h1

Big League Brothers

August 22, 2007
 

Adrift

Chapter 4

(continued from Father & Son Big Leaguers)

I learned baseball from my brother. He started playing the year we moved to Vermont, away from our father. He wasn’t very good at first. After every one of his little league games in his first year I asked him the same question:

“Did you get a hit yet?”

The answer, no, was eventually rendered in the form of a malevolent I-Am-Going-To-Punch-You glare. By the end of the season I’d stopped asking. But by the time I joined him on the team, the Mets, two years later, he was one of the bigger and better kids in the league. Because I’d had him to practice with for two years, I was much more prepared to play than he’d been, and got a hit in my first game–a line single off the end of the bat, up the first base line. The following year, his last in little league, he was a superstar, one of the three or four best players in the league along with the neanderthalic Stu Townsend, the mustachioed Tony Russo, and the seeming can’t-miss future major leaguer Bob Chase. I’d always idolized my brother, but that year I actually got to watch him clobber high-arcing shots over the outfield fence, got to pour out of the dugout with all my teammates to meet him at homeplate cheering. Just like I’ve never really gotten over the strange power of these baseball cards, such as this Forsch brothers entry into the 1977 Big League Brothers series, I guess I’ve never really gotten over the summer when my big brother was a conquering hero.  

We played one more season together, two years later, in Babe Ruth League, but it wasn’t really the same. I was worse, relatively speaking, than I’d ever been in little league, and my brother, even though he was in his final year of Babe Ruth, had been reduced to being an emergency starter (behind the regular starters Stu Townsend and Bob Chase). He had one notable moment, nearly pitching a no-hitter, but the game was against a coed team of thin, easily distractible hippie children, and anyway he lost the no-hit bid in the last inning when one of the boys or girls stopped daydreaming long enough to loop a single into left in front of the mediocre leftfielder, me.

Somewhere around that time, maybe that year or the next, my brother and I were in a record store in a mall in Hyannis, Massachusetts. It was the day after Thanksgiving, which we’d spent at my maternal grandparents’ house in nearby East Dennis. After we’d looked around for a while, my brother started walking out of the store. He was walking fast, purposefully. I called his name but he didn’t acknowledge me. I kept saying his name, he kept walking. I was a few paces behind him but I started slowing down. It was like watching a train pull away, or like my voice had been removed. Like my brother didn’t know me. A man in a light-colored suit jacket passed me, walking briskly, and clapped my brother on the shoulder. The two of them went back into the store and disappeared behind a door in the back. I went back there. There was a small window in the door. I could see my brother sitting in a metal chair, staring down at a table. There was a rack of posters near the door on my side and I hid my face in there, pretending to look at the posters. I was crying. I wanted my brother to be the big kid in the same uniform as mine, jogging down the third base line toward home, smiling, toward the cheering team, toward me. But he was just some stranger in a jeans jacket, a copy of a cassette called “Get Happy” on the table in front of him as evidence.

(continued in Bob Stanley)

27 comments

  1. 1.  After that last cliffhanger paragraph, and the imagery that it generated (at least in my mind), I’m ticked off that this story is only coming in installments.

    Good stuff Josh.


  2. 2.  1 “I’m ticked off that this story is only coming in installments.”

    And extremely slow installments at that. I’m hoping to get the next one up there in a couple days, but who knows? The truth is I have very little idea where any of this is going, if anywhere (which I guess is the point, or problem, or whatever, sort of).

    As for the major league baseball associated with this card, I always thought Bob Forsch had once homered off Ken Forsch, but apparently, according to Baseball-reference.com’s “vs. batter” tool, this never happened, unless I’m using the tool incorrectly, or misreading it.

    As I’ve written earlier, I always liked Ken better, for some reason. Hard to say who was better. Bob won 54 more games than Ken and was on a World Series winning team, but Ken had a lower lifetime ERA and was named to two All Star teams.


  3. 3.  Josh. Well done. I too can’t wait to see where this goes.

    Me and my brother, two years older, both were on the same little league team (well, actually it was farm league). He was catcher, and I pitched and played short. We were on the best team in the league, and we both were two of the better players on the team.

    Towards the end of the season, when the all-star balloting results came back, I was selected to the all-star team, but my older brother was not. I can still hear him crying in the bedroom.

    Thereafter, he never played any organized baseball, or any sport for that matter. We were both on the high school football team, much later, but he quit before the season began, and just after a few practices.

    He joined the “druggie” crowd and stopped going to high school. Since, he has suffered some really, really tough times.

    I wish we too could go back to our celebratory dominance of that farm league team in Champaign IL. We were so much closer then.

