Steve Carlton in . . . The Nagging Question

April 22, 2008

By way of contrast to the Jim Colborn card I posted yesterday, which featured a sun-drenched photo that stands as one of the most aesthetically pleasing displays in my entire shoebox of messages from the gods, here is what may well be the ugliest card I own.

Centering the ugliness is the bright red blob mushing down one of history’s more ill-advised perms while also somehow (the cap seems brimless and even hyper-real, as if it’s a smudge of card-doctoring Day-Glo paint) shadowing the unappealingly sharp, avian features of the subject’s ashen face, his smile strangely off-putting, verging on an acidic grimace, his neck wrinkled, the top of his chest appearing clammy, clinging uncomfortably (one can’t help but imagine) to the chafing polyester of the cheap candy-striped uniform.

From there it just gets worse. The blur of gray sky behind him, such an awful contrast to the spring blue most often seen in my other cards, seems less like sky than hardened Kaopectate. The green border of the card furthers the dismal effect. The drab block lettering along the top of the border somehow sucks all the joy out of the all-star distinction it proclaims, and the yellow block lettering of the player’s name along the bottom turns what could have been a moment of gleeful recognition of a superstar into a vague but visceral yellow-green unease. The bulbous, crudely-rendered cap icon on the lower left, a leaden image made even less appealing by the joyless block lettering jamming the crown, helps drag the overall impression of the card into that of a senseless dumping ground. This impression is clinched by the presence of the baseball icon in the lower right, a brand new lawyerly blight on the cards that season, 1981, when Topps by court order relinquished its benevolent monopoly on baseball cards, the icon signaling that everything—even baseball cards, those potent symbols of innocence—is a fight, a grab for power, that the noise and clutter of the real world is going to start encroaching on the realm of the Cardboard Gods.

And though I’m sure the odd ugliness of the card surely undermined any excitement I might have had at finding an all-star in a pack—it may be no accident that it was the last all-star card I would ever receive, my buying of cards dropping off precipitously that year—the ugliness has increased over the years with further knowledge about the reclusive man pictured in the card. As reported in a 1994 article by Pat Jordan, Steve Carlton believed, among other things, that world events were heavily influenced by “12 Jewish bankers meeting in Switzerland” and that the AIDS virus was created “to get rid of gays and blacks.” Carlton denied that he made these claims, but because of Jordan’s journalistic reputation it’s hard not to add at least a dash of execrable wing-nut seasoning to the rancid stew presented in this card.

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Today the promising new Virile Lit website is featuring my review of the great recent Pete Maravich biography by Mark Kreigel. In the review I pose the following question: If you could have the skills for one day of any athlete from any time in history, which athlete would you choose?

My answer, given the subject of the review, will not surprise you. But it got me thinking about limiting the question to baseball. And while nobody from the world of baseball sprung immediately to my mind upon reshaping the question, my first thought on the subject rendered one certainty:

Left-handed. I’d want to be left-handed.

This fascination with the southpaw has been with me since I started following and playing baseball. Many a time I went into a windup in front of a mirror just so I could watch myself as a lefty. Lefties were different from me. Lefties were more graceful and smooth, their bodies seeming to more fully and deeply hew to the demands of whatever motion the game they were involved in required. I saw this in the whipcrack serve of John McEnroe, in Fred Lynn’s ability to in one smooth motion catch a flyball over his shoulder on the run and whirl to throw it back to the infield, in the fast, balanced, lethal swing of Ted Williams. But nowhere was the uncommon grace of the left-hander more apparent than on the pitching mound.

Oddly enough, though I don’t have a distinct memory of Steve Carlton’s windup, I do not associate it with the symmetrical poise and balance of, say, a Ron Guidry windup. When I think of Carlton the pitcher I recall first his brutal training regimen, which included most notably him churning his arm around for hours in a vat of rice, then I think of his most renowned pitch, a nasty slider, and the general impression in my mind is not of effortless grace but of grunting herky-jerky exertion leading to the stinging pain of a bat sheared off at the handle. And even though in the terms of today’s Nagging Question I’m not imagining myself into the batter who would feel that pain (and failure) in his palms, I still don’t want to dream myself into a situation including that pain.

