Bob Stanley

August 26, 2007


Chapter 5

(continued from Big League Brothers)

Years after my brother was apprehended trying to steal an Elvis Costello cassette, I finally followed his footsteps into shoplifting, stealing easily pocketable items from a small grocery store in Santa Barbara, California. This was in 1987, a decade removed from the heart of my childhood, which had been located somewhere not far from this 1978 baseball card of a young man with everything still in front of him. By 1987, of course, whatever promise Bob Stanley once possessed had been pummeled to microscopic dust.

That summer Greyhound announced a deal allowing passengers making a purchase a month in advance to travel anywhere in the country, one way, for $29.99. I happened to be poor and aimless, so I bought a ticket from Vermont to California, where my old boarding school friend Bill was going to college. The ticket was the size of a James Michener novel, its pages filled with the names of cities I’d never been to: Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cheyenne, Boulder, Provo, Sacramento, San Francisco. At that point, besides a family trip to Mexico when I was five, I hadn’t seen anything beyond the northeastern United States. But in the previous couple years, ever since getting the boot from boarding school, I’d become a disciple of Jack Kerouac, whose writing made me believe that even a life adrift could have beauty and meaning, that if you wandered far and wide enough you’d eventually find a mythic heartbeat centering the scattered days.

I brought a couple books with me for the long ride that reflected this Kerouackian bent, Woodie Guthrie’s Bound For Glory and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. I finished the first breezy, enjoyable tale within a few hours, before I’d even crossed into Pennsylvania, which left me alone for the ensuing days and nights and nights and days of spine-eroding bus seat monotony with nothing but some cheap brown marijuana and the latter book’s anti-narrative nightmare of unrelated scenes always seeming to eventually work their way around to the strangulation of pubescent lads shooting cum from their penises as they died. After I spent the majority of a week in this manner, Bill met me at the bus station in Santa Barbara. He was barefoot and tan. He had a friend with him, Tex, who was also barefoot and tan. They had brought along a dog, Luna, who though not tan was also of course barefoot and contributed to the general feeling of untroubled health and cheer, her nails clicking happily on the grimy bus station linoleum as she jogged closer to smell the stench of alienation radiating off of me. I was pale. My coordination and balance seemed irrevocably damaged. My inability to converse must have made it seem to the tan barefoot fellows swarming me that I’d spent the previous several years in a cave.

In the ensuing days and weeks I had trouble finding work. I probably gave people the creeps. Finally I took a job canvassing for CalPirg. They took anybody, but the catch was you only made money on commission, taking a percentage of whatever contributions you could wheedle out of people. I’d done a similar job the summer before for Greenpeace and had both loathed it and been terrible at it, so I guess I must have been desperate.

There were some lean days in Santa Barbara, both before and after I started not making any money with CalPirg. So I started stealing from a grocery store near Bill’s apartment. I mostly swiped rectangular packages of cream cheese. The store had security mirrors everywhere, but there was one blind spot near the back. News of this blind spot had spread. Sometimes there was a line to the blind spot, shoplifters queuing up with their pocket-sized items.

Occasionally on the way back from the store I spotted a newspaper in a trashcan. I’d fish it out, find a bench somewhere, and read the sports page while dipping flour tortillas into my stolen cream cheese. Baseball seemed a million miles away that summer, farther away than it ever had. Baseball had ended. Everything had ended. The sky was blue. The Red Sox sank in the standings, a little farther with each garbage-tainted sports page. Days passed. I stole some more cheese. The sky remained blue. The Red Sox sank lower. Bob Stanley’s name showed up in the box score from time to time, an L beside his name.

(continued in Tom Burgmeier)


  1. 1.  The Steamer! Bigfoot. The long man out of the bullpen on the EWK All-time team.

    “Baseball seemed a million miles away that summer (1987), farther away than it ever had. Baseball had ended.”

    It was the same for me. Like you, Josh, I started the year in New England and ended up in California. But I went by way of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I was bored with community college and there was am Army recruiter that caught my ear. Join the Army and you can learn a foreign language and you’ll have money for college when you get out.

