Here is Bob Bailor with a big wad of tobacco in his left cheek. Bailor was acquired by the Blue Jays in the glorious ritual of detritus-sifting known as the expansion draft. Just prior to an expansion draft, the established teams in a league reserve all the players they want and haul a couple peripheral guys out to the curb like one of them is a milk crate full of burnt-out Christmas lights and the other’s a knobless television with a “FREE” sign taped to the screen.
In fact, Bailor was the very first pick of the Blue Jays in the 1976 expansion draft, the best of the entire flea market heap except for Ruppert Jones, who was the first pick of the other expansion team, the coin-flip-winning Seattle Mariners. This photo, adorned with the rookie-team trophy, shows Bailor just after he has ridden the slow, low-tide, styrofoam boogie-board wave of expansion draft acceptance to a mildly successful season, the utility man somehow amassing enough bloop singles to hit .310, a mark he would never again come close to. The faintly troubled expression on his face seems to imply that he may on some level understand that his best days are already behind him.
He did stick around for several more years, however. Not that I noticed at the time, having loosened my grip on the Cardboard Gods, but by 1983 he was still barnicled to the leaky hull of some lousy team or other when I followed in the footsteps of my brother and went away at age 15 to Northfield Mount Hermon, a boarding school in western Massachusetts. This change for me was severe. One day I was the sole inhabitant of a rural, socially retarded kingdom of daydreams, solitaire Strat-o-matic baseball, and WKRP in Cincinnati-based masturbation, and the next day I was stiffly traversing a rolling green campus of solemn ivied buildings and sharp-witted upper-middle-class Izod-clad sophisticates in Spandau Ballet haircuts who had long ago lost their virginity on the sunsplashed decks of Nantucket sailboats. Initially, my only way of dealing with the terror of the situation was to seize hold of the strong resemblance I had at that time to my brother. You’re just like your brother, I was told repeatedly, often as a filler for the uncomfortable silences that seemed to follow me around like a force field.
I wasn’t crazy about being an echo, but I think I realized that being an echo was better than being nothing at all, especially if it was the echo of the brother I had always idolized. He had done well at the school, or so I thought, playing on the varsity basketball team, acing English papers, serving as an official Student Leader of his dorm. Years later, I found out he carried an ineffably deep loathing of the memory of himself at that school. During his two years there, he had forced his unruly collection of adolescent hurt, yearning, and anger inside the borders of a desperate impersonation of a well-adjusted high-achieving paragon of old-money virtue. So it turns out I was impersonating an impersonation, and probably the thinness of such an endeavor is part of whatever gnawed at me from the inside out at that school.
I gradually moved from mimicking a mimic to my second and final way of dealing with my identity or lack thereof at the boarding school: inebriation. It’s tempting to identify the first step along this path (which ultimately led to my expulsion) as the night some 18-year-old classmate got a ride with a day student across the border into Vermont to buy booze and some friends and I all got ecstatically smashed. But actually my first experience with a substance-caused rush at the school was earlier than that, and it was with Bob Bailor’s drug of choice, chewing tobacco. My friend Bill and I tried some Copenhagen one night at the library during “study hours” and it made us stumble around and giggle and nearly vomit. Bill, perhaps with an eye toward one day bridging the wide chasm that seemed to divide us from the hundreds of dazzlingly pretty girls of the campus, didn’t cultivate the nauseating habit, but for some reason I did, at least for a couple years. That first year of the lip-bulging, cup-full-of-brown-spit vice must have been the most disgusting to onlookers, in large part because I still wore braces.
(to be continued)