Clay Carroll

May 10, 2011

Clay Carroll turned 70 last week. In other relentless-march-of-time news, my back hurts. I’ve got a heating pad on it right now, as I did yesterday and the day before, plus I’m popping Advil, which is about as close as I’ll get these days to being able to relate to the section I’m currently reading in Life, Keith Richards’ biography, in which he says, referring to his heyday, “I used drugs like gears.” I nod knowingly, washing down my Advil with tap water and reading on about John Lennon puking in Keith Richards’ bathroom after mixing smack with wine (the bespectacled Beatle was a lightweight, in his host’s estimation). Keith Richards isn’t seventy quite yet, but he’s closing in on it. My mom just turned seventy last month and is plowing along like she could fill in for Ron Wood for a few tour dates if the Stones needed her to. I tried calling her pretty early this past Mother’s Day and she was already out working in the community garden near her house. She called me back a little later, but I was in the grocery store, so she said, “I’m going back out there again right now for the rest of the morning but try calling me around lunchtime.” I did, and she told me, among other things, that she has recently learned how to clog-dance.

Clay Carroll, Clay Kirby, Ken Clay. By extension, Ken Brett, a little. For a while, when life is just getting started, things all kind of blur together into one big related mess. I went to Wrigley Field later in the day on Mother’s Day after calling my mom and popping some more Advil for my old-guy lower back, and there were a lot of mothers there and a lot of little kids, too, the game to them more of an exciting kaleidoscope than it was to me, who snapped most to the upper limits of my lukewarm attention whenever Jay Bruce came to bat because he happens to be on my fantasy baseball team. I’m saying it’s sort of fun when Clay Carroll and Clay Kirby and Ken Clay are all the same guy. Eventually, I figured out that Clay Carroll was a distinct individual, and in fact one of the premier bullpen guys in the National League for a while, and on top of that one of the great subjects of a baseball card, namely this one, the gnarled Southern veteran jammed inside the ludicrous Ye Olde Tyme Taverne garb of the Veeck-as-in-wreck 1970s White Sox. There’s something about the photo that makes it clear that, ridiculous as he looks in his giant lapels, Clay Carroll would be tough to face. He seems like someone who started drinking backwoods moonshine and killing wildlife with a crossbow at the same age when I was still blissfully unaware of the distinct differences between Clay Carroll, Ken Clay, and Clay Kirby (and Ken Brett, a little).

I have good feelings about the days when my life was a kaleidoscope. At the end of my phone call with my mother, I tried to tell her how great she was as a mother, bracing myself for the inevitable argument.

“Oh, god, I was terrible,” my mother said before I was even done with the first sentence.

I can never quite get across what I’m trying to say during these disagreements in which my position is that my mother was a good mother and my mother’s position is roughly that it’s a wonder my brother and I did not end up by our junior high days hooked on airplane glue or shifting for ourselves in a hobo shantytown down by the railyard. Lately I feel more compelled than ever to say that I felt taken care of and safe and loved because, bad back and all, I’m a few weeks away from becoming a parent, if all keeps going okay. Such a thing has made me start thinking about my own parents and how things were from their perspective. It seems like a difficult, daunting thing to have a kid to take care of.  

For example, I just sneezed while writing the previous sentence and a jolting pain went through my back. How am I going to be a father with a back like this? Do I start mainlining Advil? What would Keith Richards do?

Anyway, I’ve got to wrap this up and head off to work, which means getting on a bicycle to ride to where I catch a bus. I wonder how it’ll be on a bike with this back. And how did my mom learn how to clog dance? I don’t even know how to regular dance yet. And how many unrelated sentences can I clog into one paragraph? Will I be able to continue writing when the kid comes? What about Clay Carroll? I imagine my writing will become more disjointed, but let’s pretend it’ll be less like the unrelated eructions of a mentally unstable psyche and more like, I don’t know, free jazz. You know, like everything is related, a kaleidoscope, claycarrollclaykirbykenclay. I like going to baseball games. At the last one I went to, featuring Clay Carroll’s old team, the Reds, I sat next to my wife, who is about seven months pregnant. Late in the game I leaned down and yelled at her bulging stomach, “Hey! How are you liking your first game?”

Leaning down made my back hurt.


  1. Clay has a little Jack Nicholson circa The Shining going on in this card. Can you imagine this guy in those short unis of 1976? No? Well, now you can:

  2. Holy crap, congrats Josh. You are about to have a lot of fun.

  3. Congrats, Josh.

    At Fenway the other day, I was in the front row (I really had a standing room ticket but you know how it goes), and next to me was a father and son. It was so precious, seeing the kid all excited looking out at the field, while the dad taught him by example, without any words at all, how to fucking text when you should be watching the goddamn game! Man, I never wanted to see somebody get clocked by a foul ball more than that.

    Anyway, I know I don’t have to tell you not to be THAT dad–you’re gonna be great! (But this all begs the question–are you gonna raise the kid a Red Sox fan so he’ll know what your childhood as a Red Sox fan was like? Or a Cubs fan, so that he’ll REALLY know what your childhood as a Red Sox fan was like?)

  4. I like the confusion of this piece. Brilliant and honest writing, as always. Nice to see that your mom has remained in character after all these years. And wow, best of luck with the new baby – that is very exciting news! You’re in for an amazing ride, so take care of your back, and don’t forget to use your legs when bending and lifting. Wishing you and yours every happiness – you stand (no pun intended) to enjoy a lot of good times.

  5. @gedmaniac. that guy at fenway was pathetic. must have been my ex.

  6. Congratulations, Josh. To think you’ve been keeping mum about it all these momths.
    My children were both born when I was 42, so I’ll try to reassure you that it’s not as daunting as you think. It will quickly become routine. And in a couple of months, you’ll be too tired to notice your back pain. In two years, your back might even be stronger after all the additional lifting and carrying you’ll have done. Get yourself a baby bjorn so you can walk around hands free. And make sure to use your knees when you lift. There, enough of the old man advice…

  7. To confuse things even more, Clay Carroll and Clay Kirby both played for the Reds in 1974/75. And let’s not forget Tom Carroll who was also on those rosters.

  8. Right, Tom Carroll! I knew there was another guy in that particular player-name mashup, but I couldn’t pull his name out of the swamp.

  9. Man, those awfull uni tops must have been hot as hell during the summer of 77′ – even with the ridiculous short pantsies.

  10. When reliever Clay Condrey joined the Phillies he used to give me flashbacks to the Carroll-Kirby disorientation you describe.

  11. Unfortunately, I’ll always remember Clay Carroll as the guy who got the win in relief in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series.

    PS – Congrats on the impending addition to the family! Do you have the tiny Red Sox uni all picked out?

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