Bob Bailey

March 3, 2017


I hate, among other things, and in no particular order

  • Bucky Dent
  • fascism
  • football
  • America (the band, not the country, which I love and hate)
  • saying the word “poop” (the way you have to pop your lips at the beginning and the end of the nauseatingly cutesy sound; you wouldn’t think it would come up much, but with young children you’re always having to converse about the subject)
  • having a job
  • not having a job
  • the song “Life in the Fast Lane”
  • fruit (yes, all fruit; this is probably a subject needing expansion at some other time)
  • the practice in Chicago of “dibs” (when it snows more than half an inch people murder the idea of society by hauling out deck chairs to claim a public parking space for after they drive away)
  • baseball cards that show only the most recent five seasons of a player’s career

I could go on, but let’s instead talk about the last item, which reared its hideous head the other day. I was looking with my son at some 2017 Topps cards, the first I’d seen of the new season of cards. I noticed that the numbers on the back of Rick Porcello’s card literally didn’t add up. I checked another card, for Adam Wainright, and determined pretty quickly that his lifetime win total was far beyond the sum of the individual seasons shown. With this confirmation, my blood began to boil. I couldn’t believe that the worst thing I’d ever seen in baseball cards—the presentation by Fleer [ed. note: actually Donruss] in the mid-1980s of “recent major league records”—was being duplicated by Topps.

Oh how I hate those Fleer [ed. note: what can be said to be reliable with this clown’s writing if he can’t even tell Donruss from Fleer?] cards. I’ve got a few of them, and every time I make the mistake anew of looking on the back of them it’s like seeing some vision of the heart of life itself being amputated. And so when I saw it on the new cards by the company that to my certainly less than comprehensive knowledge has never made this hideous mistake before, I became enraged. You may think this is an insane notion on my part. I mean, who cares? But for me baseball cards are and have always been a way toward some completion, a way to search for stories in the numbers, to see and dream of a beginning and a middle and—though there is no end on any card, for every player in theory could have another card the next year—the intimation of an end. Truncating the span of seasons so that the beginning or even the beginning and middle drops out: it kills the card. Kills it.

Maybe another way to explain what I mean is this:

You complete me, Bob Bailey.

It was this way in 1978, when I got this card, and it’s still this way. I’ve always been incomplete and always will be incomplete. When I was ten years old, I couldn’t put any words to what this incompleteness compelled me toward, but surely, Bob Bailey, when I found you in a pack I was drawn in by the color and the familiarity, a player on my favorite team, always the best find in any pack, and also drawn by the jarring unreality of the doctored helmet and uniform, the hardened, sardonic face, the cartoonishly alliterative name, but while the front of the card made the first contact with the wanting incompleteness that was my self, the back of the card was what drew me in.

Bob Bailey was a veteran, and so the most important word on the back of his card—the word “COMPLETE” in “COMPLETE MAJOR LEAGUE BATTING RECORD”—allowed for an impressive sprawl of numbers stretching far back before I was born, all the way to 1962, before my mother had even met my father. That year Bob Bailey, age 19, managed just 7 hits in 42 at bats for an average of .167. Bookending that first line on the card was the last line, his season statistics for the 1977 Red Sox, and these numbers were even more anemic, the closest you could get to nothing without being nothing: 2 at bats, 0 hits. In between the intimations of the nothingness from which we come and into which we go, there was an estimable swell of competence, if not excellence, Bob Bailey logging many years with solid numbers. He was never a superstar but was a regular in the major leagues, and a good one. What more could you ask for? What better story could there be than rising from nothing to that?

If this card came out in 2017 it would leave out the beginning and middle. You’d only have the end. As for his actual end, it came the following season. He had his last at-bat, as a pinch-hitter, in the one game playoff against the Yankees, the first batter Goose Gossage faced. He hadn’t had a hit in weeks, and he was facing mustachioed death incarnate. He struck out looking. He had no chance. A thought occurred to me that day and it’s never really left: I’ll never be complete. I’ll always need to imagine completeness. I’ll never be complete.


  1. As a Yankee fan I disagree with many things you write (such as hatred for my beloved Bucky Dent). But i wholeheartedly agree with all of your opinions about baseball cards. “Recent Records”… bah!

  2. Sorry. The above comment is mine and has nothing to do with barbarabaronassociates. I accidentally commented while logged in through a work-related account. My apologies.

  3. I thought it was Donruss that pioneered the “Recent Major League Records”, not Fleer. Anyway, it was soon imitated by almost all.

    I loved the back of Joe Grzenda’s 1972 card. They put all the stats for someone, major and minor, back in 1972. Grzenda and Harmon Killebrew’s were classic!

  4. You know, I think you’re right that it was Donruss. Oh the inaccuracy of hatred!

  5. I long for the days when Topps prided themselves on publishing complete stats no matter how small you had to make the font to do it. Those last cards of Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose and George Brett were nearly unreadable and that’s why we loved them.

  6. You have removed Boston’s lawn chair from the Boulevard of Weird American Traditions and let Chicago slide into its spot. Taking your life in your hands, man. (I don’t think Boston calls it Dibs though–I think it’s just “that lawn chair thing.”)

  7. gedmaniac: I’ve never lived in Boston in the winter (just one fall, during 1985), so my first experience with it came here in Chicago.

  8. I only had one winter there myself, in Somerville. I thought people were planning on sunning themselves using the glare of the snow or something.

  9. Fuck Bob Bailey and the Pirate horse he rode in on.

  10. I remember getting a 1978 Ron Fairly and being impressed that his stats went back to 1958. Smallest font known to man.

  11. I 100% agree with your stand on complete statistics. I 100% disagree with your stand on America (the band), fruit, and football.

  12. Josh, hey. Topps is not a complete failure in 2017. Apparently we have to shop top-shelf to realize it, though.

    Heritage is a nice looking collection. At some point soon, however, the time/space continuum will fold in on itself and Heritage will rerun the cards we collected as OG sets back in the day. That may be more completion than any of us desire.

  13. Those heritage cards do look good.

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