Rich CogginsSeptember 18, 2009
Yesterday on the train home I looked around at my fellow riders and wondered which of us was closest to death. Nobody looked particularly sickly, and the oldest guy was probably only in his fifties, not really that much older than me. I don’t know why the thought came into my head.
I have a pile of loose cards in my shoebox that works as my “on deck” circle. These are the cards that I have considered writing about on this site but haven’t yet gotten around to doing so. This Rich Coggins card has been in that pile longer than any other card. It’s a card that I remember from my childhood and that, upon first looking at it as an adult, after years of these cards being out of my sight, gave me the same jolt that it had given me as a kid. It’s a jarring thing to stare at Rich Coggins as he appears on his 1976 Yankees card. It always has been. Many times in the last three years I’ve picked up the card and felt that jolt, but I was never able to put that feeling into words. Why do I feel the need to bury everything with words?
I started Cardboard Gods just a little over three years ago (first post on 9.10.06, to be exact), and I often pine for the what seems to me now to be the simplicity of that start. At that time my cards had been disentangled from the rubber bands that had kept them sorted into teams when I was a kid, and so everything was loose in the box. My plan was to start every single day by blindly dipping my hand into the box and pulling out a card at random and writing about it. This method, coupled with the fact that I hadn’t spent a whole lot of time looking at my cards in years, lent an exciting freshness to my first attempts to attach my own words to the cards that had centered my childhood. It was as if I had found a way to once again look at the cards for the first time.
As the odd practice progressed, I found my thoughts stretching out, making it difficult to post something once a day (plus: I am lazy), and I also found myself wanting to come at the cards from many different angles beyond just jotting my impressions of looking at the randomly chosen card. Often I’d find myself thinking about a certain player and how he related in some strange way to a story opening up in my head, but then to find that player I had to dig through my whole box of unsorted cards. Eventually I decided to sort all my cards back into teams, again retracing the steps of my younger self, and with that the element of randomness was diminished. I still sometimes try to pick a card at random, but by now I know generally where each stack is located in the shoebox (I have them piled by division) and I know the relative thickness of each team. I can no longer fake my way past the sobering fact that almost all of my cards have already come to me.
A certain sense of aftermath has presided over things here at Cardboard Gods for the last few weeks, a feeling that it’s all been done, all been said. I suppose this is only natural. In addition to writing about my cards on a regular basis for three years, I have also spent the last several months expending all my energy and heart on focusing my baseball card prayers into a full-length book (due out April 2010) that tells the story of my life and of the life of these gods and how the two have always been intertwined. In certain ways it’s a book that I have been working on for many, many years. Little wonder that I feel a little played out right now.
A little cross-eyed. A little disheveled, with buttons undone. A little like I’m staggering through the dusk. A little closer to the end. A little like Rich Coggins. Indeed, Rich Coggins, erstwhile Bumbryesque speedster and singles-swatting Orioles outfielder, was not long for the game at the time of this disquieting photo. He played in just seven games for the Yankees in 1976 before they tossed him into a Ken Brett for Carlos May deal that landed him on the White Sox, where he batted a funereal .156. When a batter hits .156, the sun has set for good. Rich Coggins had to wander out into that darkness beyond the heaven in which he had existed for a handful of years. He joined all the rest of us. All the acolytes. All the fallen gods.
Since I started this site, some of the gods have slipped away altogether, including most notably the very first player I wrote about, Mark Fidrych (who, after Yaz–may he live forever–is the second-most-featured player on this site). But Rich Coggins is still around. And I’m still around. I don’t know how Rich Coggins is handling the aftermath, but I plan to keep on finding ways to pray my way through these cards to the cross-eyed heaven of this one brief life.