Bill Stein

November 5, 2008
Contrary to my propensity for angry nihilistic self-hating screeds, I’m not an altogether hopeless guy. For example, today’s a good day, a hopeful day. I feel like I might have a leader. Last night, after the first speech of the new president-elect of the United States, I pointed at the TV and declared to my wife, “I want to run through a fucking wall for that man.” I really meant it, and felt an emotional tremble in my voice as I said it, but in truth as a declaration of intentions it was nice and blustery and vague. I didn’t actually have to commit to anything. I mean, I could have said, “Where’s the nearest Peace Corps induction center?” or “Get me the number to an organization that sends guys into locked wards to teach the criminally insane to square dance.” Since I’m kind of a quitter, and don’t enjoy quitting, I try to avoid commiting to anything. But here it is the day after and I still feel hopeful and like I want to be part of the Yes We Can battalion instead of continuing on with my usual lonely mantra of No I Can’t.

What does this have to do with Bill Stein? Well, not much. But first of all, at the risk of starting the first day of a hopeful new warmly inclusive era on a sour and mean-spirited note: whoo, he ugly. I only say this because I love my baseball cards, every single one of them, but most especially the ones featuring the luckless marginals, the nobodies, the drifters, the inglorious, the big-eared and mush-nosed and chinless and soggily-mustachioed and dim-eyed. The ugly. Hallelujah for the ugly! Today we spread wide our embrace to include every-fucking-body, the excluding myth of the Aryan suburban blond Mr. Joe America fatally punctured, hallelujah. And second of all, I mean the second reason I am talking about Bill Stein on this hopeful Yes We Can day, is that before this day was This Day it was, in the ever-evolving myth of the Cardboard Gods, Expansion Day.

On this day, November 5, back in 1976 (the year in which the country eructed stars and stripes from every pore in celebration of that first expansion into nationhood 200 years earlier), the heaven that has presided over my life expanded. That was the day of the expansion draft that breathed life into two new major league teams, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, and breathed life into the flagging careers of dozens of men on the professional baseball scrap-heap, and breathed life into the hopes of everyone who has ever felt the world closing in all around them. Life contracts, gets smaller, narrower, more and more hopeless. But life also expands. So today on Cardboard Gods we celebrate that expansion, as we will every November 5 from here until the molecules currently comprising my singular body expand to mingle with the body of all.

Happy Expansion Day, everybody!

* * *

And speaking of expansion, Bronx Banter’s ongoing Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series recently expanded to include my obscenity-laden ramblings about car wrecks, criminal mischief, and Steve Balboni.


  1. 1.  I remember some time in the mid-1980s there was a movement to reduce MLB rosters to 24 guys to save the $40,000 or so that the 25th man got each year. Somebody said “But then we wouldn’t have room for the Bill Steins of the world.” The 25-man roster survived, but Stein didn’t play after 1985. I may have just imagined all that, but I’ll also imagine that Bill Stein was Curt Flood in his own way.

  2. 2.  My introduction to Stein was a misleading one. It was one of the early Topps Sticker Albums, maybe ’82 or ’83, and Bill was one of the few who made the “records” page. I don’t know what the record was he actually set, but I did know that the guys who made this page (and similarly the ones on the Topps “Record-breaker” cards) were the greats. Full of guys like Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Nolan Ryan. So I just assumed Bill Stein was this great ballplayer, but the reading of the above piece and the writing of this comment breaks my 25-year old record for consecutive minutes thinking about Bill Stein. A record about as exciting as the one Bill set.

    (I could look up his record but I think it’ll be more fun to see if anyone knows what it was.)

  3. 3.  1 : Yes. Room for the Bill Steins of the world. Amen.

    2 : Man, I want to know what that record was.

    You know, Stein was not that bad. He had actually become a semi-regular for the Chisox even before Expansion Day. His card in the 1970s online Strat league also shows him to be a somewhat useful guy in that he could play a few positions (poorly) and could hit left-handed pitching pretty well.

  4. 4.  Nov. 5, in addition to being Expansion Day, is also the birthday of Art Garfunkel.
    I think that fits in, kinda.

  5. 5.  2 According to http://www.brainyhistory.com, :

    “1981 Rangers’ Bill Stein sets AL record with 7 consecutive pinch hits”

    This was one of my favorite post, Josh….
    keep up the great work.

  6. 6.  Champ, thanks. That had to be it. You wouldn’t think a record like that would be sticker-worthy…maybe it was a down year for record-setting in the AL.

    Josh, nice job on the Yankee Stadium piece. I laughed at the middle finger thing–I flip that place the bird every time, and that was a lot when I was passing it every few weeks while in a New York-Boston long distance relationship. (Which lives on as a Providence-Providence no distance relationship.)

  7. 7.  0 6 Not to be overly contrary, guys, but the thought of flipping off Fenway Park has never even occurred to me.

  8. 8.  That’s because Fenway is beautiful. 😉

  9. 9.  8 um…no…actually….It’s because I’m too obsessed with what my team is doing to worry about anyone else’s team or park.

    Funny thing about Auburn fans down here; they’re happier when Bama loses than when their own team wins.

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