Gene Pentz

March 5, 2008
How to Write about Baseball Cards

Step One: Select a card. This step may be done intentionally or at random. If you have sorted your cards into rubber-band-bound teams, this may somewhat inhibit your attempt to be random, especially if you have sorted each team by year and also have a general sense of which teams are thick bundles and which are thin. Still, it may be possible to select a card that you did not anticipate selecting, such as the Gene Pentz card shown at left. How could you ever have anticipated selecting Gene Pentz?

Step Two: Try and fail to produce brilliant witticisms at the expense of the fellow pictured on the card. This was done time and again by the authors of The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book, the equivalent of the Collected Works of Shakespeare for the baseball card writing genre. Those gentlemen could come up with something hilarious to say about Gene Pentz. You are not them. Almost all your sentences veer toward pretension, and by you I mean me, not you, so feel free to disregard this step, or more specifically to disregard the “and fail” part.

Step Three: Google Gene Pentz. Find out things like that he threw a lot of wild pitches and walked a lot of guys and once even threw a strike while attempting to intentionally walk a guy.

Step Four: Carry around the card in your wallet, go to work, come home, go to work, come home, etc., go out to a nearby bar on Friday, have a few beers, order a cheeseburger, while waiting for a cheeseburger start to go on a rant about this editor guy who showed some interest in a book idea but then stopped returning your politely seldom and unobtrusive email inquiries, build the rant into an unhinged self-pitying screed about the bloodsucking nature of every single editor and agent in the universe and beyond that, fuck it, everyone in the universe, the whole globe one giant vicious knife fight and all you’ve got is a plastic spork, then when the food comes become enraged about how slow the ketchup comes out of the glass bottle and about glass ketchup bottles in general—“the plastic squeeze bottle solved this fucking problem!”—until you are so worked up you feel you are moments away from smashing the ketchup bottle against the wall, then willfully ignore the attempts by your wife to calm you down, instead picking a fight with her, you complete asshole, then eat your stupid cheeseburger and fries in frosty post-fight silence.

Step Five: Consider attempting a whole “He looks like Thurman Munson” thing. Abandon it.

Step Six: Consider attempting a whole “He kind of looks like my brother’s JV basketball coach, who my brother saw years after high school, both of them driving delivery trucks, neither in the mood for conversation, nothing more passing between them than a couple grunts of delivery truck guy recognition” thing. Abandon it.

Step Seven: Go to work, come home, go to work, etc.

Step Eight: Go off on a whole pretentious tangent about how great it is to discover the card of a player that, even though these are your cards, you did not know existed. How wide is the world if it includes Gene Pentz! The fact that not only was there a Gene Pentz, but also that he played major league baseball, seems at such a far edge of the spectrum of the possible as to be impossible, so in a way his grizzled mug staring back at you from somewhere inside the chain link cage they put him in to guard the rest of the team from his complete inability to control the path of his pitches is evidence that the impossible, or near impossible, is possible. That kind of thing. Abandon it.   

Step Nine: Look for some other card to write about. Become discouraged.

Step Ten: Why on earth would you want to write about baseball cards?


  1. 1.  Dude looks like he just walked out of a WInston ad.

  2. 2.  1 : Absolutely. The 1970s back-page-of-Baseball-Digest-cigarette-ad vibe was exactly the vibe exuded by my broter’s JV basketball coach.

    By the way, there are still some comments trickling in on the Reggie Smith post, the underrated question left behind in favor of the quest to recall guys who were released then went on to have good or even great careers.

  3. 3.  Good to see that you’ve calmed down after hitting 40.

  4. 4.  I’ve been meaning to check out that “Baseball Card Flipping, etc. Book” for a while now. Always wondered what, at the very least, it was composed of but Step 2 answers that. I can’t imagine the material is better than this stuff, though. (Step 8 made me laugh out loud at work.)

  5. 5.  As a fellow card blogger, I can identify. You’re probably on to something with the whole “pick a card at random” thing. I’ve been deliberately selecting cards, making sure I don’t end up with 13 straight Cal Ripken posts or 7 straight 1990 Topps, and some nights I just sit around for half an hour trying to figure out who the hell I’m going to write about.

    Still, on the days it clicks, it’s worthwhile. I mean, I turned a Brian Burres card into a story about my track coach trying to leave me behind in a hotel in New York.

  6. 6.  Very mellow Josh…Try hitting the ketchup bottle on the side instead of pounding the bottom.

    That is very funny about pitching a strike while trying to walk a batter. I’m trying to imagine what the play by play on the radio would have sounded like.

  7. 7.  3 : If you’re referring to the ketchup tantrum, it actually occurred hours before I entered my forties, so I’m hopeful that such things are behind me.

    4 : Among the countless treasures in that book is a description of a game they made up as kids called “Charlie Lau” in which they tried to outdo each other by coming up with the names of anonymous journeymen (keep in mind this was long before Charlie Lau’s name became synonymous with “Weird-Swing-Preaching Hitting Guru”) with names that somehow were redolent of obscurity and failure. The dolorous name “Charlie Lau” was the topper, so he was who the game was named after, but “Gene Petz” would have been a pretty decent play.

