Steve Ontiveros and Doug Capilla

September 26, 2008

                    One Continuous Mistake: The Cardboard Gods Story (So Far)
                              Part 3 of 3 (Continued from Rowland Office, 1976)

As the playoffs approach there’s been a lot of talk of the 2008 Chicago Cubs, the class of the National League, and of the 1908 Chicago Cubs, the last team in franchise history to win a World Series, and of certain disappointing Cubs teams from the century of waiting between Johnny Evers and Ryan Theriot, such as the 1969 Cubs and the 1984 Cubs and the 1989 Cubs and the 2003 Cubs. Lost in the litany of Cubs teams that Did Not Win It All is the 1979 Cubs, who nearly perfected mediocrity but ultimately failed at that, too, just barely, losing their final game of the season to finish 80 and 82 instead of 81 and 81, with 706 total runs scored and 707 allowed. History tends to shuck such inconsequentialities, which saddens me. Maybe it’s my purpose in life to push back against the obliterating tide. I don’t know. But I do know that the 1979 Cubs deserve to be remembered because, if nothing else, they set the all-time single season record for nostrils.

The Cubs’ Gehrig-Ruth combo in nostrilness, shown above, came together in midseason with the acquisition of Doug Capilla, who became to the pitching staff what Steve Ontiveros had already been to the everyday players: someone capable of moving staggering quantities of oxygen and carbon dioxide, respectively, into and out of his nose. Cubs management may have been motivated to make the move by the strong play in the 1979 season of the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose alert, inspired, electrifying play and ebullient disco-laced camaraderie have been associated with and even partially explained by their ingestion via nasal canals of prodigious amounts of cocaine; Cubs brass may have reasoned that to compete with the Pirates they needed to get more “oomph” running through the bloodlines of their sluggish, lackluster squad, and saw the giant-nostrilled Doug Capilla as the means to this end.

It’s not enough for me to end here, however, with this tribute to one of history’s forgotten collective achievements. I find myself wondering about Steve Ontiveros, who is like a forgotten entity within a forgotten entity. Not only is the 1979 Cubs’ nostril record uncelebrated, but the man who laid the foundation for the record, who brought his sizable nostrils to the ballyard every day, was likely cast aside by the Windy City’s top nostril groupies as soon as the massive twin circular canyons in the middle of Doug Capilla’s face hit town. Worse, once Capilla took center stage on the team, Ontiveros became expendable, playing 31 games the following season before being released on June 24. He did not play major league baseball again.

But in 1985 Steve Ontiveros debuted as an Oakland A’s reliever, only it wasn’t the Steve Ontiveros shown here. It was a different Steve Ontiveros. When you type the search terms “Steve Ontiveros” into Google, the first listing is for a page on baseball-reference.com. It is for the second Steve Ontiveros. In that way, the first Steve Ontiveros has been usurped once again, paved over by history. I’ve seen this kind of thing before while writing about my childhood baseball cards, seen guys named Dave Johnson and Dave Roberts dissolve into other guys named Dave Johnson and Dave Roberts. But, as names, Dave Johnson and Dave Roberts seem much more generic to me than Steve Ontiveros. I mean, I’ve lived a few decades and lived in two big cities and read a lot and I’ve never met or heard of anyone with Ontiveros as a last name. Are there two Kurt Bevacquas? Are there two Biff Pocorobas? Why must there be more than one Steve Ontiveros?

I don’t know. But my disillusionment in this matter reminds me of when I was a kid and discovered that there was not just one Ray’s Pizza in New York but dozens of Ray’s Pizzas. This shook me up a little. Every summer, my brother and I would come down from Vermont and see our father in Manhattan, and our visit would always include at least one trip to Ray’s Pizza on Sixth Avenue and 11th Street, just a couple blocks from Dad’s apartment. It was, I believed, the best pizza that has ever been made. As I remember it, there were times when the line for their giant cheesy slices was out onto the street, as if a piece of Ray’s was perpetually like a smash hit on Broadway. At some point, probably during solo visits from boarding school or college, when long pot-driven walks took me on my own through the city for the first time, I started seeing places that called themselves Ray’s Pizza everywhere. Worse, many of them claimed to be “The Famous Ray’s Pizza” or “The Original Ray’s Pizza” or even “The Famous Original Ray’s Pizza.” Being that I was still the kind of neophyte pot enthusiast who “got the munchies” I occasionally found myself far from the village and hungry, and, feeling traitorous, I was forced to patronize some of these imposters, their uninspired triangular groupings of crust, sauce, and cheese always confirming my belief that there was only one Ray’s Pizza, and it was the one my father had taken me to. I of course don’t actually know which Ray’s Pizza came first; they don’t have their histories printed on handbills near the napkins and hot pepper shakers. But I know emotionally, and it galls me, a little. Why must there be more than one Ray’s Pizza?

Which brings us back to Cardboard Gods. As I mentioned earlier in this series, I started Cardboard Gods a little over two years ago with some words on Mark Fidrych. Before that posting I had come up with the name and had typed the two words into Google to see if anyone else had beaten me to it. A handful of listings came up, but none of them had anything to do with baseball or baseball cards, so I had a name for my endeavor. If you type those two words into Google now you’ll find listings that differ quite a bit from the sparse listings I found back in the summer of 2006. I’m not encouraging anyone to perform such a search. Why would you? But if you do ever happen to find yourself wandering around and wondering about Cardboard Gods, I just wanted to get it down in writing that this is the original Cardboard Gods. The one that was here first. The one with the extra cheese. The one with the record-breaking nostrils.


