Archive for the ‘Atlanta Braves’ Category

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Tom Paciorek

December 7, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 13 of 25)

(continued from Biff Pocoroba)

I haven’t turned this card over yet. It’s been sitting face up on my desk for a few days. I’ve had a long time to wonder about whether the close-up shot was ordered by Topps so that it would be relatively easy to doctor the card should Paciorek get traded to another team in the off-season. It seems so much like one of those doctored card shots that I had to check Tom Paciorek’s baseball-reference.com player page to make sure that he hadn’t joined the Braves in the offseason, a move that would have necessitated an inexplicably masterful changing of a previous team’s cap to the Braves cap featured here. I could have also flipped over the card to check what team he’d played for during the past season, but as I implied above, I have been experiencing quite a bit of trepidation about turning over this card to look at the back, which presumably would tell me what I learned online: that Paciorek had been with the Braves for a couple years. But someone at Topps seems to have anticipated that Paciorek was the kind of guy who might be moving on real soon, and in truth they only missed on this prediction by a few months, as Paciorek was released by the Braves in May of 1978.

This release marked a turning point in his career. Previously, he’d been a fairly mediocre National League reserve outfielder; from that point on, however, he’d be an American Leaguer known for being a real pro as a hitter, first with the Seattle Mariners, where his improving efforts climaxed with .326 batting average and an all-star game appearance in 1981 (he singled in his only at-bat), then with the Chicago White Sox, where he logged his second and third straight season with a .300-plus batting average and helped the 1983 White Sox to the best regular season record in either league. Paciorek’s success in Chicago allowed him to put down roots that are still apparent to this day (just this weekend I heard Paciorek, who worked as a local broadcaster for quite a while after his playing days were over, on a Chicago radio station putting in the good word for one of the station’s sponsors). In all, the guy that Topps seems to have intuited as not being someone with staying power actually stuck around for 17 major league seasons. In a way, the long and steady and unspectacular career of Tom Paciorek can be seen as the polar opposite career of his older brother John, who has some renown as perhaps the greatest single-game-career player in the history of baseball: in 1963, the elder Paciorek, an 18-year-old rookie, went 3-3 with 2 walks, 3 runs scored, and 3 RBI. The perfection of the day was preserved by the inevitable imperfect twists of life: because of chronic back problems, the promising rookie never made it back to the majors. You never know what’s going to happen.

Which is why I have been reluctant to turn over this 1978 Tom Paciorek card and look at the back. For some time now, I’ve been using the 1978 cards featured on my site as the playing cards in a solitaire game of the Topps back-of-the-card feature from that year, “Play Ball,” and the two imaginary teams involved in the contest, Love and Hate, have reached the ninth inning locked in a 5-5 tie. Hate, the visitor, has loaded the bases with just one out. A big hit now could bury Love. But enough stalling, I’m turning over the card . . .

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(Love versus Hate update: Tom Paciorek’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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There’s a good post over at Graham Womack’s Baseball Past and Present site presenting the results of a vote on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. I was one of the participants in the voting, so naturally my first order of business in checking the results was to see which of “my guys” got robbed. The two that jumped out at me first for their failure to make the top 50 in the final balloting were a couple slugging switch-hitters, Reggie Smith and Ken Singleton, who featured heavily in a past Cardboard Gods conversation about underrated players. Singleton, who got on only 5 of the 63 voters top 50 lists, seems to have been particularly slighted. On the other hand, some guys that deserved not only to be high on the list of 50 but also deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion, did rate high on the list (e.g., Raines, Blyleven, Trammell, Santo), and that was nice to see.

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Biff Pocoroba

December 2, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 12 of 25)

(continued from Jamie Easterly)

Every name on my baseball cards mattered. I said every name out loud or whispered it or mouthed it, trying it out, feeling its weight on my tongue. But among all these names, Biff Pocoroba ruled. It was a particularly satisfying and even addictive name to say, so I said it a lot, and it ended up traveling with me through life, far beyond the years when I collected cards. I was a teenager high on bong hits and throwing a Frisbee and the name would come into my head: Biff Pocoroba. I was in my twenties slouching behind the counter at the liquor store where I worked and the name would come into my head: Biff Pocoroba. I was in my thirties, proofreading in my cubicle, and the name would come into my head: Biff Pocoroba. I’m in my forties, and here I am again, thinking about Biff Pocoroba. If I grow to be an old man, I’m sure the words Biff Pocoroba will continue bubbling up into my consciousness long after most other things of the darkening world have shucked off their names.