    6 : Hi Tom! Abby’s cousin gave me that very same advice a few months ago, and it didn’t really speed things along enough, at least not for my impatient self, but I will try again, maybe preceding the effort with a prayer for patience. But really, why can’t there be a mandate that all ketchup bottles be plastic!?! (Getting angry again…)

  8. 8.  5 : That’s a good story…


  9. 9.  7 Re: ketchup.

    Idea 1) Go someplace that doesn’t provide ketchup in glass bottles, but some alternative, like a centralized pump, or that serves it with a blob of ketchup in a little paper cup-like thing.

    Idea 2) Use a knife down the middle of the bottle-neck

    Idea 3) Meditate, then eat your cheeseburger without putting any ketchup on it, imagining the taste of ketchup.

    Idea 4) Order the burger with BBQ sauce and skip the ketchup.

    Idea 5) Write your Congressman.

    Idea 6) Write Mrs. John Kerry.

  10. 10.  9 : Excellent ideas, all, especially the one about taking the issue right to the top of the military-industrial-condiment complex. (I opted for idea number 2 on the night in question, but whenever I do that I feel like a knife-scooping quitter.)

  11. 11.  I prefer the bottled catsup, something about banging away at it waxes nostalgic for me.

  12. 12.  I do love me a tangent.

    I’ve found that holding the bottle upside down by your side then giving it a few purposeful downward shakes (while your index finger covers the cap, just in case) usually does the trick…

  13. 13.  If you’d like to be slightly better armed for the global knife fight:


  14. 14.  My cousin used to put ketchup on her vanilla ice cream. I don’t think I ever got over that. I rarely eat the stuff.

  15. 15.  So what’s the difference between catsup and ketchup? I have tended to always like the taste of “ketchup,” and regarded “catsup,” as the inferior kind bought from the generic brand. My friend even has gone to the length of telling me that “I won’t eat catsup. Fuck that. Give me some ketchup.” I think catsup tastes a bit too sweet and i just don’t trust it.
    The ketchup bottle thing cracked me up because when I eat with my girlfriend anymore, she does the ketchup for me. Tom47 is right, you have to hit the “57” spot where the neck starts. I can’t do it though for the life of me and then I too get frustrated. Next time I am in Chicago, we should have a beer. I was there this last weekend and the weather was beautiful. Nice “breaking the 4th wall” post dude, it was funny.

  16. 16.  I don’t use ketchup in restaurants; other people stick their freaking knives down in there.

  17. 17.  The reason the ketchup won’t come out is that air has to get in to replace the ketchup and the ketchup itself is too thick to come out in a pour much thinner than the neck itself. Holding the bottle at a 45-degree angle and tapping the “57”s firmly with your knuckles does the trick of jostling the ketchup to create an air-gap–in fact, you can usually hear the pitch of the bottle deepen from solid to hollow as you do it, which makes it musical as well as productive–but understand that you’re tapping to let air in, not to force the ketchup out. It’s a finesse move.

    As for the above post, Step Eight doesn’t seem so abandoned, nor so terribly pretentious.

  18. 18.  16 Good point, Dave. I am indeed repulsed when I see that. Also, the ketchup bottles in most restaurants are continually refilled, so that crust around the treads at the top could be older than some of the people reading this post. Still, whatever you’re putting the ketchup on is surely worse for you. All of that said, this is all making me contemplate grabbing a burger and some fries for lunch tomorrow.

  19. 19.  17 : “Step Eight doesn’t seem so abandoned, nor so terribly pretentious”

    You didn’t see the long version.

    16 , 18 : In my defense, the knife I used to gouge out my condiment was clean. The again, if you read Pete Jordan’s great book Dishwasher you might argue that anything passed off as clean in a public eatery might be dirty as hell.

  20. 20.  Anticipation … an-ti-ci-paaay-ay-tion …

    You left out one possible route of attack somewhere around Step Six-and-a-Half:
    “The Astros’ jerseys of the ’70s were, like, really unhinged! And awesome! They were the bombiest! Like avocado-green fridges!”
    Unfortunately, Gene’s decision to wear what looks like his off-season fishing jacket to his photo shoot deprived you of that schtick too.

    Gene’s just damned hard to peg, you’re right. Maybe he could have been the drummer for Poco or something.

  21. 21.  Funny, I thought “Gene Pentz” might be a nom-de-Astro for Warren Brusstar. (See think link over there on the right under Phillies.)

    I’ve always been a Hunt’s guy, as opposed to a Heinz guy. Sorry Mrs. Kerry. But there’s no distinguishing marker like the “57” to hit on the Hunt’s bottle.

    And does anyone out there ever use relish on their burger? I love a good pickle, but I’ve never learned to appreciate the jar of relish.

  22. 22.  He does look like Thurman Munson. I missed the “P” on this card and just assumed he was a back-up catcher, both because of what he looks like and because I’d heard of almost all non-backup catchers from that era.

  23. 23.  Trying to stifle some boredom by perusing online newspaper archives to see if there’s anything interesting on Mr. Pentz. My search was inexhaustive, but it was also fruitless.

  24. 24.  Both ketchup and catsup make me nauseous.

    Kind of like you with fruit.

    Reading most of these comments had made me retch-throated and uncomfortable.

  25. 25.  24 : As someone who knows your aversion to condiments, I admire your courage in confronting all the many references to them here. I wouldn’t have been able to do the same had the discussion been about, say, chomping into a slightly overripe pear.

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