it’s a way to impose upon life the feeling of being part of an orderly, urgent narration and not just senselessly adrift.

Anyway, the game answered my prayers, and for a few innings, for an hour or two of my life, I was inside a story. I don’t recall the latter part of the game beyond a sense of relief that Seaver’s efforts—he pitched well through seven innings before tiring—were not squandered by the Boston bullpen. But I remember the building drama of the first six innings, when Tom Seaver and his opponent, 26-year-old lefthander Mark Langston, engaged in a duel.

The box score the next day would obscure this element of the game. In the end, Mark Langston, undone by a little wildness, sloppy fielding, and some timely hitting by the Red Sox, somehow ended up surrendering seven runs before the game was over. But for six innings, he outpitched Seaver, retiring 13 batters in a row, five via strikeout, after spotting the Red Sox a run in the first. For a moment, long enough for the game to stay with me all these years later, he was every bit as effective and almost as mythic in his role as the young flamethrower as Seaver was in the role of cagey twilit legend.

Earlier in his career, Seaver had racked up nine seasons in a row with over 200 strikeouts, a feat that among other things amounted to my favorite thing to stare at in awe on the back of a baseball card. By 1986, he hadn’t approached that mark in eight years, since 1978, when his opponent, Mark Langston, was still in high school. Langston, on the other hand, had led the league in strikeouts as a rookie in 1984 and would do so again in 1986 and 1987. The card at the top of this page, from 1988, captures all of those numbers, showing his league-leading strikeout totals in italics. Langston had only been in the majors for four seasons, so the italics dominate the card, painting Langston as a latter-day Herb Score. In a way, his 1988 card was something of a peak for him. Unlike the star-crossed Score, Langston would go on to have a long and successful career, winning 179 games and recording more strikeouts than all but 32 men in the history of the game, but he’d never quite become the legend he seemed within reach of being as a young lefty ace with an electric fastball and baseball card numbers screaming in italics.

That’s one reason the game has stuck with me. Langston. He seemed for an hour or so of my life unhittable, a legend. It was all the great Seaver could do to just hang with him. Then, so quickly as to be unnoticeable, he lost it, just a little, and joined the human blur.

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Jim Todd

January 27, 2012

I can’t escape the 1970s. I want to live in the present. I can’t escape the present. I want to live in the 1970s. I am trapped somewhere in between, like a guy on a baseball card whose uniform and cap are clumsily morphing from the colors and logo of one team to the colors and logo of another. These baseball cards ended a long time ago, but here I am again, starting another year at the beginning of the end. The end for Jim Todd came on September 28, 1979. Earlier in the year he had gotten cut loose from the terrible Mariners but found a home back on the Oakland A’s, the team with which he’d earlier had a brief moment of muted middle reliever glory. The A’s had been good team during Todd’s previous stint, but they were not good anymore. In fact, they were arguably the worst team of the entire decade and in terms of losses inarguably the worst major league team that has ever been fielded in Oakland. They lost 108 games and probably should have lost even more. They scored fewer runs than anyone in the league and gave up more runs than all but one team in the league. The least effective pitcher on this miserable excursion was Jim Todd, with a team-low ERA of 6.56. But because the team was so bad he kept getting called into games right up until the end, which brings us back to September 28. The A’s starter, Steve McCatty, was torched for eight runs in three innings. Todd was called in with his team behind 8-0. He finished out the game, surrendering eight hits and three runs in five innings of major league baseball that would be called in most places meaningless. But I wish I could have been there. I love games like that. I love them. I’m not trying to be ironic. I love the feeling that nothing whatsoever seems to be happening. It was the A’s 107th loss, and that was it for Jim Todd. Exactly one week earlier, a song titled “Escape” was released. The song would eventually become ubiquitous, a number 1 hit in both 1979 and 1980, but this would not occur for a couple of months after its release, possibly because the song did not initially include the parenthetical subtitle—“(the Piña Colada Song)”—that was soon added to help legions of heretofore confused morons find and purchase the record. With this subtitle in place, the song became what all pop music aspires to be, a hideous epidemic. Soon enough it disappeared and became dated almost instantly but then eventually came back to life as an oldie. I heard it the other day on a station that uses the word “remember” in its promotional jingles. You hear that word a lot on oldies stations, but the songs on oldies stations have been played so often that there is no way anyone could ever connect them anymore to authentic moments from the past. There is some kind of insidious anaesthetization of the masses through the numbing effects of corporatized non-specific nostalgia. Are you remembering anything when you hear an old hit song, or are you covering yourself up and hiding in a warm blanket of the familiar? I want that blanket; I hate that blanket. I wish I could watch television forever and do nothing else besides sleep and eat and sleep and sleep and nothing and nothing and much more nothing. I lack peace. I am always worried. The world as it is now seems unfathomable and fragmented, the shards animated and buzzing toward me from the corners of my vision, from the margin of every moment, every moment a visit to a web page riddled with pleas, attempts to grab my attention and fuel the sense that something is missing, something that will always pull at me from the margins and slip away to new margins in the next moment, the next chattering page. Everything is an ad for something else. Everything is an invitation to escape. There is no escape.

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Joe Simpson

May 25, 2011

The morning I learned for sure my wife was pregnant, I was gazing out the window, putting off getting my day underway. I noticed a man on the sidewalk across the street from my apartment with his hands on his knees, looking down at the concrete between his feet. This was months ago. The kid’s still not here, so I don’t have any stats on what kind of father I’ll be. Probably similar to the kind of everything I’ve been. A little lazy, a little given to staring out windows, procrastinating. Prone to looking for answers in baseball cards.

In 1973, the first stop in Joe Simpson’s professional career was in Albuquerque. After playing in two other minor league cities, he returned to Albuquerque in 1974. In 1975 he played 9 games with the Dodgers and 133 games with Albuquerque. In 1976 he managed to get into 23 games with the Dodgers while also logging 108 games with Albuquerque.

The morning I learned for sure I was going to be a father, a man standing with his hands on his knees across the street started puking. He puked for a few seconds, scattering it on the sidewalk, then he straightened and walked a few steps to a car and leaned on it. I thought he was leaning on whatever object presented itself as handy to him in his efforts to remain relatively vertical at that moment, but after leaning on the car for a moment he took a deep breath, opened the car door, got in, and drove away.

In 1977, when I was nine, I watched a lot of Bugs Bunny. It’s pretty safe to say that Bugs Bunny cartoons on Saturday morning comprised the pinnacle of my week. Oh Saturday morning, nothing to do and all day to do it and cereal with heaping teaspoons of sugar and Bugs Bunny taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque. In 1977, Joe Simpson spent a few days with the Dodgers and the rest in Albuquerque. In 1978, ditto. Joe Simpson, like Bugs Bunny, seemed doomed to forever be undone in his attempts to navigate effectively out of Albuquerque. Finally, the Mariners swooped in to the rescue, purchasing Simpson from the Dodgers, and in 1979 he spent his first Albuquerque-free season in professional baseball. He did pretty well, too, hitting .283 with 17 stolen bases. But judging from the picture on the front of his 1980 card, he still was a little insecure about his place in the majors. He looks a little defensive, as if he’s noticed someone off to his right approaching, and as if such approaches had by this point in his career come to mean one thing only: back to Albuquerque.

An hour or two after I watched a man puke on the street and then drive off for his day, my wife came home from the doctor with medical confirmation that she was pregnant. Last night, months later, while we were watching TV, FedEx showed up with a big cardboard box, a rocking chair sent by my parents, for my wife to sit in while she’s nursing the kid. My wife put it together while I sort of stood around uselessly, then I took a picture of her in the chair holding one of our cats like it was a baby, a gag we’ve trotted out a lot lately and that never fails to annoy the cat. The rocking chair went in the baby’s room, which is filling up with colorful things. I’m excited but nervous, as if this bright new thing might vanish before it ever really arrives, as if someone is going to walk up and say Albuquerque and back I’ll go to the way things have always been, delaying, staring out windows at inexplicable departures.

