Archive for the ‘Texas Rangers’ Category


Vada Pinson and Jim Mason

October 16, 2015

Jim MasonVada PinsonALCS Preview

This one is pretty simple. The two cards here, representing the American League teams poised to vie for a spot in the World Series, both feature players who got one chance to play at that very pinnacle of their sport. Vada Pinson did so in 1961, when he was 22. He had a spectacular season, the best of his splendid career, and helped the Reds win the National League pennant. In the World Series, the Reds faced one of the greatest teams in history, the 1961 Yankees, and got smoked four games to one. Pinson played poorly, managing only 2 base hits in 22 at bats.

Fifteen years later, the teams met again in the World Series, only this time it was the Reds, not the Yankees, in the role of legendary collective steamroller. Pinson was no longer on the Reds, or anywhere in the majors, but Jim Mason was on the Yankees team that the Reds blasted in four straight. Unlike Pinson, he’d not been a central factor in his team making it to the World Series, hitting .180 in 217 at-bats as one half of a punchless shortstop platoon. In the World Series, the platoon approach seems to have gone out the window, and Mason’s counterpart, the immortal Fred “Chicken” Stanley, got the start in each of the four games. In game 2, Stanley was pinch-hit for early, and Mason replaced him in the field and got a turn at bat later in the game. It would be his only World Series at bat. In his entire career he would have 1756 plate appearances and would homer just 12 times, but he made his one World Series at bat count by lining one over the right-field fence.

It was the only home run by the Yankees in the series. In the ninth inning, Mason’s turn at bat came up again, and manager Billy Martin pinch-hit for him, bringing in righty Otto Velez to face lefty Will McEnaney. Velez struck out. A few weeks later, Velez would follow Mason to the Blue Jays in the expansion draft. Mason didn’t last long as a Blue Jay, but Velez established himself as one of the most prominent of the early Blue Jays—by the time he left Toronto, he was second on the Blue Jays career home run list to only John Mayberry, who is best known as a member of the team on which Vada Pinson finished up, the Kansas City Royals.

Is life a swirling web of interconnected strands, Pinson to Mason to Velez to Mayberry to Pinson, everything tying together with everything else in a dizzying and ultimately infinite everlasting wholeness? Or is it just an absurdity of random occurrences? Who knows? All you can do is break things down into measurable data. And on that level, the level of percentages, Jim Mason, the only player to homer in his only World Series at bat, is—despite his inferiority to, among others, Chicken Stanley—the greatest World Series performer in the history of human civilization.

Edge: Blue Jays


Jim Mason and Len Barker

October 8, 2015

Jim MasonLen Barker 78ALDS preview, part one

So the playoffs begin today for the Blue Jays and Rangers. Beginnings are often romanticized as capacious fountains of possibility, but in actuality beginnings are messy, fraught with disorientation, flailing, clumsy masquerades, mistakes. Jim Mason would be distinctly qualified to verify this, as he’s the only player to play for both the Texas Rangers in their first season, 1972, and the Toronto Blue Jays in their first season, 1977. The Rangers and Blue Jays began life with 100 and 107 losses, respectively, and Jim Mason epitomized both efforts by hitting .197 for the Rangers and .187 for the Blue Jays. You could interpret the repulsed grimace shown on his face here as his reaction to being pulled back into his second formative morass. He’s shown as a Blue Jay, but at the time the card was produced there was really no such thing as a Blue Jay, so Topps staffers had to take their best guess and doctor this blind approximation atop whatever photo they had available, in this case a shot of Mason on his 1976 team, the Yankees, who punctuated their profound distance from stumbling beginnings by winning yet another pennant in 1976, their fucking thirtieth.

Mason didn’t last long on the Blue Jays, which is probably a pretty demoralizing thing to go through—being unwanted on one of the worst teams in history. His old team wanted him, however, or at least wanted him and Steve Hargan more than Roy Howell, who they shifted to the Blue Jays along with some cash, and so in 1977 and 1978 he teamed with his counterpart here, Len Barker.

