Mike Barlow

June 16, 2008
In 1979, Mike Barlow pitched more innings in relief than all but one of his teammates on the division-winning California Angels, but he recorded no saves and was involved in only two decisions, winning one and losing the other.

Barlow did not get into any of the first three hotly contested games of the best-of-five American League Championship series, watching from the bullpen as the Baltimore Orioles took Game One on a John Lowenstein home run in extra innings and watching the teams trade one-run victories in Games Two and Three. In the top of the ninth inning of Game Four, with the Orioles ahead 8-0 and just a few moments from wrapping up the pennant, Mike Barlow got the call. He pitched a scoreless frame as seats emptied and exits filled. Had the Angels been able to stage what would surely have been the greatest comeback in post-season history in the bottom of the inning, he would have been the winning pitcher, perhaps the answer to a trivia question, but the Angels went down meekly. Significant things tended not to happen when Mike Barlow was involved. He’s not the answer to anything.

                                                         *  *  *

I watch a lot of sports. When you watch sports you end up watching a lot of advertisements. These advertisements often call my inner strength into question. I am asked if “it” is in me. I am urged to kill the coward within. I can’t remember at the moment any of the other current slogans. But I know that I need a more muscular body than the one I have, and a more competitive nature, and a faster car, and less self-doubt, actually no self-doubt. But fuck all that. If there’s a coward within I’m not killing it. I’m not killing anything. The whole idea seems kind of fascistic, actually. If there’s a coward within me I’m inviting it out to join me on the couch and watch sitcom reruns. I caught part of one yesterday, a Seinfeld where George initially recoils from the opportunity to have an affair with a married woman.

“An affair?” he says, wincing. “That’s so . . . grown-up.”

Who wants to grow up?

                                                        *  *  *

Later, I called my dad to ask him about Moshiach. I’d just finished reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and I wanted to know more about this figure that most of the people on my dad’s side of my family tree spent the last few thousand years waiting for.

“Yes, my mother and father spoke about Moshiach when I was growing up,” my dad said. “The idea is he’ll come and there will be peace on earth, a return to Eden.”

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union features a figure being looked to with unendurable need as Moshiach. This man can’t bear the pressure of everyone’s hopes for redemption. He desires more than anything to disappear, to be insignificant.

                                                       *  *  *

Who wants to be in the middle of the action? Not me. I want to be a mop-up man. If I’m ever officially involved, I want the announcers to be telling stories that have no connection to the action on the field. I want to hear the sound of foul balls clattering around vacant sections of seats. I don’t want to hear the roar of the crowd. Most of the time I’d rather just watch, leaning on a fence, daydreaming, drowsy, a towel around my neck like the towel draped around a fighter as he’s being led away from a fight, the trainer reassuring the fighter that it’s over, that there’s no more need to punch and get punched.


  1. 1.  No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
    Am an attendant lord, one that will do
    To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
    Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
    Deferential, glad to be of use,
    Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
    Almost, at times, the Fool.

  2. 2.  First!

    That card shows Barlow doing very little other than on a cellular level. If you were to create a sculpture oof that pic out of cheap plastic, it would be the Platonic ideal of an inaction figure. What is he thinking at that moment?

  3. 3.  Hey, he had a hold too! He was also traded for Mike Easler at one point. That’s something…right?

  4. 4.  3 : Yes, that Easler trade marked the second year in a row that Barlow was “the player to be named later.”

  5. 5.  Barlow’s teams’ record in games in which he appeared: 28-105.

    Perhaps a trivia question could be concocted based on that, and maybe Mike Barlow would be the answer. At the very least, his countenance in the above picture is fully explained.

  6. 6.  5 : That’s some nice number-crunching. Lordy.

  7. 7.  The Yiddish Policeman’s Union sounds a little like Monty Python’s Life of Brian without the humor.

  8. 8.  Here’s a curiosity about Barlow. For a number of years, he was the color broadcaster for Syracuse Orange BASKETBALL. I guess he was a pretty good hoops player for SU before he became a pretty lousy pitcher in the major leagues.

    When I worked in radio, I often ran the SU broadcasts on our affiliate. I never realized it was the same Barlow–Barlow the pitcher–who announced the basketball games on radio until someone filled me in on that.

  9. 9.  7 : Unlike Life of Brian, the reluctant messiah figure is actually not the main character in The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The book is a very entertaining and interesting riff on the detective novel genre. It’s set in the current day with the premise that after WW II most European Jews relocated not to Israel but to Alaska (which I guess was actually a real possibility back in the day). In reality, the Yiddish world my paternal grandparents grew up in vanished with that war, but in the book Michael Chabon brings it back to life with pretty amazing clarity and resonance.

    8 : Thanks for pointing that out; I’d noticed on the card that he’s a big guy.

    “I guess he was a pretty good hoops player for SU.”

    That would make sense, but his college roundball stats have a distinctly Barlowian flavor, highlighted by the fact that even though he didn’t play enough to commit many fouls, he still compiled more career fouls than points:


  10. 10.  … Just strictly from my own memory, in following the Angels very closely in 1979, Barlow pitched poorly late in the season and very poorly against the Orioles. Also, the Angels picked up John Montague from Seattle in August for a player to be named later (turned out to be Jim Anderson). Montague’s presence in the bullpen, combined with Aase being dropped from the rotation for the playoffs, just forced Barlow out of the picture.

    A check of Retrosheet does confirm Barlow’s poor showing against the Orioles, but Montague’s ERA in September (and for the season) was worse than Barlow’s. Perhaps whoever initiated the deal for Montague, whether it was Buzzie Bavasi or Jim Fregosi, just wanted to see Montague in there.

    Either way, Montague was unimpressive, and indeed he was the man who gave up the walk-off home run to Lowenstein in the tenth inning of Game 1. A check of the records reveals that Montague was more prone to the gopher ball (14 allowed in 116 innings) than Barlow was (8 in 86 innings).

    Would Barlow have fared better? Judging by the picture on his card, it seems Mike is portraying a wistful sadness, and maybe he knew all along that he wouldn’t get the call.

  11. 11.  Don’t worry Josh, “it” isn’t in you, because if it was, it would have already burst from your belly and skittered off to the sewers…

    Chabon pulled off a real feat with ‘Yiddish Policeman’s Union’, an engaging novel with a plot derived from a “what if” version of political history. Usually, when an author fantasizes about history, there are so many irreconcilable fake facts that they undermine any attempt at creating plot. But in that book, Chabon not only sets it against a fantastic backdrop but makes it, primarily, a detective novel. I enjoyed some of his books set in Pittsburgh more than I did this one but its almost as if he set an impossibly difficult task for himself (okay, I’ll write a 1) fake history, 2) detective novel and 3) make it funny) and he actually pulled it off. Kinda like a pitcher walking the bases loaded just to see if he can strike out the side.

  12. 12.  You want to be a mop-up man, I’d prefer to be a lefty specialist.

  13. 13.  I don’t like being in the middle of the action either. Never have. In school I would always sit in the middle of the classroom. I assumed that the teacher would call on the kids in the front (assuming they would want to be called on) or the kids in the back (assuming that they were trying to avoid being called on).

  14. 14.  What a beaut — one of my favorite Gods to date. Putting “god” and the above photograph in any sort of proximity is by itself just too rich. (If there’s a book someday, I can only hope that this specimen makes it onto the cover in some way. Puffy, top-heavy, and with stringy, pre-Gatorade-and-weight-room arms draped over the bullpen fence, he looks like a guy whose hangover — after four Tylenols and a nap — has finally become just bearable.)

    “If I’m ever officially involved” … stop, yer killin’ me ovah heah.

    Finally: Maybe not quite separated at birth, but tell me there’s not a resemblance between Mike Barlow annnddd…. http://is.gd/DDZ

  15. Why are there more pitchers than ever on major-league rosters and no one at all like Barlow any more? One can’t help but wonder if that 28-105 is, in fact, the worst lifetime team won-loss record for “games appeared in.”

    What wasn’t noted, however, is that Barlow actually had two starts in his career. The first came on October 1, 1977–Game 161 of that season, as the Angels played out the string against the Kansas City Royals, who’d long since clinched the AL West division crown. The Royals started a pretty respectable lineup against Barlow (Poquette, McRae, Brett, Mayberry, Porter, Otis, Buck Martinez, Patek, Frank White) but they just couldn’t do anything against Mike, who entered the seventh inning with a 4-0 lead, having given up only one hit over six innings.

    The Royals scratched across a run in the seventh, and Halo manager Dave Garcia decided to get Mike outta there ASAP, and brought in his relief ace Dave LaRoche, who got the last six outs to preserve Barlow’s first win as a starter.

    It was also his last win as a starter. In 1980, when Barlow had been shipped to Toronto, the Jays decided to get creative and gave him a start on August 2nd. The opponent? The Angels. It took the Halos an inning to get over their disbelief at seeing Big Mike out there on the mound, but they recovered their composure and knocked him out of the game with five hits and three runs in the second inning. Another CG stalwart, Balor Moore, came in and induced Rod Carew to hit into a DP so that Barlow escaped further damage.

    The Jays got Mike off the hook by tying the score in the bottom of the second, but eventually lost–as they did quite often in those days.

    So Barlow’s lifetime record as a starter remains bloodied but unbowed at 1-and-0.

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