    So I did. I wen to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey and studied Arabic. But I went to basic training in July and basically missed the second half of the baseball season. They had us stay in a motel the nite before we shipped out and I watched that years’ All-Star game while the other guy in my room crank called all the other rooms in the joint.

    It’s hard to believe that that was 20 years ago.

  2. 2.  Yes, it is hard to believe this was 20 years ago. Lots of home runs. Lots of rookies hitting them. I’m glad there has been a “return to normalcy” this year. Everybody’s numbers look a little more down to earth this year. Has the talent pool expanded or does everybody just miss their greenies?

    And yes, there is nothing like a long bus ride to completely destroy and Kerouacian notions you must have had. Not to mention all the quality crazy folk you’re likely to meet on a ride of that length. Hell has a name and it is the Greyhound station in Reno, Nevada.

    Naked Lunch is more likely to contribute to your car sickness than expand your mind..

  3. 3.  BTW, the bus ride to Ft Lost in the Woods from Saint Louis was long enough as it was. (The longest bus ride I ever took was on the Long Dog from El Lay to Monterey one Christmas. I think it stopped in every little burg in between.) I had my Walkman and I think one of the last songs that I heard before we arrived at the fort in the middle of the nite was “Monkey Man” by the Stones. I went over to the PX the first chance I could and bought the “Let It Bleed” cassette.

  4. 4.  Josh,

    In my post-college days, two friends and I lived in a typical house/flat in Somerville, MA. On our bachelor coffee table, we kept a collection of literature we (really Paul, who actually had Something to Lose) referred to as our “Lose My Security Clearance” collection.

    In addition to a coffee-table-type picture book/novella about “Bob Flannagan, Super-Masochist”, we had the ultimate deal-breaker, a book (title both unremembered and unimportant) by William S. Burroughs.

    As I remember, the subject of the book was buggering beautiful Mexican boys in a bus station bathroom in St. Louis. I’m really pretty confident about the St. Louis part, and the buggering. Very sure about both of those details.

    The house rule was that any guest was entitled to open up this book, and if, on the two facing pages, the word “cock” did not appear, the guest was entitled to at least a beer, maybe a six-pack, generally run of the house for this great triumph.

    We tallied it up at one point, and out of 180 pages, 2 (two) places in the book did not offer the word “cock” to either guest or bus-rider.

    If you post about Bob Flannagan, the world might explode.


  5. 5.  Hopefully your brother was given a reduced sentence for having good taste, when he was apprehended trying to steal an Elvis Costello cassette. Now if it had been REO Speedwagon….I think someone should be forced to get years of counseling for that.

  6. 6.  Josh, I picked up the Wellington Mara bio from the library the other day. The author dedicated it to your boy Exley and even mentioned A Fan’s Notes in describing one of the coaches.

  7. 7.  I’m enjoying the bus and Burroughsian drinking game stories.

    5 : My brother reveals what was in his mind when he swiped the tape in comment 24 of the previous post (on the Forsch brothers).

    6 : One of the chapters in A Fan’s Notes, Cheers for Stout Steve Owen, recounts a meeting between Exley and his dad and the legendary Giants coach Owen.

  8. 8.  I spent the summer of 87 playing frisbee golf on drugs and carrying on a torrid forbidden love affair with a sorority chick who, like me, lived in the college town for the summer while our respective school-year paramours were out of town. He later found me in her closet and brief, one-sided fight ensued.

    I was also a prolific grocery store shoplifter, but that was easy because I was stealing from my boss.

    I was reminded of this by hearing something off REM’s Document LP. That came out 20 years ago this month.

  9. 9.  I wanted to add a couple words about the Steamer:

    I am a Bob Stanley fan. He pitched a lot of years for the Red Sox and had some big years(e.g., going 15-2 in ’78, setting a team record for saves, setting the AL record for relief innings pitched). In many ways, in terms of his team loyalty, his rubberarmed willingness to take the ball whenever asked in any situation (starting, closing, setup man, long relief), his tireless charity work, and his all-around mensch-ness, he was a forerunner of my favorite current Red Sox player, Tim Wakefield. Wakefield was blessed to have 2004 wipe clean the Boone home run in 2003 (though fans never blamed Wake for that shot, recalling that previous to that he’d been heroic in that series), but Stanley never got his moment of unbridled triumph. If only he could have struck Mookie out before Mitchell came home on the wild pitch/passed ball! Oh, how we would have loved Bob Stanley!

