Bob Grich

September 30, 2008
Baseball cards and comic books. Those were the two imaginary-world pillars that my inward childhood was built on. The two worlds come together here in this 1977 Bob Grich card, which always has and always will remind me of Marvel comics artist Jack “King” Kirby’s lantern-jawed, dimple-chinned heroes, who often paused amid dire intergalactic battle to fill the entire comic frame with their chiseled heads and deliver clear-eyed pronouncements of urgent courageous purpose, just as Bob Grich seems to be doing now. Most baseball cards imply that the next moment beyond the moment of the photo will be a few batting cage swings or a saunter to the outfield to snag some flies. But here it seems more likely that Bob Grich—as soon as he is done uttering something along the lines of “He has gone mad with power and MUST BE STOPPED!”—will in the next rectangular frame chronicling his adventures leap high into the sky on superpowered legs to collide jarringly with a dark muscular otherworldly destroyer with dead eyes and ornate Aztec-inspired headgear.

As far as I know Bob Grich never tangled with Galactus or Modok or The Red Skull or even, I don’t know, chin music enthusiast of the Cardboard God era, Ed Farmer. I think Grich did once scream at Earl Weaver for pinch-hitting for him too often when he was a rookie, but no blows were thrown by either man. Instead, Grich just fairly quietly went about his job, over the course of his career creating a body of work bettered by only a couple handfulls of second basemen in major league history (Bill James, a longtime advocate of the underrated Grich’s estimable worth, ranked Grich as the 12th-best second baseman of all-time).

This card heralded the beginning of Grich’s stay with the Angels. Interestingly, I have no memories of Grich beside this card until a moment at the very end of his Angels sojourn, which also happened to be the end of his career. The reason the latter moment, which came during the Angels’ 1986 American League championship series against the Red Sox, stands out in my memory is that once again Bob Grich seemed like a character who’d be at home in the pages of a superhero comic. I don’t recall exactly when the moment occurred, but it was either after the Angels’ third win, which put them up three games to one, or after the Angels took a commanding lead in the next game. The California sun was shining down, the home fans were screaming joyously, and Grich leapt into the air to give a seismic high five with a teammate, who in my memory was the Angel with the bulging comic book musculature, Brian Downing. Both Angels, but especially Grich, seemed larger than life, as if with a couple uncanny Hulk-like leaps he could bound all the way across the continent to New York to finally participate in his first World Series.

He shrank back down to human size soon enough, I guess. In fact, I don’t remember seeing him during the Angels’ ensuing collapse. He became like the rest of us once again, who are only ever superpowered in our dreams.


  1. 1.  Bobby Grich is my favorite non-Dodger baseball player.

    My biggest non-Dodger baseball disappointment was that he and that Angel team did not make it to the World Series.

  2. 2.  I grew up in part under the halo of “The Big A.” Me and my Los Angeles dad always were for the Dodgers, but my mom always loved those California Angels. Every era of Angels she had her favorites. Bobby Grich was the first, then Wally Joyner, followed by Chuck Finley and JT Snow. I was always intrigued by her fascination with those guys. I wasn’t sure if she just thought they were handsome, or just enjoyed their names? Anyway, I always love an old California Angels post and I got excited when I saw Bobby Grich on the sidebar for Cardboard Gods.

  3. 3.  Bobby Grich is one of the most satisfying names to say. The sound of it also describes him, somehow. It’s the sound of a guy making a diving, uniform-dirtying stop.

    Surely I’m not the only guy here whose childhood was defined in part by the drawings of Jack Kirby…?

    Truth be told, my favorite comic book hero was Spider Man, whom Kirby never worked on, I don’t think. But I definitely read my share of Kirby. Maybe it’ll pay off yet in my literary endeavors. No fewer than two fairly recent Pulitzer-Prize-winning novels (Chabon’s Kavalier and Klay and Diaz’ Oscar Wao) have made overt, grateful reference to Kirby. And a few years earlier Rick Moody’s great novel The Ice Storm was in some ways a long love letter to Kirby’s work on the Fantastic Four.

  4. 4.  Josh, I grew up with comics books at the tip of my hand. My aunt owned a pet store where older cousin ran a comic book store inside of. It didn’t do good business because we would mostly just grab a stack of comic books, walk back to the house, eat some cereal and read comics all day long. My aunt wasn’t usually pleased about this. I am younger than you, so my guys were Alan Moore and Jim Starlin, but I have definitely have read my share of Kirby. The ballplayers I watched were for sure transformed into superheroes. Even today, I envision Jeff Kent beginning his second shift of the night after the ball game of kicking ass throughout the streets of Los Angeles!

  5. 5.  Grich shaved off his mustache when he retired. He wasn’t going to play much in the 1986 ALCS, but Wally Joyner got an infection in his leg and Grich had to fill in at first.

    I remember him announcing his retirement in the locker room after Game 7. It was quite matter of fact although he seemed a bit sad.

    Grich is one of three Angels to lead the AL in homers. The other two were Reggie Jackson and Troy Glaus.

