Bill Plummer

August 21, 2008

I Walk the (Mendoza) Line
Chapter One

Imagine a border, outs on one side, hits on the other. One side of this border is impenetrable. Each time an out sidles up to the well-armed border guards and asks to cross, the out is forced to produce voluminous documentation and to undergo both an enervating verbal interrogation and a full cavity search. The outs are almost invariably denied entry to a new life as a hit and return humiliated to the hovel they’d abandoned earlier that day. Conversely, all a hit needs to do to cross over to the land of outs is to walk through a ruined fence past a drooping scarecrow dressed in a fading government uniform. It’s hard to be a hit, and hits unable to deal with the pressure of existing as hits feel the pull toward the land of outs, and stumble across the border toward what they rationalize will be no more than one night of freedom from consequences, one night of blissful inebriation and release, but then of course the next morning when they approach the fortress blocking reentry they are seen as just another hopeless out.

There are many things wrong with me. One of those things is that I often focus on things wrong with me. But even after years of this tendency I never have been able to get at the central thing wrong with me. The search for such a thing is no more fun than picking through a dumpster on a hot August day, yet I often seem to prefer it to the alternative: facing life as it comes, empty-handed. I don’t know what this has to do with either Bill Plummer or the above paragraph or, come to think of it, anything, but I decided not to delete this paragraph, since the large majority of paragraphs I write get deleted. Young paragraphs read of me in their history books: I’m one of the most infamous mass slaughterers of their kind, a Stalin relentlessly ordering sentence-groupings to the execution chambers by the thousands. So this paragraph shall live, like some poor terrified hunchbacked shtetl nobody spared the firing squad at the last minute, his pants already wet, so as to bolster the feeling of godlike potency in the pardoning tyrant. Behold my terrible power! Mwoohahaha!

A certain terse phrase is often hurled at adolescents as the smug answer to all the internal and external attacks on their mental and physical well-being.

“Just be yourself,” they are told.

I am now 40 and only beginning to grasp who I might be. I know I had absolutely no clue about this when I was struggling through seventh grade. I was young for my grade, so I was still in my last year of little league, but the fun of little league, a place where I did actually know who I was, was like a single basehit in an otherwise long hitless streak.

Over the years, I had enjoyed helping my stepfather, an actor, learn lines for his various roles, so I tried out for the seventh grade play. I didn’t get a part but because there were so few people trying out everyone, including me, was at least assigned to be an understudy.

I understood this meant that I should learn the lines for the role I was the understudy for, but I never did, and the approaching date of the play became the source of a growing feeling of dread. On the morning of the performance I pretended I was sick and stayed home, just in case the other kid, the actual cast-member, got sick. Everyone would turn to me and say, “We need you!”

I was in no shape to be needed by anyone.

Bill Plummer was an understudy for Johnny Bench, perhaps the greatest catcher in the history of the game. Plummer won two World Series rings without playing a moment of post-season baseball.

He never was able to push his career batting average over .200. After several years backing up Bench on the Reds he went to Seattle in 1978, perhaps hoping for a starting gig on the second-year expansion team. He got only 93 at bats. He did hit .215 in limited action to push his lifetime mark up to .188, but that’s where it stayed. The following year he remained in the Mariners organization but did not play in the majors. If he had he would have been a teammate, albeit briefly, of the Mariners newly acquired utility man, Mario Mendoza, at that moment in time a nondescript utility man, not yet known for anything in particular.

What is it called? That feeling inside—partly an ache and partly, strangely, a glow—that something is wrong with you? That you’re not quite cutting it. That you missed some vital meeting early on where everything was explained. That every day is like crossing a border after being blindfolded and spun. You stumble one way wondering if you should be going the other. That feeling. What is it called?

(to be continued)

(Love versus Hate update: Bill Plummer’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)


  1. 1.  White Lily.

  2. 2.  It is funny that you mention Bill Plummer because just a few weeks ago Vin Scully was telling a story about Bill Plummer. He mentioned Bill Plummer because he was talking about the career of most backup catchers as being sporadic at best. He went on to mention how there was this guy named Bill Plummer who really must have had it tough backing up Johnny Bench. It is just a small coincidence and no big deal, but I wonder when was the last time Bill Plummer and his career was so talked about?

  3. 3.  nice post, Josh.

    of course, how ironic is it that Bill Plummer’s “Play Ball” result is a single?


  4. 4.  2 : I guess Plummer is somewhat in the mix these days; he’s currently the manager for the Diamondbacks’ AAA team.

    3 : I thought the same. Hey, Will, you’re in China, right? Catching any Olympics action?

  5. 5.  Another good one, Josh. It just so happens that my fantasy baseball team is named THE MENDOZA LINE and features a great face shot of Mario in a Mariners uniform. Anyhow, two WS rings with the Big Red Machine and now a manager for the AAA farm team of a divison contender? Congratulations, Mr. Plummer.