    I love him anyway. He used to kill beach balls with a rake.

  10. 10.  Well done, again, Josh. You encourage me to find my own answers to life’s wild questions/problems. I thank you for that.

    In a documentary of the ’86 world series, Marty Barret described what was happening in that Game 6. Barrett said, ” . . . and then Bob Stanley came into pitch.” His head sinks, and he continues, “and we knew . . . nothing good every happens to Bob Stanley.”

  11. 11.  Josh, I feel compelled to add one more sub-story to your “Adrift” series. In no way do I try to out-do your stories. They’re awesome! It is a credit to you, for inspiring me to share a few stories too.

    In ’87 I was a meteor on the rise. I was 21, and I was making damn good money drafting architectural designs. I was living in one of three apartment buildings I owned. My drawings were being published by a number of newspapers. The Red Sox commissioned me to to do some drawings for their programs, to celebrate Fenway’s 75th year.

    Today, I couldn’t be farther from the description of a rising meteor. The meteor is now a falling star. While suffering the loss of my father over the past few weeks, I asked my wife to stay with me one evening, to comfort me a few days after returning from Atlanta. We flew down to Atlanta to clean out Dad’s sad, pathetic apartment. My wife’s brother was having his annual “Pig Roast” party that night, with beer kegs and all. I asked her to stay with me, instead of going to the party. She chose the party. Her mother said my feelings and opinions were “asinine”.

    My wife’s mom’s boyfriend recently told me that her mom bashes me constantly. That doesn’t suprise me, her mom openly bashes her boyfriend all the time. I told my wife about this, and she yells at me and defends her mother. Not surprised. The two talk constantly, daily, commiserating, and bitching about me and her mom’s boyfriend, who is a really good guy.

    Just this morning, I told her mom that she is no longer welcome in my home, and it’s not open to debate. I told my wife, it’s me or her mom. She must choose. I said her mom drove away two husbands and is now bashing her current boyfriend and pushing him away, and she is leading her down the same path. I have no doubt my wife will choose her mother. But, I feel good that it will be her decision . . .

    I have never felt more adrift…..

  12. 12.  1 I owe my existence, in part, to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, called the Army Language School in the mid-1950s when my father was there to learn Korean, having joined the Army after receiving his B.A. on the east coast in something like a Romance Languages major. On a free weekend, an Army buddy dragged him up to San Francisco, and in a Chinatown gift shop he met a young college girl, who had come from China to a small school in Eastern Washington, but was summering in the Bay Area with her older sister; this woman would, a few years later – in a rare maverick move – marry this Westerner and later give birth to me, their first child.

    By the summer of 1987, I was 26, four years into my ongoing career, and engaged to the woman who is still my wife today. Today is the first of day of college classes for our only child, so I suppose I’m transitioning into another stage of life.

    Guess this doesn’t relate to shoplifting, cross-country buses, beatniks or baseball in the slightest. Oh well.

    9 I wish someone in the Dodgers’ bullpen would “kill beach balls with a rake”. Fantastic.

  13. 13.  11 I wrote 12 when 9 was the last comment. Now, your comment and mine make for a strange juxtaposition, you current situation and my brief description of a stable relationship. In contrast to your meteor metaphor, I suppose I am more like a planet, plodding through its predictable orbit along its predetermined path.

    Somehow, it should not be surprising that my late mother-in-law liked me to the point of my wife’s (feigned, I think) annoyance that mom-in-law would side with me over her.

    Catfish326, I hope that you find whatever it is that you need to help you through.

  14. 14.  9 Bob Stanley is quite okay in my book, as is any player who ignores the potential boos from beach-ball-“fans” to eliminate the horrendous distraction.

    11 I feel bad for you, and I can’t help but recommend you shift the ultimatum from “your mom or me” to “three options: me, counseling, o or your mom”. Ultimata are lose-lose propositions. Okay, pop-psychology mode turned off now….

  15. 15.  I have nothing to lose now. I was going to move out, because it’s really done. I knew what her choice would be when I asked the question.

  16. 16.  Man, that sounds like a brutal situation, Catfish. Hang in there.

  17. 17.  1987 was an awful summer for me too. Just graduated from college, zero plans, zero qualifications, zero contacts. All I knew was I didn’t want to go back home, so I cadged rent money from my parents and spent the summer doing odd jobs (RA, movie theatre attendant …) and just sinking into nothingness the rest of the time.

    Somehow by the mid ’80s the idea of being a young person out on your own with no job or attachments had lost the romantic cachet it had in the ’60s and kept throughout most of the ’70s. In the ’80s, you were either a trainee investment banker or you were shit. (Of course, this was before the 90s, when all you needed was keyboard skills and a snarky attitude to get showered with job offers and stock options. Which would prove worthless in the ’00s, but no one knew that at the time.)

    And that summer my team, the Phillies, sucked – the brief hopes that the seventies dynasty still lived were cruelly, utterly quashed. Don Carman was Steve Carlton, only without the consistency. Von Hayes was Mike Schmidt, only without the ability to hit in the clutch. Juan Samuel was Larry Bowa, only without the warm, lovable personality. Everything was debased, the certainties of the past were gone, unrecoverable, the future looked like an unpromising abyss you could climb up in, but never out of.

    I wound up making one, epochal, life-changing decision: to apply to grad school so I could postpone working for a living just a few years longer.

    Great blog, Josh – been reading it for a while (found it while Googling Bake McBride) – you speak to our generation – keep it up!

    And Catfish, we’re all pulling for you. Step back and think about what you want, and what you need, and what you deserve. Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do …

  18. 18.  Catfish-Godspeed, mon frere.

    Another great episode about the SteamAH. I don’t think I could say it any better than that-nothing good ever happens to Bob Stanley.

    IIRC, Stanley started on Opening Day in 1987, due to a Clemens holdout and other chaos, and the first batter of the tear tripled.

    I should have just shut the TV off right then.

  19. 19.  18 : Excellent memory:


  20. 20.  I love box scores.

    Another interesting item in this box score from April 6, 1987 is just seeing Bill Buckner’s name in the Boston line up, knowing that it was his first game after his memorable performance in the 1986 World Series…

    I have often wondered if there is another sport in this world like baseball where, if one has enough imagination, it’s possible to relive the played game with just names and numbers on a page. I imagine that possibly a game like Cricket could be reduced to some kind of a box score and a short “inning by inning” description of the events (of course the world ‘inning’ has it’s origins in Cricket) but I have to admit that I don’t have enough time, energy and motivation to develop an intelligent understanding of the game. Several attempts by enthusiastic Cricket fans to explain the intricate details of their preferred sport to me have never bore fruit in the same way that I have never been able to successfully explain the inner workings of Baseball to someone who hasn’t grown up with the game.

    As I have lived in France for the last 22 years, I continually amaze myself at how I have kept up my enthusiasm for Baseball with very little direct contact with the game over the last 2 decades. For years, my only relationship with Baseball was studying the line scores on the next to last page of the International Herald Tribune that I bought several times a week to try and keep up with what was happening each summer. And at least once a month, I would take the subway into the center of Paris to buy the Wednesday international edition of USA Today that always had a full page of box scores (instead of the cryptic line scores in the IHT) and each Wednesday – a full list of NL statistics (being a Los Angeles native, I’ve always been more interested in the league where the pitcher bats…). And when I should have been working, I would spend hours going over the box scores and the stats (of course no OBPs, VORP or ERA+, just meat and potatoes stats like HR, RBI avg ERA W-L etc). If it was the month of June, from my apartment in the Paris suburbs, I would use my “research” to determine who should be selected to go to the All Star game or the starting rotations of each team. If it was August or September, I would try and figure out who was in the running for MVP and the Cy Young as well as trying to understand why a certain team was going to win (or lose) 100 games.

    In October 1986, I remember reading IHT articles about Bob Stanley and Bill Buckner (during the World Series there was always a little bit more than the regular season line scores) in my VW bus (which was my official residence on the streets of Paris until December of that year). From time to time if I was patient enough, I could pick up static filled broadcasts of the World Series on American Armed Forces Radio in Germany on my radio-cassette, but this was never a given, as reception depended upon the cloud cover. Unfortunately, AAFR went off the air 2 or 3 years later and so did any direct contact, however ephemeral, with the world of Baseball.

