Barry Bonnell

March 27, 2008

My days, most of them, a skipping record—up, food, walk, ride, sit-and-stare, food, sit-and-stare, ride, walk, food-and-sit-and-stare, sleep, repeat. Each day has slight differences. Yesterday during the second of the day’s walks I saw within a span of two minutes three dogs humped into a crouch and shitting, the last of them doing so while being dragged by an oblivious jogger. Since New Years I’ve tried to write one detail down every day in a hand-sized notebook, but after the first couple weeks most days have gone by without a detail noted. Sometimes I feel uneasy and I don’t know why. It happened most recently a few weeks ago. I’ve had the feeling before. I was surfacing from a self-imposed shallow depression, an emotional fetal curl. Inside it I was melancholy and dim. Coming out of it, I felt more awake, aware, and shaky. I felt like I should brace myself for impact. I wonder if life is a freefall and we only ever notice it in dreams. Maybe God is the ground that shatters you, or maybe it’s godlessness. Either way, I’m only ever falling or ignoring the fall. If I was a minor leaguer in the Braves chain in the 1970s and saw Barry Bonnell reading scripture on the bus by the light of a flashlight taped to the seat in front of him, I wouldn’t be drawn toward his conception of the almighty, as his teammate Dale Murphy was. According to Bonnell, Murphy asked Bonnell about his reading and about his religion, and eventually Bonnell baptized Murphy, bringing him into the Mormon fold and giving him a ticket to life everlasting. He shattered on the ground of God, did Murphy, or else was saved from the shattering by God. Or maybe both. Or neither. Who knows? Circle the globe and you’ll find as many gods as I have baseball cards, and each one will have a different thing to say about your days and what they are worth and where they are going and what will become of you at your end. So how can you say that one religion is better than another, one god better than another? Barry Bonnell knows the answer, as do all true believers, and I suspect does not feel uneasy. He leaps from one challenge to another, triumph giving way to triumph. Now he is a writer. Before that, just after his ten-year baseball career ended, he was an airline pilot. I have a little trouble flying on airplanes. I’m afraid the thing will plummet from the sky and we’ll all die screaming. Whenever I’m in a plane and it lands and everyone whips out their cellphones to resume their lives of ceaseless chattering I close my eyes and say a prayer. I try to make it as sincere as my shriveled heart will allow. People unbuckle and stand and wait for the door to open. I envision the faces of all the people I love and give thanks. I leave part of the prayer, the subject, blank. People start moving toward the exit. I stay seated a little longer, my eyes clenched shut, and give thanks to the blank.

                                                        *     *     *

(Love versus Hate update: Barry Bonnell’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)  


  1. 1.  I thought about posting the following link during the recent series of cards that began with Richie Hebner. With airplanes now involved in the mortality discussion, it seems marginally more appropriate…


    Which is preferable:

    To die a random death as a passenger?

    Or, if you’ve been dealt a bad blow such as being released by your ballclub, to get stinking drunk and then try to take control of the plane?

  2. 2.  1 : Holy moley. Thanks for sharing that link. How did I not ever hear of a baseball story so sad and brutal that, upon hearing of it, Casey Stengel’s “normal loquacity deserted him entirely”?

  3. 3.  I just added a link in the post to the “Love versus Hate” contest being played out with great deliberation with the “Play Ball” game pieces on the back of each 1978 card featured in a Cardboard God post.

  4. 4.  My Dad handled Casey Stengels trust, I was only 12 when he got it and 17 when he died. I would have loved to have been about 25 and had a baseball conversation with that man.
    At 12 I only knew him as a funny old guy who wasn’t going to live much longer and at 15 I thought how cool to be playing on a field named after him.


    It wasn’t until much later when I got into the history of baseball that I realized I had let quite an opportunity slip through my hands.

  5. 5.  4 : I guess because his celebrated hilarity with the Mets came close to happening in my lifetime I always think of him as a modern figure, so it always astounds me to think he played against Cobb. He lived the whole baseball century.

    But since he’s gone, I wonder who’s alive today who would have the longest reach back into the baseball past while still being something of a part of the baseball present. Johnny Pesky, maybe?

  6. 6.  I’m usually more annoyed by flying (airport security, waiting around, the seats are too small) than I’m scared by it. The only exception is that, when I’m half asleep on a plane, I start wondering about the physics of flying and that maybe they’ve miscalculated and we’re going to fall. That quickly turns to hope that the other passengers aren’t aware we’re going to die. A quick death wouldn’t be too bad, but I don’t want to deal with a bunch of crying and screaming.