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Seattle Mariners, 1978

March 19, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Seattle Mariners

You can’t predict the future. You can only hope for the best. Here is the first Seattle Mariners squad ever assembled, the 1977 edition, a collection of expansion draft refugees and free agent driftwood, posed outside the Kingdome. Years later, as the Kingdome neared its last fatal crumbling days as a home for big league baseball, it would be spoken of with shame and regret by the team’s president, Ken Behring [update: Ken Behring was in fact an owner of the Seattle Seahawks]. “We have a building here that was poorly designed, that was never well built and that was poorly maintained from day one,” Behring said. “Plus, it’s downright homely. It was outdated at the time it was built.”

But the setting of this team picture suggests that in the beginning the Mariners had some hope for and pride about the Kingdome. If they didn’t, would they have had their picture taken in front of it? The picture is similar to that of a young family posing outside a first house: Here we are, brand new. Home.

The central dream of human life seems to be to find a home. Maybe this dream has its roots in the very earliest days of human life on earth, when our grunting nomadic ancestors first stumbled into the discovery that any kind of shelter from the harrowing elements was an improvement on loitering around outside and getting pelted with sleet or burned by the sun or swallowed in bloody chunks by saber-toothed tigers. You can’t predict the future, but you can try to lessen the terrifying uncertainty of existence by moving into a cave or a mud hut or a wood house or a concrete skyscraper or a dome. A home.

The idea behind playing baseball in a dome is that it will always be the equivalent of a warm spring day inside such a structure. It was supposed to be one of those days for real where I live a couple days ago. That was the prediction, anyway, but after a brief spell of blue sky in the morning gray clouds moved in and the temperature dropped. I went for a walk late in the day and was a little underdressed, still attached to the hopeful prediction for the day. I passed a newspaper vending bin and saw headlines about a possible nuclear meltdown in Japan. This triggered the loop in my mind of images from the earthquake and tsunami. I continued on my walk. Office workers flailing through nightmare snowglobe frenzies of paper and shattered computers. At a drug store I bought a magazine to help me predict the upcoming season in terms of fantasy baseball. Houses and cars riding giant sheets of water like bathtub toys swirling in a draining tub. I walked back toward my new address, where my wife and I just moved. Survivors in surgical masks picking through rubble. I sat down in my new living room with my fantasy baseball magazine and watched my basketball predictions instantly begin to fail miserably as I planned more doomed predictions for baseball and thought about people in surgical masks searching bulletin boards for familiar names and with all that you’d think I’d give up on the future but I can’t help it. The sun broke through the clouds late in the day and lit up the room where I was sitting and I felt hopeful about my new home.

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How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 16 of 30: Pay close attention while you still can to Ichiro Suzuki. And do what you can to help.

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2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins; Atlanta Braves; Cincinnati Reds; Oakland A’s

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Ichiro

September 7, 2009

Ichiro 05

Yesterday I went to the third game in the Red Sox’ four-game series against the White Sox, thanks to the kind invite of Joe Stillwell of Stats, Inc. In the first inning, after the first two White Sox batters reached base, Paul Konerko lifted a blooper to short right field. My eyes went to the right fielder, JD Drew, who was racing forward but who clearly would not be able to reach the ball before it landed. The ball hung in the air long enough for me to feel sorry for myself. All season long I’d been looking forward to the Red Sox lone visit to the city where I live, and they had lost the first game of the series 12-2, had gone down with barely a whimper in the second game, a 5-1 loss, and now this: first inning, bases loaded and nobody out. But as I was going through this litany of self-pity, Dustin Pedroia appeared as if from nowhere, lunged, and made a spectacular running catch. He then whirled immediately and threw a strike to the shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, doubling off the White Sox leadoff man, Scott Podsednik, who had strayed several yards from second as the blooper neared its seemingly sure resting place in the grass. In an instant too quick to take a breath, what looked to be a disastrous start had quieted to two out and a man on first.

Beside me, Joe remarked on the alertness of the second act of Pedroia’s play, and of baseball players in general. This morning, as I was turning the play over in my mind, I thought about my own athletic history, and how I periodically punctuated my anonymous, generally ineffectual efforts with a stupid play of one sort or another. Again and again, my mind wandered, or got lost in the flurry of activity, or just went into a blind white panic. The next moment, when I would come back to myself, always felt like the stunned and queasy moment after a minor accident. Eyes would be on me, for once, but not in a good way.