    Keep that good shit coming Josh.


  4. 4.  “As for the major league baseball associated with this card, I always thought Bob Forsch had once homered off Ken Forsch, but apparently, according to Baseball-reference.com’s “vs. batter” tool, this never happened, unless I’m using the tool incorrectly, or misreading it.”

    You may be thinking of the Forsches fraternal contemporaries, the Niekros. Joe Niekro’s only career homer came off of brother Phil.


  5. 5.  i have nothing too interesting to share, but i wanted to comment to let you know that i’m still reading and still enjoying 🙂


  6. 6.  I wonder if Phil purposefully threw his brother a meatball, to get his only homer. Was it hit later in his career?


  7. 7.  It was no meatball. The game was in 1976, about the mid-point of Joe’s career. It was early in the season, when games mattered. It was in the 7th inning, and Joe’s solo shot tied the game at 2-2. Joe actually was the winner and Phil the loser. Who got the save???? Yup, KEN FORCSH!


  8. 8.  3 : I hope people are noticing that Catfish326 is writing a hell of a shadow story to “Adrift.”

    4 : Yes, you’re right, I was thinking of the Niekros. Good call.

    5 : Thanks, David!

    6 : It was an early-season game in 1976, both teams struggling, and Phil was actually winning the game 2-1 in the 7th when Joe came to the plate. So it’s doubtful he grooved one. Joe tied the game up with his mighty clout, then the Astros went ahead with another run in the 8th. Clinging to the one-run lead, the Astros went to the pen in the 9th, and Joe’s big day was secured by none other than . . . Ken Forsch!

    It’s all at the Nobel Prize worthy baseball-reference.com:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ATL/ATL197605290.shtml


  9. 9.  7 : Damn my long-windedness, yuh beat me to the Ken Forsch nugget.


  10. 10.  Since I can’t get to BR at work, did the Reuschel brothers ever homer off one another? My other favorite pitching brother tandem. Probably because of their, er, “physiques.”


  11. 11.  10 : They never faced one another (they were teammates until Paul went to the AL for his last year and a half).


  12. 12.  My favorite pitcher of all time is Ramon Martinez; my second-favorite is Pedro. In 2000, I had tickets to an Easter Sunday doubleheader at Fenway in which they were scheduled to become the first pair of brothers in history to start the two ends of a twinbill. So I went out to Fenway, as pumped for a game as I’d ever been, and ended up sitting in a downpour for three hours and coming home with nothing but a raincheck.


  13. 13.  Ever wonder what would happen if you combined the careers of Ken and Bob Forsch? Hall of Fame? Just missed?

    Find out at:
    http://foodshelterbaseball.typepad.com/food_shelter_baseball/2007/08/stuck-on-you-ii.html


  14. 14.  When I was 16, my 17 year old girlfriend was busted for lifting at our local tower records.
    I thought she had left me at the store, but she was in the back crying her eyes out, a nice Jewish girl, nailed for shoplifting. Ironically, I had 2 CDs of my own in my coat, one of which was Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, an album I would almost be embarrassed to own today. (It was 1993). That night we were to cross state lines to meet her doctor father for the Seder…We ended up making it and having another adventure in the process.

    As always, great stuff Josh. Particularly today.


  15. 15.  12 : Painful.

    I must be in a baseball-reference.com mood today: I just checked and saw that Pedro and Ramon combined for 28 wins in 2000. That’s pretty good, but it’s a little behind Dizzy and Daffy Dean, who combined to chalk up 49 and 48 wins, respectively, for the ’34 and ’35 editions of the Gas House Gang.

    13 : By god, I never did wonder what would happen if you combined the careers of Bob and Ken Forsch, but as soon as you mentioned it there was nothing of greater importance. Thanks for the link to the amusing treatment for (my lame suggestion for a title) “Forsch To Be Reckoned With.”


  16. 16.  Josh, I like the title. It makes the brothers sound tough. It’s got me thinking about adding a fight scene. Ken and Bob versus Joe Morgan and Jackie Chan. That would move Chris Tucker up the list of actors to play Morgan. That may be a good thing since my wife is pushing hard for Gary Coleman.


  17. 17.  I remember preferring the “Big-League Brothers” card of Rick & Paul Rueschel (sp.?) in their baby-blue, pinstriped Cubs uniforms. Rick R. was an absolute walrus but a heck of a player.

    Enjoying this series too though as a big brother.


  18. 18.  Here is that Big League Brothers card of the Reuschels. What a shot! That is one awesome duo.

    Paul’s glasses add a real nice touch. Uh, don’t they have the names switched on this card, meaning each name should be under the other Rueschel?


