Steve Mingori

April 19, 2009


We all have a birthday and a deathday, though the latter is never part of a baseball card, which may well be why I spend so much time imagining myself into the worlds the cards seem to suggest. I not only don’t want to die, I want, even need, to imagine a place where death doesn’t exist.

So with that in mind what say we talk about birthdays? The back of this card makes reference to Steve Mingori’s birthday twice, once in the usual listing after “Born” and again in the feature that was on the back of every 1975 card, the trivia question and cartoon answer above the yearly statistics.

“Which pitcher was born on Leap Year Day?” the question asks. 

Steve Mingori is the answer. It’s the only time I can think of that the 1975 trivia question centered on the player featured in the card.

I wonder if I understood Leap Year by then. If so, the news about Steve Mingori’s birthday would have sent a shiver through me, as it would have reminded me that I missed having that birthday by just a few hours. What could be a worse thought to a seven-year-old than that he wasn’t going to have a birthday every year? Even worse than the unthinkable prospect of only getting presents once every four years would be the thought that I would be so slowly advancing in age. When you’re young, you want to be older. But if I had been unable to cling to the womb as long as I did—I was so against leaving that I had to be yanked out backwards—I wouldn’t even be two years old by the time I got this Steve Mingori card. This would have been particularly painful in terms of my relationship to the most important person in my life at that time, my brother. As it was, I was always struggling to keep pace with him, always frustrated that no matter what I did I always remained smaller and younger. If I’d been a Leap Year Day baby, he’d just keep pulling farther and farther away.

The year I got this card was the year my brother started playing little league, and so it was the year I started fantasizing about playing little league, pained by the fact that I had to wait until my 9th birthday. My god, if I’d been a Leap Year Day baby, I wouldn’t have been able to start little league until the year 2004! This would have been intolerable, but the payoff would have been that I probably could have done pretty well, even though by then my athletic activity had been reduced to taking out the trash and occasionally pulling my hamstring while running for a bus. Not only that, I’d still be eligible for little league right now! I’d only be ten! Oh, the pain and suffering I would bestow!

In a way, of course, I have lived my life as if I was a Leap Year Day baby. After all, here I am writing about a baseball card that was important to me when I was a kid, writing as if it is still every bit as important to me, if not somehow more. Many people play little league and collect baseball cards when they are kids, but then by the time they are ten years old in Leap Years they have long since moved on to something else. They understand how blatantly ridiculous—as ridiculous as a grown man with a receding hairline, bad knees, and a thickening beer gut competing on a little league field with boys—it would be for them to focus such a prodigious amount of attention on childhood and its flimsy detritus. They may even understand much better than I have ever been able to that we are only here for a short time whether measured in Leap Years or regular years. What are you going to make of that short time? Are you going to hang around the little league field forever? Or are you going to venture into the unknown beyond its chain-link borders?

Steve Mingori did not stay a child, though he did make his living if not his mark on the world playing what many refer to as a child’s game. (The figures in the background of his 1975 card seem to underscore that notion of it being a child’s game, seeming to be less like professionals preparing for a greuling season than like two boys in a backyard, one lobbing easy pitches, the other swatting looping, easy-to-catch liners.) But it was far from a child’s game, from what I understand, and something in Steve Mingori’s mournful expression seems to suggest as much: it’s a grown-up world he’s in, troubling, uncertain, full of stress. He’s going to be called on to get big outs in tough spots in important games. His ability to last in this so-called child’s game, and to make a living to support himself and his family, will rely on his ability to get those outs. No one will be able to do it for him. He will be alone.

There’s a certain defining loneliness to this life, whether you try to hide from it or not. There will come a day when you can’t get anyone out anymore and will be forced to leave the game. There will come a day that will be added to your personal data, below your birthday. It comes to everyone, even those who age in the inching increments of Leap Years. Even those who hide in the fallow landfill of childhood. Even those who hide in their baseball cards. For Steve Mingori, it came too early no matter how you slice it. Technically, he had had only 16 birthdays when his deathday came last July. In truth he was like everyone, eventually. Gone too soon, gone forever.


  1. Gorgeous as always.

    I think Pepper Martin was born on Leap Year Day, too.