In other words, I’d want to be a lefty, just not the permed Lefty pictured above, even though he’s probably the second-best Lefty in the history of Lefties (after Grove). I considered choosing Sandy Koufax, but there, too, is pain, all those stories of him having to slather himself with scalding balm before games and plunging his throbbing arm in ice for hours after games. Grove himself might be a good choice, but I associate him with ferocious intensity that at times boiled over into locker-wrecking post-game tirades, so as good as he was I’d want to avoid spending my one day with legendary skills in a fugue of blinding, volcanic anger.

Instead, I’ll go back even further, to the very first great lefty, one who didn’t clutter up his prodigious gift with any apparent anger or even much effort. He just wound up and fired and blazed pitches past batters at a rate so far above that of other pitchers of his time that even without looking I feel fairly certain that, in a historical context, he was the greatest strikeout pitcher who ever lived. And by what little I’ve read about him, he was not an unhappy fellow, and certainly would never have thought to spend hours gruntingly churning his arm around a vat of rice or devising Jew-related world conspiracy theories. He’d rather run after firetrucks! Yes, if I could be any baseball player from history for one day, I’d be that long gone simple-minded left-handed marvel Rube Waddell.

And now, finally, I’ll pass the question on to you:    

If you could have the skills for one day of any baseball player from any time in history, which baseball player would you choose?


  1. 1.  josh – brilliant, as always. i have always had what i call “Lefty Envy.” i don’t know what it is, but it’s always seemed to me that lefty’s are more talented, musical, artistic and athletic. and most are incredibly ambi-dexterous. my entire left side is a disaster.

    my maternal grandparents were both lefties, as is my older brother and his youngest son. my portside jealousy runs strong on a daily basis.

    i have tried to become more ambi-dexterous on many occassions, only to fail miserably.

    without giving it much thought, in relation to baseball, i guess if i could have skill for one day, i’d wanna swing the bat like Ken Griffey, Jr. his swing is still the sweetest to mine eyes (the left of which has been giving me problems all year. go figure…)

  2. 2.  I’d want to be the big-headed Barry Bonds from the first part of this century. I could put up with being an ass and the back acne and any steroid-caused testicular things for a day.

  3. 3.  I’d love to have Babe Ruth’s ability to eat all the hot dogs and drink all the beer he could and still come out and hit the piss out of the ball.

  4. 4.  i would like to retract my original post and change it to: i’d simply like to be mark kotsay and be married to his wife for a day. of course, i’d change the 24-hour part to eternity… ; )

  5. 5.  I think I’d have to go with Clemente’s throwing arm. A right-fielder with a big arm gunning down a baserunner at third is just about the most breathtaking moment to behold in a baseball game.

  6. 6.  I attended Nolan Ryan’s 6th no-hitter, and I was just watching his 7th no-hitter on ESPN Classic the other day. His curveball in #7 was just nasty, with bite and control, and then, of course, he was also blowing people away with his upper 90s fastball on the paint. To be able to pitch like that for one day would be a total blast.

    At first, though, I thought you were asking about skill, in the singular. As if you were asking, OK, you can have Steve Carlton’s slider, but you’d still have Ken Arneson’s fastball. If that’s the case, I don’t think there’s ever been a more effective single pitch than Mariano Rivera’s cutter. If you had his cutter and Ken Arneson’s fastball, you’d still have a hall-of-famer.

  7. 7.  I noticed that Carlton showed up on the autograph show circuit last year (paired with Pete Rose, interestingly enough). Given how much he seemed to dislike being in the public eye and how unpleasant he was while in its gaze, it made me wonder how badly he needs the money. I can’t imagine that he was doing it fun.

  8. 8.  5 : Anybody else see the PBS special on Clemente last night? From the clips they were showing, he played with a really charismatic mix of grace and abandon in all phases of his game.

    6 : Plus, if Robin Ventura chose that day to storm you on the mound, you’d be well-equipped to deal with the situation.

    And yeah, I can’t think of another one-pitch pitcher with the success of Rivera. I wonder what pitches Waddell threw, if anything besides pure simple-minded heat.

  9. 9.  I’d want to be left-handed too. Of course, I already am. I guess I would choose to be a left-handed version of Pete Reiser.

    A few years ago I was walking down the street about two blocks away from Coors Field and I walked past a guy. I thought to myself, hey, that guy looks exactly like Steve Carlton. And then about fifteen seconds later I remembered reading somewhere that Steve Carlton lived near Denver, and I realized it was Steve Carlton.

  10. 10.  Rickey Henderson. Shaun P has always wanted to be able to talk about Shaun P in the third person as well as Rickey talked about Rickey in the third person.

    Seriously though – power, speed, he could play the OF well (enough), and what an eye! Rickey is the second greatest non-pitcher, and third greatest player, of the last 30 years.

  11. 11.  8 Plus, plus: he was older I am now when he threw those no-hitters. I’m over 40, and I can still dream about having something left in the tank.

  12. 12.  9 : Yeah, Pete Reiser. Man, that’s a good one. As for his handedness, he did hit left-handed, and I think he was also said to be ambidextrous.

    FYI: A nice little-league home run story has recently been added to the comments for the Hank Aaron, 1976 post (Brewers)

  13. 13.  10 : Yeah, it’d be pretty fun to be a speedster, especially one who could also go deep.

    11 : Age is one big reason why I’m such a Tim Wakefield fan. There’s still hope!

  14. 14.  I think I’d like to be Darryl Strawberry on opening day in Montreal, 1988, when his titanic blast hit the roof of Olympic Stadium; or Albert Pujols on the day he claimed ownership of Brad Lidge’s soul; or Carlos Beltran on any day during the 2004 playoffs.

  15. 15.  Bo Jackson.

  16. 16.  Rickey was the first person that popped int omy head–it’d be really nice to be fast for once–but I’d probably say Josh Gibson. Why? Because any position other than pitcher or catcher is boring to play. And I got a big rush when I hit that homer in little league into the Pep Boys parking lot.

  17. 17.  Outside of baseball I think Wilt Chamberlain has to be the answer.

    Inside baseball:

    If we couldn’t choose the day: Ted Williams for that inner certainty of having mastered everything he did (other than being a decent human being) and knowing it.

    If we could choose the day: Kirk Gibson, you know, that day.

  18. 18.  Outside of baseball, there is no other athlete I’d rather be than Diego Maradona during the summer of 1986.

  19. 19.  Misread the question (skills not life), but Ted Williams still stands.

  20. 20.  10 JL25and3 feels the same way. JL25and3 would also love to see pitchers fall apart whenever JL25and3 reached first base.

    The discussion of lefties raises another question that’s been nagging me for years: why on earth should lefties be low-ball hitters? I mean, what is there about batting left-handed that leads to an affinity for low pitches? Is it even true in the first place?

  21. 21.  Jason Varitek….for this game:


  22. 22.  Skills for a day? Let’s see, time enough for a quadruple header. With Babe Ruth’s skills, I’d pitch the first game and play outfield for the other three. In between the games, there’d be time to eat (and do other stuff) like the Babe too.

  23. 23.  one player, one game???

    how about this game: October 8th, 1956.

    and this man: Don Larsen.

  24. 24.  23 Got a thing for hangovers, eh?

  25. 25.  24 just a thing for the sublime ridiculous irony of the man and the accomplishment … would have been an interesting skull and body to have floated around in for a couple of hours …

  26. 26.  Skills for a day: Dwight Gooden, 1985.

  27. 27.  I’m already a lefty. A young Mickey Mantle would be great. Actually, any of the New York center fielders in the 50’s would be nice.

  28. 28.  Honus Wagner.

    Everything about the man was physical–speed, strength, throwing arm, an unreal bat and he played a mean shortstop.

    I was a sluggardly slugger if I was anything at all on the diamond. Wagner was everything else.

  29. 29.  26 : Gooden ’85 would be pretty fun.

    28 : It’d also be really fun to be a legendary shortstop. I think if I had to choose one I’d go with Ozzie Smith. I can barely do a somersault, so the pregame backflip alone would be a revelation.

  30. 30.  30 Willie Mays – the quintessential five-tools player. I love the idea of covering all the ground in the OF with speed and grace, plus hammering the ball at the plate. Bonus: making basket catches with complete disregard for convention and being so good that no coach will complain.

  31. 31.  I’ve always been intigrued by Joe Adcock’s amazing feat on July 31, 1954, stroking four dingers and a double, even if he was a rightie.

    Adcock also broke up Harvey Haddix’s twelve-innings-plus no-hitter on May 26, 1959, with a homer in the thirteenth that became a double when Hammerin’ Hank, who had walked after Felix Mantilla had reached on an error (ending Haddix’s perfect game), walked off the field, since Mantilla had already scored the game winner.

  32. 32.  Josh, if you ever do become Rube Waddell I’ll promise to buy you a balloon, and a coloring book. And some crayons.

    Personally I would probably take on the contact-hitting gifts and perserverance of ex-Met and present Camden Riversharks catcher/first baseman Jason Phillips; to go with the slowness, goatee-growing abilities, and myopia that I already possess.

  33. 33.  I thought of Greg Maddux first, even if it runs counter to the point of the question to choose someone with relatively subtle as opposed to jaw-dropping skills. Specifically, I thought of this game…


    …at a glance, it appears to be a very good but not exceptional performance by Maddux, a few years past that high peak that he sandwiched around the strike. But look at the pitch count. And look at how he picks up steam through the later innings. I remember watching that game on TV and it was utterly absorbing as he sent the Cubs lineup down over and over with what appeared to be to minimum effort.

    Then again, I might change my mind, go for utter dominance, and be Kerry Wood for the 20 strikeout game, partially because he was so young. It’d be fun to just annihilate the opposition the way that he did but almost as good to sit around after the game and think “oh man, I’m gonna do this again and again for years and years.” Plus, it’s only for one day so I wouldn’t have to stick around through all the injuries and frustration that have followed.

  34. 34.  Hank Aaron wasn’t as much of a dumbass as is implied by the common retelling of the Harvey Haddix game. Apparently County Stadium had two chain-link fences, one that was the actual outfield fence, and another one behind that. Adcock’s ball cleared the inner fence but bounced off the outer fence. Aaron thought it had bounced off the inner fence, for an in-play double. And on a double, there would be no reason to run anymore since the winning run had already scored.

    So Hank’s problem was poor eyesight, not stupidity.

  35. 35.  32 At least you could try to get him a ride on a fire engine. And a box of crackers.

  36. 36.  32 : Yay! Balloons!

    (FYI: Ramblin’ Pete traces the exact moment when Rock gave way to New Wave in a new comment attached to the Tony Solaita and Craig Kusick post from a couple days ago)

    33 : The hyper-cerebral Greg Maddux is a great choice. It’s kinda the exact opposite of the Rube Waddell route.

  37. 37.  33 That game by Maddux shows why, once the steriods period is truly behind us, historians will say that Maddux and not Clemens was the best pitcher of his generation. But speaking of another great pitcher of that generation, look at this box from a Pedro Martinez start against the Yankees, who were in the middle of their championship run. Pedro hit the first batter of the game, Knoblauch, but the only other Yankee to make real contact was Chili Davis, who must have shut his eyes and swung like mad, hitting a home run. The rest of the Yankees looked like little leaguers against Pedro, and his pitch movement looked like he was throwing a whiffle ball. I don’t know why the Yankees even bothered to step into the batters box. The best pitched game I ever saw, and I saw many great ones, as we all have. Give me Pedro’s talent for that day, September 10, 1999, and I could change the world.

    Here’s the box: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA199909100.shtml

  38. 38.  I would say a good knuckleballer — like maybe Hoyt Wilhelm, or Wilbur Wood.

    It looks like tremendous fun to go to the mound, armed only with this evanescent unpredictable flutterball, and drive big bad major-league hitters absolutely batshit with frustration.
    That might even be more fun than blowing them away with a 100-mph fastball.

    It’s like, would it be more fun to win a NASCAR race driving Jeff Gordon’s car, or driving a ’75 Valiant?

    (If you made me pick someone with genuine athletic talent, I might pick either Doc Gooden or Darryl Strawberry, before the drugs.)

  39. 39.  My first two choices have already been named: Ryan, because I can’t even imagine having such ungodly stuff that hitters dare not dig in too deeply, and Maddux, because if this article is to be believed, he can help the team even when he’s not playing:


    Ceding those two, I’d “settle” for being a great catcher like Johnny Bench. Good hitter, solid behind the plate, and involved with every pitch. Heady stuff.

  40. 40.  I’ll third or fourth the Greg Maddux selection. I wouldn’t even necessarily want his arm or control, just to see the game through his eyes.

  41. 41.  I’m rightie, have 3 kids that are lefty and all are very good soccer players(they can all play off both feet with equal aplomb)
    To be one left handed player..
    Juan Marichal. The way he literally threw the ball coming up off the back of his knee with that massive leg kick, it was a thing of beauty.

  42. 42.  For one game, Reggie in Game 6, 1977
    One “skill”, to swing the bat like Gary Sheffield against a fastball.

  43. 43.  … I’d choose to have the skills of one Joe Morgan, particularly during the years of 1975 and 1976. To have that complete package of plate discipline, hitting for average and power, speed and intelligence on the basepaths, and gold glove defense at second base — it would be hard to top that.

  44. 44.  Will Clark, for his sweet swing.

  45. 45.  One day? Koufax.

    It would have to be a pitcher. What’s the hitting equivalent of a perfect game? A 4 home run game? Does anyone remember Mark Whiten?

  46. 46.  I mentioned the Pat Jordan article about Steve Carlton. Today on Baseball Analysts there’s a great discussion with Alex Belth and Pat Jordan in which that article is referenced both overtly and implicitly. The implicit reference is pretty hilarious, Jordan claiming “Yes, all my friends are young Jewish liberals. The Youngers of Zion. They meet once a year in Ft. Lauderdale to control my life. They force me to get a website, to blog, email, all kinds of loathsome chores. They demand I learn how to use the TV remote.”

    Here’s a link to the discussion:

  47. 47.  We’ve mentioned Josh Gibson and Kirk Gibson, but I think I’d rather be Bob Gibson, just about any day of the 1968 season, but perhaps mostly Game 1 or 4 of the 1968 World Series, when he beat Denny McLain both times.

    I would love to see the fear in batters’ eyes as I prepared to throw them some real heat.

    From Jonah Keri writing for ESPN.com: “When the Cards faced the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series, Willie Horton tried to get the best of Gibson. Apparently seeking retaliation for some perceived slight, Gibson threw a pitch right at Horton. The Tigers outfielder, a feared slugger in his own right with 36 homers in that offense-challenged year, looked terrified as the pitch bore in on him. Turning away from the plate, he winced. When he turned around again, the ball was nestled in McCarver’s glove — it had veered its way over the plate for strike three.”

    Now, that would be sweet…

  48. 48.  Although there hasn’t yet been a career third baseman mentioned, 42 ‘s choice of Joe Morgan enables the names mentioned so far to make a viable team:

    C: J. Gibson, Varitek
    1b: Adcock, Jason Phillips (who could also be the third catcher) (Pujols also mentioned but see below)
    2B: Morgan
    SS: Wagner
    3B: Until someone mentions a true 3B-man, Pujols or Sheffield would have to man the position
    LF: Rickey, T. Williams, Barry Bonds, Bo Jackson
    CF: Griffey (or Kotsay), Reiser, Mantle, Mays
    RF: Ruth, Clemente, Straw, Reggie

    P: Maddux, Ryan, Gooden, Waddell, Marichal, Pedro, Larsen, Wilhelm or W. Wood

  49. 49.  …plus Bob Gibson

  50. 50.  Speaking of lefties: I have long wondered why it is that people are more oft to describe the beauty of a lefty’s swing than a righty’s. I can name so many players who had beautiful swings, and they are all lefties.


  51. 51.  I thought about this a bit more overnight, and it seems like more people are picking an athlete on a particular day. If that’s the case, I’d be real curious to have felt what it was like for Johnny VanderMeer on the day he threw no hitter #2.

    And I guess if you’re picking one day, didn’t Nate Colbert have a ridiculous doubleheader day sometime in 1973 or so? (I can remember the record-breaker card, featuring faux newsprint.) And Mark Whiten had that 4hr, 12rbi game that was pretty amazing too.

  52. 52.  I often ask people if they’d rather be able to hit a home run (in roughly major league dimensions) or dunk a basketball. For me these 2 skills are more or less equally inconceivable (I’m about 5’8″). I’d suspect in a random sampling you’d find more people who can dunk, just because its basically determined by height/hand size/jumping ability. Going yard is a more refined skill, that only trained baseball players can achieve. Often, though, the question just boils down to which sport you prefer.

    So, to cut to the chase, hitting the long ball is important to me. But so is making the occasional spectacular pick, or gunning down a runner at third or home. I guess Andre Dawson comes to mind.

  53. 53.  Since Willie Mays has already been selected, I think I’d go with Joe DiMaggio. To have the all-around skills and to be able to glide gracefully around the outfield would be a real treat.

  54. 54.  Well, since we’re short a 3B, let me propose Mike Schmidt in Wrigley Field on April 17, 1976, when he hit four HRs (including the game-winner in the 10th) to lead the Phils from a 13-2 deficit to an 18-16 win. Details here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHN/CHN197604170.shtml.

    At his best, Schmidt had a smooth, powerful stroke, aiming for line drives rather than towering bombs. And incredible range at third until age caught up with him.

    I was kind of late to baseball – I was 10, and this was one of the first games I watched all the way through on TV. Carlton and Schmidt were the silent, emotionless heroes to a kid with a silent, distant father and a silent, distant older brother. Man, Josh, now you’ve got all of us psychoanalysing ourselves.

  55. 55.  20 I suspect that that is more true for left-hand hitters facing righties. Those “hitting zone” charts that Fox puts up are only semi-useful IMHO unless they are split by handedness of the pitcher. I think a same-handed pitcher can throw down-and-in breaking balls with success (that’s a knee-buckler, yes?), but not opposite-handed pitchers – the pitch is too well-seen by the batter.

  56. 56.  55 That may be true – though, of course, my initial question had nothing to do with Fox’s (or anyone else’s) charts. It was just about common accepted wisdom, heard from every broadcaster ever: all lefties are low-ball hitters.

  57. 57.  50 : That’s a good question about why lefties seem to have “sweeter” swings. I don’t know. Better balance? I’m sure famously left-handed Bill Lee would have a good explanation, probably having to do with chakras, magnetic poles, and right-brain/left-brain dynamics.

    51 : When I was pondering the question for myself I wasn’t thinking about particular days. If I had one day with the skills of my choice, I actually wouldn’t want to know how it all was going to turn out. But if I had to pick anyone’s day, I’d probably go with the 3 HR, 10 RBI game Fred Lynn had in ’75, though I might be tempted to go with the night Lynn’s heir in left-handed crimson-hosed centerfieldness had just last night: Jacoby Ellsbury homered twice, then with the score tied in the 8th bunted his way onto first, then rattled the pitcher into grooving a pitch to Pedroia, who drilled one down the leftfield line, allowing Ellsbury to fly all the way from first to home with the winning run.

    53 : Yeah, all that and Marilyn Monroe, too. That might be the topper if not for the prohibitive (for me) presence of pinstripes.

    54 : Yeah, what a game. Schmidt talked about that one in a recent hour-long interview on XM, an interview in which he got choked up a couple times. For a guy who seemed emotionless back in the day, he sure developed into a softy.

  58. 58.  54 … interestingly, Carlton started that game, only to get knocked around for 7 runs in the second, and be replaced by – Ron Schueler (http://tinyurl.com/343283).

    Josh – just read your Maravich review. Great stuff – really gets at the tension we all feel between achieving serenity and, well, achieving. But who’s Charlie Kondek?

  59. 59.  51 Colbert (which I now automatically hear in my head as “cole-BEAR”) hit five home runs and collected 13 RBI in a doubleheader against Atlanta in 1972:


    According to the box scores, he went 7 for 9 in the two games, scoring seven runs and recording 21 putouts at first base. Now that’s a good day.

  60. 60.  Thanks for checking out the review. The book is a great read.

    Charlie Kondek is the creator of that site. He also does another blog–I Am Caine (see link in sidebar)–that is mainly devoted to the following the path of Kwai Chaing Cane (David Carradine’s character on Kung Fu, probably my all-time favorite TV character, or at least tied with Coolidge from The White Shadow).

  61. 61.  If we’re talking about one-day performances, I’ve always had a certain fondness for Rennie Stennett’s 7-for-7. Maybe it’s because I saw his bat in the Hall of Fame.

  62. 62.  56 Right, the charts was an aside. I still suspect that the conventional wisdom has a basis in the fact the lefties face right-hand pitching ~75% of the time.

  63. 63.  I’d have to say Doc Ellis. Anybody who can throw a no-no while tripping on LSD is worthy of envy. …By the way, this is a great blog. I look forward to reading it everyday. It makes me laugh (and cry occasionally, too). Rock on.

  64. 64.  63 : Thanks, maxste. I never pitched a no-hitter, but I once played some pickup basketball while, uh, channeling Dock Ellis. I could not miss. I even started trying to miss and the ball kept going in.

  65. 65.  i wouldn’t mind being a Cal Ripken clone: athletic, skilled, durable, humble, modest, handsome, great role model and all around good guy….

    or, as pointed out earlier…joe dimaggio if only for having had the opportunity to sample Marilyn Monroe and to love her for eternity. i wonder if he’s the guy in the newly discovered Monroe sex tape that’s been in the news?


  66. 66.  Here’s my theory on the sweet left-handed swing (and I’d love to know if this makes sense to anybody): left-handed people develop greater coordination with their off-hand than do right-handed people, simply by virtue of having grown up in a righty-dominated world. So the lefty swing involves the right arm more than its right-handed converse involves the left.

    My image of the “sweet” lefty swing is the bottom hand leading the bat through the swing on a low inside pitch — the bat becomes a full extension of the right arm. Think Strawberry. Right handed batters rarely extend the left arm fully and let it lead the swing — it’s more of a muscling effort led by the right arm. Maybe?

  67. 67.  Don Drysdale, 1965

    23-12, 2.77 ERA, 308.1 IP, 210 SO

    130 AB, 4 2B, 7 HR, 19 RBI, .300 BA

  68. 68.  67

    … Yeah, Don Newcombe had a season like that in 1955.

    20-5, 3.20 ERA, 233.2 IP, 38 BB on the hill

    117 AB, .359 AVG, 7 HR, .632 SLG in the box

  69. 69.  66 : I’ve had similar thoughts to that about why the left-handed swing often seems to look better. One big exception being late-career Rich Gedman. Oh my GOD did his swing look brutal near the end.

    67 , 68 : Too lazy to look for the exact year, but I think Walter Johnson hit over .400 during one of his customarily dominating pitching seasons.

  70. 70.  That Virile Lit blog looks interesting. I made his first anonymous comment.

  71. 71.  A flood of names come to mind:

    – Jackie Robinson, for his ability to joyously upset the applecart, especially on the basepaths;

    – “The Bird,” 1976. Again, it’s the joy thing that’s the draw.

    – Bob Gibson

    – The Goose. (I couldn’t actually pull the trigger on this one if I’d wanted to, due to pinstripe prohibition.)

    – Rollie Fingers

    – El Tiante

    – Jim Rice (even more than the tape-measure shots, Monster-denting ropes, checked-swing bat-breaking, and penitentiary-face batter’s-box ability to intimidate, O to be Jim Rice legging out a triple. I loved his triples.)