  6. 6.  I don’t recall ever thinking of Grich as Bob instead of Bobby before. He looks like he should be in a Winston ad with that hair and that full mustache. (I said something similar about, IIRC, Gene Pentz. I’m running out of material!) But I didn’t really get into comic books. I was more about Encyclopedia Brown and Jupiter Jones; the Sherlock Holmes and the Phillip Marlowe of the tyke set. So I wound up getting into mysteries and thrillers when it comes to genre fiction.

    I never said this out loud fearing I might irk somebody, but Grich is among those ballplayers that I think of as cult ballplayers; players that some (usually the more sabermetrically hip) think should be in the Hall of Fame but aren’t and may never make it. Some others include: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Darrell Evans and Bill Freehan. I suppose that a common denominator among may of these guys is a broad base of skills instead of one or two that stand out. I’m usually sympathetic to arguments for these guys; as long as their supporters don’t brand opponents as idiots or worse. IOW, as long as they don’t treat baseball like Pitchfork treats music.

    Great post, Josh. Is this going to be a Cardboard Gods game thread for Wednesday night?

  7. 7.  5 : I wonder how many second basemen have led (or co-led, lest we forget that Grich tied in ’81 with Dewey Evans, and maybe also with Tony Armas) the league in homers. Hornsby did it a few times, probably. Anybody else?

    6 : Yes, I’ll get a game thread up on the site sometime before first pitch tomorrow.

  8. 8.  7
    Don’t forget Eddie Murray! He was part of the strike-shortened 4-way tie in 1981.

    Other 2B League Leaders
    1901: Nap Lajoie
    1922, 25: Rogers Hornsby
    1990: Ryne Sandberg

  9. 9.  Davey Johnson still holds the single-season HR record for a 2B, with 43 in ’73. But Willie Stargell hit 44 that year. Average distance was presumably no contest….

  10. 10.  As a longtime Orioles fan, I’ve always liked the perpetually undersung Bobby Grich. He was on some great O’s teams.

  11. 11.  Josh, I share your childhood pillars. Coming of age, Kirby was surely King, Dairy was Queen, and Carlton, Seaver, Palmer, and Catfish were Aces (in every sense). Growing up doesn’t entirely suck, but I miss that purposeful clarity of youth. I imagine that’s why we’re all here, since you put that ennui into words better than anyone I’ve read.

    On the topic of funny books, you surely know that Walter Mosley is a huge Fantastic Four fan. I don’t know how he feels about baseball (and given the difference in ages, he would have different but equally potent Aces and quite likely not give a damn about Dairy Queen), but I’d say it’s down to you and he to articulate the alchemy that comes when the game is blended through the perception of Kirby. I believe, for example, I’ve seen Kirby’s renowned Dots pulsing off the bat of Manny Ramirez lately, but that could just be fuzzy TV reception.

    No room for the self-doubt of Ditko’s Peter Parker, though, not in this game. Well, not beyond some of those Cardboard Gods haunted by the Two Freaks, anyhow…

  12. 12.  This card of Bobby Grich always creeped me out as a kid because there was no inidcation he was as a baseball player. He’s not doing anything baseball-related, he’s not even wearing a baseball hat. I can’t recall another player so fully taking up the whole card with just a face, either, but the fact he had the coveted “All Star” designation marked him as a man of distincton, however, so it was necessary to take him seriously. It was a troubling mix for me.

  13. I guess I am biased….but he definitely should be in the hall of fame. Come on, whose with me? One of the hardest working players to ever step foot on the field.

  14. I’m with you, Brianna. Bob Grich was one of the greatest second basemen ever and should be in the Hall of Fame. The newer stats all pretty much confirm his greatness, so hopefully it’s only a matter of time before he gets in.

  15. this is the story I think about when I think of Bobby Grich. http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1985-07-08/sports/8501270756_1_bobby-grich-hidden-ball-trick-red-sox-first

  16. Haha that is an awesome story! He’s told me so many, there is no way I could pick a favorite. But has anyone heard the story of the Grich vs Tolleson fight? He tells that story so well! And now I know where I get my temper from.

  17. I’m on the Grich for the Hall bandwagon. He was a great player & a pillar for the Orioles teams of my childhood in the mid-seventies. I loved watching him play & I [metaphorically] wept when he left. Rich Dauer was no Bobby Grich. While it won’t help is HOF candidacy, my first Little League glove – a Rawlings Bob Grich model – is in my personal HOF.

  18. … The Grich/Wayne Tolleson dustup from 1983 is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEsuJk7Lutg&t=5m26s.

    The story behind it (or what I was told, anyway) involves Tolleson being at second base and Angel pitcher Bill Travers trying to pick him off.

    Tolleson felt like Grich was blocking the bag when Wayne would get back on the pickoff attempts. So, according to Bobby, Tolleson threw an elbow at Grich when he came back to the bag, and Grich asked him what Wayne was doing. Tolleson said “just coming back to the bag hard”, and Bobby said something to the effect of “OK, you got it.”

    Bobby gave the sign to Travers for another pickoff throw, Tolleson came back hard again, and it was on.

  19. haha ya he said to my dad “I’m just playing hard ball” and his reply “oh we can play hard ball” or something along those lines. Favorite story for sure

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