Bill Travers

July 9, 2008

Since I have always lived more in my mind than in the geographical location where I receive my mail, and since that mind has more often than not focused itself on baseball, it’s accurate to say I grew up not in any particular state or county but in the American League East. The Brewers were there, for the first few years a blurry, negligible presence, like a quiet, nondescript kid in the back of the class, the kind who never seemed to change from year to year (not that anyone was ever really looking, not even the teacher). Then gradually as the ’70s waned that kid hit a testosterone-heavy growth spurt and hair exploded from his face and he got suspended for bringing a switchblade to school and suspended again for knocking his vocational arts teacher unconscious and in general made you feel uneasy when you passed him in the high school parking lot as he leaned on his dented Camaro with his eyes hidden behind mirror shades and his hands on the Wrangler-bejeaned ass of his raspy-voiced world-weary girlfriend.

Ah, the Brewers of my puberty years. I didn’t realize I’d miss them when they followed that brief loud prime by receding into anonymity again, hair disappearing, muscles liquefying, bravado reduced to the occasional impotent beer-drunk rant against the many encroaching borders of life. I imagine as they first moved into this anticlimactic phase of their lives they resembled Bill Travers, still young, cleanshaven in accordance to employee rules, the only change from one year to the next the slight shift of facial expression from confused and questioning to confused and blurrily, sadly resigned.

Who even knows when they moved out of the American League East? One day you drove past their trailer where they’d spent the last several useless years, and the weeds spouting up through the engine of the dented Camaro up on blocks seemed even more overgrown than usual, no sign of the Brewers or the no longer scrawny but still world-weary woman or the couple’s several nondescript towheaded quietly crying kids.

I still live in the American League East for the most part, i.e., in my mind, but I get my mail in a region affiliated most heavily with the National League Central. Turns out this is where the Brewers moved, like a factory worker who decided when the factory relocated that instead of taking severance pay he’d move the whole wreck of his life to another state entirely and take his chances there. Nothing really changed. Year after year the Brewers punched the clock. If a baseball card were produced to personify each of these years, the series of cards would again resemble the 1975 and 1976 cards of Bill Travers, as if the meek unchanging anonymity of childhood was the inescapable fate of their life.

Last night I listened to the end of the Milwaukee Brewers game on the radio. The crowd was roaring. Their newest acquisition, a towering, charismatic beefster, got the win, one of their two great young sluggers, an obese vegetarian, drove in a run, and their other great young slugger, The Hebrew Hammer, blasted a three-run homer. In other words, for the first time in many years, I looked straight at the Brewers, and it turns out the Brewers seem to have a glimmer in their eye like they might just throw a bowling ball through a plate glass window or put a guy in a headlock in the parking lot of a Molly Hatchet concert or find that long-missing part for their dented Camaro. In other words, lock up your daughters. Here come the long lost Brewers.


  1. 1.  Speaking of the Brewers, today is the anniversary (2002) of their All-Star Game (the one that prompted the, “This one counts” campaign).

  2. 2.  Great writing as usual, Josh. And a great topic. On Monday morning I was driving to work and listening to the press conference announcing the Sabathia trade (the beauty of XM–you can listen to this stuff in its entirety), and someone mentioned that the Brewers hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1982. They suggested that the Sabathia deal could help the Brewers just like the Don Sutton deal of 1982. Has it been that long? Wow.

  3. 3.  I demand the Brewers return to the American League. The NL never wanted you. Out!

  4. 4.  That’s a tough division for me to root for while being a Dodger fan. You got the Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series in forever and it would be cool to see them get there. Plus, my girlfriend lives about 4 blocks from Wrigley, so I would like to be there if the Cubs did win it all. I would like to witness pandomonium like that for some reason.
    But then there are the Brewers, who have not been to the playoffs since 1982. It would be nice to see a small market team like them get in the playoffs. One way or another, one of those teams may not make it. But it seems as if the Wild Card ticket in is going to come from the Nat Central. So maybe both get in the playoffs? It’s tough to think about. And sorry for such a disjointed posting. My head feels disjointed today. Like rusty wrenches, bolts and screws.

  5. 5.  This reminds me of one of the first CG entries that I read; the one about Gorman Thomas.

  6. 6.  5 : Yes, with this one I was more aware than usual that I was plagiarizing myself. It’s my “Old Man Down the Road” to my earlier “Run Through the Jungle”. (I think those were the two John Fogerty compositions that prompted the record company that owned Creedence’s stuff to sue him for copying himself.) If I ever do get dragged into court over it, or even the court of public opinion, I’ll claim that I was trying to extend and improvise upon a theme (rather than merely regurgitating it).

  7. 7.  Oh, it’s fine, Josh. BTW, these too pics are definitely more similar than the two Bob Bailey ones. Travers looks like one of those sensitive singer-songwriter types that were around during the mid-70s.

  8. 8.  Sounds like you missed last year when the Brewers woke up from their slumber. They were a much better team last year at this point then they are this year.

    The BrewCrew have always been a favorite of mine probably because I loved the tandem of Yount/Molitor. I remember as a kid disliking Yount because he had the gall to want to play golf instead of baseball but then he became one of my favorites after Molitor joined the team.

  9. 9.  8 : I noticed that they did well early last year but didn’t pay much attention, figuring they’d fade, which they did. I’m sensing a different story this year. Last year was like the beleagured personification of the Brewers got wasted at an afternoon office holiday party, acted briefly like his old self, but then after being driven home by a coworker spent the rest of the day sleeping it off on the couch. This year I’ve got a strange hunch that he just might be out until last call.

  10. 10.  Not me, I think they end up missing everything and then lose Sheets and CC this winter and everything good they were building crashes before it ever really got going.

