Bake McBride

May 7, 2007

Has Cardboard Gods jumped the shark? I am constantly wondering about this. I actually first considered the possibility many months ago, just a couple weeks into the whole project, when I posted what seemed to me to be a passionless, desultory profile of Otto Velez. Since then I’ve revisited thoughts of an unredeemable demise on an almost weekly basis, most recently in the form of a sinking feeling that I had let the great Boog Powell down.

This sinking feeling is not new. I’ve always sort of felt like I’m living within an aftermath. I’m like Ted McGinley, star of the Love Boat just before it sank and of Happy Days at its glummest, always arriving too late for all the excitement, always incapable of creating a new thrilling epoch on my own. All the cool shit had already happened by the time I was old enough to take part, it seemed. I was too late to huff carbona with Richard Hell and Dee Dee Ramone, too late to drop acid with Ken Kesey and Ram Dass, too late to smoke “tea” and guzzle cheap port with Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. By the time I was the age these guys were in their frontier-exploring heydays it was the early 1990s, and though I guess there were probably new exciting movements going on somewhere, I had no idea where they were, and even if I had known I’d probably have thought the people involved were pretentious assholes.

So instead of blazing new pathways of creativity within an invigorating collective of the best young minds of my generation I got a job on the night shift at the UPS warehouse on 42nd street by the Hudson River and got sort of drunk after work every day in the morning while reading a newspaper I’d pulled out of the garbage and eating three-for-a-dollar macaroni and cheese with chopped-up generic hot dogs. I’d fall unconscious for a while and wake up at dusk feeling like I’d been regurgitated, and then I’d watch the 5:30 episode of Charles in Charge. After a few months of showing up at work at 3 A.M. to take boxes off a conveyer belt and put them in a truck, I abruptly quit, phoning in one evening to tell a preposterous lie about the sudden death of my grandfather (who had actually died a few years earlier) necessitating my immediate departure from the city to help run “the family farm.” I went to Vermont and lounged around my stepfather’s condo in Montpelier and wrote a young adult novel about basketball, taking copious breaks to run imaginary tournaments involving the putting of a golf ball at various targets around the condo. At the end of the summer I had a complete manuscript, and returned to New York planning to sell it and begin a fabulous career of swinging from one joyous literary conquest to the next like Tarzan swinging on vines.

I never did sell the thing. While I was sort of trying to sell it I got an “in the meantime” job at the liquor store where my brother had worked while going to NYU (that particular “in the meantime” job of mine ultimately lasting the better part of a decade). My shift there started at 6 P.M. on most days, and though it was only a five-minute walk from the small apartment I shared with my brother, the start time meant that I always missed the last few moments of Charles in Charge. Each episode always followed the same basic three-part pattern, the first and last parts being relatively brief: Part one: Charles is in charge; Part two: Charles is no longer in charge; Part three: Charles is in charge again. I always had to leave the apartment with the situation in chaos.

I don’t know what any of this has to do with Bake McBride, except that I started the day today with some observations about him that were so lackluster and uninspired that I quickly fell to thoughts that I had really blown it for good, that I was through as a writer, that if I couldn’t get a good lather going for Bake McFucking McBride I might as well hang it up and let the shark Fonzie jumped tear me and my metaphorical leather jacket of imagined coolness to shreds. I mean, this is Bake McBride we’re talking about! If I was a beatnick I’d have already chanted a rolling, incantatory three-page Bake McBride ode at the Six Gallery with Sal Paradise yelling “wail!” in the background; if I was a hippie I’d have already run naked across the Pentagon lawn out my mind on mescaline, convinced I was Bake McBride ecstatically legging out a world-peace-bestowing triple; and if I was a New York Punk I’d have already ruined my eardrums forever with the sheer velocity and volume of a two-minute aural assault entitled “Bake McBride” that would have helped free music from the skeletal clutches of corporate rock. But I’m none of those things, and I’m not even an odd solitary miner of the gruesome and beautiful unconscious like Kafka, spinning out a tale of waking one morning metamorphosed into Bake McBride’s disembodied afro. No, all I could manage was that Bake McBride hung up his spikes one hit shy of a lifetime average of .300.

His batting average rounded up to .300 as late as the 10th-to-last game of his career, when as a member of the Cleveland Indians he went 2 for 4 on September 10, 1983, against the Red Sox. He managed only 2 hits in his next 17 at bats, however, dooming to failure a subsequent 5 for 10 flurry in his last major league at-bats.

I don’t know why Bake McBride stopped playing then. He was 34 years old, but he had hit .291 for the year and just one year earlier in limited action had hit .365. The speed that had been one of his strikingly distinguishing features in his prime—along with his large afro (seen here below a Cardinals flat-topped “old-tyme” cap in an admirable but still only penultimate stage of magnificence) and his incomparable name—may have been on the wane, but he still stole 8 bases in 10 attempts in ’83 and, even more tellingly, made his final major league appearance as a pinch runner in his team’s second to last game of the year. He could still hit, and he could still run. So why stop?

I don’t know why. I’ve quit a lot of things in my life, so I guess I can imagine how he might have just got sick of doing what he was doing, especially considering it must have gotten harder and harder as the years went on. 

As for me, even though I’ve quit a lot of things, I never have quit writing, not yet. So I guess even if my lifetime average keeps falling farther and farther below .300 I’m going to keep going up there and hacking.


  1. 1.  As the “anonymous” disputant in the Alex Johnson thread (an anonymity that was more the result of laziness as opposed to a noble desire to remain anonymous), I can most definitely say that CG has not “jumped the shark.” I forwarded a link from the “Happy” series to a friend of mine who actually teaches writing and his comment was that those entries demonstrated a true mastery of the essay form. In other words, you’ve got to “keep on truckin'” (what was it exactly that explains the 70s fascination with “truckin'” and CB radios?).

  2. 2.  You’re not factoring in park effects. Your real average is much higher than .300.

    Just seeing Bake McBride in a headline made me feel all warm inside. And despite your misgivings, you still wrote a great piece. Keep it up, man.

  3. 3.  Anybody who can write YA book like this with this title has nothing to fear:


    And I want to get this one to teach my nephews how to go on the grift:


  4. 4.  The obvious point is that your writing, like your drug use and partying, is in the aftermath of culture. The noise is deafening now, but back when Mark Twain, those Russian dudes and some froggy Frenchmen were cranking out the classics, there was a lot less competition. Your OPS+ is off the charts, but judging by the popularity of Paris Hilton* everyone is still obsessed with steals. Your writing makes me happy, the day that you shut it down (because you wrote about all of the cards) will be a sad day indeed.

    *I once wrote that Paris Hilton was the zeitgeist of our age. In an age of crushing volumes of media to consume, someone who produces nothing is the most richly rewarded for her talentlessness.

  5. 5.  To the high priest of the cardboard gods,

    Up until 10 minutes ago I thought everyone in this world had visions of grandeur just like mine. I always figured everyone else thought they were destined (or at least able if destiny isn’t your game) to do at least one great, memorable act in their lifetime. I figured that since I felt I too was able (destiny isn’t my game) to do that one great act that would transcend my own mortality, I probably would never accomplish anything noteworthy since everyone else is out for the same glory. That and frankly the fact that I am slightly lazier than the average Joe and transcending my own mortality has always seemed like a bit too much effort.

    This all changed upon reading your latest entry. I now realize that at least one person (and if that stats class I went to three times in junior college has taught me anything, a few more than just one) doesn’t feel fated to achieve that lasting moment that will likely elude them their entire lives. At least one person feels compelled towards an entirely different act – that of an impending “unredeemable demise.” For some reason this makes me feel a little more at ease with my inability to achieve the transcendent despite my yearning to do so. I have no idea why, but thanks for that.

    On an entirely unrelated subject, I have to let you know my initial thoughts upon reading your blog. The background for this is that I am a philosophy student at the end of a semester that dealt almost entirely with Being (yes, Being with a capital B). I have read more Heidegger than I ever knew existed a year ago and have realized that if anyone has ever said they know what Being truly is, they were lying. Why do I bring up philosophy and Being in a comment on a blog about some nearly 40 year old baseball cards? Not to be arrogant in any way or to try to make some philosophical statement about baseball being non-linear, I promise you.

    I bring up Heidegger because in his later works after doing ontology exclusively over his career (even while he was a Nazi) his pursuit of Being left him with only one solution. He didn’t know what Being was, nor was he even able to describe what it might be, but he certainly knew that if anyone was able to get to the real meaning of Being, it was the poets. Thus we come full circle to my point: I don’t know what Being is, or what it truly means ‘to be’, but I could tell when I first read your blog and sorted through the various postings of baseball players whose careers had peaked and valleyed well before I became a mistake that somehow you knew what Being was. Every post I read contains a subtle something or a smack in the face of what it truly is to be. (The Gary Templeton post for some reason was one of those that just reeks of it, maybe because I grew up loving Ozzie Smith.)

