Ken Landreaux

April 7, 2008

They are tearing up my street. There is a big hydraulic crane ripping up concrete, and it’s really loud and it makes it hard to come up with anything worthwhile to say about Ken Landreaux. Also, my wife is in the bathroom puking. She woke up with some kind of stomach virus and even though she was puking she had to appear in court for her social work job. She’s back now, in the bathroom, steering the bus. I looked up stomach viruses on the Internet. I wanted to see if there was anything I could do. But what can I do? I’m pretty powerless. So I sit here trying to write about Ken Landreaux and when the roar of the crane two inches from my head abates every once in a while I can hear the sound of retching.

Actually, since I stared writing the crane has moved up the street a little. I just got up to check on their progress. The crane has carved a swath in the concrete that I swear they just recently put down. They’ve been tearing up and paving and tearing up and paving the street for months. Anyway the sound has quieted a little but as it abates I discover new kinds of resistance, new anxieties, new ways in which I’m unable to connect to today’s rectangular fragment from my past. There are no names for these anxieties, at least none I can identify right now.

Maybe some of it has to do with spring finally arriving. I feel like running around or weeping with laughter or sitting at an outdoor cafe in some faraway place with nothing to do and all day to do it as the gentle warmth melts me. But I also feel apprehensive. It’s been a long winter. I’ve been bracing against the cold for most of my life. So when the warm air comes I can feel all that melting and I can feel the fragile green tendrils of memory, the up-push of tenderness, and it pains me. Better to just stay numb. Better just to continue trying and failing to think about Ken Landreaux.

Maybe some of it has to do with Jack Kerouac, who I’ve been reading lately. Whenever I read him I brace myself for the effect. I’m going to start wondering if my life is too narrow. I’m going to start wondering why right this second I’m not napping in the sun after riding the rails down the California coast, a book of Buddhist scripture open on my chest, or why I’m not this second participating in a raucous epochal poetry reading with “the best minds of my generation,” or why I’m not feverishly writing the sincerest wishes from the depths of my soul in the form of a novel that will be published to great acclaim and change the course of American Literature instead of trying and failing to think about Ken Landreaux.

I can’t think of Ken Landreaux without thinking of Landru, the computer that dictatorially ruled an alien planet in an episode of Star Trek, brainwashing the creativity, individuality, and spirit out of all the inhabitants and making them a part of one “Body” until Kirk, Spock et al beam down and shake things up, Kirk eventually setting everyone free, as he is wont to do, by riddling the computer into smoldering self-destruction by feeding it an unanswerable contradiction. He did this on several other occasions, including in the tedious “Nomad” episode that seemed to be aired every other night when I was a kid. Anyway, maybe I’m just part of some Landru mind control and don’t even quite know it. This would explain the lack of creativity. Also, I watch a lot of television and spend a lot of pretty useless hours on the Internet, passive pursuits in which I am willingly subservient to one machine or other. Even when I take walks I have headphones in my ear feeding me stupid chatter, usually about sporting contests, i.e., surrogate dramas to take the place of any confrontations or contests in my own life. I am ruled by Landru, limp and docile, wordless and weak, marching in an acquiescent daze.

A few years ago I was playing guitar with this guy I knew, Paul, who was an excellent guitarist. We were in his room, noodling around with two of his electric guitars. He said, “Doesn’t it suck when it seems like every solo you play seems like something you’ve already played?” I still pull out my guitar from time to time and play blues licks, but it’s true: I’ve played all the blues licks I know. It’s stagnant, my playing. I remember there was an old poster on Paul’s wall that read “Let go and let God.” I wonder what would happen if I let go and let God.

Probably nothing. I just tried it for a few seconds, and still couldn’t come up with anything to say about Ken Landreaux, but then again maybe I was doing it wrong. Or maybe my problem is Ken Landreaux. I know this is out of line, blaming the subject. If you had Rembrandt paint anything on this earth, it would still be a Rembrandt. It would still be alive with all his pain and wisdom and gloomy reverence for this life. So it can’t be Ken Landreaux’s fault. But all I can think of is that he was traded for Rod Carew.

He was traded for Rod Carew. He and a couple other guys, actually, but he was the key element of the trade. He had been a first-round draft pick, had been a minor league player of the year, was still young, and could play centerfield. But the point is I do not have a single Rod Carew card in my collection. I don’t know how this happened. He may have been the best player of the decade, and in some ways he was the most prominent, especially to me, since my religion as a child was baseball and my most concentrated time of devotion was on Sunday morning as I studied the batting averages, and Rod Carew was always at the top.

Rod Carew was always at the top but for a couple of years after the trade Ken Landreaux was up there, too, and so it looked for a while like the trade was going to work out for the Twins, especially halfway through the season when the card at the top of the page came out, 1980, the previous season one in which he batted .305, just 13 points lower than Carew, the current season highlighted by a 31-game hitting streak (still the Twins’ record) that would send him to the all-star game and send his batting average skyrocketing as high as .366, surely so high that when I prayerfully studied the Sunday averages I envisioned a future in which Ken Landreaux would take over for Rod Carew as a steady presence in my life, someone who would remain at the top of the list that gave my life a sense that there was a structure to the universe, but instead Ken Landreaux spent the rest of the 1980 season floundering and was traded to the other league where he surfaced as a part-time player on a World Series-winning team, but by then I’d stopped caring so much and Ken Landreaux meant very little, if anything, to me, just a name that used to be a name that was going to be a name. What is there to say? Life unravels.


