(continued from here)
Here is Larry Milbourne with a big wad of tobacco in his left cheek. Larry Milbourne had the first game-winning hit in Seattle Mariners history, doubling home pinch-runner Jose Baez in the bottom of the ninth of the team’s second game ever.
This career highlight found an oddly discordant, bittersweet echo several years later when Milbourne’s career as an itinerant switch-hitting utility infielder came to a close. In the last game of the 1984 season, the aging Milbourne, called on to pinch hit with no outs in the 7th inning of a game the Mariners were losing 4–2, came through just as he had when he’d been younger, lacing a double to centerfield.
Unfortunately, the pinch-runner this time, Darnell Coles, was gunned down at home on the play. Having pinch-hit for the catcher, Milbourne must have known as he stood out there at 2nd base that this was it for him for the year. No taking the field the next inning, no more at-bats later in the game. But I wonder if it occurred to him, loitering with one foot up on the bag between pitches, Spike Owen and Jack Perconte his only hope for prolonging his present moment of baseball life (which is like having a sheet of notebook paper and a mesh tank-top as your only hope against stopping a bullet), that this might be it for good. Not only for the inning, not only for the game, not only for the season, but forever.
My guess is probably not. Though he never did play in another game, the date of an item from the transaction section of Larry Milbourne’s page on baseball-reference.com–“August 2, 1985: Released by the Seattle Mariners.”–suggests that at the end of 1984 Milbourne probably still had hopes of living a while longer in the blue sky realm of the Cardboard Gods.
I guess it’s hard to know when you’re doomed. In the spring of 1985, as a new season was getting underway, Milbourne probably still thought he’d get the call one more time. Likewise, during that very same spring, I was thinking I still had a chance to avoid expulsion going into that judicial hearing I mentioned a couple days ago in extremely loose conjunction with Gordy Pladson. I even thought I had a chance after listening politely to the red-faced math teacher’s enraged litany of my transgressions. But it was directly before the hearing that it would have really behooved me to realize I was doomed, so as to open myself up to the possibilities that such a realization would have created.
My character witness/stoner friend Matt and I arrived early to the judicial and were standing outside the building in the dark, I guess waiting for the weasel-faced faculty member who had caught me smoking bong hits to finish giving his testimony, and this hulking pock-faced Middle Eastern student, Basheer, whose nickname was Bashit, shambled out of the shadows. I remember thinking that it was a strange time for a student to be walking around. Probably it was “study hours,” where you’re either supposed to be quietly studying in your room or quietly studying at the library, with no movement from one to the other allowed.
It was not unheard of, of course, to break these rules (in fact it was during study hours that the bong session leading to my bust had occurred), but it was customary to accompany any rule-breaking with a tense, giggly, whispering, hunted sense that rules were being broken, that risks were being taken. If I and not Basheer had been the one to emerge out of the shadows, for example, I would have been moving quickly, shiftily, my eyes darting around and nervous snickering leaking from my clenched teeth like steam from a cracked radiator. But the big foreigner had an air of complete nonchalance as he walked halfway past us and then, noticing with mild pleasure that there were others out and about, sauntered over to us.
“What the fuck are you two shitheads doing here?” he bellowed. He had an accent that made “the” and “shitheads” sound like “thee” and “sheetheads.” I probably cringed, rabbit-like, at the volume of his voice. He pulled out and lit a cigarette (another rule broken) as I gravely murmured to him what was going on, that I was about to go into a hearing that would decide my future. He took a long drag, eyeing me, before finally replying.
“Listen to me,” he said, his voice still booming. “You must fucking do as I say. You must go in there. You must go in there and tell them. ” He took another long drag, his eyes boring into mine.
As I waited to hear more, a nervous prep-school snicker escaped me.
“Tell them what?” I finally asked.
He exhaled slowly and flicked his cigarette butt off into the darkness. He knew Spike Owen and Jack Perconte were not going to keep the inning alive. He knew 1985 wasn’t my year. He drew closer.
“You must go in there,” he said quietly. “And you must tell them.
“To suck. Your fucking. Dick.”
(to be continued)