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According to one particularly influential source, God created everything, but he let the first human handle the creation of words: “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” (Genesis 3:19) This naming separated that first human from everything else in creation, the namer from the named, and also separated the first human from infinity, namelessless, eternity, God. A few lines later in the familiar story quoted above, this mortal separation really gets cooking, and the first guy gets the heave ho from Eden, his intimate connection to the holy world severed. Long story short, humankind then proceeded to suffer and sin and beget and grieve and murder and roam, all along using and creating and developing the names of the world, relentlessly, as if the cause of the first separation from pure holiness could be a way—maybe through commandments, maybe through psalms, maybe through prayers—to somehow return to holiness.

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I never really connected the name Biff Pocoroba with anything in particular beyond the vague recollection that Biff Pocoroba was a Brave, and that he was, like Bruce Bochte with Bruce Bochy, Garry Maddox with Gary Matthews, and John Montefusco with John D’Acquisto, paired up forever in my mind with Bob Apodaca. But from this point on I may associate him with this 1978 card, which subtly draws the viewer into the charged moment of a big league game as well as any card I’ve seen. It has something to do with Biff Pocoroba’s rugged looks, and his tough ready-for-action squint, and his beaten-up turned-around cap and thin, snug chest protector, and the way his chunky mitt catches the sun, but the intimate sensual pull of the card is centered most on the way Biff Pocoroba is tugging upward, almost gently, on the straps of his mask. He is about to pull that mask on and go to work, and the photo freezing him in the moment just before he does so puts us right there, anticipating the way the mask would feel if we were to pull it onto our own face and look out at the whole field in front of us. Biff Pocoroba, in name and in this card in particular, is a way for me to enter the moment—as holy a moment as I can imagine—of a major league game.

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Biff Pocoroba’s name must have been announced during the introductions of players before the 1978 All-Star Game. It was part of the one good month for the 1978 Atlanta Braves, both their sole winning month of the season and the month that saw them send three players to the All-Star game: their star slugger, Jeff Burroughs, their ace, Phil Niekro, and Biff Pocoroba. Biff Pocoroba? Yes, Biff Pocoroba. He’d had a strong 1977 campaign (highlighted by his .290 batting average) and carried the reputation for being a stellar defensive catcher (as attested to on the back of this card: “Biff once threw out 11 consecutive runners attempting to steal”). He probably had a certain glow about him, too, because he was young, just 25, and so the sky could still seem to be the limit. It’s not so hard to imagine Tommy Lasorda, the NL manager that year, scanning the Sunday batting averages as he tried to pull together his list of reserves and reacting positively to the name Biff Pocoraba. He was batting .262 at the All-Star break, a decent enough number for a catcher, especially if you are imagining a cannon arm and many years of better things to come. Of course, there weren’t many years of better things to come. Biff Pocoroba finished 1978 batting .242 and, hampered by injuries, was never a regular in the big leagues again. But by the time he started receding into obscurity, his name had already imprinted itself as something nearly holy to many of us American boys of long ago who will be saying Biff Pocoroba until the maker calls us back into the realm beyond names.

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(Love versus Hate update: Biff Pocoroba’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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Jamie Easterly

November 19, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 11 of 25)

(continued from Rod Gilbreath)

The 1978 Atlanta Braves had, let’s face it, no chance. It wasn’t just that they were bad at hitting (only one team, the Padres, would score fewer runs) or even worse at pitching (they allowed the most runs scored in the league). It was the cap each player had to wear. How could anyone hope to conquer anything with a lowercase “a” on the crown of his head? It was a letter that, if rendered in uppercase, might have stood for the city they were located in, might have, in turn, inspired them to extend beyond their individual limitations to honor that restless growing American metropolis with vibrant expansive glory. But it was a lowercase “a”—the first and faintest official word in the English language, an indefinite article used, according to Webster’s, “when the referent is unspecified.” The example provided by Webster’s for this definition seems telling in terms of the current examination of the 1978 Atlanta Braves: “a man overboard.”

Not the man overboard or that man overboard. Just a man overboard. Nobody  special.

Hope he can swim.

Compounding the ever-present announcement of inconsequentiality that the small “a” provided was the shape of the cap, at least as seen in the version of the cap modeled here by Jamie Easterly. The upper part of the crown bulges as if designed to smuggle a large loaf of decidedly non-nutritious white bread.

Jamie Easterly seems to understand the intimations of being burdened by such haberdashery. To this point in his career, according to the back of the card, his record stands at 5-14 with a 5.59 ERA. Amazingly enough, considering that start, he’ll endure for several more seasons, logging 13 major league campaigns in all. Like most of us, he was never The Man, just a man. Trying to keep from falling overboard.

(Love versus Hate update: Jamie Easterly’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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Rod Gilbreath

November 11, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 10 of 25)

(continued from Asselstine, Royster, Bonnell)

The 1978 Atlanta Braves might have done pretty well in a baseball skills competition, certainly better than they fared in the realm of baseball itself. They had in Phil Niekro the surefire winner of the knuckleball throwing contest, which I picture to be something along the lines of figure skating or diving in that it would have judges weighing in on the performance, in this case specifically on the relative proximity of the competitors’ absurd offerings to the flight of a butterfly. They had a catcher in Biff Pocoroba with a great throwing arm. They had in Jeff Burroughs a guy who could hold his own in a home run derby. They had in young Dale Murphy a Bruce Jenneresque athletic specimen capable of vying for wins in various leaping and sprinting and hurling competitions. And they had perhaps the league’s best collection of sacrifice bunters, boasting not only a roster clogged with utility infielders whose ever-tentative professional survival depended on being able to do “the little things” but more specifically featuring three men who had already or would soon lead the league in sacrifice bunts: Phil Niekro (1968), Glenn Hubbard (1982), and Rod Gilbreath (1976). Baseball itself was really too brutish and crude for the 1978 Atlanta Braves. If only wins and losses had been based in part on how often one of their batters could, with the precision of a master craftsman, use their deadened bat to guide a pitched ball into a small circle near home plate, they might not have been almost instantaneously forgotten.

But baseball is not a skills competition but an arena wherein might makes right, more or less. The team of bunters and competent double-play turners saw their season in microcosm on its last day, when George Foster, arguably the league’s strongest man, homered twice, once in the fourteenth inning, to help the Reds overpower the Braves.

Awareness of that final game of 1978 may have grown recently, for it was the last game in which Sparky Anderson, who died last Thursday, managed the Big Red Machine. I don’t know if Anderson knew that the writing was on the wall as he managed that game. It would be only a few weeks until he was fired, a decision that seems in retrospect both unfair and moronic. In Anderson’s nine-year tenure the team had won two World Series titles, four pennants, and five division titles, and even in the two most recent “down” years of 1977 and 1978 he’d led the team to 88 and 92 wins, respectively. Also, not only did Anderson go on to lead the Detroit Tigers back into contention and, eventually, to the 1984 World Series title, Anderson’s replacement on the Reds was John McNamara, whose managerial career would have proven to be quietly mediocre—as evidenced by his .485 lifetime winning percentage—had he not capped it with a spectacularly bad performance steering the Red Sox toward ruin in the 1986 World Series. Replacing Anderson with McNamara was, as decisions go, like moving from a sturdy mansion to a hut made of duct tape and straw.

But I guess at the time it made sense, which suggests that the decision might have been lurking in the autumn air by the time Sparky managed his last game in a Reds uniform. As already mentioned, the sheer power of the Reds, in the person of their top slugger George Foster, would eventually overwhelm the Braves and send Sparky out on a winning note, but for some time the outcome of the game was in question. In the twelfth, the Braves threatened, though “threatened” may be too strong a word to use given the batters that would be called upon to drive in the go-ahead run. In the twelfth, the Braves kind of waved a wooden spoon around in a vaguely menacing way that probably didn’t scare anybody too much, metaphorically speaking. Speaking more literally, they got a man aboard when Bruce Benedict singled. Sparky’s counterpart and fellow future managerial immortal in the Braves’ dugout, Bobby Cox, elected to insert a pinch-runner for the slow-footed catcher, and Rod Gilbreath entered a major league baseball game for the last time.