  6. 6.  ….for more on Bill Plummer,


  7. 7.  6 : Thanks for that link.

    FYI: Some good reading in recent comments in older posts:

    Carl Yastrzemski, 1975 (Red Sox); Bob Hansen (Brewers); Ken Reitz (Cardinals); Ivan DeJesus (Cubs); Al Cowens (Royals)

  8. 8.  A good word for not quite cutting it? Missing some vital meeting? In combination for being a life long reserve for a great catcher, there is a word…
    Ned Yost said behind Ted Simmons for years, and for good reason. He manages ahead of Ted now, the bench coach, and we all wonder why. I feel the Brewers win almost in spite of him. At least they’re winning despite the almost daily Yosting.

  9. 9.  Josh, a shtetl is a village. Maybe you meant a schlemiel? Or maybe the mixed metaphor was intentional, and I didn’t get it.

  10. 10.  9 : No surprise that my babble didn’t land. But I’m just the second generation out of the shtetl, so I know what it means. Try inserting the straight translation, village, for the word into the sentence. I’m using the word as another in the (confusingly long) line of modifiers of the word “nobody”: “shtetl nobody” (kinda like “town crier” or “village idiot”).

  11. 11.  10. Ah, used as a modifier of “nobody”. Sorry. Yeah, I had read it as “like some …shtetl [which] nobody spared the firing squad…” which made sense up until the wet pants. Then I didn’t go back and have another go. Anyway, very fine post.

  12. 12.  11 : I can totally see how that ungainly sentence could be read that way. That sentence, along with the rest of the paragraph, will remain in possession of its insignificant life, but it now shall spend it in the Siberian gulag.

  13. 13.  I dunno.
    For a guy whose stats seem so pitiable, Bill Plummer seems positively radiant in that picture.
    Or, at least, as radiant as a man with a chaw-tumor can possibly look.

    Perhaps he is thinking, “Woohoo! Let’s see if I pick up another World Series ring for playing 30 games this year. Let Bench do the heavy lifting. I love this life.”

  14. 14.  Bill Plummer seems content to be what he is — had Bench been less talented I imagine him not being content with .188 and 30 games but feeling a deep dissatisfaction and spending as many grinding solitary hours as necessary to be at least respectable. .200 hitters are left unmade, not born.

  15. 15.  Brilliant.

    That feeling? I’ve always explained as being on stage. You don’t remember your lines, the play is in Swedish, and everyone is moving around, walking and talking, and expecting you to do what you’re supposed to do and say what you’re supposed to say. But you can’t. You don’t know what’s going on, and everyone’s mad at you.

    Reminds me of a line by Dave Barry-Mario Brothers is a video game where a tiny man is being assaulted constantly by malevolent forces that come at him from all sides and try to kill him. In other words, it’s exactly like real life.

  16. 16.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that Mr. Plummer’s career average is below the proverbial Medoza Line. Look at his grip on that bat!

  17. 17.  15 That’s a pretty good description of how I felt when I moved to Sweden at age 13.

  18. 18.  16 Wow. Great observation. He’s batting left-handed with his right hand on top! Ha. Reminds me of when I thought I was a switch-hitter in t-ball.

  19. 19.  It’s indeed a puny swing, but in all fairness to Plummer, it’s an anemic right-handed follow-through.

  20. 20.  that’s right, Josh, I live and work in Qingdao, the venue of the Olympic Sailing Regatta. So i was able to watch the sailing races directly from my office window. This looked like nothing so much as dozens of pretty sails milling about aimlessly over the ocean surface. LOL! I did have tickets to go into the sailing venue and the one day we went was brutally hot and the gold medal races were cancelled for lack of wind.

    However, we did have televised coverage virtually all day on 6 or 7 different channels. This was great if you were rooting for the Chinese athletes because I’m pretty sure that CCTV were bigger homers than NBC.


  21. 21.  19 Yeah, good point, Koop.

    PHOTOGRAPHER: “Alright, Bill, now let’s get a shot of you batting for a Texas leaguer…..great, aaaaaand…got it! You’re gunna’ have a higher BA than Don Werner this year….I can feel it!”

  22. 22.  This summer while attending a Reds game, Johnny Bench was at the Reds Hall of Fame pimping his book. I thought I’d have some fun with the Reds HOF staff, so I excitedly approached them and asked “I heard Bill Plummer is here signing autographs!!!!!! Where’s he at?!?!?!?!” One staff member gave me a dirty look, another retorted “He’s in the Ed Armbrister wing.” Great comeback line.

  23. 23.  21 and 22 : This comment thread is getting funnier and funnier.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: