Stan Bahnsen

November 16, 2007

I know now that the word avuncular means with uncle-like affection, but for some time I based my understanding of the word solely on the sound of it, which shared both the soft and fevery V sound of viral and the general quarantine-ward feel of tubercular, e.g., “I’d stay clear of that guy. The chronic, rasping cough, the clammy skin, the bloodshot eyes. He’s gotta be avuncular.” The initial misconception never entirely disappeared, and to this day my perception of avuncular contains traces of my original misunderstanding. I realized this when avuncular was the first word that came to my mind when I looked at this 1978 baseball card depicting a friendly, uncle-like, faintly unseemly, and perhaps slightly contagious Stan Bahnsen. 

Stan Bahnsen had a 133 and 135 won-loss record at the time of this strange photo, which seems to me, based on the slope of his shoulders and the unusually relaxed, familiar expression on his face, to have been taken by Stan Bahnsen, his unseen arms outstretched and pointing a camera back at himself. I can’t explain the blurry and bizarrely uneven background in the picture, but perhaps it is a hurried doctoring job by Topps, commissioned at the very last minute to cover up the original backdrop of the picture, which I can only infer from the leering undercurrent in Stan Bahnsen’s grin to be lowlit, illicit, boozy, malarial, the kind of faroff place where an aging avuncular hurler in a marshmallow-pale Expos cap might go to enjoy a stage show involving the ejection of ping pong balls from groin-related orifices.


  1. 1.  Rich Freakin’ McKinney.

  2. 2.  “Hey ladies, we’ve got (burp) some Foghat and a couple of doobs back at my crib.”

  3. 3.  “I’m Ted Brogan. Played minor league ball in the Eighties. I got the rollin’ papers if you got the weed.”

    Man, I wish I could find that SNL skit online.

  4. 4.  3 The one I wish I could find somewhere is the Negro League sketch, with Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest as the Rabbit and the King. Smelt Night.

  5. 5.  Is he wearing a denim shirt?

  6. 6.  I hope my nieces and nephew never view me the way you are viewing poor old Stan here… 😉

  7. 7.  Reminds me of the old Ivar Theater in Hollywood, where I once saw a talented young lady blow smoke rings out of not her mouth. I think Stan was the emcee that night.

  8. 8.  i’ve seen one of those stage shows…and it’s not a pretty sight! LOL Could that have been ole Stan in the corner of that sleazy bar in Patpong, a pair of cocoa colored legs and small ass peeking out from under the table? rgds, will

  9. 9.  This card brings back a fashion trend you never see any more:
    Players wearing windbreakers under their jerseys.
    That look is on SO many cards of my childhood (especially relief pitchers, for some reason.)
    But somewhere along the line it went bye-bye, along with high-cut stirrup socks.
    The game is the lesser for that.

  10. 10.  Workhorse. 18-21, 14CG in 1973 with CHW. Peavy didn’t have any this year.

  11. 11.  5 : That is a great question. He can’t possibly be wearing a denim shirt (over his windbreaker, no less–9 ), and yet…

    6 : I’m sure my thoughts on Stan Bahnsen arise in part from my relatively new role as a (childless, aging, weird) uncle.

    10 : Yeah, with Bahnsen and Wilbur Wood in their rotation during the early ’70s, the White Sox hardly needed anybody else. Bahnsen was also A.L. Rookie of the Year during the year of the pitcher, 1968. He won 21 games (and lost 16) in 1972, but then as mentioned by The Mick he promptly lost 21 the next season. The card pictured here signals the approximate moment when Bahnsen shifted from rubber-armed starter to rubber-armed reliever. He performed decently in that role for a few years and with the ascendent Expos finally experienced what it was like to be on a good team (his brief time on the 1975 A’s notwithstanding). Interestingly, the otherwise young Expos employed a wide variety of avunculars in their bullpen during the Bahnsen era, including Woodie Fryman, Fred Norman, Dale Murray, Bill Lee, and Rudy May.

  12. 12.  Bahnsen played while I followed baseball, but I have no recollection of him. I recognize the name, but I have no baseball memory of him. That’s okay, because he probably doesn’t remember me. I do wonder if he was one of the Expos who used to hang out at the Launching Pad; a little hidey hole somewhere in the bowels of Olympic Stadium where (according to Dick Williams) players used to toke up during games. That might explain the nickname Bahnsen Burner. But I hope that I didn’t just Babe Dahlgren him.

  13. 13.  I love the line about misremembering a definition-we’ve all had the feeling of thinking you know a word, then looking it up and seeing either that you weren’t even close, or that you thought it meant the exact opposite of what it actually means.

    Bahnsen’s name always slightly troubled me. Something about it just sounded wrong, for some reason.

  14. 14.  He looks like an aging barfly in this picture. If you had told me that this photo was taken on Old Timer’s day ten years later, I would have believed it.

  15. 15.  He reminds me of “your wicked Uncle Ernie” from The Who’s song “fiddle about”…

  16. 16.  Maybe Joe Namath was channeling the vibes from this picture when he hit on Suzy Kolber during a sideline interview during a Jets game (I think it was a ESPN Sunday night game) a few years back. My first thought when I saw this was the at least passing resemblance of Bahnsen to Joe Willie.

  17. 17.  You know…I spent most of my youth wondering what the hell e-l-b meant on the Expos’ caps. It wasn’t until my teen years that I realized that it was a multi-colored “M”. What a letdown.

  18. It is actually eJb

    Jarry Park

    Shaped into an M

    I read that somewhere… now I will admit that it took me five years to figure out the Milwaukee Brewer Ball and Glove logo…and that the moment it clicked was similar to the ending of the Usual Suspects for me.

  19. You did a nice job putting this together. This is my relative and i appreciate that your information was right. What i dont appreciate is that some of these people are commenting very rudely towards him. I dont see any of you people in the MLB so dont talk about him like that. And the reason his nickname was Bahnsen Burner was because on an average pitch he could pitch in the mid 90’s which was a huge feat in the 60’s-70’s and even today.

  20. Hi bahnsenj14,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate hearing from someone in the Bahnsen family. I think most of us who like talking over 1970s baseball on this site understand that the guys we’re talking about were phenomenal athletes and successful people far beyond our own successes, and more than that we also have genuine love for those players, who were the heroes of our youth. I think when the discussion turns into humorous and sarcastic riffing on cards that we found funny as kids, we’re more trying to tap into the things that made us laugh as a kid than trying to disparage the players in the cards. In other words, speaking for myself anyway: no disrespect intended.

  21. I submit that the Stan Bahnsen-Rich McKinney trade prevented the 1972 Yankees from winning the American League East that year, as their starting pitching faded badly in the middle of September and the urgency of having someone like Bahnsen was painfully evident. For anyone who may cast aspersions on Bahnsen, first try looking closely at his pitching lines for his rookie year and the couple of years that followed. The man was a truly brilliant pitcher for some less-than brilliant Yankee teams and should never have been traded.

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