    Funny I was a big fan last year, this year I see to many holes to get me stirred. I think for the first time in my life since 1969 I may actually root for the Cubs since they had the balls to trade for Harden and Gaudin. Plus I like crazy Lou.

  11. 11.  The Brewers are a bunch of vagabonds. they are the only team to be in four different divisions.

  12. 12.  Actually, if you count a league with no divisions as a separate division, the Reds (AA, NL, NLW, NLC) and Pirates (AA, NL, NLE, NLC) have also been in four.

  13. 13.  Don’t forget the factory owner who made them move. Same guy who concocted interleague play and a tie All-Star game.

  14. 14.  11 That’s so funny that I can’t comment back seriously.

    Anyone else think that these Bill Travers cards were two pictures from the same photo shoot? Unlike Bob Bailey’s pictures (same pose, same look, but different background and different uniform), these two pictures look the same in almost every respect, just a slightly different angle.

  15. 15.  14 : Yeah, it’s a little easier to see in the original cards, but there appears to be a gaggle of A’s in the background of each card, plus Travers’ white T-shirt is poking out from under the neck of his uniform in the same way in each picture.

    Before scrutinizing these two cards I never really pictured the Topps guys taking more than one shot of each player during a shoot, but now I’m imagining the photographer snapping several shots while keeping up a yawning, desultory version of the prototypical fashion photographer (or pornographer) patter. Work it, Bill Travers, work it. Yes, yes, yes.

  16. 16.  You just beat me to it, Josh. The white shirt, the A’s–I’d say it was the late-May ’74 weekend when the Brewers played in Oakland. The also grabbed Ken Berry, Mike Hegan, Eduardo Rodriguez, and others that day. This further proves that Topps regularly uses pics from two years back as opposed to just the year before.

    Looking at other ’75 Brewers cards, I see Kevin Kobel in the old Yankee Stadium. Since it was being renovated in ’74, and since he didn’t have the yellow hat panel which was added in ’74, the shot has to be from ’73. He only pitched in two games that year–one in Yankee Stadium.

  17. 17.  The classic Topps recycling of pictures was the 1974 and 1975 cards of Ralph Garr of the Braves. Great photo, but it was used back to back years.

    Go Brewers!!!! Been wearing my 1974-1977 Brewers Road cap (just like Travers) steadily this year. Grew up listening to Uecker and Merle Harmon and rooting for Boomer, Pedro Garcia, The Original Italian Stallion -Bob Coluccio, Davey May, Johnny Briggs, Timmy Johnson, the Money man, Jim Colborn and Kurt Bevaqua.

  18. 18.  Brilliant!

    I, too, get my mail in the NL East while thinking constantly of the AL East. Messes up you regional football games, too-when I’d rather check in on the Jets or Dolphins or Bills, I get the Cowboys or Cardinals or Redskins game.

  19. 19.  Wasn’t it Bill Travers who came down with Legionnaires’ disease in 1976? And can it be that this somehow kept him from pitching in the All-Star game that year? I see his face and name, and this association comes unbidden to mind. Anyone else remember?

    Josh, a wonderful site. I’ve been reading it in silence for several months now. Your writing is–as so many others have said–transcendent, and, as a baseball-card-collecting New Englander who lived and died with the Red Sox most intensely between 1976 and 1986, I often have an eerie sense of deja-vu as I read. Having recently moved overseas, Cardboard Gods has become a favorite escape where I can soak in memories of that most indelible of times, and enjoy your brilliant, poignant, and amusing flights of association.

  20. 20.  19 : Thanks for the kind words, Geoff. That Legionairres’ disease thing doesn’t ring a bell, but I was probably a little too young still in ’76 to be aware of something like that. He does appear to have taken the ball pretty regularly in ’76, according to his game-by-game stats for that year on baseball-reference.com.

  21. 21.  19 Yes.
    A Travers quote from that 1977 baseball guide I keep citing:
    “I was so sick, I thought I was going to die. … I think my age and the fact I was an athlete and in good shape saved me.”

    Of course, he still managed to pitch 34 games and 240 innings in 1976, going 15-16 with a 2.81 ERA.
    Boy, I wonder how well he would have done if he hadn’t gotten sick.

  22. 22.  I, too, get my mail in the NL East while thinking constantly of the AL East.

    And I get up and go to work in the AL East, but I will always be in the old NL East, before there was a Central.

    Just as I will always be living (baseballically) in the 80s and 90s, and I will never quite move ahead again, like someone has just lifted the stylus off the record. I can see the world keep revolving, but the music is just a memory. RIP Les Expos, Nos Amours…

  23. Blasphemy! Topps put out cards with photos from the previous year? I’ll have to dig up my cards and study this bit of trickery with fresh eyes. Even though, as you scholars of the Cardboard Gods point out, this Bill Travers card is indeed from the same photo shoot, the expression is, as Josh remarks, a perfect summation of the Brewers, mid-70’s. The starting rotation of the ’76 Brewers couldn’t be more undistinguished (Jim Slaton, Travers, Jim Colburn, Jerry Augustine, and Pete Broberg), despite the best season of Travers’ otherwise mediocre career: 15-16, 2.81, 15 CG.

  24. Sooooooooo, don’t the players get a say in what card is put out???? Did Bill agree to the travesty of using the same shot? The topps photographer porno like instructions not enough to evoke any change in expression in bill?

    If you study it long enough, you can see the background A’s player go from standing to moving 2 feet away. I don’t think it is a super slow mo 2 year photo, but who know what topps had up its sleeve

  25. Bill looks so sad and pained……that ‘your a bad boy topps porno patter’ apparently got to him

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