    After staying up all night working on a paper about Bergson’s metaphysical intuition, I’m going to go eat a foot long sub and take a nap. I’ll probably never post again and may be slightly embarrassed that I posted at all, but at least that sub will taste damn good.

    Your brother in the faith,


  6. 6.  1: “Keep on truckin'” was actually first a ’60s thing, courtesy of R. Crumb, and had little if anything to do with motorized vehicles: http://tinyurl.com/2t53e7

    The truckin’/CB thing caught fire in the fad-heavy, populist mid-’70s, bolstered by the Peckinpah movie Convey and the hit song of the same name. I think there was a feeling at that time that the life of America was on the freeway. The opening moments of another film of that time, Nashville, really capture that feeling.

    Thanks to Jon and Bob for the encouragement and to Benaiah for the interesting “aftermath of culture” observations.

    paulz: very interesting stuff. Thanks for checking in, and I hope you A) enjoy the sub and nap and B) check in again. This site needs someone who can bust out the Heidegger when necessary. (I think I tried to read some Heidegger a long time ago after getting an intro to him in William Barret’s Irrational Man, but I didn’t manage to stick with it.)

  7. 7.  Uh, as for that film title, I meant to say “Convoy” not “Convey.” I also meant to mention the Grateful Dead as contributing to the initial meaning of “Truckin'”, but oh well. I guess sometimes the light’s all shining on me, other times I can barely see.

  8. 8.  paulz, that cards only @ 30 years old, not 40. I remember McBride, but I guess that I forgot the Cards wore painter hats.

    Josh, you forgot McGinley’s portrayal of Jefferson D’Arcy in [i]Married WIth Children[/i]. It’s a fine entry anyways.

  9. 9.  That’s interesting about “Keep on Truckin'” “Crumb” the documentary is one of my favorite movies and I should have known that he drew that in the late sixties. For some reason, I associate it with the 70s. My number one favorite movie is Nashville and you reference that too here — the traffic jam and the mysterious Jeff Goldblum character on the chopper.

    I’m the same age as Josh and Josh has hit on something in this blog that is really uncanny about the 70s — especially as seen through the eyes of a child at the time — that is, the fads and just the strangeness of what actually made it as fads. Even in baseball. Why, in the 70s, did it seem like a good idea to wear the kind of old-timey caps that McBride is wearing here? Why was there seemingly a turn-of-the-century fad?

  10. 10.  9: Great question about the old-timey caps. I actually thought about making that one of the main points of the post but ended up getting sidetracked. I have a feeling Ennui Wille Keeler, among other of us amateur ’70s historians, might have some input on this, but my recollection is that a few National League teams sported the old-time caps in 1976 (the Cardinals, obviously, plus the Pirates, who continued to wear them for a few more years, and one other team, I think–maybe the Reds?), and I believe this was done as a celebration of the 100th year of the National League, which began in 1876.

  11. 11.  Slightly aprapos of Bake McBride, since he was a Philly at the time, but more in line with jonm’s comment (9), the Phils actually gave out full size bottlebats on one giveaway day. I was there. I’m surprised someone wasn’t killed.

    Hey, maybe those fads had something to do with the bicentennial.

    As for Josh’s writing, I think we’re the exact same in age, and I can very much relate to many of your posts. (I think the one about going to see 3000 hits in Montreal–and then missing it–is my favorite.)

    I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, and checking in here helps a bit. For a while, I was always on the upside of the curve–younger than others in my field for my job, salary, titles, etc.–but now I’ve flattened out. I’m realizing I’m no longer young. I don’t think its an about-to-turn-40 thing, I think its more just a realization that you’re not what you used to be.

    And seeing the retirement of guys with long careers who happen to be your same age, like Jeff Bagwell, doesn’t help either.

  12. 12.  10 I had always thought it had something to do with the bi-centennial, but I was under the impression that everything in 1976 was in honor of the US bicentennial.

    Dressed to the Nines is a great site.

    “The striped “pillbox” cap also made a comeback in 1976 when five National League clubs celebrated the “Senior Circuit’s” 100th anniversary by adopting the nostalgic style. While the Reds, Mets, Phillies and Cardinals wore the caps during the centennial season alone, the Pittsburgh Pirates retained the style from 1976 through 1986, including their Championship season of 1979.”


  13. 13.  Dressed to the Nines is great. I met the guy that wrote the book that most of it was based on. IIRC, he was middle-aged and had a desk job, but he left it, and his wife to become a fulltime baseball researcher.

  14. Whom the (cardboard) gods wish to destroy they first make mad. (Anonymous ancient poverb.)

  15. In college, we used to refer to the stoner in the room next door as Bake McBride.

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