While Mason, a utility infielder on new and terrible teams, suggested the reality of beginnings, Barker was of the species of baseball player most prone to being glimpsed through the romantic notion of beginnings as daydreams of dazzling, boundless possibilities: a big young pitcher who throws smoke. In 1976 at age 20 he tossed a shutout in his second start, and the following year, at age 21, while teaming with Jim Mason, he posted in limited duty the best numbers, by percentages, of any pitcher on the 94-win squad. Things were looking up for the Rangers! But as it turned out the Rangers sank back into the swamp of losing for many more years, and Barker never really became the next Nolan Ryan, as was hoped, though he continued to show flashes throughout the years.

That’s the reality of life: bright flashes and long, dim slogs. So what’s the right way to think about beginnings? Do you grimace in knowing revulsion or smile? In practice I tend toward the former, but I always hope to at least lean toward beaming idiotic dreams.

Edge: Rangers


Mario Mendoza

January 24, 2015

Mario MendozaImmortality


The greatest sages from ancient times
Have not shown us life immortal.
What is born must die . . .
-Han Shan

The Chinese poet Han Shan lived over a thousand years ago. No one knows for sure exactly when. He shacked up in the mountains, maybe with a fellow hermit who accompanied him on periodic giggly visits to town, and wrote his poems on rocks, maybe. That’s the lore anyway—if there ever were poems of his on rocks time has smoothed away the words or perhaps turned the rocks themselves to dust. I first read about Han Shan in Dharma Bums, and I hoped to follow in Jack Kerouac’s and Gary Snyder’s footsteps as they followed in the footsteps of Han Shan. I wanted to wade off into some lofty world of mist and visions. I don’t know what my days have ended up amounting to. I don’t carve my poems in rocks or write poems of any kind anymore. Yesterday I worked a long day in a cubicle and then, back at home, taped Buzz Lightyear’s foot back onto his leg. It had fallen off when my son was playing with his action figure from Toy Story. I was able to make it so the toy could still stand up. Work hadn’t exactly made me feel like I was swatting game-winning home runs, so I counted the wobbly new stability of the mass-produced plastic offering as a victory.


Mario Mendoza, utility man—everyone knows he’s the man behind the Mendoza Line, right? But he had nothing to do with its creation: it was the doing of teammates Bruce Bochte and Tom Paciorek, cackling over Mendoza’s consistent presence at the bottom of the Sunday newspaper batting average lists, and the doing of George Brett, who heard the term from Paciorek, and Chris Berman, who heard it from Brett and started weaving it into his SportsCenter spiels. We have no power to shape the world; it just takes shape. We have no power to make anything last. Hank Greenberg, the immortal at the beginning of this meditation that I’m now calling to a halt, once racked up 103 RBI by the all-star break. This is two more RBI than Mario Mendoza got in his entire career. And yet there’s a chance the Mendoza Line will outlast Greenberg. Or at any rate it’s the same. Language, plaques: everything in one way or another is a random snaring of language bound to disassemble.


