John Curtis

September 8, 2008
The Two Freaks
(continued from Ken McMullen)

Chapter Two

The Two Freaks roamed the land. No one remembers them now. How could they? Even when they were around very few ever noticed them, and then only in fleeting glimpses that could easily be dismissed as a trick of the eye, a second glance always finding them gone. They stuck to the shadows, the margins, the fringes. Occasionally they showed up at gatherings, but only the sparsely-attended ones and only for a moment. There are no records that they ever existed, but if you ask me there are traces. Here, there, and everywhere: traces. Through all the years of my 1970s childhood, the Two Freaks roamed the land.

They showed themselves to John Curtis just moments before this picture was snapped, though by the time his own less-elusive image was captured they were gone, leaving the bespectacled journeyman hurler to wonder if they’d ever been there at all. He’d been taking a pregame nap in the bullpen when summoned by the baseball card people, and while still half asleep, stumbling through the bullpen gate, he’d heard the thin flat tooting of a wooden wind instrument and saw whirling longhaired figures rushing by him, close.

“Security!” someone had yelled.

John Curtis had staggered backward, blinking, and when he’d regained his balance the blurry figures had disappeared.

He continued walking until the photographer told him to stop, then performed his guarded, flat-smiling pose, the slight wince underlaying his facial expression hinting of his growing doubts about the whole strange encounter.

“Say cheese,” the Topps photographer said.

“Just a synapse misfiring,” reasoned the college-educated lefty to himself as he pretended to be ready, glove-up, to field a screaming liner through the box.

“Got it. Beautiful. Couldn’t have been better,” the Topps photographer intoned, distractedly. He was already scanning his clipboard for the next forgettable 1976 Cardinal.

“Just a trick of the mind,” thought Curtis, meandering away.

But as John Curtis moved back toward the bullpen to await a situation hopeless enough for his long-relieving services to be necessary, he noticed that what he’d already decided was a dream had somehow left some tangible residue. The sky clouded over and it started to rain, and John Curtis went to stick his pitching hand into his back pocket and jog for cover, but as he did so he found that a big red umbrella was jutting from the rear left compartment in his pants. He hadn’t put it there. Why would he? It had to have come to him from the Two Freaks.

He pulled the umbrella from his pocket and opened it. The sudden shower beat down, making everyone else on the field scatter. John Curtis just stood there, laughing, temporarily invincible beneath the small yet inarguable miracle of shelter.

(to be continued)


  1. 1.  I always find myself reacting the strongest to the posts featuring cards I recognize from my own collection. I must have 4 or 5 of those Curtis cards and have no idea what’s in his pocket. An umbrella? A rolled up hat or windbreaker?

  2. 2.  This guy was teammates with some of the greatest, some of the greatest in their primes!

    Fisk, Yaz, Dewey, Tiant, Lee, Brock,Gibson, McCovey, Winfield, Fingers, Carew, Reggie Jackson, Lynn, Baylor, and a bunch more!

  3. 3.  2 : Wow, what a list.

    He was slightly before my time as a Red Sox fan, but I remember his name being mentioned warmly by Sox broadcasters and writers. I think he was recalled as a really intelligent, witty guy. Also, he was a homeboy from Newton, MA. And if that’s not enough, his middle name was Duffield.

  4. 4.  Goodness, I’m from Newton (the “Garden City,” for reasons I won’t explain here).

    I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of this man (John Duffield Curtis), but I’m just about your age, Josh, so my Red Sox memories start at just about 1977, too. That summer my Grandpa took me to my first game at the T Stop Known as Fenway. The Sox played the other Sox. We lost.

    But George Scott and Jim Rice hit towering home runs in a losing cause! I was very happy — I got a good seat (next to my Grandpa!), a hot dog, a program, a healthy appreciation for African-American accomplishments (a breath of fresh air after years of stale wind from my asinine stepfather), and a Carlton Fisk pin.

    Josh, I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — you are my favorite living writer.

    Keep at it, man.

    — Adam Timrud (formerly of Newton, Mass, now from Los Angeles)

  5. 5.  On one of our baseball jaunts around the country, we ran into Curtis. One of my friends recognized him sitting there watching a game. He was quite personable and I think perplexed that anyone recognized him.

    We remember him as being John Duffield Curtis III, though, and we always say his name that way. The third.

