Archive for the ‘Baltimore Orioles’ Category


Al Bumbry

February 14, 2019

Al Bumbry

Kingdom Come


Al Bumbry came home from Vietnam in 1971 and played baseball like a man hungry for life. Before going to war, he’d played one year of professional baseball, and it had gone poorly, the then 22-year-old college graduate batting just .178 with no home runs, no triples, and four doubles at Stockton, a single-A team in the Orioles minor league chain. After his tour of duty he was 24, the oldest player by at least three years (and in several cases as much as six years) on another Orioles single-A squad, Aberdeen. He batted .336, loudly, almost a third of his hits going for extra bases. The next season, 1972, the Orioles moved him up a rung, to their Double A club. It was in Asheville, North Carolina.


After we sprinkled some of my father’s ashes into a stream and then on the grave of Asheville’s most famous son, Thomas Wolfe, we spread the rest of him around the outside of the house he lived in with my mother for the last several years of his life. We saved the last bit for where his favorite cat, Calypso, was buried.

I’ve been working on this stupid post for several days and have dumped thousands of words into the void, missing the mark. I keep trying to define my father, to reach out somehow into the absence as if with a bat, like Al Bumbry is doing on this 1979 card, as if my father could grab hold and I could pull him back.

He’s not coming back.


In Asheville Al Bumbry came into the orbit of what would become one of the most famous and emotionally resonant father-son connections in baseball history. The manager of the Asheville club was named Cal Ripken, and his son of the same name was the clubhouse boy. Bumbry would recall many years later, as Cal Ripken Jr. was on the brink of breaking the hallowed record for most consecutive games played, that in Asheville the younger Cal dutifully shined Bumbry’s shoes. The father’s motto to his players was “give me a good day’s work.” The son echoed the father from his Asheville shoeshine days all the way to Cooperstown.


My father was hungry for life. He wanted beauty and art and transcendence and meaning. He wanted to go beyond the safe base. He wanted a better world. He was also, like me, crippled on some level with timidity. He hugged the safe base. I have seen this while poring over his belongings. There are letters from his friend, a sociologist who started out with him and then went on to write groundbreaking books of sociological theory. My father wanted to do the same, but judging by his failure to, despite his friend’s imploring, pursue a career in academia that would have supported the reaching for that extra base, that new territory, and judging more intimately by the style of his note-taking that I’ve also been poring over since he died—he has notes in all his books and almost all of them are thoughts that he second-guessed to the point of complete abnegation, crossing out his own words to the point that they are made unreadable—something was holding him back.


Al Bumbry kept up his hot streak in Asheville, batting .347 and earning a midseason promotion to Triple A Rochester, where he batted .345, which catapulted him in September to the Majors, where in 11 at-bats he laced 4 hits, including a triple. His blistering skein continued in 1973: He earned the Rookie of the Year award, batting .337 with 11 triples, including, as the back of this card points out, 3 triples in one game, which tied a major league record.


“If possible,” my father wrote in his will, “please spread my ashes by the cat.” It was virtually his only personal demand in the document. The other was that all his books be preserved whole by going to my brother and me. By the time we were ready to fulfill the wish about the ashes, we’d already decided that we were going to ignore a literal carrying out of his wish about his books. There were too fucking many. So I now have only fifty of them, almost all of them dense and huge, one for each year for the rest of my life if I live as long as humanly possible.

My father held me in his arms when I was first born. When there was just a little of him left I carried him in a box lighter than a baby to where my mom was pointing.

“Calypso’s up there in those bushes,” she said.


A triple, like life itself, is a beautiful fluke. It’s much rarer than an out, of course, and rarer than a single, a double, a home run. Any major leaguer can gather enough fluky luck for an occasional triple. Steve Balboni hit 11 in all, for example, one for each of his glorious years in the majors. But the record-breaking triple-hitter manifests the multitudinous glory of baseball itself. It’s no accident that the image that most often punctuates Pete Rose’s quote about how he’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball is of the All-Time Hit King flying headfirst into third base. The triple materializes from a tripling of rare abilities—the ability to hit, the ability to run, and the ability of wanting: wanting life, more life. Triples are the provenance of pitiless hungering joy.

