Ben Oglivie

September 10, 2007

Here are some 1975 Ben Oglivies enacting the Cardboard God version of the myth of Sisyphus, that Greek guy who was condemned to roll a rock up a hill again and again forever. For Albert Camus, the repetitive plight of Sisyphus epitomized the fundamental futility and absurdity of human existence, and he used it to wonder whether we should we all just off ourselves and get it over with. I read Camus’s essay on this subject, and I recall that he decided against suicide, but I was never really clear on how he came to that decision, and by now I have even forgotten any half-notions I might have gleaned. I do remember the essay coming up one late night several years ago in the International Bar as I complained to a woman about my life.

“You should read ‘The Myth of Sisyphus,'” she said.

“I already read it,” I said. “It didn’t help. Nothing helps.” Incredibly, I was still clinging to the same hope I always clung to on the rare occasions when I found myself in a conversation with a woman who had somehow wandered into the International, that dim, narrow corridor of cigarette smoke and male self-pity where I preferred to spend my leisure time. I was hoping she would have sex with me, save me, shield me from woe, etc., etc.

“You should read it again,” she said. “I think you’re ready for it now.”

She fixed me with a cheerful, distancing smile, then turned and started talking to someone else. Alone with my drink, I sat there resenting being told I was “ready” for something. It seemed belittling. I was a bitter guy, of course. Bitter guys often feel belittled. Bitter guys have spiraling phantom conversations that pick up where the real conversations left off.

“What I mean is, I’m up here and you’re down there,” the woman said to me in the phantom conversation in my head. “But maybe, just maybe, you’re ready to start approaching my level of enlightenment.”

“I don’t need you,” I imagined replying. “I don’t need anyone.”

Life is as tedious as a story told over and over. Believe it or not, this sentiment was expressed on a slip of paper inside a fortune cookie cracked open by my brother one evening back in the early 1990s, somewhere around the time the woman in the bar told me I was ready for Camus. My brother tacked the message to an ever more crowded bulletin board in our apartment, taking its place with other relics such as a loving transcription of Derrick Coleman’s words to half-live by, “Whoop de damn do”; an article about the escape of a giant rat from a Coney Island sideshow; napkin drawings by Ramblin’ Pete Millerman of the impish, heavy-browed hockey marauder Tie Domi and one of his predecessors in on-ice intimidation, the scarred, hirsute, consonant-riddled Harold Snepsts; a photo of the troublingly glaze-eyed countenance of Darryl Strawberry, who had just joined the Dodgers and was pronouncing that he was Born Again and that his days of trouble and suffering were behind him (the quote below the photo from former Mets teammate David Cone related something along the lines of “It’s like the lights are on but nobody’s home”); and another fortune cookie fortune that said “Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life” (note the loophole created by the use of the word “tomorrow”: what seems like a call to action is actually permission to put any self-improvement aside today; ours was a monotonous life resistant to change, beaten to the fringes, parentheses-glutted so that [in the parentheses, the obscure irrational digressions from the monotony, we found our wonder: a Giant Rat on the loose, Tie Domi unleashed, Albert Camus reincarnated as a low-paid scribe for a fortune cookie concern, life itself unstrung, revealed, whoop de damn do, nothing matters] nothing matters): nothing matters.

So anyway, here are some doubles. By September every year the packs would be full of doubles. You’d be in school again, time beaten down, corralled, summertime’s meandering borderless sprawl reduced to repeating calendar rectangles. On the weekends you’d go to the store to buy a couple more packs, searching for summer, and the message was the same: repeating rectangles. Ben Oglivie. Ben Oglivie. Ben Oglivie. Ben Oglivie.