    Then, as the internet developed, in the late 1990s it became possible to watch Baseball on the internet and read infinite amounts of detail about the game on line. In any part of the world, if one isn’t careful, it’s now possible to read about and listen to Baseball 24 hours a day. It’s sure a long ways away from USA Today box scores once a month! In fact the International Herald Tribune must have realized that us expatriate baseball junkies have stopped using their paper as a source for Baseball news: this June, they stopped publishing the line scores for each game and now only print the standings.

    By the way, has anyone ever looked at a representation of a soccer match in a newspaper? It’s virtually impossible to have any idea about what happened by looking at a statistical or even a written account of the game without having watched the game.

    And thanks so much Josh for Cardboard Gods: my favorite site on Baseball Toaster. And thanks for the feature on Larry Biitner. . For me the “nagging question” about Larry Biitner was always where did he get that extra “i” !¡!?¿? And when I went to Holland and I saw all their double vowels everywhere, I immediately intuitively figured out that Larry Biitner must be Dutch. And I wasn’t under the influence of any legal Dutch substances while entertaining that thought. Now Bert Blyleven can have some company in the Dutch Hall of Fame.

    Also, it’s an immense pleasure to read such great Baseball writing knowing that the writer’s world view is much closer to mine than that of George Will.

  21. 21.  1987 was a year of youthful squandering. I returned to Portland for the summer after idling around at the public university in Eugene. As Basilisc correctly recalled, I was shit, since I was not an trainee investment banker. I was just as without anchor in Portland as I would have been in Eugene, just not courageous to try something different, not yet. A roommate from school took pity on me and got me in at a warehouse, picking orders for hardware stores and paint supply outlets. The hours were 500a to whenever the work dried up for that day, usually 400p but often later. Barely enough time to grab a Blizzard at DQ, turn on TBS and watch the Murph swing at anything close to the plate, then doze off in fearful anticipation of another day working along side men who hated me for being in college. By the end of the summer, I was ready to take a rake to their beach balls.

    Jobs and other life parts got shittier. It would be another two years before I would have sex for the first time, which introduced a whole new set of troubles. I lived on pretzels and peanut butter for more winters than I cared to, staffing the counter of Portland’s second-largest liquor store (unlike Josh, I’m not even a drinker, but ask me about scratch-off lottery tickets sometime) and armed with my solid gold bachelor’s degree.

    And then, it got better. Catfish and others, I hear you. Know that the human condition can just as randomly improve as decline — well, provided you’re a college-ed-ja-ma-cated honky male like myself. For most other folks, it’s a steady ride through purgatory. So we got that going for us, which is nice.

  22. 22.  Stanley gets a bad wrap; it seems like all anyone remembers is his poor postseason in 1986, when he was past his prime, and then the subsequent dumb decision to try to make him a starter the next year. They forget the decade of good, reliable bullpen work, usually of the multi-inning variety, including 1982, when he set an AL record for innings pitched in relief and came within one Tony Armas grand slam of being the only reliever ever to lead the league in ERA. Bob Stanley remains the best reliever in Red Sox history in terms of career value, at least until Papelbon passes him three years from now.

  23. 23.  Wow, 1987 seems to have been a major wandering time for lots of folks. That was when I decided to take a year off of college. I spent the summer working two jobs; one through at Blue Cross (through a temp agency) and the other as a Fenway Park vendor, where I sadly watched the demise of the 86 AL champs, as Stanley, Buckner, Rice, Dave Henderson, and Schiraldi all went down in flames. But by September things began to look up as young players like Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell began to arrive with the promise of future division titles, and I’d saved up enough money for the ultimate experience of every aimless kid in his early 20s — the backpacking trip through Europe (and no, I didn’t get laid there either).

    I graduated in 1990, so I was too late for the 80s investment banker boom and too early for the dot.com boom of the mid-90s. Instead, my proudest accomplishment for the first two years after graduation was that, unlike many of my cohorts, I managed to avoid moving back in with my parents.

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