Darrel Chaney

December 22, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 16 of 25)

(continued from Dave Campbell)

Every day for the last week or so has been ruined by this fucking card. For me, a day without writing something with at least a hint of life in it is a useless day. This attitude is defective, I know. I try to start every day with at least a stab at gratitude that I’m still among the living and among my loved ones, the idea in this sort-of prayer to see that everything beyond those basics is gravy. But if I can’t write I get tangled up and thinned out and mean. So fuck you Darrel Chaney and your fucking worried glance perhaps over at the shenanigans of teammates on a team that, unlike your former squad, the Reds, has no hope for victory. I blame you for not pulling anything out of me but the worst self-absorbed spiritually bankrupt tripe day after day. It’s gone on for so long, the slump, that I have given up on ever having a decent idea again. I am through. I have swung and missed so many times in a row that I’m being given my release. I will continue to write out of sheer stubbornness, but the writing will be so horrifically bad that its only use will be to read aloud to torture suspected terrorists. I hate you, Darrel Chaney.


December is a bad month for writing. November is always the darkest month, maybe not literally, but in terms of getting down about things and feeling like there’s not quite enough oxygen and there’s nothing to write about and there are too many hours in the day and nothing to do and nowhere to go. September is too busy, August too hot, July too loud, June and May too nice outside to stay chained to a desk exploring personal trauma, April maybe the roof is leaking, March marred by a nasty late-winter upper respiratory infection, February second only to November in general gray suckiness, and January perniciously rife with resolutions, the days clogged up with soon to fail plans to get in tip top shape and attain nirvana and read giant tomes and cook complicated meals to ever put anything worth a shit down on the page, which brings us back to December, an awful month for writing, always, the feeling of everything being over clashing with the strains of getting a billion little things done at work and in life, and it gets so bad it begins to increase exponentially, because the worst thing for writing is to start worrying that that’s it, that no more words will be coming out, just pure shit, and that the generator of the pure shit is himself pure shit, and for the rest of life the one thing that intermittently brought joy and clarity is gone and from now on life, that joke with the cruel unavoidable punchline, will have to be faced head on, without any words to cushion it. In other words, I’ve been trying for days to say a single thing that doesn’t make me want to vomit about my stupid life or Darrel Chaney, and everything’s a swing and miss. Chaney: the look on his face, the white helmet, the collar sticking out. Haven’t I written it all a million times before? And what could possibly be left to say about “Josh Wilker”?


Last week I got to a meeting room after a couple other coworkers had arrived but before the meeting itself had begun. A conversation was in motion about the holidays, about Christmas trees.

“Do you put up a tree?” I was asked.

When I was a kid, we always had a tree. It was a big part of the escalating frenzy toward the biggest day of the year, by far my favorite day, the long morning orgy of getting. When I moved into my adult life, that was it for trees, at least in the places where I lived. The obtaining of trees was something the grownups were in charge of, not me. Besides, as I edged away from childhood I began to feel increasingly ambivalent about a holiday I’d embraced so ferociously as a kid despite being a half-Jew. One year when I was in my twenties, probably when my mom was living in France to research her PhD thesis, my brother and I spent Christmas day at the movies with our dad the Jew. I liked lounging around in a half-empty matinee at the Film Forum with my brother and father. I felt like I was neither here nor there, which felt exactly right.


Life is elsewhere, maybe in the past. But it’s also here. A few days ago my wife and I were sitting on the couch as I surfed through the channels. I stopped for a minute on a panel discussion on the local public station, and a middle-aged Asian guy in a ponytail was railing about the evils of nostalgia. Another member of the panel tried to politely offer a view on nostalgia that wasn’t quite so rigidly negative. The ponytail guy didn’t budge.

“What’s he talking about?” my wife asked.

“He thinks nostalgia is bad because it sentimentalizes the past, I guess,” I said. “You know, it makes things seem better than they were. I guess this is horrible.”

My wife pondered this as the ponytail guy continued to rant and rail against nostalgia.

“I hate people who try to pretend they’re not human,” she said.

A warm feeling came over me. Baby, I love the way you hate.


To deal with December and Christmas I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye, starting what I plan to make my Christmas tradition going forward—every year I’ll reread this personal favorite, which is set around Christmas and written by a fellow half-Jew—and I’m noticing that the book is all about, among other things, love and hate, so much so that the two things are tangled up completely into one living consciousness. Holden Caulfield loves and hates, and the things he hates deserve it because they are rigid attempts to counter the messy absurd sprawl of human life. I don’t know what’s the best way to proceed in the tangle of hate and love, dark and light, gone and here, past and now, but it’s probably always a bad idea to try to cut the world in half. I kept trying to find something worthwhile to share about Darrel Chaney, and I kept wanting to toss the computer I was writing with out the window, but instead, here’s my holiday card to everyone who has withstood the torture of this attempt: everything I ever tried to say about the 1978 Darrel Chaney card, and I’m sorry, and thanks, and may the New Year bring you that feeling that the tangle of life is not something you’re trying to trim and prune and denude but that it’s the very heart of the best feeling of all, that there is still life to be lived and good stories left to tell.


(Love versus Hate update: Darrel Chaney’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)


  1. Josh, You need to “lighten the load”. Suggestions: watch a classic movie, play a game of stratOmatic(are you going to the 50th anniversary on 2/12/11?), call an old friend, take a long walk in the park. Remember there are only 54 days until the Red Sox pitchers and cathers report!

  2. Chaney looks incredibly old in that card. The photo was most likely taken in 1977 when he was 29 years of age. Concaved cheeks, lines on his forehead; he looks like he is about 43-44. I realize some of it is his expression, but Jim Bouton looked younger than him in 1978.

    He also has that scrawny look. A lot of players did then. It’s one of the first things I notice when I watch old games on MLB Network. Middle infielders were especially short and thin.

  3. I just looked at BR which lists Chaney as 6’2″, so he obviously wasn’t Bud Harrelson or Gene Alley

  4. I went to the same high school as Darrel Chaney, but a few decades later. He looked 43-44 years old in the picture taken of him as a high school senior that hung outside the gym while I was there.

    In Joe Posnanski’s book about the Big Red Machine, Chaney was described as “everybody’s favorite turd on the team.”

  5. Yes, daverave2 is correct. Play a nice relaxing game of Strat-O-Matic, preferably with the Negro League all-stars. Just don’t look at my blog to see how your Red Sox are faring, because El Tiante just crapped the bed again. Happy holidays regardless!

  6. Thanks for the rant. Sometimes it is nice to know that someone feels as shitty about things as you do. The exception is at least your wife is with you still in Chicago. Mine left me and I am alone in Chicago and she only lives an hour away, but never to be seen again. My suggestion is to hold onto “Baby I love the way you hate,” and don’t fuck it up like I did.

  7. Josh,
    This whole post- from the aborted attempts, to the thought process, to the lack of cohesion that you feel- to the explaining of why this process happens to you, is EXACTLY why I keep reading! (these blogs are just what I consider the Afterward that could be in your book, an Afterward that hopefully wont end anytime soon)

    Don’t relax, go through whatever emotions flow through you. Whatever it takes, posts like this show your creative energy, even if it feels like an ebb, is there.

    Okay, enough, I am making myself depressed! Chaney’s big oversized lower case letter “a” on the helmet is ridiculous looking!

    And, how many shots of the 78 Braves Topps were done in Candlestick? Is it me, or have just about all of these Braves cards been shot in Candlestick?

  8. Darrel Chaney is so…Patton.

  9. 53 days, my fellow half-chosen one. Be thankful for what you have, not worrying about what you don’t. Your books sits on strange shelves and nightstands around the world. It’ll take awhile, but its readers will pass it on, and it’ll be known forever. A little bit of immortality awaits. DEEP BREATH. Sigh. Pitchers and Catchers. Pitchers and Catchers. And besides, 9 Stories is a much better re-read. Franny and Zooey, a bit much. Seymour, An Introduction, even way more too much. Get yourself a 1986 Topps Tom Paciorek and tell me it isn’t great to be alive. Wait, you can’t. Not after seeing that card. Keep it up, brother. Keep it up.