  1. 1.  As soon as I saw the name, I thought “Landru,” just as I have for the last 30 years.

  2. 2.  For some reason every time I think of Kenny Landreaux I think of Lyman Bostock.

    Landreaux was traded to the Dodgers for Mickey Hatcher in 1981. Mickey came back in 1987 and then Landreaux retired while Mickey was a key cog in the 88 World Championship Team.

    He’s also the cousin of Enos Cabell and they played on the Dodgers together in 85 and 86. How many cousins have played in the same major league team?

  3. 3.  I think Jay Johnstone wrote something about Ken Landreaux in his book Temporary Insanity. I don’t remember what it was, or even if it really was Landreaux, but whatever I read or imagined I read hasn’t let me think about Landreaux the same way since. It seems like he was either really dumb or really perverted. Maybe it was Davey Lopes.

  4. 4.  2 : I have that same association. They were actually teammates in ’78 but in a perfect world they would have been traded for one another, a la Buddy Bell and Toby Harrah, instead of switching places on the Angels and Twins in unrelated moves. Of course, in a perfect world Lyman Bostock would not have gotten shot.

    If only Landru was around to keep us all free from harm.

  5. 5.  Actually, whenever I think of Ken Landreaux (which isn’t that often, admittedly), I remember seeing him catch the last out in the ’81 World Series. I seem to recall that the Dodgers kept hoping that he would make a good #2 hitter because he just seemed like he should be one, but he struck out too much. He seems to be doing Dodgers alumni stuff these days, whatever it is that former players do for a team that isn’t actually baseball-related.

  6. 6.  When I went back to look at his stats I’m amazed at how bad he was, I thought it was just me and my expectations but he really was a useless CF other then 2 years.

  7. 7.  5 : That IS memorable. Maybe the blurriness to me of Ken Landreaux post-Twins is due to the fact that I didn’t see that. My memories of that series are of listening to it sporadically on the radio (perhaps it was on NBC, which we couldn’t get in rural central Vermont).

  8. 8.  Ripping up the same street over and over again is a New York phenomenon as well. The two possibilities are (1) incompetence – lack of coordination between the utility companies; or (2) corruption – if they do everything at once there is less money to be made and fewer jobs. Both possibilities are equally plausible.

  9. 9.  I remember Landreaux flubbing a lot of fly balls during his time on the Dodgers. Whenever an outfielder botched a play, my group of friends always said “Man, he really Landreauxed that one”.

  10. 10.  The first year I ever played fantasy baseball was 1987. I was a Dodger fan and mistakenly loaded up on Dodgers, including Ken Landreaux. As you can see, I knew little about how to play fantasy baseball. I also remember liking Ken’s last name, probably because of my birthplace, Evreux, France. Needless to say, I finished last.

  11. 11.  6 7 OTOH from my original comment, that’s probably the only really memorable thing that I can remember him doing with the Dodgers. It was just a matter of chance that the last out was a simple fly ball hit to him. As Toy Cannon and Marty say, he really wasn’t that useful to the Dodgers on the whole, and contributed to their mediocrity between the ’81 and ’88 titles.

    That’s why I was kind of surprised to see him doing PR-type stuff for the Dodgers. Don Newcombe — and obvious asset. Ken Landreaux — not so much.

  12. 12.  Funny, my memory of the last out of the ’81 Series involves Steve Howe tossing the ball to Steve Garvey.

    Of course, I was four, so take that with a grain of salt.

  13. 13.  5 I remember that Landreaux catches the ball and then smiles and makes a victory hop (not a leap) as if he wanted to celebrate but in his CF outpost was still too far away from the crowd meeting in the infield to fully participate.

    I didn’t think he struck out much, but you’re right, not only did he seem like a #2, he looked the part with a nice, quiet controlled swing. Just not enough results.

  14. 14.  I seem to remember Landreaux being pretty vocal about wanting to be an everyday player, but he never could hit lefties. His 1983 splits:

    vs RHP — .297 .342 .485
    vs LHP — .130 .204 .130

    Mike Devereaux shows up on his list of comps.

  15. 15.  stomach virus? or….maybe…..”morning sickness”? that would sure cure your doldrums….LOL


  16. 16.  15 I thought the same thing.

    And that is far from a cure for doldrums.

    I remember reading or hearing Billy Joel say that, while composing, he would call a friend of his and ask, “What do you think of this,” and play him a phrase on the piano. The friend would reply, “You can’t use that, that’s Schubert.”

    As always, brilliant, sensitive, funny, blah blah blah.

    This NEEDS to be a book.

  17. 17.  Landreaux was also notable for having the longest hitting streak in Twins history. In the middle of an otherwise mediocre 1980 season, he hit in (I believe) 31 straight games, eclipsing the mark of 28, held by an even more obscure Twin, Lenny Green.

    Landreaux always signed autographs “KT Landreaux”.

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