Charlie Hayes

December 2, 2009

I found this card on the sidewalk the weekend before a Thanksgiving trip to see my mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew, who all live in a pretty city in the hills of North Carolina now. It was a good visit. I ate a lot of food, got drunk one night with my wife and my brother and his wife while my mom babysat their kids, played games with and read stories to my sweet, boisterous four-year-old niece, laughed at the comedic stylings of my two-year-old nephew, went on a nice walk with my dad, and spent a lot of time with my mom and the new love of her life, a tender little chunk of fur named Shaggy that she rescued from the dog pound a few months ago. 

“It’s nice to have something to take care of,” my mom said at one point, petting Shaggy, who doesn’t ever like to be apart from her for even a few minutes. My mom also helps take care of my niece and nephew now, and I got to witness some of this care, which brought back to me the way she was with my brother and me when we were little. It brought it back in a visceral way, something about the way she leaned down to help my niece and nephew color some pages with crayons. I could see it all happening years before, the soft voice encouraging my brother and me. She has always been a superstar of care, reaching out and holding tight to her loved ones.   

So I’m thinking of that today as I return to my daily life, which of course often includes a stop at my baseball card collection to try to make sense of this world. The collection continues, by little inexplicable miracles, to grow. I keep finding cards! I found this 1991 Charlie Hayes card just after I had finished one of my morning jogs up and down the streets of my neighborhood. I was walking up Western Avenue to get some quarters from the machine in the laundromat on Thomas. I noticed a little flash of muted color and looked down. The card was wet and had almost fused itself to the ground. If I hadn’t noticed it and carefully pried it up it would have disintegrated soon. It’s supposed to snow tomorrow here in Chicago, signaling the start of a winter that this card would not have survived.

I don’t have any deep feelings toward Charlie Hayes, beyond that he makes me smile for his involvement in a comedic riff by a friend that I’m not capable of transferring to the page. (Also, I see him catching the last out of the 1996 World Series, but the angst I have over that moment, which signaled the Yankees’ return to league dominance, centers more on Wade Boggs, who soon followed the Hayes putout with some nauseating on-field equestrianism, and Graig Nettles, whose 1978 one-game playoff-ending catch of a pop fly was vaguely but painfully echoed by Hayes in 1996.)

Nonetheless, I’m glad to have rescued the card from the world’s relentless all-encompassing road to ruin. All cards will disintegrate. Cover them in plastic if you want. Shield them from the elements. Pray for them morning, noon, and night. It’s only a matter of time. It makes you wonder why you hold on at all. Last night, in bed, I dropped into and then out of a shallow sleep, then I guess I started thrashing around a little, a physical manifestation of some mental anguish that had seized me like an owl snatching a vole in its talons.

“Are you OK?” my wife asked.

“I don’t want to die,” I said.   

She tried to calm me down, and her touch actually did help. She tried words too, but words only go so far. Words, at best, are like the plastic covering protecting cards. Plastic won’t hold back the inevitable.

“That won’t happen for a long time,” she said.

“Ah,” I said. (It was sort of a muted scream.) My thoughts were: But it might happen at any time and, more powerfully, But it will happen. There aren’t any words to stave off that fact, especially at certain times of the night when the veil of day-to-day life drops.

It will happen. So what do we do with our time here? What do we do with this thin disintegrating gift? 


  1. A friend of mine once said that wea re here to learn stuff, discover stuff. We’re as curious as cats. He’s fairly devout but, doesn’t take any of the holy books literally. I think he views the life as a scavenger hunt.

    Josh, have you ever read Ritter and Honig’s The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time? Bethlehem Shoals like it as a kis. Bill James panned it, but I should check it out sometime.

  2. I wonder how a card ends up on the street after somebody kept it for 18 years. It’s possible that that was my card. I know I bought a pack or two in 1991, when I lived in Chicago, and my sister either threw my cards out when our parents died a couple of years ago or she sold them and told me she’d thrown them out.