  6. 6.  4 : Thanks, Adam. Those ’77 Bosox were every little boy’s dream that summer: boom! boom! boom! went the homers. I’m sure I went to at least one game at Fenway that year because we always went at least once a year, driving down from Vermont and staying at my uncle’s house in Auburndale (a village of Newton).

    5 : No mention of the “III” in his name on his baseball-reference page, but note how he is referred to in the below snippet of an article by Peter Gammons, who I recall mentioning “old friend” Curtis a lot in his Sunday Globe baseball notes (the naming of Curtis comes early in this excerpt, but I couldn’t resist including the subsequent description of Curtis’ battery-mate in battle):

    “It was the ninth inning, one out, Munson at third, Felipe Alou at first, Gene Michael batting, John Duffield Curtis III pitching. As Curtis let his first pitch go, Munson broke for the plate. Michael tried to bunt, and missed. With Munson coming, the scrawny Yankee shortstop tried to step in Fisk’s way, but Carlton elbowed him out of the way and braced for Munson, who crashed into him as hard as he could. Fisk held onto the ball, but Munson tried to lie on top of him to allow Alou to keep rounding the bases. Fisk kicked Munson off him and into the air, and swiped at him with his fist. Michael grabbed Fisk, and as Curtis grabbed Munson — his former Cape Cod League roommate — Fisk threw Michael down with his left arm and fell to the ground. ‘Fisk had his left arm right across Stick’s throat and wouldn’t let up,’ said Ralph Houk, the Yankees manager at the time. ‘Michael couldn’t breathe. I had to crawl underneath the pile to try to pry Fisk’s arm off his throat to keep him from killing Stick. All the while he had Michael pinned down, he was punching Munson underneath the pile. I had no idea Fisk was that strong, but he was scary.'”

    (full article at http://espn.go.com/gammons/s/0723.html)

  7. 7.  Ah, the ’76 Cardinals — the first summer I lived in a major league city, I was 21 and spent a LOT of time in Busch Stadium that summer.

    Given the time and place, maybe that’s a Brockabrella (TM) in his pocket!


  8. 8.  The Brockabrella! I may’ve been precocious, because I am almost exactly Josh’s age and I started following the Sawx from my perch in greater Hartford all the way back in ’75. But that was too late for Curtis’s Sox stint. I first became aware of him when he finished up his careeer with the Angels.

    I seem to recall that Curtis was an author in his own write. It turns out my mind is still sharp these days:


  9. 9.  7 : I now know what my life has been lacking all these years: a Brockabrella.

    8 : ’75 was big for me, too, though I also have quite a few Red Sox cards (but not John Curtis) from ’74, my family’s first year in New England. The ’76 brawl with the Yanks deepened the bond, but in some ways the awesome but deeply flawed ’77 team was the first one I truly called my own.

  10. 10.  There’s a lot swirling around here between another great post, and some neat comments. To be honest, Josh, your story has a peculiar air to it. Are the creeps little gremlins of the major league park, or something far more sinister? Should we chuckle at them, like Curtis, or be wary and almost disgusted like McMullen? I can’t wait to find out.

    Speaking of Scott, my favorite Brewer card of all time is the 1975 Topps version. He looks as if he’s sizing up his bat to do some serious damage. And judging from his Milwaukee stats, he may very well have, despite the fact that he had absolutely no protection in that particular lineup.

  11. 11.  6

    I darn well know where Auburndale is! I had some geographical knowledge even at my tender young age when I saw that mystical first Fenway game all those years ago. (Technically I came of age in Newton Centre, and yes, that’s how it’s spelled.)


    I think this was the game for sure: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS197706160.shtml. Kind of weird to me to think that I saw El Tiante pitch — I didn’t know what the heck I was experiencing! Jim Rice went 4 for 5. 4 for 5! What a tremendous talent (and yes, I agonized when he fell apart in 1988, though I loved that Sox team, too. Boggs, Evans, Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks! I used to walk to Fenway on my way back from a lousy shipping-receiving gig at Rizzoli’s in Copley Place that summer and buy a bleachers ticket for like seven or eight bucks. Those days, I gather, are over now.)

    I’m amazed I can even remember “Auburndale.” Now I don’t think I even know what the hell city I live in. “Los Angeles?” “West Hollywood?” “The Fairfax District?” “Beverly Hills-adjacent?”

    Usually I just come up with “near Canter’s” these days.

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