Well, nobody’s perfect, and even professional athletes make bonehead plays, but the amazing thing about these athletes is that these mental miscues are the rare exception to the norm. Labor Day seems to be a good time to celebrate this element of the major leaguer’s job skills, so I thought before spending the rest of the day lazing around and watching baseball players work, I’d briefly turn my own wandering focus on a current baseball star who epitomizes the impressive mindfullness of professional athletes.

Yesterday this player got his 2,000th hit, reaching the mark in fewer games than anyone in baseball history besides Al Simmons (Ichiro needed 12 more games than the 1930s basher). Barring some unforeseen calamity, Ichiro will collect his 200th hit of the year in a few days, which will set the record for most consecutive seasons (nine) with 200 or more hits, a record he currently shares with Wee Willie Keeler. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch him much, but I have to think, judging from his hitting and fielding records, which are not only remarkable for their constancy but also as close to flawless as the failure-riddled metrics of a baseball player can allow, that he’s had few, if any, moments when he didn’t know exactly what to do at any given moment in a baseball game.

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Ruppert Jones

August 10, 2009

Ruppert Jones 78

Sundown

(continued from Scott McGregor)

Three

I.
I used to live a few blocks north of a bustling Hasidic neighborhood in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. On Fridays as dusk approached the streets emptied but for a few stragglers who hustled to get where they were supposed to be before it got dark.

I never had anywhere to go on a Friday evening at dusk. Maybe later I’d end up at the International on Seventh Street in Manhattan, and I’d stay there for hours, until last call and beyond, and with a couple other regulars help Rose close and lock the gate, and then after a long wait for a subway and a ride under the East River, where decades earlier my grandfather was found floating, I’d stumble home as the sun rose. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Bill Stein

November 5, 2008
 Untitled 
Contrary to my propensity for angry nihilistic self-hating screeds, I’m not an altogether hopeless guy. For example, today’s a good day, a hopeful day. I feel like I might have a leader. Last night, after the first speech of the new president-elect of the United States, I pointed at the TV and declared to my wife, “I want to run through a fucking wall for that man.” I really meant it, and felt an emotional tremble in my voice as I said it, but in truth as a declaration of intentions it was nice and blustery and vague. I didn’t actually have to commit to anything. I mean, I could have said, “Where’s the nearest Peace Corps induction center?” or “Get me the number to an organization that sends guys into locked wards to teach the criminally insane to square dance.” Since I’m kind of a quitter, and don’t enjoy quitting, I try to avoid commiting to anything. But here it is the day after and I still feel hopeful and like I want to be part of the Yes We Can battalion instead of continuing on with my usual lonely mantra of No I Can’t.

What does this have to do with Bill Stein? Well, not much. But first of all, at the risk of starting the first day of a hopeful new warmly inclusive era on a sour and mean-spirited note: whoo, he ugly. I only say this because I love my baseball cards, every single one of them, but most especially the ones featuring the luckless marginals, the nobodies, the drifters, the inglorious, the big-eared and mush-nosed and chinless and soggily-mustachioed and dim-eyed. The ugly. Hallelujah for the ugly! Today we spread wide our embrace to include every-fucking-body, the excluding myth of the Aryan suburban blond Mr. Joe America fatally punctured, hallelujah. And second of all, I mean the second reason I am talking about Bill Stein on this hopeful Yes We Can day, is that before this day was This Day it was, in the ever-evolving myth of the Cardboard Gods, Expansion Day.

On this day, November 5, back in 1976 (the year in which the country eructed stars and stripes from every pore in celebration of that first expansion into nationhood 200 years earlier), the heaven that has presided over my life expanded. That was the day of the expansion draft that breathed life into two new major league teams, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, and breathed life into the flagging careers of dozens of men on the professional baseball scrap-heap, and breathed life into the hopes of everyone who has ever felt the world closing in all around them. Life contracts, gets smaller, narrower, more and more hopeless. But life also expands. So today on Cardboard Gods we celebrate that expansion, as we will every November 5 from here until the molecules currently comprising my singular body expand to mingle with the body of all.

Happy Expansion Day, everybody!

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And speaking of expansion, Bronx Banter’s ongoing Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series recently expanded to include my obscenity-laden ramblings about car wrecks, criminal mischief, and Steve Balboni.

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