  3. Great Post Josh, I was going through Baseball Card Withdrawal the last few days.

    I’m amazed at how you find these cards just walking around your neighborhood. I’ve tried to look for cards the last few weeks but haven’t found anything except crushed soda cans, old coffee cups and used condom wrappers.

    I’m starting to like the stories of these old cards and how you found them more than the pristine cards you normally feature. They’re so vulnerable and fragile.

    I look at them and can’t help to think the journey they took. How long did the kid keep the card? Did he just throw it away in ’91? Could the kid have ever imagined that Hayes would catch the last out of a WS? Did his mother just throw a bunch of his old cards out when he went to college and somehow this one escaped the land fill? Could the kid have ever imagined that 18 years in the future some guy would show the card and write about the card on something called the internet?

    I think the really hard thing with dealing with your own death is the fact that it’s one of the only things in life that you must experience alone without bringing any other person with you any without any of your positions, (mp3 player, books, laptops, guitars, etc.) and the outcome is unknown.

  4. This remarkable speech gives a little perspective on life for us westerners: http://blog.ted.com/2009/11/east_vs_west_th.php

    What should you do with your life? Are you the one and only Josh Wilker? If so, then the value of your life is the sum of your achievements divided by that one life. So you have no choice: be magnificent!

    But if you look at life from an Eastern rather than a Western perspective, then you are just one of many Josh Wilkers. There have been many Josh Wilkers before you, and there will be many Josh Wilkers after you. The value of your life is your achievements divided by infinity, which approaches zero. Now, it doesn’t matter if you are magnificent or a failure, either way, the value of your life is zero. You have no burdens. You are free.

  5. I’d like to think that Charlie Hayes card has been floating around lost for the bulk of those 18 years, and somehow had survived to this point. I know it’s highly unlikely, but still, the concept pleases me.

    And, Josh…as Joseph Campbell said, “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

  6. What do you do with your life, Josh? You do the bidding of your Creator. He created you for a purpose … HIS purpose. Doing His will and giving Him glory and honor.

    And we all know that Jesus was right when he said that death would come like a thief in the night. Are we prepared?

  7. The condition of this card is making me think about the passage of time and how cruel and harsh life can be on appearances.

    I had my 25th high school reunion the other day, I didn’t attend but I’ve looked at several photographs that were posted on facebook. I really had no interest in going but I can’t help but think about life and my own mortality these past few days.

    The thing that really stood out for me in the photos were the pictures of the really pretty “A” list girls (Prom Queens,the cheerleaders, the 10-15 prettiest girls etc.) from my class. It’s amazing how drastically they’ve changed since the 10 year reunion. When I was in high school these girls were like magnificent creatures walking around the halls next to mere mortals like myself. In high school they existed in their own space with their own rules. Now there is not much difference between them and the “B” or “C” list girls and in some cases the “C” list girls actually look better than the “A” list girls.

    Beauty like a pristine ’91 Charlie Hayes card is fleeting.

  8. I think I speak for many if not most of us in asking (nicely)reader “alkaline6” to step the f— off and share his proselytizing with perhaps some far away Web site in the theological realm where it belongs…and permanently, eh? This blog is NOT the place for that crap.

    It is reassuring to hear your worries anwered with a “that won’t happen any time soon,” but of course we all know that life is as ephemeral as a December wind. When your number’s up, it’s up. Best to enjoy the heck out of it while you can, learn as much as possible, spend time doing things you like with people you like, and trying never to lose that sense of wonder…

    And I think I speak for Charlie Hayes when I say “Feets…Do yo stuff!”

  9. What I want to know is does that nickname mean “alkaline” like a battery, or Al Kaline? Or was it actually posted by THE AL KALINE?!? I don’t think Al Kaline is a born-again, nor do I think he reads this blog, but hey, stranger things have happened.

    I remember being upset when the Yankees lost Charlie Hayes to Colorado in the expansion draft. He was pretty popular in New York ’92, a year in which the Yankees, well, sucked. Years later I bothered to realize just how crappy Hayes had been. A .297 OBP? No wonder they didn’t protect him. Of course, he went on to have a good 1993 in that thin air.

    His second Yankees stint was notable for catching that final out in ’96 and then, if memory serves, annoying Joe Torre to no end in 1997.

  10. Al Kaline wore #6. I don’t know enough about alkaline to know if 6 is significant. I thought the Jesus post was a joke/troll that didn’t go far enough, which probably means it was real.

  11. I’m appreciating all the various takes on staring down the void, so thanks to everyone who’s chimed in so far.

  12. I remember seeing Carlos Santana on the Today show the morning after Jerry Garcia died. I recall him saying something like “You know, they say to live is to dream and to die is to awaken — but don’t wake me up yet, man!” Then they played Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen. I recall the hair on my arms standing on end.

  13. Thanks for contributing alkaline6, seems to me the only person entitled to be a gatekeeper around here is Josh himself, and I don’t notice Josh trashing this beautiful site he’s created w/ ugly, bigoted words. Get over yourself, Ramblin’ Pete, you speak for yourself and no one else.

  14. You know I often think of my own mortality as often as a thrown away Charlie Hayes 91 Donruss card. I have had that strange Oh My God I am going to die realization and it doesn’t make it feel any better. So what do we do with our time here? Live our lives and regret is for those who are afraid to make mistakes and decisions, yeah I will cry, bitch, moan and complain, but honestly live your life as if it was the last time on this god-forsaken rock, you will only get one chance to do this. What do we do with this thin disintegrating gift? Cherish that card it won’t last.

  15. Ken Arneson,

    That was a very interesting speach that guy gave. I like his point about “MY” World and “The” World. It kind of reminds of the baseball Hall of Fame and how baseball media/fans get so worked-up over who deserves to be in and who doesn’t. I’ve come to the conclusion after reading tons of material and books on the subject that the baseball HOF or a baseball HOF member is all relative to the each fan/media member and it’s mostly subjective.

    Big DaddyFish,

    That was a good post. As far as regret goes, I think part of the problem with being human is this memory we possess and the ability to look back on our life from a 20-20 vantage point. There’s also this ability humans have to imagine several possible outcomes to many different situations. I think regret is just part of that human experience. I don’t really believe people who say they have “no-regrets”, how is that possible? When I think about “No-Regrets” I think about when Mike Schmidt retired and he said like many athletes say, I had “no regrets”. How can that be? He went 1/20 and hit .050 in the ’83 World Series. He went 1/16 and hit .063 in the ’78 LCS. Wouldn’t those two events qualify as a “regrets”?

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is don’t get too hung-up on “regrets”, it’s part of the human experience but don’t deny those thoughts. Usually the possible outcomes are never as “bad” or as “good” as we imagine them to be.

  16. Confidenti-al-ay to the flame-thrower named (am I getting this right?) “kerfluffle…?”

    Dearest “Kerfluffle,:”
    Your shrill opinions have been duly noted.
    Your ember-fanning choice of words and vindictive, smugly moralistic attitude have been noted duly as well.

    Thank You.

    Telling someone to ” get over” (themselves) is rude, and discourteous,
    while your choice of words, overall, have a nasty, patronizing edge to them. You obviously covet the moral high-ground in some world where you are the supreme arbiter of “beauty” and decorum.

    Your high-pitched sanctimonious whining about “ugly, bigoted words” show you to be just as much of a censorous, gate-keeping lunatic as any belwether of taste this side of Art Linkletter Sr.,

    Your self-rightgeous stylings reverberate no more (nor less) than the seemingly desperate shreiking of crows, in an a wilderness where you may reign benignly as a self-appointed watchdog commenting judgementally upon all that you survey.

    If I may be so bold as to sample from depression-era lexicon,

    … that’s quite a kefluffle!

    Baseball anyone?

    with love,

  17. let’s be happy for the time we have and not get too heavy! thanks for the nice vibes josh. happy holidays to you and yours…

    btw, charlie hayes will never disintegrate! like you said, the image of him catching that ball (and the play my buddy calls “chahlie hayes w/the slow rollah” in his mass accent).

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