  7. 7.  Wow, I had never heard of the Koenecke story either!

    The articles note that the extinguisher-weilding pilot was arrested and charged with manslaughter. Anyone know if he was convicted? Seems like a case of self defense to me, unless of course he was lying through his murderous teeth.

  8. 8.  7 : According to br-bullpen (http://tinyurl.com/2wogxl): “The pilot was nevertheless charged with manslaughter in Ontario but eventually acquitted.”

    It boggles the mind to think how big a story it would be if a similar case happened today.

  9. 9.  When was Dale Murphy baptized? I have wondered in the past as to what effect, if any, a religious enlightenment has on an athlete’s performance. My fear was always that it could result in them losing their edge. Murphy put up some monster years, but after 1987 his numbers dropped precipitously.

  10. 10.  Getting back to the religion thing, faith in sports can be a fascinating yet disarming topic.

    I can’t remember if it was here or on another site, but we got into a discussion of the Colorado Rockies and their “Christian-based code of ethics”: http://tinyurl.com/plk39

    Then there was Charlie Ward and Allan Houston leading exclusionary locker-room prayer circles when they were on the Knicks:

    And just the other day, some pinhead wrote in to the Daily News Voice of the People page to complain about how awful and disrespectful it was for the NHL to have games on Good Friday.

    When it comes down to it, there is probably more praying going on during sporting events than at any other time, including at church, mosque, and synagogue.

  11. 11.  9 : According to an mlb.com article entitled “Where’ve You Gone, Barry Bonnell” (http://tinyurl.com/2q8zsd), the baptism happened early, when they were both still in the minors. So his story doesn’t really lend itself to the “lose the edge” theory. I can’t think of anyone offhand who does, but trying to come up with someone reminded me of two notable mid-career “conversions”: Frank Tanana, who turned away from a fast lane life and to Jesus when his ferocious early-career fastball deserted him; and Darryl Strawberry, who went all glassy-eyed with unstable Christ-love when he went from the Mets to the Dodgers.

    10 : Yeah, the Rockies thing gives me the creeps, maybe because when things get too “Christ-y” I’m always worried that the anti-semitism on display with the Houston/Ward Knicks (http://tinyurl.com/3dv277) can’t be too far behind.

  12. 12.  As far as getting “born again,” I recall Steve Howe used to relapse…find God…relapse…find God…relapse…etc. etc.

    The George W. Bush/John Wetteland era Texas Rangers also took a faith-based team initiative to extremes…


  13. 13.  “his story doesn’t really lend itself to the “lose the edge” theory. I can’t think of anyone offhand who does”

    That’s what was said about Gary Gaetti, who went from carouser to born-again Christian in 1988. His production dropped off markedly afterwards, though I draw no conclusions from this. He lasted a hell of a long time afterwards, and became a productive player again in his mid- to late-30s.

  14. 14.  13 You are right. Gaetti is the guy I was thinking of, although maybe you should say heck of a long time in his case.

  15. 15.  12 : Great article. Thanks, Pete.

    13 , 14 : Speaking of “hell,” here’s an anecdote that’ll bring it all back to Barry Bonnell (from the aforementioned mlb.com article):

    “Bonnell, who was splitting time at third base and in the outfield, was a factor in the Rookie of the Year balloting, so a series in his hometown [Cincinnati] was a big deal for him. When he got there, he saw a bunch of kids from his church who were holding a supportive banner. ‘It was a play on the old Harry Truman quote. It said: “Give ’em Hell, Barry,”‘ Bonnell said. ‘I didn’t want them using that kind of language. I told them to take it down and they did.'”

  16. 16.  Baseball Toaster (well, Dodger Thoughts) was mentioned in the LA Times yesterday:

  17. 17.  It’s become commonplace these days for a celebrating athlete to point heavenward after a big play, or to celebrate a victory.

    Just once I’d love to see a game-ending strike out, or a key home run followed by an emphatic and loving point downward.

    You know, to honor the troubled and departed – but dearly beloved – family member who was an inspirational figure to the celebrant but just happened to be a crack peddling arsonist or an axe murderer before being unfortunately consigned to the seventh circle of the underworld.

  18. 18.  How did Barry Bonnell rank according to Bill James’s system, which has been mentioned on Cardboard Gods many times?

    James will be on 60 MINUTES on Sunday night, with Morley Safer, talking alot about the work he has done with that religious sect in the Northeast known as the Red Sox.


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