I’m rereading Robert Stone’s novel Dog Soldiers. He died a few days ago. I heard an old radio interview with him a day or two after he passed away, and he was talking about the time he and his friends in the Merry Pranksters met the Beats. He said Jack Kerouac was bitter that Neal Cassady, now the speed-addled bus driver of the Merry Prankster’s Furthur bus, was no longer at Kerouac’s side but with this younger crowd. Kerouac, Stone observed, was just generally bitter. Bitter and jealous. He was still handsome at that point, Stone said, but within a year or so his disease, alcoholism, would wreck his fine facial structure, puffing it into a bulbous mess, an attack on the charismatic youthful myth of the man even more severe somehow than when the next stage of his ravaging illness took hold and ended his life. Anyway, it’s a great novel, Dog Soldiers, I mean. In it the promise of the sixties has gone the way of Jack Kerouac’s good looks—everything’s in bitter, smoldering wreckage. The last great novel I’d read before picking up Dog Soldiers again was Jonathan Miles’s 2014 book Want Not, which features a subplot about a group of intellectuals and engineers and specialists from various fields coming together in a project devoted to communicating the danger of toxic waste to future civilizations. The problem the group faces is that toxic waste will, in the estimation of scientists and linguists, outlast any current language. Languages deteriorate and eventually vanish altogether: this seems to be an unavoidable universal rule. Write your words into the internet ether or carve them into rocks and it’s the same. They’ll erode into nothing. No one will understand whatever it was you were trying to say. The linguists in Want Not (whose thoughts reflect linguistic theory that Jonathan Miles studied in researching the book) are certain that even the most basic pictographs will be unable to keep people 10,000 years in the future from blundering past all of our signage and into a murderous cache of our toxic aftermath.


For a little while when I was a young man I had a job on the graveyard shift loading trucks at the UPS warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen. I was living in the East Village, miles from the job, but for some reason I used to walk to work, several miles in the middle of the night. Nothing ever happened to me until one night when I was crossing a street on Third Avenue a few blocks south of 42nd Street. It was around two in the morning and there weren’t any other pedestrians around. I was struck by a car. The driver was hurrying to make a left turn before the yellow light changed to red and he didn’t see me crossing with the light. He braked when he saw me but not in time to avoid impact. I was scooped up onto the hood and thrown to the pavement.

The driver opened the door of his car and got one foot out. He was a doughy young Hispanic guy. He was scared.

“Are you OK?” the driver said.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I said. You will always want this to be the truth. Amazingly, it wasn’t that far from the truth. I got to my feet.

“I’m fine,” I said.

I continued on to work. My jeans had a rip in them and were slightly bloody. I performed a version of the task that I’ll be performing my whole life in one way or another, job after job, if I’m lucky enough to stay employed. Boxes came down the conveyer belt, and I sorted them by address into the proper shelves in one of four trucks in my station. During my fifteen minute break I read Dante. I don’t know which part of the Divine Comedy I was on. It doesn’t matter—I only remember one thing from the whole trilogy, which I read in its entirety in fifteen minute breaks from loading trucks: paradise is frightening, stripped of fallible humanity and mistakes. Paradise is lifeless.


Mario Mendoza played his twelve final major league games the year this card came out, 1982, and got his last seventeen at-bats, connecting for just two hits. He was released in July with a .118 average for the year, the farthest he’d ever landed below “his” line—a .200 batting average—at a season’s end. His career average fixed itself quite clearly above the Mendoza Line at .215, which is somehow more dispiriting than if he’d somehow lasted as long as he did—nearly a decade—with an average below his own line. I’ve spent my life marveling at shit like the Mendoza Line. That to me is the beautiful stuff, a way to capture the ineffable mediocrity of most of this short rude gift we’re given, this life.