  2. Mingori looks like he’s confused as to why somebody handed him a glove and asked him to stand and have his picture taken. He looks stressed.

    I feel like a little part of me dies when a ballplayer I remember from my youth dies. I miss Steve Mingori. He is part of me. Gosh, I like baseball.

  3. Josh, I only found your blog two weeks ago while googling Sky King and since then I have devoted my life to reading your previous posts. It is amazing how your thoughts and memories of baseball mirror mine (born in 64). I love how you can find a thread to write about even seemingly insignificant players. This site is now the first thing I check for anything new or to continue reading older posts. BTW baseball was more fun when pitchers looked like Wilbur Wood and Rick Reuschel.

  4. spudrph:
    Good call on Pepper Martin. He’s the longest-tenured major league Leap Year guy, followed by Mingori and Al Rosen in a tie for second. Below is the complete list of major leaguers who got robbed in terms of birthdays:
    Major leaguers born on February 29

    Thanks for digging through the archives. I agree with you about the look of pitchers in the olden days. I have a Rick Reuschel card that I’ve been meaning to write about for almost the entire life of this site. (The back of my card cartoon could read “Josh likes to procrastinate.”)

  5. Throw in Joe Coleman and Mickey Lolich

  6. Wow. Josh, you are COMPLETELY INSANE!!!! Keep up the good work! Baseball, i fear, like Mark Fidrych& Steve Mingori, is as dead as a fucking doornail. ESPN, the “new” Yankee stadium, (what was wrong with the old one?), A-hole-Rod& all the rest of the current clowns making a mockery of the game make retreating into the past the new national past time.

  7. God, those old Royals uniforms were ugly.

  8. No, those uniforms were great. You’re seeing a 35-year old card, taken with 35-year old technology, scanned to a computer and looking at them on a 256-bit monitor.

    That’s why statheads will never get it. The game is played on the field, and those uniforms looked great on the field.

    Mingo was the second pitcher I remember, after Steve Busby and before Marty Pattin.

    Yeah, the Royals suck now. But you should have been a 10-year old in Kansas City then.

  9. Yeah, the Royals were really good back then, and good in a cool and somehow scary way, at least to this Red Sox fan. As I remember it, they would always cut the plodding Red Sox to ribbons on the carpet in Kansas City.

  10. I remember the Royals from the 1970’s, having followed the Yankees as a kid back then. The Royals were a great team, the Yankees a tad better. Those teams had a lot in common, now that I think about it.

  11. I had to check my memory about the Royals dominating the Red Sox in KC during the Royals’ 1970s AL West dynasty; below are the yearly records of the Red Sox games played in KC:

    1976: 1-5 (all six games were played in one series!)
    1977: 1-4
    1978: 1-4

    Makes you wonder if the Red Sox being eliminated by the Yankees in the ’78 one-game playoff was somewhat academic. With the Royals on the horizon, they may have been doomed anyway.

  12. As a kid in the early ’70s I used to mix up Steve Mingori and Steve Barber, both AL southpaws. Speaking of Steve’s, I also got confused with Steve Brye and Steve Braun when both were on the Twins.

  13. “I also got confused with Steve Brye and Steve Braun when both were on the Twins.”

    You and me both:


  14. I knew I was not alone in my Steve confusion! Thanks for linking back to the 4/07
    post, I hadn’t seen that one yet. But it does point out the beauty of baseball card conversation. Josh, you mention the disputed ’76 batting title between Brett and McRae and Steve Brye’s role in it and suddenly were right back to talking about the great Royals teams of the mid ’70s which of course included Steve Mingori.

  15. Back in the 70s those Royals uniforms reminded me of Easter eggs dyed blue, with someone’s name written on the shell in wax crayon. They currently have a variation of that uniform that I think looks great.

  16. You mean Steve Brye wasn’t Steve Braun?

  17. Don’t ask me. Anytime I am in a conversation regarding the ’70s Twins, I use the names Steve Brye and Steve Braun interchangeably.

  18. those powder blue/easter egg blue uniforms were all the rage.
    didn’t the whitesox and twins have similar colors 74-76?

    Anyone know where that picture was taken? It really does look like a sandlot.

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