Leo Cardenas

November 26, 2007


After not having written for a few days, I tried to start the day by writing in my notebook. The pen seemed like a charred log in my hand. I forgot how to write. I pushed the charred log around a while, then stunned myself with lunch, then pounded some instant coffee, then paced around some, then finally left the apartment. A couple days earlier I’d left my house keys in a motel 600 miles away, so I needed to find a place that would copy my wife’s set.

It was a cold gray day today and I walked down Chicago Avenue, which seemed even dingier than usual, grimy yellow signs hanging over dead and dying businesses. I walked for a mile or so and finally found a hardware store on Ashland but stood for several minutes by the counter while a homely pale woman in glasses behind the counter ignored me. When she finally finished fiddling with a pricing gun she looked past me to a guy who had just come in and waved him over to continue a discussion that had apparently begun earlier. I just stood there with my stupid keys, wondering if I’d become invisible. Eventually a homely pale man in glasses appeared and made me copies of my keys, our dealings concluding with no exchange of niceties.

“Pay at the register,” he muttered, not looking up. 

By the time I got back to my apartment building, I had spent over an hour on the errand. The key to the front door of the building didn’t work. I cursed and started thinking about how I could have saved myself all this trouble if I’d not left my stupid keys next to the television in the motel 600 miles away. Why didn’t I put them in my bag? Why didn’t I just keep them in my pocket? Why didn’t I case the room like everybody knows to do before walking out the last time? I stalked down the street getting angrier and angrier, passing ancient Ukrainian women trudging along with their grocery bags.

I started punching myself in the head. I did it a couple times. The first time was sort of a heel to the forehead blow, and then the next was a clenched fist to the side of my head. The heel shot sort of made me see stars. Both punches together made me feel a little dizzy.

I’ve promised my wife I’d stop doing this, hitting myself in the head, but every once in a while when I make a stupid mistake that seems to unlock the door that keeps the infinite snarl of stupid, confusing modern living at bay I start falling into a downspiral of frustration and self-laceration that ends with the utter stupidity of me beating myself about the head. The only thing to be said for this personal tic is that once I do it a couple times I generally stop, as happened today. Woozy, I kept walking past the kerchief-headed Ukrainian octagenarians, wondering if I was going to fall over. I managed to stay on my feet. I found a dollar store run by a warm, jovial Hispanic dude who made me feel like an honored customer even though he only made $1.09 off me. On top of that, his key ended up working, allowing me back into my apartment, where I promptly proceeded to waste the rest of the day. 

Leo Cardenas, here you stand at the twilight of your career, when you should know better, displaying a batting stance like that of a rank beginner, a toddler with a bat, body facing the pitcher full-on. Leo Cardenas, I thought life was going to be different. Leo Cardenas, I haven’t stood like you are standing, the beginner’s stance, in over three decades, and yet I still don’t know shit. I thought I’d fail at first but learn and learn, perfect my stance, start hitting ropes all over the yard. It hasn’t happened that way, and sometimes I wonder if those few times when I really connected are all behind me, the rest of my days echoes of today, when I walked down Iowa Street in the cold gray afternoon punching my head.


  1. 1.  Damn fine stuff, Josh.

    This past summer my wife locked my keys in the trunk of my VW – of course, the only key to the car was on that chain and my model doesn’t include a “popper” button. After spending 3 days fruitlessly trying to break in, and cussing under my breath as she drove me to work each day, I finally forked over $90 to the locksmith, who opened it in 5 minutes. I want to hit myself in the head even now for not having a spare before that incident.

  2. 2.  Sometimes I get caught up in my seemingly hectic life and skip reading your site for a couple of weeks, as your stuff is not usually of a topical nature. Then I finally sit down at Cardboard Gods and read something like this and realize that there were so many things I’ve spent my time doing that don’t connect or move me like what you offer up. Thanks Josh. I’ll try not to be such a stranger.

  3. 3.  About once a year, I leave my keys in my pad. I hae a spare set in the car. About half the time, it’s unlocked. The other times, I have to call the garage and have them unlock my car. It’s cheaper than a call to the maintenance guy would be.

  4. 4.  The last time I paid for copied keys, I wondered why anyone actually pays for them. The key guy didn’t go up to the register and make sure I paid for them. I’m not sure the security cameras would have noticed if I put them into my jacket pocket. I also bought a small garbage can and put the keys in the bottom of it- and the girl at the register almost missed them. But still, like a general manager at the mercy of Scott Boras, I paid.

  5. 5.  Josh, that last paragraph… man, that was good.

    I believe I will start skywriting over your domicile the following: “You must write today. Do it now. This is God talking.”

    Seriously, great stuff.

  6. 6.  Thanks for the praise and for the key-stories, guys.

    I’ve thought about it some more and, well, I really do intend not to hit myself in the head again. It’s a pretty dumb thing to do. The owner of a bookstore in NYC where I worked for a couple years periodically smashed his head with a small metal box when he got mad. I forget what the box was for, but it had dent marks from his head. It was common knowledge that he was a lunatic, and Exhibit A in all discussions of his lunacy was the dented metal box. (Exhibit B was the bookstore in general.)

    As for Leo Cardenas, who I slight, as usual, in favor of describing my largely pointless day: he was a pretty damn good major league player. He won a gold glove at shortstop, went to 5 all-star games, and several times had double figures in homers, which was almost unheard of in his day for shortstops. By the time of the picture shown above, he’d lost his power stroke. Maybe he really did start devolving as a hitter, waddling up to the plate toddler-style, a blank smile on his face.

