Bob Bailey

July 7, 2008

Bob Bailey never commanded much of my attention when I was a kid. To be honest, I don’t even remember him coming to bat for the Red Sox as a pinch-hitter during the 1978 one-game playoff against the Yankees, which in general was the most memorable game of my childhood. In that awkward, wounded, sprawling decade, Bob Bailey quietly blended into the background.

Once he disappeared entirely from view I began to confuse him with Bob Bailor, who flickered to marginal life in the majors just as Bob Bailey was fading. I understand now that utility infielder Bailor was nothing like underrated masher Bailey, who for several years held many of the Montreal Expos all-time slugging records. But as the above duo of cards reflects, even the Expos were capable of underestimating Bob Bailey, shipping him to the Reds for Clay Kirby, who in the season prior to the trade, despite pitching in front of four Gold Glove winners, posted a 4.72 ERA, over a run higher than the league average.

Of course, the above duo of cards also suggests that Bailey let nothing, not even a complete change of scenery, affect his approach to the game. Let the rest of the world stumble and panic. Let the rest of the world try out new styles to cope with profound transience, with the widespread crumbling of societal norms. Let the rest of the world grow long hair and beards and mustaches and attend EST meetings and quit their jobs to sell homemade hammocks and get divorced and meditate and learn the Hustle. Bob Bailey is going to keep being Bob Bailey. He is going to stand there, implacable, and wait for his pitch. 

Fittingly, Bailey did his usual thing for the Reds (.298 batting average/.376 on-base percentage/.508 slugging average), albeit in limited duty (227 at-bats), but did not play in the postseason. The Reds shuttled him to the Red Sox near the end of the next season, and the following year he was sent to the plate to bat for Jack Brohamer in the seventh inning of the one-game playoff game against the Yankees. His last career at-bat, as it turned out. He was the potential tying run. Goose Gossage was on the mound. It was a big moment, but he surely stood in the batter’s box the same as he always had. Waiting for his pitch. Waiting for his moment. Three pitches later he was walking back to the dugout. I have a card for him on the Red Sox that year, and he seems in that card too old to still be waiting for his pitch. But I’m older now than he was then and I’m still waiting for my pitch. Waiting for my moment.

I hate Goose Gossage.


  1. 1.  Sometimes when I think that I am past having the chance to make it in life doing the dream job/work that I want to, I think about guys like Charles Bukowski, or Haruki Murakami who finally got their pitch long after their young days. I guess I am just trying to say that as humans we are conditioned by society and its stale idea that to produce anything worthwhile, one has to be young and attractive. Fuck that! Keep writing until you die.

  2. 2.  Bob Bailey was a bonus baby signing by the Pirates. Great things were expected of him.

    He ended up being OK, but not great and he hung one year too many like many athletes.

    Sort of like watching Eddie Murray pinch hit for the Dodgers in 1997.

  3. 3.  Without looking it up I have the vague recollection that Bob Baily hit .229 two years in a row for the Dodgers ingrained in my brain from his baseball card.

  4. 4.  Striving to make it work here in Hollywood, I tend to comfort myself nowadays with the thought that Robert Altman didn’t score (with M*A*S*H) until he was 45. So I’ve got five more years left!

    Beautiful work as always, Josh. Funny, the minute you mentioned Bob “Beetle” Bailey in the Toaster sidebar, I immediately flashed to that 1977 Reds card, and immediately remembered the chronically “set” posture. And there it was, just as I recalled, when I clicked on the link, natch. Just awesome.

    I still have boxes and boxes of cards from 1975-1981 sitting here in my apartment, including (I think) complete sets from 1977-1979. A few got wiped out in a closet due to a burst pipe a couple of years ago, but I dried them out the best I could (how I hated my skinflint landlady that day, though). The prospect of sorting them all out and figuring out what, exactly, I have now — should I sell them on eBay?, etc. — is terrifying, not only because of the work involved but also because your column makes me cherish them all the more.

    (And yes, I must confess I put the so-called “valuable” ones in plastic sleeves back in college in 1989 or so, so they’re okay.)

    Keep a’Goin’! (gratuitous, obscure Altman reference)

  5. 5.  1 : Yes, I won’t ever stop trying to crank one, encroaching mortality and tepid back-of-card stats be damned. Who’s with me?

    3 : You are almost exactly right, but in fact you overrate him slightly. He hit .227 both years, which must have enabled the Expos to scavenge him pretty cheaply (the transaction merely says they “purchased” him from the Dodgers).

  6. 6.  It was easy to have players blend together when you were young and familiar with them almost exclusively by their TOPPS incarnations.

    Knowing them as a kid primarily from their playing cards (and their garish chapeaus) the Expos seemed to have a whole bunch of interchangeable pieces in the early ’70s.

    Bob Bailey was certainly one of them.
    So was his indistinguishable teammate Ron Fairly. So was (the – in retrospect – rather uncomfortably named) Jim Fairey.

    You used to get one of these cards in a pack. Then move on. Same uniform. Same stance. Same general batting average. Same expression.

    Without the patient scholarly rumination that was afforded the backs of cards from the Mets or their rivals, the Expos pitching staff seemed interchangeable too.

    Towering righthanders in similar poses with lots of losses. And those unfortunate French Foreign Legion uniforms.
    Steve Renko. Steve Rogers. Bill Stoneman.

    Come to think of it, is Clay Kirby actually Clay Carroll?

    And if not, then who, if anybody, is he?

  7. 7.  I just watched Love and Death, and I’m reminded of the confusion of Young Nehamkin being older than Old Nehamkin. In the Reds photo, Bailey’s hair is a little longer, his waist noticeably thinner, his eyes slightly less slitted, and the bat held a bit farther away from his body.