Rod Gilbreath had entered the league as a teenager and had played parts of several seasons for the Braves, filling in at second or third, never really catching on as a regular (though, as mentioned, he won the league’s 1976 sacrifice bunting crown, a gaudily bejeweled piece of honorary headgear, at least in my imagination). The 1978 season had been a typical one for him, his average of .245 for the season a shade below his lifetime .249 mark, but perhaps because he was now 25 and no longer quite young enough to show any signs of ever blossoming into something more, and perhaps also because the Braves had other younger players, namely Glenn Hubbard and Bob Horner, who looked ready to become regulars at second and third, and perhaps finally because the 1978 Atlanta Braves were clogged with utility guys like Rod Gilbreath, players who in certain situations and on certain teams would have been useful, even vital, but who because of their great numbers on the Braves combined to turn their individual utility into collective uselessness, prompting the Braves to try something, anything, else. Anyway, one way or another, they gave Rod Gilbreath the heave ho after the 1978 season. He would sign with the Pirates but never make it back to the big leagues. This pinch-running appearance on October 1, 1978, with Sparky Anderson looking on from the opposing dugout, would be Rod Gilbreath’s faint, inconsequential, instantly forgettable swan song.

Gilbreath moved to second on a one-out walk to fellow utility man Jerry Royster. There he would be stranded. First light-hitting Eddie Miller (sporting a .143 batting average) flied out to left, and then one of the youngsters crowding Gilbreath to the sidelines, Glenn Hubbard, fanned. Young, raw Dale Murphy put on the catching gear and took over Gilbreath’s spot in the lineup, and it was over. Whatever would happen beyond that point would not include the 1976 National League Bunt King.

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(Love versus Hate update: Rod Gilbreath’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest)

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Please keep the thoughts coming on the What Are the Greatest Cards of All Time post. Eventually, I’ll try to pull together a post showing the “finalists,” i.e., cards that have gotten multiple mentions in the comments section.

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Asselstine, Royster, Bonnell

November 8, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (cards 7-9 of 25)

(continued from Andy Messersmith)

As of a few weeks ago, I had only a handful of 1978 Atlanta Braves cards—the Bobby Cox card that has now been featured twice on this site and these three repeaters. All the other Braves came to me recently courtesy of Joe Stillwell of STATS, who’d read my past complaints about the mysterious disappearance from my childhood card collection of almost all my Braves and sent me most but not all of the 1978 team. I didn’t notice any absences at first but when I did it made me happy, in that it made the influx of Braves into my collection more realistic. I never got all the cards for any team, so it’s fitting that there are gaps in my collection of 1978 Braves.

There are three missing cards in all, among them the glum team’s ray of hope for the future, Dale Murphy. I’m proceeding through the 1978 Braves in the order in which the players featured appear in the Topps numbering system for that year, and this approach, coupled with Murphy’s absence, has front-loaded the 1978 cardboard version of the Braves’ meager collection of notable players to such an extent that even though most of the cards are still to come there’s virtually nothing left in terms of star power or historical significance or, well, anything much else at all. We’ve already seen the team’s lone Hall of Fame player (Phil Niekro), its soon-to-be Hall of Fame manager (Bobby Cox), its 1976 and 1977 All-Star Game representatives (Dick Ruthven and Willie Montanez, respectively), its sole former MVP and best slugger (Jeff Burroughs), and its trailblazing former ace (Andy Messersmith).

What’s left?

I don’t know. This morning, the first morning of a new week, I meditated. In theory, this is something that I do every day, but the truth is I let days and sometimes weeks go by without taking a few minutes for this practice. When I was younger, I did this zealously, fueled in part by the afterglow of hallucinogens and more generally by the belief that I would soon be perfect and painless. When this vision of permanent spiritual triumph kept failing to arrive, I lost more and more motivation to just sit there and gaze at a wall and breathe. It’s hard to do. It’s always been hard to do. Life is not a championship season.

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Andy Messersmith

October 29, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 6 of 25)

(continued from Jeff Burroughs)

Andy Messersmith had curly hair. I had curly hair. My brother had curly hair. I liked Andy Messersmith.

Andy Messersmith’s curly hair seems to be authentic. One of the most regrettable facets of the experimentation and freedoms of the 1970s was the rise of the male perm. This grooming choice seemed to me at the time and still seems inexplicable. I didn’t like my own curly hair. I wanted to have hair that would allow for a feathered haircut, like Scott Baio or Shaun Cassidy. I couldn’t understand why anyone would willingly change their straight hair to curly hair, especially given that the perm version of curly hair had a tense, unnerved aura about it, as if it was cornered by authorities or verging on a nervous breakdown. Plus, it could only be obtained by spending an inordinate amount of time in a “beauty parlor.” In my town, a popular epithet hurled by tough kids at kids who seemed generally or in that moment less tough was “woman.” As in: “Don’t be such a woman.” Or: “You’re a woman.” I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to invite that kind of eviscerating abuse by doing something as traditionally feminine as waltzing into a beauty parlor to have someone “transform” your hair.

Beyond the gender-identification implications of the perm, there was the simple factor of time spent at the location of a hair professional. I’ve always dreaded going to get a haircut. In fact, at this very moment my hair is long and unruly and, given my advancing age and retreating hairline, I currently look like someone who is not altogether stable, the kind of guy who fingers a half-eaten liverwurst sandwich in his pocket while muttering to himself at the library. Maybe I’m not so stable. Nobody else has problems with haircuts, yet I always put them off as long as possible, reluctant to walk through that door looking like a man who’s spent the last year living in a storage shed and bathing at the gas station. Who wants to waste a free afternoon strapped into a chair making small talk and feeling ashamed?

I don’t know how Andy Messersmith dealt with haircuts. As the 1970s wore on, he seemed to get fewer haircuts, following the trend of the times as his short hair eventually began bulging out from under his cap. I’ve done a fair amount of reading about Andy Messersmith in the last couple of days, and I think it’s possible that getting a haircut, in that it’s a public interaction, is something that Andy Messersmith may have come to dread as the decade progressed. Andy Messersmith was baseball’s first free agent (technically, Dave McNally is thought of as the co-holder of this distinction, but McNally retired upon winning his free agency); free agency changed everything, not least the way fans looked at ballplayers. Here’s what Andy Messersmith had to say about that issue in a 1986 San Francisco Chronicle article (the quote courtesy of an excellent piece on Messermith by Alex Belth):

“I did this free agency thing and that really took care of my career . . . I had always had a good rapport with the fans, especially in Los Angeles. All the energy started turning the other way when I did this thing. . .  Ninety-eight percent of my mail was hate mail.”

The back of this 1978 Andy Messermsith card supports the idea that free agency changed Andy Messersmith’s world for the worse. Before coming to the Braves, he’d been among the best pitchers in the game, winning 20 games in a single season twice, striking out over 200 batters in a single season three times, and posting an ERA of 3.00 or less in all eight of his years in the big leagues. His first season on the Braves was not by any means a train-wreck, but it was his least successful campaign to date, as he coupled an 11-11 record with a 3.04 ERA. In 1977, injuries and apparent stress from not living up to the superstar status that his free agency signing required saw him post his lowest innings and win totals since his rookie season while his ERA ballooned to 4.41.

By the time this card came out, the Braves had sold Andy Messersmith to the Yankees, where his precipitous decline continued. The next season, back with the team that he’d fought to win his freedom from, the Los Angeles Dodgers, proved to be another lackluster affair and was Messersmith’s last.

I didn’t know when I was a kid what Andy Messersmith was going through. The pressure, the hate mail. I just knew that the back of his card said he was a good pitcher and the front of his card showed he had curly hair, like me, so I liked him. I like him even more when I read about what he went through, his attempt to do the right thing (as teammate Mike Marshall told Alex Belth, “Any person with a brain would realize that what we [players fighting for free agency] did was completely legal and appropriate given the situation”) setting him apart from his fans and most of his peers, a target for ridicule and scorn. I like this card of him, showing him in the silly cursive garments of his troublesome freedom, a bad team that had dumped him by the time the card hit the stores. He seems despite it all to still have a gleam in his eye, a curly-headed love for the game.

