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Ken Holtzman

January 11, 2018

Ken Holtzman

What lasts? Not mustaches, not dynasties, not childhood, not life. It’s all pretty much like the clouds shown here that disassembled soon after the photo was taken. The sky got bluer or grayer. The sky is always changing. At some point there won’t even be a sky.

I don’t know the names of clouds but I know Ken Holtzman pitched two no-hitters, won three World Series in a row with the A’s, and collected more wins than any other Jewish player in history, including a win over his idol, Sandy Koufax in the latter’s last regular season start.

I know my grandma was born in the 1800s in Austria-Hungary and died in a Jewish nursing home in the Bronx called something like the Daughters of Judea. My dad took my brother and me there once. She tried to foist a banana on me. Eat, eat, she implored. She’d had six children but only four lived beyond infancy. But no fucking way was I eating that banana. I hated and still hate fruit. Someday there won’t be a sky but until I croak, perhaps of scurvy, I’m clinging with all my might to my bizarre childhood aversion to the very symbol of this world’s sweet bounty. My god was I disgusted by that bruised banana thrust at me by my age-crumpled grandmother. She loved me, and all I wanted was to leave and buy several packs of baseball cards and open the packs and jam all the gum into my mouth and never have to look old age or love in the wrinkled face again.

Now, decades too late, I wish I’d realized then how deeply indebted I am to her. She kept my family alive, kept them going. Without her, I’m not here. My boys aren’t here. Someday there’ll be no sky, but that’s nothing in the face of the gratitude and love I feel right here and now for my family, old and new.

I like how in this card Ken Holtzman’s glove is unseen, so you can actually believe that he doesn’t have a glove and is not aping a pitching follow-through but extending his left arm to escort you on a promenade. I wish I could have thought to reach my arm out to my grandma the way Ken Holtzman is reaching his arm out here.

But it’s far too late, so instead I take Ken Holtzman’s arm, just the way I did back in 1975. I’ll always take his arm. Someday perhaps I’ll be as old as my grandma and I’ll have trouble walking and I’ll be lonely and institutionalized. I’ll still have Ken Holtzman. I’ll take Ken Holtzman’s arm. Wispy clouds behind him will remind me of something, but I won’t be able to put a name to it. He’ll be cheerful and respectful and soft-spoken. He’ll be steady. He’ll support me. We will take a long, slow walk out into the day.

6 comments

  1. Holtzman vs. Koufax duel is an interesting factoid. Great post, you’re really stroking it this year. Your readers appreciate that, and that might make your early morning writing easier to do, knowing it matters to people.


  2. I wonder if the push to bring his ERA back under 5.00 in 1979 took the fight out of ol’ Kenny, as the push for 25 did to poor Freddy Lynn.


  3. The appreciation does help. Thanks for that.


  4. Loved this… really nice. And great to know about the Koufax/Holtzman matchup.

    I really need to get my site back up – MenchWarmers.com is down due to hosting. Figure you might appreciate that.


  5. Very nice blog. I have a friend who is a Dodger fan. I can’t wait to spring that “most wins by a Jewish pitcher” item on him. Of course, like most baseball fans, I revere Koufax. Not too long ago, I sent my friend a Vin Scully feed of the final inning of Koufax’s perfect game.


  6. I remember getting this card in a pack and thinking that every player on Oakland was a star because they were so good. There is something about the 1975 cards that is timeless. Awesome writing! This post brings me back 43 years.



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