Steve Foucault

August 9, 2011

All right, I’m up, showered, fed; the kid is asleep, the dishes are all clean, and I’ve got a half hour to write before I have to climb on my bicycle and pedal to the bus stop and ride to work. This is it from here on out for a while, more or less, so I am not going to mess around with craft too much. Jack Kerouac, who my kid is named after, said that craft in writing is a kind of subterfuge, a way of avoiding honesty anyway. Then again, well, I don’t totally believe that and see that it can be a way out of doing the work needed to make a piece of writing be more than just someone’s spit-up. (Sorry, I have spit-up on my mind.) Also, Jack Kerouac’s writing lost momentum as the years went on, his writing lost life I mean, and his greatest book was written and rewritten many times and suffered for despite the myth that he spontaneously created the whole thing in a few weeks with no forethought or even any effort beyond what it took to crack open a bottle of benzedrine. Still, there is a time for carefully crafting stuff, maybe, and a time to just report from the bunker as fast as possible so as to keep a semblance of sanity and the human voice alive. This situation I am in is not—is actually the farthest thing from—holing up in a bunker. But it is relentless, dealing with a newborn. Of course, I am far from the front lines on this one (back to the battle metaphors again, I know) and am more like a guy running supplies to the ranks on the front lines, those ranks being my wife, a beleaguered army of one who nonetheless is all softness and love with the baby, and when he’s sleeping and giving her a chance to think, her mind is racing with worries that something might happen to him, to his tiny fragile life. As for me (I almost stopped writing to consider my next thought instead of just slamming it down first thought best thought beatnik style) I am coming down from the first high of the kid being born, when I thought I would be a different guy altogether forever, someone able to give myself over totally to complete holy sacrifice all the time, like fucking Gandhi or something, transformed by my love of the boy. Turns out I am the same as always, just more tired. I live for the kid now though. But when I get a little time here and there, I want to figure out what the hell is the shape of my mind. So here I am, staring at the third and final Steve Foucault card in my collection. My three Steve Foucault cards form a progression through the years, the 1975 card showing him looking in for a sign, the 1976 card showing him coming to a set position, and this 1977 card showing him just after delivering a phantom pitch. No ball is visible in any of the cards. Foucault wears a Texas Rangers uniform in various combinations, a long-sleeve undershirt disappearing then reappearing. His right pointer finger pokes out of his glove in all the photos. He has the same long mustache and thick sideburns every year. He looks off to his left in the first picture, off to his right in the second picture, and in the last picture he gazes straight at the viewer. The imaginary ball is out of his hands now and out in the world. Your turn now. He is looking at me, and looking at you. His right hand is in a fist, but it is loosening just a little, his middle finger itching to unfurl. The days are long and exhausting. The years fly by. You can’t touch this pitch. You can grow a splendid walrus mustache and sideburns but you can’t know what’s next. You can’t ever know.


Steve Foucault

June 28, 2011

Just under a month ago, Steve Foucault peered in for a sign. Now he is coming set. He’s in a different uniform—the away ensemble—and it seems as if his hair may be longer. He’s still working away on a big chaw in his right cheek, and he’s still got the walrus facial hair. In both cards, trees line the horizon, and in this card there also seem to be members of the Oakland A’s in the distance.

This weekend my very pregnant wife and I went for a walk. The doctor said going on walks would help get the baby in position, or something along those lines. I forget the specifics. I am finding it more and more difficult to process information with any accuracy. I’ve been reading books on pregnancy and labor and all the facts and instructions seem to partially or completely disintegrate on contact with my mind. Anyway, the walk was good. We ended up over by the lake, where there’s a small sandy beach. It was a gray day, not that warm, but some kids were still splashing around and playing Frisbee in the water. We sat on a bench on a concrete slab up above the beach, next to another bench that had a pair of women’s shoes sitting on it. One early morning a few weeks earlier, I’d been running on this beach when two young deer appeared around the corner of the abandoned-looking building at the edge of the beach. There’s nothing but big rocks around that corner, so their appearance seemed inexplicable to me. They followed me for a while. I kept looking back and there they were, clambering on their spindly legs up the beach, stepping unsurely on the sidewalk leading away from the beach, moving toward Sheridan Road. Sheridan Road is a busy street with a McDonald’s and a red line El station and homeless people and, on rusted racks, the bones of half-pilfered bicycles. I lost sight of the fawns when I turned the corner onto this street, and I don’t know what became of them. When my wife and I sat on a bench this weekend at that beach I thought of them and thought of this kid on the way.

When a pitcher comes set after getting the sign he most commonly focuses his gaze downward, or perhaps even inward, gathering himself, gathering resolve. In this photo Steve Foucault seems instead to be gazing off into the distance.

 Sometimes I find myself kind of praying.


Steve Foucault

May 31, 2011

I studied poetry in college. That was my primary focus. I also played a lot of pickup basketball, wrote fiction fragments and long-winded essays, got a combined “anthropology/sociology” minor, drank a lot of beer and smoked a lot of pot, though less so as the years went on, and was often fairly lonely, an emotion I channeled into poems, I guess, though I don’t remember ever writing anything directly and honestly about my own daily life. Instead I tried to write chiseled nature odes like Gary Snyder or yowling apocalypse rags like Allen Ginsberg. As I neared the end of college, a panic set in. I went around to different teachers I’d had and asked them what I should do with myself. They had no answers, at least none that I can remember, and the basic gist of the conversations was as follows:

Me: Um, well . . . help me?
Teacher: It was great having you in class.
Me: I don’t really want to leave.
Teacher: Have a nice summer!

I don’t blame them. In fact even moments after the conversations I’d feel ashamed of myself for trying to corner them into giving me an answer to something I couldn’t even frame as a distinct question. What were they supposed to do? I’m older now than most of them were then, and I certainly couldn’t give anybody any answers, and anyway it’s not the kind of thing someone can resolve for someone else. You can look in for a sign, like Steve Foucault is doing in his 1975 card, and you might even get one, but then you’ve got to straighten up, take a deep breath, and throw the pitch. And most likely things will be exactly as they are for Steve Foucault in this 1975 card: in truth there’s no one to provide a sign. You have to fake it.

I was 22 then and am nearly twice that age now, and I haven’t changed that much, in that I still would prefer to be—the crux of my problem then and now—somehow exempted from having to work. Can’t I just read and shoot hoops and occasionally turn in a paper on Zen meditation or the Deep Imagists? Last night my pregnant wife and I were talking about labor, how it’s brutal on the mother yet even more wrenching for the kid, though thankfully none of us remember this first trauma. Everything’s just fine in the womb, nice and warm, all the sustenance you need, then, wham, you start getting shoved downward toward a tiny tunnel, then through the tunnel and out into the cold and a blinding brightness. Life begins, and forever long as you’re alive that pattern is repeated, each moment or passage of time ending in an ejection to another transitory interlude until, finally, that one last ejection into some other world, or nothing, or who knows.


Steve Foucault seems to be without a black eye as he pretends to look in for a sign, suggesting that this photo was not taken around the time of the 1974 10 Cent Beer Night promotion in Cleveland, which ended in an on-field brawl/riot pitting players from the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians against a mob of drunken fans that had spilled onto the field. Steve Foucault was punched in the face during the brawl and got a black eye.

Moments don’t ever go the way you plan them. The Cleveland Indians front office did not intend to cause a riot when they came up with 10 Cent Beer Night. I don’t really know exactly what they were thinking, but promotions seem generally to be rooted in a sense of what people like, the basic question behind each promotion being, How do we help get people to the ballpark by giving them something they like? Following that logic, it would seem to be a no-brainer to seize on beer sold extremely cheaply, since many people who like baseball also like beer and the cheaper the better.

This same thought is behind the gimmick of the upcoming reading events I’ll be participating in over the next few weeks. It’s being called the Free Beer Tour. I’m not sure what exactly this will entail, but I’m pretty sure if you come to one of the events you will be able to get some free beer. I am hoping to drink some beer, meet some people, sell some books, and avoid getting my eye blackened by a punch in the face.