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(Love versus Hate update: Andy Messersmith’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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Jeff Burroughs

October 21, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 5 of 25)

(continued from Bobby Cox)

Jeff Burroughs, in the context of the 1978 Braves, raises the question of protection. In baseball, the term “protection” is used to refer to how much effect a player in a batting order will have on the way the opposing pitcher treats the player one notch higher in the batting order. When a team is lucky enough to have a good slugger, that team will want to maximize the efforts of that slugger by placing another good hitter behind him in the lineup. With that protection, the opposing pitcher will be less likely to pitch around the slugger. Of course, not all teams are lucky enough to be able to protect their best slugger, leaving the opposition with a simple game plan: don’t ever give the slugger anything good to hit, walk him if necessary, and take a chance on the next guy, the flimsy protection.

In 1977, Jeff Burroughs swatted 41 home runs and drove in 114 runs. In 1978, the National League took the bat out of his hands. Among the players rookie manager Bobby Cox used to protect Jeff Burroughs in the lineup were (on multiple occasions in all cases) Biff Pocoroba, Brian Asselstine, and Rowland Office. Eventually, two very young, erratic sluggers, Bob Horner and Dale Murphy, joined the ragged collection of protectors, but their occasional flashes of power didn’t stop the opposition from taking a wide berth around Jeff Burroughs whenever the situation in the game was the least bit dicey—for the year, Burroughs walked a career-high 117 times, led the National League in on-base percentage, and despite batting .301 with 23 home runs with 30 doubles drove in only 77 runs.

Without protection, what chance have you got?

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What protects you? This subject has come up before on this site in loose relation to Jeff Burroughs, whose 1974 card caused me to recall that when I worked at a liquor store in Manhattan in the 1990s we had a Jeff Burroughs bat hanging from two nails behind the counter. This was for protection, I guess, though none of us ever used it as such. Sometimes it was brandished for comedic purposes, and then in more solitary, anxious moments it was held, at least by me, as a way to pretend to feel a little more powerful in a setting that could occasionally seem a little scary. We got shoplifters periodically, gangs of street kids who fanned out around the store, some barking questions in our faces (“Yo, you got Alize?”) while others moved quickly up and down the aisles in their parkas, their hands moving fast. There wasn’t much subtlety in their method; it was built on speed, shouting, and menace. To get them out you had to confront them (“You got ID?”), which led to more shouting and menace, the aura of impending violence ratcheting up a notch. They’d be in and out quickly, maybe some bottles gone with them, and after they left I’d move back behind the counter feeling shaken and weak, and I’d pick up the Jeff Burroughs bat and hold it, imagining that I’d handle things differently next time.

One night when we were locking up, I made my co-worker Ngai laugh by updating the old “Another day, another dollar” saying with, “Welp, another day . . . and we didn’t get shot.” At that time I was immersing myself in violent movies of the 1970s, and someone was always getting their brains blown out, often in the very city in which I was living, and occasionally even in a liquor store. It was a small store, and usually there were only two of us on duty at a time. When I started, I was the guy who went out on deliveries, leaving the store under the watch of one guy, either Morty the boss, Dave the adjunct philosophy professor, or Ngai. Ngai was the gentlest and most introspective of the three, a sweet guy whose constant stream of hobbies that he worked on in the back during lulls eventually branched out from the peaceful pursuits of such things as origami, window design, drawing, and tending to bonsai trees to include obsessions with weight training, nutritional supplements, guns, and increasingly complicated and terrifying gravity knives. I didn’t share his interest in any of those violent or nonviolent pursuits and instead got through my hours by reading novels about alienation, staring at baseball games on the little television up front, or dwelling on whatever 1970s portrait of A Man Alone In A Society On The Brink I’d watched the night before. As the years went on, I eventually became the guy who stayed behind at the store while a newer clerk went out on deliveries. I’d sit there behind the counter, the Jeff Burroughs bat close at hand. On many occasions, this thought occurred: If someone comes through the door with a gun, what the fuck am I really going to be able to do with this Jeff Burroughs bat?

Which brings me to this question of protection. It’s a violent world, I guess. I wish I knew kung fu or something. Without it, I guess I’m just hoping to get lucky and get through the day without getting shot.

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(Love versus Hate update: Jeff Burroughs’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)