Bob MontgomerySeptember 30, 2009
I have more to say about Bob Montgomery than can be said in one sitting, one rushed sitting, I might add, the clock continuing the relentless march toward the time when I have to sprint out the door and begin my commute, that many-vehicled odyssey marked by delays, boredom, and the back-wrenching crush of coughing bodies in a groaning public conveyance. Luckily I have several Bob Montgomery cards, so I don’t need to say it all right now, and instead I’ll simply rejoice as long as I can before I go, rejoice first in Bob Montgomery in his many cardboard incarnations, because it just may be Bob Montgomery who best defines the central quiet joy that was card collecting as I experienced it as a young Red Sox fan growing up in rural Vermont. Once in a while I’d discover a Red Sox star in a new pack, Fred Lynn or Jim Rice or Carl Yastrzemski or the man who made Bob Montgomery a shadow in the realm of major league baseball, Carlton Fisk, and in those moments I’d get dizzy with happiness, so high that I was up and out of the world altogether. But when I got a Bob Montgomery card, and I got one every year from 1974 to 1980 except for 1975, I was happy in a quieter way, Bob Montgomery the farthest thing from a star. I was happy to get any Red Sox player, but Bob Montgomery, in his steadiness, coming back every year to me, became special in a familiar way, like an uncle who would always remember to bring a glove when he came to visit so that he could play catch with you.
And that’s exactly what Bob Montgomery did throughout the duration of his major league career that spanned the decade that I hold above all others, from 1970 to 1979: he played catch. Occasionally, he got a chance to bat, and he did so decently and also with a notable style, the last major leaguer ever to come to the plate without a batting helmet, but the great majority of the time he sat in the bullpen until it was time to start playing catch with relievers. I rejoice this morning that this world, for all its flaws, at least can boast that there’s a professional career to be made out of playing catch, and, in a related note, I rejoice in the aptness of this 1979 card, which may be the most accurately descriptive card ever created for a major league player. Here is Bob Montgomery, veteran backup backstop, gray hair peeking out from his cap, a coat on to protect him from a chill, and he’s not in the midst of playing catch but is instead ready to play catch. Perhaps he has already been knocked down in the depth chart, below primary bullpen catcher, by Muggsy Allenson, who started to eat into Monte’s already scant playing time in 1979. Still, Bob Montgomery waits, ready to perform the duties of a guy who will catch the ball if you throw it to him and will then return it you.
It took Bob Montgomery eight years in the Red Sox minor league system before he joined the big club, and then throughout his career with the team he experienced the peak of major league baseball, the playoffs, just once, and barely, getting a single at-bat in the last inning of the last game of the World Series (he made the team’s second-to-last out, just preceding Yaz, in the Red Sox’ loss to the Reds), and so this rushed morning the last thing I want to rejoice in is the current Red Sox squad clinching a spot in the playoffs very last night. Younger Red Sox fans may have begun to take such things for granted, and may be less inclined to rejoice, especially considering the team got in last night despite losing five games in a row, but I’m from the days of Bob Montgomery, and I believe that when you get a gift from the heavens, such as a playoff spot, such as a Bob Montgomery baseball card, you rejoice.