My thing lately, or really whenever life seems to be slipping out of my grasp, is to make to do lists and then to more or less ignore them. The latter part of that routine is not intended. My intention when making lists is to instead transform into the kind of fellow who soberly and calmly faces up to all responsibilities and moves through to do lists with ease and relentlessness, marking each completed task done with a single clean line through the task. My to do lists always have a few deep scribbles across the stray items that I manage to get done—usually these are the easy ones that I put on the list just to get myself going, to make it seem like I’m getting things done, in hopes that by marking off something like “take a shower” I will set myself in unstoppable motion, but in the end my series of little notebooks scattered around my home are full of incomplete lists, only the easy things marked out. Anyway, I made a whole list of what I want to do on this site over the next couple of months, probably because in the next couple of months I’m going to get on a plane several times, go to a lot of new places, and, near the end of the two months, if all goes according to schedule, become a father. I don’t know anything about how to do that last thing, so a lot of my difficult list items are pointed toward that looming eventuality. I guess it’ll be good to cross “Steve Foucault 1975” off my list, so I’m steamrolling ahead through this post. You have to steamroll ahead sometimes. I tried to be a poet and kept revising and revising my attempts until I revised myself clean out of poetry altogether.


Poetry fell away from me. Several years after it did so, my last burst of poetry came when I wrote some poems to my wife when we first met, most of them attempts to get her to laugh. This worked better than the scary and obscurely self-aggrandizing works reeking of desperation I’d occasionally foisted on puzzled girls when I was in college. I kept writing, but not the kind of sculpted heightened lines I’d aspired to while in college but the kind of writing I guess a guy does when he’s trying to get by from day to day. Which brings us to today and work. I have to leave in a few minutes. A baby on the way: need money, gotta work. It’s not my dream job, but I never had a dream job. I never thought that way. I did want to be a poet though, a guy who wrote poems, and for the first years out of college I wrote poems in my notebooks, but none of them ever came made it out of a notebook, and more and more I wrote stories and long prose rants and prayers in my notebooks. Looking for a sign.


Mike Loynd

March 29, 2011

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

Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers won the American League pennant last year, and a rational prediction of their chances this year would have to take that recent success into account. But rational is not how things work here. Here the idea, based on nothing, is that the 2011 Rangers squad will resemble the thoughts that arise from the consideration of 1987 card of someone named Mike Loynd.

I got this Mike Loynd card last year in a pack that came with a copy of the book Mint Condition that the book’s author, Dave Jamieson, sent to me. Near the beginning of the book’s entertaining exploration of the history of baseball cards, Dave locates the center of his own personal connection to baseball cards in the 1987 set, his favorite from childhood. My own childhood came a little earlier, so my first look at the 1987 set occurred when I opened the pack that came with Dave’s book. The pack had a piece of ancient gum inside it. I had never opened a pack of baseball cards with gum inside and not chewed the gum, but since the gum in question was over twenty years old, I hesitated. Generally speaking, food that old doesn’t do wonders for the human body. The thought occurred to me, What if I eat this gum and it kills me? Paradoxically enough, this question is what prompted me finally to put the decrepit gum on my tongue. I figured if I was going to die, I might as well die from gum in a pack of baseball cards.

The gum crumbled instantly from the slightest chewing pressure, and then, instead of reforming from crumbles into a chewable wad, it just dissolved. The jolt of sugar from baseball card gum is to me the primal accompaniment to the stretched moment of discovery of leafing for the first time through a new pack of cards, but in this case the gum was gone but for a stale, pasty aftertaste before I’d looked at more than a couple cards. When I got to this Mike Loynd card, I was vaguely thankful that I wasn’t convulsing on the floor like a poisoned medieval courtesan, but I was also a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to blow one last baseball card gum bubble. This is life, right? Most of the time you have to admit you’d rather be alive than not, but even so there’s a powdery residue on your tongue of some idealization of long gone sweetness. There’s a taste of disappointment.

With that taste on my tongue, I wondered, Mike Loynd?


How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part of 20 of 30: Revel in cardboard by reading the aforementioned Mint Condition and by watching MLB Network’s celebration of baseball cards tonight (3/29 at 10 p.m. EST): Cardboard Treasure (I was interviewed for this special, so if MLB TV’s editors are miracle workers you might see shreds of my aimless mumblings from that interview)  


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; Seattle Mariners; Chicago Cubs; Baltimore Orioles; [California] Angels


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