  7. 7.  I don’t know. This god, more than some, seems to be thinking, “Shut-up and take the Picture!” That in itself indicates a knowledge of where he’s at in the great scheme of batting stances.

    Go easy on the noggin. I want more Cardboard Gods. I NEED more Cardboard Gods. I’d Love you… oh wait, that’s my life not yours.

  8. 8.  I won’t bore you with tales of the numerous times I have lost my keys over the years, but Joshua please try to be careful next time you punch yourself in the head.

    As Big Pussy Bonpensiero said, “Not in the face…Keep my eyes…”

    As a card-collecting kid, Leo (sometimes inexplicably known as “Chico”) Cardenas was one of the first professional athletes I discovered who had the same birthday as me.

    A tattered Jerry Adair card from when he was with the Royals was probably the first, but he had retired by the time I was really into baseball, and the ancient Cardenas became one of my favorites, solely by dint of the card you see pictured above. I really have no memory of seeing him play, or actually any Texas Ranger of the era for that matter. I watched the Mets and the playoffs at that age, period.

    But his card, his visage… always had a special place in my universe, and I remember frequently picking him when my friends and I would “choose teams” of players.

    How can you not root for a player with your birthday?

    Later unlikely entrants into this personal Hall of Glory would include annoying Phillies infielder Chase Utley, heroic deaf/mute journeyman Curtis Pride, and haunted, accident-prone, champion Mets hurler Bob Ojeda.

    …As well as violent, aboriginal Flyers enforcer Craig “The Chief/The Dyke” Berube, Habs/Sharks speedster Vincent Damphousse, and lithe, felonious Broncos safety Tyrone Braxton.

  9. 9.  As luck would have it, I’ve just received an email from a Cardboard God, as I’ve been transfered into a group in which he works at my largish company. Well, his cardboard is more confined to the years just as Josh started to stop collecting (1981-1983), but it is, to me, pretty cool to have direct contact with someone who has baseball cards to his credit..

    I prefer not to say exactly who (to protect his privacy), but he’d probably fit on this site.

  10. 10.  I never worked for a company that employed a former MLer. One of my former companies had some exNFLers. Rather than go through the whole list, I will mention that Sammy Baugh and Danny Ainge share my birthday.

  11. 11.  10 I, too, have worked with NFL players (three of ’em), but no MLB players, either. Weird how that works.

  12. 12.  Josh, I know what it’s like. I used to be brutal to myself over stupid mistakes – losing things, overpaying for things, saying dumb things. No physical self-damage, except maybe powerful teeth-grinding, but a lot of mental self-loathing and self-excoriation. As you apparently realized (and it took me some therapy to realize) it’s nothing to do with the actual mistake, and everything to do with other issues and other frustrations. And the only way to get past that – to the point where you say “Man, I shouldn’t have left my keys in that motel room!” and forget about it – is to realize that, fundamentally, everything that matters in your life is pretty much OK. Which, trust me, you’ll get to sooner or later. You’re a talented writer with a unique voice and interesting things to say. Just hang in there.

  13. 13.  8 : Thanks for that eloquent riff, Pete.

    Baseball reference has a way to search for baseball players born on one’s birthday:


    I checked mine and saw the one I knew about (Bob Davis), plus many other similarly forgettable types.

  14. 14.  12 : Thanks for the wise words, Basilisc. I think it was Jon Hendricks, the jazz singer, who said “It wouldn’t be jazz without the mistakes.” And the zen master Dogen defined zen (and life) as “one continuous mistake.”

    It’s hard to think of stupid screwups both large and small in this light while in the midst of them, though. But I guess the point is to keep trying to play that music.

  15. 15.  10 ,11 I’m going to have to not be a fan-boy when I eventually meet him, even knowing that he’s not uber-famous.

    13 Cool! I just found out that Andre Ethier shares my birthday. Previously, it seemed like it was just Lee Lacy, but that site reminds me that Ken Griffey (senior) does too!

  16. 16.  i once worked with Terry Humphries, erstwhile former catcher for the Angels. Nice guy, a sporting goods sales rep, was tall and lean and sported one of those baseball card moustaches you see on cards from the 70’s and 80’s. i’m in the shoe business and used to get shoes made for a lot of ballplayers. Eddie Murray was very quiet and an imposing presence. Dave Winfield was huge, fairly nice but somewhat arrogant. Sat on a spring training locker room bench one afternoon and listened to Otis Nixon bitch for 30 minutes how his brother doesn’t get enough playing time or free shoes..LOL rgds, will

  17. 17.  _13: wow, Bob Davis…

    As for Berube, I fondly remember when he played for Washington and was paired with Dale (Mork from Ork) Hunter and Craig (Screaming Buffalo) Simon to form the most violent, aboriginal line in professional hockey.

  18. That is a great Baseball Reference link above. I found out I share a birthday with Ken Griffey, Bob Watson and the immortal Pete Varney. And then reading the other comments, I see I share a birthday with “Brent is a dodger fan” as well! My six year old daughter shares a birthday with Victor Martinez. Hope I can use that to spur her interest in baseball this year!

  19. caminante0: Pete Varney once drove two hours to watch me play in high school when he was a college coach and he was recruiting me.

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