  1. 1.  That Steve Ontiveros disappeared and returned as a pitcher always freaked me out a little. More recently there were two Jeff D’Amico’s. As a Met fan I cheered for the lesser-known versions of Pedro Martinez, Kevin Brown and Brian Giles. They’re my guys.


    Those crooks!

  2. 2.  1 : The Bobby Joneses confused me, as did the Greg Harrises until the weird-glove-totin’ ambidextrous one joined the Bosox.

  3. 3.  Life would be simpler if there were two Mark Hendricksons. One would be the guy who used to play for the Sacramento Kings and the other is currently a journeyman pitcher on the Marlins. Yet, it is not so.

  4. 4.  So I have a question about the Cubs and Wrigley and Wrigleyville on this lazy Friday night. My girlfriend lives in Wrigleyville and I was just here this past week or so. She swears up and down that the area was not the hip, gentrified area that it is now 25 years ago. The one where people pack into the stands on a daily basis these days. I still disagree with her.
    Every time I am out there I have to walk around that old ball yard. It never gets old for me. So the point of my rambling query is this. Did Steve and Doug up above play at a Wrigley Field in a bad part of town that was vacant by the end of a forgotten season? This card makes me think of a vast desolateness in the middle of Chicago.
    Maybe this Steve Ontiveros slipped into the 9th dimension and never returned.

  5. 5.  3 : Perhaps Hendrickson is trying to follow in the footsteps of the great Gene Conley, who won a couple championships backing up Bill Russell on the Celtics, kicked around the majors for some years as a pitcher, and once (along with Pumpsie Green) walked off a Red Sox team bus in a traffic jam and was later found trying to board a plane to Israel.

    4 : Hopefully a Cubs fan can chime in on that history question. I’ve only been living in Chicago in the boozy, Mardi Gras-esque “Wrigley Field Hottie” era.

    “Maybe this Steve Ontiveros slipped into the 9th dimension and never returned.”

    I don’t know his ultimate destination, but I believe after getting the heave ho by the Cubs he went to Japan and played for a while there. I’ve had him on the roster of a couple of my 1970s Strat-O-Matic teams. He was a pretty decent hitter. Not much power but a good OBP guy.

  6. 6.  By the way Josh, I have run across the “other” cardboard gods site. Those dudes lack the Bruce Willis feel of your writing. Glad to see you lay claim to being the first.

  7. 7.  Yeah, the Bobby Joneses…

    At two different points in their history the Mets pitching staff simultaneously boasted two Bob Millers and then two Bobby Joneses.

    Matters of race, role, different middle initials, and the fact that in each instance one was a lefty and one was a righty, never seemed to help anyone figure out what the hell was going on all that much.

    And in football, didn’t Gene Washington once mistakenly appear on the card of Gene Washington?

  8. 8.  ” Are there two Kurt Bevacquas? Are there two Biff Pocorobas? Why must there be more than one Steve Ontiveros?”

    I’ve wondered that myself. As far Bobby Jones, he was also a great golfer, as well as a Philadelphia 76er. When I was young, I got Tommie Aaron and Tommy Aaron mixed up.

    That string of dada search engine entries in the Rowland Office thread cracked me up.

  9. 9.  7 : I didn’t know about that Gene Washington confusion. (They didn’t sell football cards at the general store in my town.)

    8 : I was told on a couple occasions that my offensive hoop skills echoed those of basketball Bobby Jones. Unfortunately, he was known not for his offense but for his defense (and for having epilepsy). No one ever compared my defense to his.

  10. 10.  The 1979 Pirates that you mentioned, along with the 1972-1974 A’s, are the teams that I think best personified the excesses of the 1970’s.

  11. 11.  I remember watching the Mets-Cubs game on April 17, 1977, in my basement as Tom Seaver pitched yet another of his one-hitters, with the only base hit coming in the fifth inning by Steve Ontiveros, who joined that exclusive club that also features Jimmy Qualls, Mike Compton, Vic Davalillo, and Leron Lee.

    Two months later, the Franchise was shipped out to Cincinnati. I’ll always wonder whether, if Ontiveros had not gotten that hit, the Mets would have traded Tom Terrific right after pitching what would have been his first no-no.

  12. 12.  Just looking through old posts, as the weather outside is frightful…minus 30 windchill on sunny Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

    4 Wrigleyville was never a “bad part of town” – it was always a fairly quiet, residential, mostly white neighborhood that happened to have a ballpark as its defining feature. When the popularity of the team took off in 1984, aided by Harry Caray and WGN, the number of bars surrounding the stadium multiplied exponentially, and the frat-party atmosphere entrenched itself.

    As for the stands being packed on a daily basis, that didn’t really become the case until 2003. The Cubs have drawn very well ever since ’84 but, until the 2003 season, they’d only get crowds of 15 to 20k for early and late season day games. Unless they were playing the Cardinals or the White Sox, mid-week games would never sell out. Now, it’s a different story.

  13. Josh – let it be said that cardboardgods.NET (that’s dot-NET!)is the baseball-card-blog equivalent of the corner of 11th Street and 6th Avenue, so far as these things go. Bar none.

    Pass the oregano.

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