    His stoicism is a constant, though. Patience is a learned trait — hang back, let the rabbits have their day. If you’re doing enough things right, the rewards will come, and you’ll have earned them. That’s how it’s come to seem to me, anyway, while I wait for those rewards.

  8. 8.  I had a vision of Jon Matlack in my favorite card pose, having just released the ball that is now heading to Bailey.

    In our 22-year old Rotisserie league, we sometimes refer to all boring, but productive, players as Joe Randa. Maybe it should be Bailey?

  9. 9.  6 : “Come to think of it, is Clay Kirby actually Clay Carroll? And if not, then who, if anybody, is he?”

    Ken Clay?

    8 : I wonder how a team of cloned Bob Baileys would fare. They’d score a lot of runs, that’s for sure.

    Here’s a nice comprehensive article on Bailey, which includes no less than four additional “standing-there-impassively-with-bat-on-shoulder” Bob Bailey baseball cards through the years:


  10. 10.  Hey Josh, just wanted to say I love your writing.

    I always say that baseball cards taught me the middle names of players when I was growing up.

    Stephen Patrick Garvey
    David Earle Lopes
    Joe Leonard Morgan
    Peter Edward Rose

    Anyway, love the work.

  11. 11.  10 : Remember how much of a secret everyone’s middle name was in elementary school? Unfortunately, after 1975 I think Topps stopped reporting that key info on the back of cards (I’m not near my cards right now or I’d confirm that).

  12. 12.  9 _

    Hmm…If Clay Kirby wasn’t Clay Carroll, maybe he was Tom Carroll?

    Regardless, the ’75 WS Champion Cincinnati bullpen was a confusing place once you got past Rawly Eastwick.

    Add one other note on those Expos starters that I, as a Met fan, have always found particularly irksome…

    Bill Stoneman threw a complete-game no-hitter against Philadelphia on Apr. 17 1969, the ninth game of the Montreal franchise’s existence.

    While us “friends of Mr. Met” have thrown in with Estragon and company for the past 47 seasons…jesus…

  13. 13.  12 : “the ’75 WS Champion Cincinnati bullpen was a confusing place once you got past Rawly Eastwick”

    Funny, I always confused Rawly Eastwick with Will McEnany.

    But Pedro Borbon was clearly and inarguably Pedro Borbon.

  14. 14.  … Gene Mauch said “Bailey means wood. Bailey doesn’t necessarily mean leather.”

    That’s the quote I remember most about Bob.

  15. 15.  12 Speaking of Clay Kirby and no-hitters….

    Kirby never did throw a no-no, but I remember a 1970 game – the second year of existence for the San Diego Padres – where he was in the midst of one, but losing 1-0 to the defending World Champion New York Mets after pitching the top of the 8th; two walks, a double steal and a 4-3 groundout had produced a run in the first. The first Padres manager, Preston Gomez, incited controversy by pinch-hitting for Kirby in the bottom of eighth; explaining that he was trying to win the game. (The pinch-hitter, current Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston – then known solely as Clarence, I believe, and in the midst of a career year where he would hit .318 with 29 HR – struck out, helping to fan the flames.) It didn’t help that the relief pitcher allowed two more runs in the ninth, making the game a 3-0 loss. I recall reading newspaper pundits arguing that the now 38-59 Padres needed the chance at the no-hitter of the defending World Champions from New York and the resulting news coverage had it happened more than a win.

    About two months later Kirby had a 1-hit CG win over the Giants allowing only a solo HR to Willie McCovey. The 1970 Padres finished 63-99 and the franchise has never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter.

    [I remembered the incident pretty well (Kirby, 8 innings, 0 hits, removed, Gomez), but thanks to baseball-reference / retrosheet for providing the exact facts.]

  16. 16.  14 : Bailey certainly meant wood for me. We’re talking about WKRP in Cincinnati, right?

    15 : Jeez, lifted during a no-hitter. That’s rough.

    FYI: Some good recent comments on older posts:

    Steve Garvey, 1978 (Dodgers); Champ Summers (Reds); Doug Bird (Royals); Dan Quisenberry (Royals); Stan Bahnsen (Expos)

  17. 17.  15 Preston Gomez did the same thing to Don Wilson in 1974, in what I think was one of Wilson’s last games.
    Same thing happened — the reliever blew the no-hitter.

    Of course, Wilson did throw one or two no-hitters anyway.

  18. 18.  17 Y’know, Josh, given your proclivity for dark stars and unpredictable paths, you’ve never written about Don Wilson.
    Did his career (and life) end just before you began to collect?

    8 , 10 Did Jonathan Trumpbour Matlack’s full name ever appear on the back of a card?

    And while I’m tossing out random comments:
    Every time I see the right side of this page (“The World is a Cardboard Rectangle,” “The World is a Cowhide Sphere”), I always expect to see “The World is a Ghetto.”

  19. 19.  18 : I just checked; looks like the last trace of Don Wilson (’75 card) made it’s way to me.

    And yes, Matlack’s full name is present on the back of his ’75 card.

  20. 20.  In 1971 Clay Kirby went 15-13 with a 2.83 ERA for the Padres. On that same team Dave Roberts went 14-17 with a 2.10 ERA. With those 2 guys at the top of the rotation how did they manage to lose 100 games.

  21. 21.  Bob Bailey lived a couple of blocks from me in 1978. I went Jr. High with his daughter – she was cute. She equated her situation with that of a military brat. The Eck and Taco flipped a jeep after dropping him off one night. They were drunk and the local cops swept it under the rug. Such was the ’70s.

  22. Bob Bailey was overweight by the time when he faced Goose Gossage. It was a miracle that he got around his fastball and grounded out.

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