Pete BrobergMarch 23, 2007
“This is not a photograph – no
(This is not a photograph)
And these are not the Elysian Fields
(This is not a photograph)”
–Mission of Burma
And if that’s not enough jagged postmodern abnegation for you, this is not a Seattle Mariner, either. Pete Broberg was drafted by the Mariners with the 35th pick of the 1976 expansion draft, but he was traded to the Cubs for a player to be named later before the Mariners had played (and lost) their first game.
Moreover, at the time this mysterious portrait of Pete Broberg in cheesy Elysium emerged, the Seattle Mariners did not quite fully exist. For example, they did not yet have caps, or even an official cap design. The pitchfork represented here on the crown of the fake cap painted onto Pete Broberg’s head, perhaps the product of an overworked Topps artist’s interpretation of some hurried instructions delivered over the phone by an overworked Seattle Mariners official, is not a bad rendering, especially when compared to other Topps-doctored cap insignias, such as the loopy “NY” on Rudy May’s 1975 card, but it is decidedly smaller than the actual logo that appeared on the Mariners caps when they officially began their existence.
The undersized insignia contributes to the overall impression of unreality, an impression strengthened further by the background, a glue-huffer’s foggy hallucination of paradise. Another even stronger element in the creation of the card’s ersatz bliss, ironically the one part of the picture that seems the most likely to have originated as a photographic representation of reality, is Pete Broberg’s face.
This face, which seems more a part of an oil portrait made to look like a photograph than a part of a photograph, represents the most placid, careless expression I’ve yet come across in my investigations of the Cardboard Gods.
It’s as if Pete Broberg has left behind all the complications of life. Or perhaps has never been the least bit acquainted with such complications.
“I thought we had another Bob Feller. But he’s a hardhead.”
–pitching coach Sid Hudson on Pete Broberg
Pete Broberg is 27 years old in this picture, and his past to this point has been a series of gleaming futures that never came to pass.
He’d been 18 years old in 1968, which was for most young men in America a bad time to be 18: U.S. troop deployment and casualties in Vietnam had reached their highest levels, and you could expect a letter in the mail at any time, demanding that you come join the carnage.
But Pete Broberg was special, the best high school pitcher in the nation. He was chosen by the Oakland A’s with the second pick in the first round of the 1968 amateur draft (Tim Foli was taken first). As the A’s had just moved from Kansas City that off-season, Pete Broberg had the distinction of being the first pick ever taken by the Oakland A’s. While others his age with fewer options were on their way to Vietnam, Broberg was being offered a $175,000 signing bonus by A’s owner Charlie Finley. Broberg turned him down and instead enrolled in Dartmouth College. (One of the ways of avoiding the military draft back then was to go hide out in college for a while. I don’t know if this figured into Broberg’s decision. In an article on the Oakland A’s website the only clue Broberg offers on his turning down of the $175,000 was that he didn’t feel ready yet for the big leagues.)
Three years later, he was the best amateur baseball player in America, bar none, and he did feel he was ready for the majors. This time he was taken first overall in the amateur draft, the last first round draft choice ever taken by the Washington Senators. Broberg signed with the Senators with the stipulation that he never have to spend a moment in the minor leagues. Two weeks after being drafted, he pitched in the majors against the Boston Red Sox. He struck out 7 and allowed two runs in a 6-inning no decision. Most who saw him in his early days were impressed by his talent, as touched on in this Baseball Fever discussion thread.
But the talent, which seemed to surface in glimpses (including the day Broberg was the pitcher of record in the first-ever win by the Texas Rangers), never translated to any kind of sustained major league success: In his entire career, he never once finished the year with a winning record. By the expansion draft of 1976 everyone had long ago ceased waiting around for Pete Broberg to blossom into the next Bob Feller.
But in this 1977 picture Pete Broberg doesn’t seem to give a shit that his early promise has gone unfulfilled. That year he racked up another lousy year with the Cubs, then brought his career full circle, in a raggedy ass way, by going 10 and 12 for the A’s, the team that had tried to throw $175,000 at him right out of high school 10 years before. The Dodgers signed him as a free agent the following year but told him he’d have to go to triple-A or be released.
In the aforementioned article from the Oakland A’s website, Pete Broberg recounts the choice in a way that seems to fit his expression in this card:
“I went home,” Broberg said. “They still had to pay me, and the Dodgers paid my way through law school.”
This sounds like the words of a guy who just doesn’t care that much about baseball. But in keeping with the theme that everything connected with this card is not what it seems, Pete Broberg later put his law career on hold in 1989 to play for a pittance while pitching for the West Palm Beach Tropics of the short-lived Senior Baseball League, an act that had to have been, after all those years serenely reclining in the fake Elysian Fields of well-paid apathy, an achy-muscled labor of love.