  10. Yes, be happy for what you have … but if you feel like shit, well, goddamn it, you go and feel like shit. There is an obsession in our culture that makes expressing any negative thoughts taboo — check out Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-Sided” — and that denial of anger and exasperation and irritation strikes me as anti-human. (I love the month-by-month bit, btw.)

  11. Darrell Chaney may not have much meaning in the context of the 1978 Braves, but in the context of the Braves themselves, he’s rife with meaning.

    There was this quasi-racist bumper sticker in New York back in the eighties, “Will the last American to leave Flushing, please lower the flag.” It made me sad to read, not sad because of the receding caucasian dominance in the culture, but that we couldn’t bear witness to it with more grace.

    Chaney was the last continental American-born shortstop in Braves history — Walt Weiss would tell you — but he was the curtain on the era before Latinos dominated the position, and he was followed mostly by wave after wave of guys named Rafael: Ramirez, Belliard, Furcal, to say nothing of the Escobars and Renterias. And Darrell’s bitter gaze and premature craven-ness sort of reminds me of Walt Kowalski — directing his bitterness at the newcomers taking over his neighborhood (even now, they’re trampling on his lawn), but it’s a mask on the real contempt for his onwn people, the ones who didn’t have the grace or guts to stick around and bear witness to the changeover.

    I also get read of the guy in Earthquake — the supermarket clerk turned National Guardsman — another guy in a perpetual state of defeat. Athletic but ineffectual, handsome but emasculated, employed but disempowered. An earthquake might seem to turn the world over and make Darrell Chaney and his punchless .224 batting average briefly a king again, but it’s the delusion of a desperate man.

    Darrell was on to his post-playing lifte after 1979, and I salute him for moving on. To maintain denial any longer could only have led to increasingly more desperate acts. Whether that’s spending his 30s platooning in Altoona for chump change or kidnapping Victoria Principal and getting blown away by George Kennedy, the tragedy would have been the same.

  12. That third paragraph should begin with “Chaney wasn’t…”

  13. Thanks for those thoughts, edgydc. That Flushing bumper sticker makes me think of another, later Brave, he of the brief career as a closer and a distaste for the 7 train.

  14. Checking in late, but your wife’s quote is a classic! Didn’t Chaney commit 40 errors one season, maybe a year or two earlier with the Reds? He’s got the expression, in that picture, that my high school algebra teacher used to give me the rare times I attempted to answer a question in class.

  15. Darrel is doing an autograph signing in Atlanta on Saturday and I am tempted to copy this blog entry and show it to him. However I wouldnt want him to get upset because someone he has never met(I think) is having difficulties finding something nice to say about him. I will ask him what he was thinking when they took this picture as well as the poorly posed 1975 Topps card that you wrote about on an earlier date. The nicest thing I could think of is: Darrel you played in 3 different World Series. He has as many hits in those World Series as I do, 0.

  16. I think I was more having difficulties finding anything to say about anything, and I took out my frustrations (unfairly) on this Darrel Chaney card, not on Darrel Chaney himself, or at least I didn’t intend for it to come off that way. I think I did a little better by Chaney in that earlier post about his 1975 card with the Reds, when I pegged him as someone who’d probably stop grounders with his teeth if he had to.

  17. Josh,

    The even better Chaney card is his 1976 “Traded” card. I’d love to hear your description of his pained and quizical expression. I second the Strat-O suggestions. For maximum therapy try this: play the ’75 Reds and give Concepcion the day off. Or play him at third and move Rose to LF. Chaney is a 2B 3e18/SS 3e31/3B 3e24. If you play against the ’75 Braves, Chaney will be better than anyone the Braves have: Larvell Blanks SS 4 e32, Darrell Evans 3B 4e37. The ’75 Braves have so many of your favorites: Blanks, Rowland Office, Cito Gaston, and a difficult choice between Biff Pocoroba and Vic Correll (both +2) behind the dish.

    Is Chaney really the last continental American-born shortstop in Braves history?

  18. I grew to love the 1978 Braves. My first Strat-o-Matic game came with two teams: the 1978 Braves and the 1978 Brewers, and I typically was able to best any friends of mine taking the (clearly superior on paper) Brew Crew.

    1. Play by National League rules, forcing them to sit one of their awesome batsmen: Hisle, Oglivie, or Cooper.
    2. Take comfort in the fact that, over seven games, the Brewer’s clear bench superiority shouln’t be a large factor.
    3. Pitch Niekro as frequently as possible, and truncate your rotation to give you only as much Preston Hanna as the world could stand.
    4. Take advantage of having a bullpen that went three deep (Garber/Camp/Cambell) over the Brews, who went one deep, barely.
    5. Defensive subtitution involving every position. If leading late and close:
    a) bring in Bob Beall to play first (where he was two notches superior to Dale Murphy)
    b) move Murph to catcher, where he was no worse than the platooning Biff Pocaroba and Gary Joe Nolan.
    c) Bring in Darrel Chaney to play short, which is counterintuitive, he was actually a notch worse than Jerry Royster.
    d) Move Royster two second, where he was two steps up from Rod Gilbreath.
    e) Move Gilbreath to third, where he was two steps up from Bob Horner.
    f) Put Rowland Office in center: two notches better than Barry Bonnell.
    g) Bonnell to left, a step up from Gary Matthews.
    h) Matthews to right, a step up from Jeff Burroughs.

    This may demonstrate, how much bullshit it took to coax success from the 1978 Braves, and is certainly unsustainable over 162 games. (Also notable, in late and close situations, Burroughs could be counted on to draw a walk to start a rally.) It also demonstrates how strange it is that on a roster reduced to only 18 players, the only use I could find for Chaney was to ironcially substitute him on defense late in games, replacing a BETTER fielder, in order to improve at two OTHER postions.

    Thank you Darrell Chaney.

    Sidenote: The actor from Earthquake I referenced in my post above was Jarjoe Gortner, who not only looked like Chaney (http://www.superstrangevideo.com/images/Marjoe_Gortner_4_816817.jpg, http://www.pamelasuemartin.net/movies/gun_pulpit/images/marjoe_gortner.jpg), but famously came to acting after giving up his life ripping people off as a pentacostal evangelist. Here’s hoping that it wasn’t one of his old buddies evangelized Chaney.

  19. But here’s the other half of my joke about Darrel …

    He is a prince of a guy. And he has a great sense of humor about his hitting. Bottom line is, the guy played at the highest levels of the game. A slick fielder, who did hit a homer, and wears his ring proudly and we all are proud of him.

    Seriously, my comments were meant as a flippant, field-level-joke. The truth is, Darrel is a man of faith, but he lives what he preaches and around these parts, we think the world of him.

    I still don’t know if he could hit .230, but then again, he hasn’t played ball in over 30 years.

    And … I’ve saved all of my Darrel Chaney cards.

  20. Darrel Chaney is my uncle. I was shocked to see such negative comments about him. Why doesn’t anyone like him?

  21. I imagine that you’re very lucky to have him for an uncle.

  22. Cynthia: This will probably sound weak (and I can’t speak for anyone else in the comments thread), but it wasn’t my intention to criticize your uncle. In the comments above, I’ve tried to explain my original intention in this post–which was to rant about my own creative drought and not to criticize a player (on the day I wrote the post, I was frustrated with myself and, by extension, with Darrel Chaney’s baseball card). Chaney was unquestionably one of the best in the world at what he did–a major leaguer, a champion. I’m sure there are many, many fans who remember him fondly. Contrary to the passing mood captured in the post at the top of this page, I remember him fondly, too–when I was a kid he was one of my gods.

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