  19. 19.  Ya, all the other Big Brothers cards have the correct name under the correct brother, except the Reuschels. Those whales could really blur the vision, I guess. Looking at them together, suprised they could even fit on one card. That’s awesome.


  20. 20.  Phat!


  21. 21.  No discussion of brothers in the 1970s (especially now that the Reuschels have introduced the element of girth into the conversation) would be complete without these fellows:

    http://www.cojoweb.com/McCrary-twins.html


  22. 22.  Never heard of the McCrary twins before. I loved this line at the end of the story:

    McCrary is “survived by his mother, Virginia McKinnish McCrary . . . .”

    How the hell did these women survive birth?!?!


  23. 23.  Josh:

    Just wanted to drop you a line that this is one of the best blogs on the Internet. A must read. Are you planning to put any of this into a book? Come on, Josh, we’ll buy it!


  24. 24.  Had a good laugh re the “did you get a hit” routine — I’d completely forgotten about that, in fact don’t remember anything but haze about that first Little League season other than Buster, after threatening to do it repeatedly, breaking out the eephus pitch against Pittsfield.

    Turn the shoplifting tale around to my point of view and it sure seems to fit the theme “adrift”… I didn’t really know much about Elvis Costello’s music at that point. So my attempt to gank that tape wasn’t at all motivated out of a desire to “get happy”; instead, I remember being in the store, looking at that tape and thinking something like “maybe possessing this will make me cool, keep ‘them’ from noticing me, hide the fact that I’m a zero inside.”


  25. 25.  Ordinarily, I’d be sorry to post such a long, um, post but my girlfriend is ensconsed on the couch watching an umpteenth consecutive episode of ‘Weeds’ so I’m consequently sitting a few feet away from her, staring at my laptop, tired of reading Cubs blogs and previews for Euro 2008. So I’ll project some prose out into the empty internet, which, in this instance, is like shooting a gun at the moon.

    I fell deeply, madly, and sometimes regretfully in love with baseball when I was 7 years old, particularly because my dad allowed me stay up really late to watch game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Latching on to something that was “cool” among my friends at school, I began nagging my mom to buy me packs of baseball cards. That Christmas, I received a commemorative book, issued by Topps, depicting each and every card that they’d issued dating back 35 years.

    I devoured that book, so much so that the binding eventually broke. To this day, if you were to show me a Topps card issued before 1992, I can immediately state the year that it was produced.

    The early sets were the best of the lot, with the airbrushed portraits set against action scenes. The 1956 cards are particularly beautiful. Each player is shown at his best, avoiding a tag while sliding into home, making a miracle catch, or applying a tag in spite of flying spikes.

    Despite the beauty of ’56, the 1954 edition always caught my eye. That ’54 set is full of aberrations – cards depicting coaches, and two Ted Williams cards serving as bookends. Among the oddities are the original “Big League Brothers”, Eddie and Johnny O’Brien…

    http://www.vintagecardtraders.org/virtual/54topps/54topps.html

    …#139. Google won’t yield a simple JPEG of that particular card so…

    http://www.checkoutmycards.com/Cards/Baseball/1994/Topps_Archives_1954/139/Ed_OBrien_Johnny_OBrien

    Because of that card, I’ve always considered the O’Briens to be the Cain and Abel of Big League Brothers. Rather, I’d like to imagine that Topps’ decision to note the sibling bond between Ken and Bob Forsch was inspired by that earlier card. The Forsch brothers each had their own individual and unique card that year but some big unexplainable entity saw fit to put them together so that, in spite their specific identities, they couldn’t get away from the fact that they came from the womb.

    Looking up at that Forsch card, I wonder if they were jealous of each other? In the case of the O’Briens, I wonder if, just after the original photograph was taken, one of the brothers glanced at the other and thought, “you’re a shit ballplayer compared to me…and I’m banging your wife.”


  26. “Zernialophile”? Best name ever. Good ol’ Gus. (Unless there’s another Zernial out there.


  27. I remember my stepbrother Johnny (two years older than me but just one grade ahead thanks to Johnny having been left back a year) had a theory that if an item was too big to fit in a store’s bag one could just walk out of the store with said item and you woudn’t be noticed. He tested out that theory one day by attempting to steal a surfboard. He was caught exactly a foot from the store’s exit (the security guard must have been quasi-law enforcement’s answer to Kreskin, the mentalist), the surfboard turned out to be a paper-mache phony (the store sold pants not surfboards) which the stepbrother’s dad ended paying $150 Dollars for to avoid Johnny’s prosecution and first criminal strike.



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