The Myth of Ben Oglivie shows me a man forever trapped in a pose, waiting for a pitch that will never arrive. There is a figure in the distance, anonymous, too far away to be of any assistance. We’re on our own inside our repeating rectangle. It’s Monday and tomorrow will be Tuesday but the situation won’t change. If the quartet of Ben Oglivies above is any guide, on some days the sky will appear a little lighter, other days a little darker, and once in a while everything might seem a little tilted, slightly out of whack, part of the border around the day obliterated, as if there might be some escape.


  1. 1.  The two fortune cookies described in this piece may be the two least suitable I’ve ever seen for the infamous “in bed” application at the end of all fortunes.

    Life is as tedious as a story told over and over… in bed.
    Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life… in bed.

    Though they may not be as insuitable as one that my friend once got: “The secret to long and happy life: Eat more Chinese food!” The collision between capitalism and Confuscianism is horrific…

  2. 2.  Strawberry’s famous quote upon the joining the Dodgers was “Now, you’ll see the real Darryl Strawberry.” He knew how to hurt a guy. Even his teammates marveled at the way he could take clubhouse ribbing to new levels of brutality. Here it was like he was giving the finger to every Met fan personally.

  3. 3.  1 : Ha!

    There definitely seems to be a decline in the quality of fortune cookie fortunes, no? Every time I get one now I just think, gad, the guys at the fortune cookie factory didn’t even try.

    2 : He was not a stable guy, clearly. I remember his first visit to Shea as a Dodger: the sound that greeted him on his first at-bat and later in the game when he went deep was so complicated, a real high-volume tangle of love and hate.

    By the way, I meant to get some Ben Oglivie thoughts in this post but as usual the customary self-obsession won out. He was said to be one of the most intelligent guys in the league and I believe he was the first non-American born player to grab a single-season home run title. One of Dan Quisenberry’s poems was about him, “Ode to Ben Oglivie.” I remember him most as a big part of that really scary late ’70s/early ’80s Brewers offense.

  4. 4.  Doubles were great if they were the right player, because that meant outstanding trading material. But the doubles never ended up being the right player. It was always Dick Schofield or Dale Berra or somebody like that. For whatever reason, it seemed like the card companies manufactured 10 times more Dick Schofields and Dale Berras than Mike Schmidts and Rickey Hendersons.

  5. 5.  3 : I seem to recall Oglivie’s intelligence being mentioned in Daniel Okrent’s Nine Innings [one of my favorite baseball books of my personal baseball Golden Age (1975-1986)]

    Even though those cards were mass-produced, all four of them show their own individuality. The upper right one has a couple of blemishes; one between the T and I and another one midway down the card near the right edge. Moving clockwise, it’s next door neighbor is faded; possibly from more exposure to light which has revealed the true essence of the card. The next one has shows some fading, but it’s not bleached. And the last one is all off akilter; like it was from the last portion of the sheet going into the cutting machine.

    Those existentialists were the life of the party, eh? One thing that keeps me going is curiosity, wanting to know how things end. Cardboard Gods is one of those things that I follow like 1,001 Arabian Nights, Thanks, Scheherazade.

  6. 6.  Wow, I totally overlooked the last paragraph. Sorry.

  7. 7.  josh, i sometimes feel the urge to just give you a hug and tell you life doesn’t always suck…like that one time you got that blowjob from that chick that you didn’t even know existed 10 minutes before said blowjob happened? that never happened to you? me neither.

    and a totally non-philosophical question for you real quick: what is with the fake signatures on all the old cards? any reason for those? my baseball card days started well after yours. (i think yours even ended before i was born [not to rub it in at all (but just to abuse the parenthesis)]). I never understood the fake signature though. I remember going through a paper bag in my friends attic that contained his dad’s entire collection. The first card I found was purely fascinating because of this signature. Imagine my surprise when I found that half the cards in the bag were signed. People I didn’t even know his dad had met as a child and gotten their autograph. That was amazing to me. What i missed in my awe was the somehow pristine Nolan Ryan rookie card tossed in the middle of the pile. (there were actually two, one was bent from years of being on the bottom, but the other he sold for what seemed like thousands at the time but was probably only a hundred bucks or so.)

  8. 8.  4 : It certainly seems plausible to me that Topps would flood the market with Bob Apodacas and Biff Pocorobas to keep their customers coming back to try for the much more elusive Seavers and Palmers.

    5 : I really have to read that Okrent book.

    7 : Thanks very much for the good thoughts, paulz. Don’t worry, I’m also a devoted adherent of the “life doesn’t always suck” philosophy. (Sometimes things come out in my writing a little darker than I intended them to, I think.)

  9. 9.  Harold Snepsts was among the players who chose to take advantage of the grandfather clause included in the then new regulations requiring helmets to be worn by all players. With his ugly mug and rapidly receding hairline he should have been one of the first players to wear a helmet.

  10. 10.  Among my other favorite items on your hallway bulletin board were a creased Virginia tech bumper-sticker featuring a ridiculous cartoon turkey and a large-print “GO HOKIES!” ;
    a home photograph of a rotting pumpkin decomposing on your breakfast table, sagging X’s for eyes and a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam blurry in the foreground (sometime in November? December??);
    and most memorably a yellowing black-and-white photo of Sam Bowie, clipped from the Daily News, upon which some anonymous artiste had drawn crude glasses so that the picture rather shockingly and accurately now bore a stunning resemblance to your brother.

    Intricate plans to photocopy this image thousands of times and line every conceivable surface of you and your brothers’ apartment with it somehow fell by the wayside… as did so many dreams we must have had – however momentarily – along the way…

  11. 11.  This card of legendary Panamanian Brewer right fielder, the “O”, before he was traded to my team, reminds me of the 1974 Cecil Cooper, 1978 Pete Vuckovich, or the 1977 Mike Caldwell. Cards that were hard to get ahold of in my youth as a Brewer Fanatic, yet I was constantly in search of.

    If I were fortunate enough to acquire one of the sacred heroes of Blue and Yellow with pinstripes, the 82 crew, while they were flying the colors of another team in their past, well, for me, it was tantamount to the holy grail.

  12. I loved getting Oglivie cards. Without looking back to confirm his usual card poses (although now I must) I remember a guy always taking his posed stance more seriously than most players, always poised to hit a rope into right-center. He was a guy, like Juan Beniquez, who might get an indefensible “push” in my Strat-o-matic games.

  13. I frequently laugh aloud at your posts. The paragraphs about The Myth of Ben Oglivie are simply hilarious, one of your best posts. Along with Jim Dwyer. And Jim Wohlford.

    My first cards were 1961. Kept getting Jack Kralicks and Fritz Brickells and Joe Pignatanos over and over. By 1963 I had at least moved up to having a fistful of Matty Alous and Chuck Hillers!!

  14. I have wanted to write to you for years but i am not a FaceBook user; now I am. Growing up and still living in Milwaukee, I often google old Brewers. When i googled Ben Oglivie years ago, I came to your story about him and was hooked on your postings. Baseball cards were a very important part of my childhood in the 70s. They were something I could afford to buy and because I spent much time alone, I would mull over the cards as you did. My wife and kids bought me Cardboard Gods and I still reread the Gorman Thomas story a few times a year because it is so accurate and so funny – – and so heartbreaking because you are right about the end of an era for them at that time. I have taken to writing down my memories of cards (including football and basketball) and the feelings they evoke within me when I think about them now. Odell Jones, Marty Perez, John Bocabella, Terry Humphrey, Ollie Brown . . all no-names from the 70s which immediately bring me back to a particular time and place when i see those cards today. And the memory is usually filled with sunshine on a friends porch or sitting in the grass, hoping that the losing Brewers of 1970-1977 would turn things around. Thank you Ben Oglivie for being part of the 1978-1982 Brewers and thank you Josh for the memories!

  15. Thanks for writing! That Brewers era was a pinnacle in baseball history.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: