h1

John Christensen

December 5, 2018

John Christensen

Played

1.

John Christensen doesn’t look like he’s playing. Maybe he’s being played with. Maybe two other guys keep faking like they’re going to throw to John Christensen and then instead throw to one another, smirking. Even if this wasn’t exactly what was happening, John Christensen, circa 1987, looks hesitant, doubtful. Why wouldn’t he? After being selected in the second round of the 1981 draft by the Mets, he had performed well in the minor leagues throughout his first three years of professional ball, earning extended time in the majors in 1985. But he began to struggle at that point, hitting just .186. In November, the Mets traded him and three other young players to the Red Sox for two similarly marginal young pros and one veteran left-handed pitcher with a mediocre record. The deal seemed destined to rapidly disintegrate in the collective memory: a few leaky ships passing and then sinking in the night. The same could be said for a deal a few months later that also, eventually, included John Christensen. John Christensen wasn’t initially among the names in this second multiplayer deal, which originated in August of 1986 and included a solid but little-known Mariners outfielder and a light-hitting Mariners shortstop coming to Boston for a light-hitting Red Sox shortstop and an unidentified quantity of players to be named later. Two of the players to be named later, Mike Brown and Mike Trujillo, went to Seattle just a few days after the trade, and since these two Mikes created a plurality of players, it could have been fair to assume that the deal was done, but in fact several weeks later, John Christensen was added to the deal as a third player to be named later. Perhaps there had been some protests by the Mariners that since only one first name, Mike, had been named later, there legally needed to be another name involved, and the Red Sox, eager to be done with the whole seemingly meaningless endeavor, reached for the Triple A roster at Pawtucket and grabbed whoever. Here you go, assholes: a John. In most circumstances, both of these multiplayer mosaics of marginalia involving John Christensen in the months leading up to the photo shown at the top of this page would have amounted to nothing of any lasting note, but then in October of 1986 the solid but little-known outfielder in the second deal, Dave Henderson, catapulted to glorious sudden fame with a dramatic home run in the 1986 American League Championship Series, allowing the Red Sox to stave off seemingly certain death, and then added more heroics in the World Series that brought the Red Sox to the brink of a seemingly inevitable World Series victory. This shimmering Valhalla of long-awaited triumph (and with it the crowning measure of Hendu’s glory) was then abruptly demolished in a terrible collapse centered in its critical early stages by the forlorn mien of Calvin Schiraldi, another member of the John Christensen trade club. A few years later, a third member of the John Christensen trades, the aforementioned lefty veteran, Bobby Ojeda, who had merely pitched very well in the 1986 World Series, avoiding any cataclysms of sudden fame or infamy, was the lone surviving member of a boating accident that took the lives of teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews. I only mention that last part because I don’t know how anyone, anywhere, can have an aura of sureness. I don’t know how anyone can just play.

***

But I still turn to these cards for play. It gets harder and harder. That’s why I barely ever write anything about them anymore! I can’t remember how to play with the cards. Life has turned me into someone who is being played with. But I did remember to look at this card, and to turn it over. And to look at the back. There’s one line of text at the bottom.

“John’s brother, Jim, once played minor league ball.”

I’ve made a living for some years now as a copyeditor, so when I turned over this John Christensen card and read that lone sentence at the bottom of John Christensen’s promising minor league statistics and progressively dubious major league statistics, I did what copyeditors often do: I scrutinized the commas. There are two of them, one on either side of the word “Jim.” They identify that name as something inessential to the core meaning of the sentence; John Christensen has one and only one brother, and the name of this one and only brother is a supplemental bit of information that, had it been fumbled out of the sentence altogether, wouldn’t alter the meaning of the sentence but would merely rob it of some detail. If the commas weren’t there—if the sentence read “John’s brother Jim once played minor league ball”— the implied meaning would be that John Christensen had more than one brother, and that the one named Jim—his name called out as in essential piece of identifying information—is the one brother to John who once played minor league ball.

Curious to see if I could find some way of checking whether the gang at Topps had their copyediting game down, I put on another one of my professional hats and attempted to do some fact-checking. If I could determine that the implied fact—that John Christensen had just one brother—was true I could also verify that the sentence did not contain an error that should have been caught during a copyediting review.

It took a while, as there wasn’t much on the internet about John Christensen beyond his dwindling statistics, but I eventually found what was—considering John Christensen’s relative anonymity—a surprisingly long newspaper article about his struggles as a rookie, and it included the following lines:

“I went golfing with my brother and he asked me if everything was OK because when I’m not doing very well, I get a little more quiet. I said that I haven’t gotten off to this bad a start since I could remember.”

It’s not an ironclad support for the fact implied by the commas—whether John Christensen had just one brother—but absent any other information available on the matter, I choose to interpret John  Christensen’s own decision to leave out an identifying name for his brother as an indication that there was only brother he could have gone golfing with. Had he had several brothers, wouldn’t he have identified the one he had had such an intimate, meaningful moment with? I think he didn’t because John Christensen, like me, and like my two sons, has just one brother.

Once I verified this to my satisfaction, I also verified the larger fact in the lone card sentence on the back of this card: that John Christensen’s brother, Jim, indeed played minor league ball. There are even a couple of baseball cards showing evidence of this fact.

(to be continued)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: