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Joe Ferguson

November 1, 2017

Joe Ferguson

When I was a kid I associated Joe Ferguson with my Uncle Conrad and a recurring character on Star Trek named Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd. The three men didn’t look that much alike, but all were jolly, cherubic types with jaunty handlebar mustaches. You had the sense that they knew how to wrestle some joy out of life.

Mudd turned up in at least a couple of Star Trek episodes, though it seemed like more than that due to Captain Kirk’s preexisting revulsion for him every time he saw him again (“you again”). Mudd, a loquacious intergalactic grifter, seemed like he’d always been around, showing up all over the universe with some new scheme. His most memorable appearance came when the gang from the Enterprise stumbled upon him enjoying being the lone human man among a legion of beautiful female robots. I probably first saw the episode around when I got this Joe Ferguson card, which was just before I started caring about girls. As the years went on I continued watching Star Trek compulsively, and gradually, as the growing ache of finding myself on the far side of a vast gulf from real girls grew, I began to imagine what it might be like to have my loneliness absolved by a legion of sexy brainless androids.

***

I like to think of you naked.
I put your naked body
Between myself alone and death.
–Kenneth Rexroth

***

The Joe Ferguson type that I knew the best, my Uncle Conrad, wrote poetry. He still does. He’s the one who gave me my first book of poetry, The Selected Poems of Kenneth Rexroth. But more than that he was the first person I knew who was a writer, and because he was also a warm, familiar part of my life, it was surely a lot easier for me than it is for some to imagine being a writer too. I’ve been grateful to him for a long time, and my gratitude is continuing to grow now that I’ve got a family and a full-time job to support the family. When I was a kid Conrad was supporting his family by working full-time, but he was always writing poetry too. He found a way to carve out moments for beauty.

Joe Ferguson carved out a moment of World Series beauty. It started somewhat discordantly, with Ferguson, pulling a Kelly Leak before there ever was a Kelly Leak, cutting in front of teammate Jim Wynn to snare a fly ball that Wynn had been camped under. In the same motion, Ferguson unleashed a searing missile toward home plate. The ball arrived an instant before the runner, Sal Bando, drove his shoulder into the catcher, Steve Yeager, who went sprawling but held on. It’s the kind of play that feels like life and death, and death is defeated not by any particular outcome but by perfection, by beauty. Joe Ferguson’s throw had to be beautiful, and it was.

***

A few years after Joe Ferguson pulled a Kelly Leak, he was among a group of Astros making a cameo in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (he ambles into the dugout at about the 1:35 mark of the clip below). That was a big movie for me, as you may be able to tell by the ad for my book about that movie in the right-hand margin of this blog. I wonder if one of the reasons it was so big for me was that it symbolizes the moment just before my life started getting more complicated. I was ten then and loved baseball, just baseball. I certainly didn’t care about girls. But soon enough I would. The simple primary rainbow of life would get murkier.

The world is not perfect, and no one is going to absolve you of loneliness or stand between you and death. But there are spaces for beauty. There’s a Game Seven of the World Series tonight. Let Them Play.

 

8 comments

  1. Loved Joe Ferguson. This was my favorite Ferguson moment. The way he carried his helmet around the bases is forever enshrined in my brain.


  2. I gasp at seeing Joe in a ‘Stros uniform!


  3. Watching that play again just makes me laugh, the way he simply looked at Wynn and decided no fucking way I’m going to let you use that noodle when I’ve got a howitzer.


  4. In the video clip, there’s an interesting clip of Ferguson explaining that they’d prepared for that very situation. Wynn was expecting it. It’s as if Buttermaker told Ahmad beforehand about the plan for Kelly to take every fly ball.


  5. You know, I’ve seen “Let Them Play” so many times, but I don’t think I’ve really ever focused before on just how angry Bill Devane is in the moments before it begins. Maybe you wrote about it in your book, Josh, and I don’t remember. But you rarely see that kind of honest anger in a family movie. Man, is it a great scene …


  6. Jon: I never focused in on that particular element, but there’s definitely an appreciation of Devane in the book as well as some consideration of the symbolism of his army jacket (which communicates pretty clearly “Nam vet”), which could be read to play into the anger here–i.e., here’s yet another awful screwing by the Man. Tanner’s refusal to surrender the field means a lot.


  7. This is great! Thanks for sharing an amazing post.


  8. Josh, we appreciate the times you are able to carve out moments for beauty.



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