    Then the memory of the millenial Pedro Martinez resurfaces. Damn, it must have been fun to have total command of all that junk, and, when bored with toying with someone, dismiss him with a 97-mile-an-hour tailing fastball with insane movement, thrown to within millimeters of the intended location.

    Then, finally, the topper: All that Pedro had, plus measureless joy. Satchel Paige.

  72. 72.  Josh- first you blow our minds with one of your most awe-inspiring posts ever, and then you pique the living shit out of our collective curiosity by dropping this question on us.

    I wanted to say Magic Johnson, but then I realized we were only talking baseball so i’ll say Kerry Wood in October of 2008. But I thought it was funny that you mentioned you uh, channeled Doc Ellis while playing pickup ball because I bet you felt a little like Magic himself that night. Eyes in the back of your head, putting the ball wherever you wanted it, creativity flowing through your fingertips like Jimi at Woodstock. That childlike enthusiasm, that incredible improvisation, that contagious creativity, where has that gone in professional sports?

  73. 73.  71 : Yes, yes, yes. All great choices.

    72 : Kerry Wood in October ’08: The first choice that looks to the future! Very interesting. (I think it’s going around. This morning my co-worker, a Cubs fan, said that the “weirdest thing” was that when the Cubs fell behind yesterday he had no doubt they’d come back and win.)

    Magic’s a great non-baseball choice. I have to say I wasn’t very Magical on the night in question. I only had (laser) eyes for the basket.

  74. 74.  I think 95% of male perms were ill-advised during that era.

  75. 75.  For one day, I’d be Mickey mantle that day in 1953 when he hit that long homer in Griffith (or when he almost hit one out of Yankee Stadium.

  76. 76.  Late to the game, but here it is – strangely concurrent with the first post:

    Ken Griffey, Jr. at his youthful peak

    I’m not a Reds/Mariners fan, but I’d get to feel not only that effortless swing – seeing the ball explode off the bat into the right-field seats, but I’d also glide smoothly and swiftly to track down any ball hit anywhere near my zone. What a day that would be.

    In real life (softball or lineball games), I love playing the outfield, have great instincts of where the ball is going off the bat, and catch absolutely everything I can get to – even on dives/slides/Willie Mays-style over-the shoulder catches. The problem is: I’m painfully slow, so I just don’t get to nearly as many balls as I’d like.

    My day as young Griffey couldn’t go long enough. I’d want to play two extra inning doubleheaders.

  77. Steve Carlton, during his 15-game winning streak and 27-win season in 1972, was a thing of beauty to this young, lefthanded pitcher with minimal skills and almost no composure. If that’s wishing for too much, I’d like to be Ralph Garr in his prime, about whom I first heard the baseball cliche, “He could wake up at 3:00 am and hit a rope.”

  78. This comment is for Philly area fans but it is not about baseball. For those fans who might remember the Philly-based rock band “Witness” from the 70’s and 80’s and their great lead guitarist, Steelman, I am actually doing some work on his house this week. I haven’t yet had the guts to ask him about the glory days but I have seen the maroon Gibson guitar he was always seen playing.

  79. The other day I saw Josh Hamilton go 4 for 4. He also had about 20 swinging strikes, seemingly, though, I realize any more than 12 in four ABs is technically impossible.

    The point remains: the free swinging Hamilton will swing and miss badly at bad pitches more than any other player in the league, save possibly Adam Dunn, but he cracks the ball with such aplomb when he makes contact that the box score of 4 for 4 seemingly indicates a keen hitting mind, like Ted Williams, studiously analyzing angles, ball trajectories, mindful of balance at all times, etc.

    But no, that box score covers up a talent evident to guy who watches the game and has watched thousands in his life: he’s just so good that when he hits it, it’s scorched and sometimes the odds work out. I saw another box score when he was 0-8 with 3Ks. Some days, you eat the boar, some days, he eats you.

    But, that is the talent I’d like have…the ability to take my 40 dingers and 150Ks a year. I’d like to be the guy that the Moneyball GMs eschew…the game has always needed those high octane guys.

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