A triple, like any individual life, is an incomplete act.

Someone else needs to bring him home.


As I clambered up to the spot where Calypso was buried, I thought about how my father doted on her. She was scared of or outright hostile toward almost everything else alive by the end of her life, but she loved him. She sat on his bony lap and purred as he gently brushed her fur with a comb. He loved all of us that way.

I looked over at my brother before I tipped out the ashes and started to cry. I was thinking, this is it. This is the last of him.



Jim Palmer

February 6, 2018

Jim Palmer

My brother met me at the Asheville airport three Saturdays ago and told me our dad wasn’t going to wake up. We were standing at the back of his running car, breathing in the exhaust. I cried for about as long as it takes to sneeze and my brother put his arm around me and I stopped crying and I haven’t cried since. It was late. We drove to the hospital in the dark and walked past an ER waiting room packed with people coughing into surgical masks and we looked at him on a bed in a brightly lit room full of machinery and tubes. I touched his hand and his leg moved. It was an involuntary thing. The stroke had wiped his magnificent mind clean in the time it takes to sneeze. He was moved to intensive care that night and in the morning a doctor met with us and assured us that the clear choice now was to “move toward comfort.” Maybe I’ll write more about the rest of it later, the last hours, the last breaths snoring out of him, his thin chest rising and falling. I don’t want to get into it right now. The next days, in a kind of trance, I cleaned his room like someone possessed, clearing out the clutter and litter and straightening up his beloved books and excavating diplomas and papers and military records and several pairs of his glasses, which I laid out on his shelves as if to make them available for him should he come back and need to see something more clearly. After a week I flew home, walked into my house and was dazzled by the beauty of my wife and young children, but still I didn’t cry. I went back to work and for a few days it was like carrying a backpack jammed with broken chunks of concrete but gradually the weight seemed to go away, which is somehow worse. So now every night when I’m done with work and the kids are in bed I look at the Jim Palmer card on the top of the stack of cards that I pulled from my box of cards at the beginning of 2018. My intention was to make my way through the year one card at a time. I’m stumped now: can’t cry, can’t write, can’t make it past Jim Palmer. Jim Palmer! When Jim Palmer was born in 1945, my dad was already a man, at least according to the U.S. Navy, which had him among its ranks by that time. Jim Palmer was born in New York City, same as my father, and was adopted at birth by a wealthy Jewish man named Moe Wiesen and his wife, Polly. Moe died when Jim was 9, and Polly remarried a man named Max Palmer. My father was working in advertising by then, in research. His crowning achievement in that field, which he left not long after a young Jim Wiesen, beginning to distinguish himself as an athlete in youth ball, decided he wanted to have the same last name as his stepfather, was an interview-based analysis of the brassiere market. I found it in his belongings. It had the interview questions he asked the subjects about brassiere fit and comfort and appeal, along with statistical analyses of the data. Jim Palmer also had a sojourn in the land of undergarments during his career. That was in the 1970s, when Palmer was considered the best pitcher in the American League as well as the most handsome and became a model of Jockey underwear. By then my father was on his own after a short stint as a man dazzled by the beauty of his wife and young children. After that stint, perhaps the happiest days of his life, his family moved to Vermont and he moved into a small studio apartment in New York City. My father didn’t wear Jockey underwear. When my brother and I visited him in New York City in the summers in the 1970s we would all sleep together on foam mats on the floor of his apartment, and at bedtime our father would lurch around in his boxer shorts. My brother and I didn’t wear boxer shorts. Jim Palmer didn’t wear boxer shorts. But our father the sociologist wore boxer shorts, more evidence somehow that he was beyond our understanding.  Eventually he would turn out the light on his desk and the apartment would go dark except for the lights of the city seeping in through the one window. The sounds of the city would also drift up to us six stories high, the traffic, the sirens, the kinds of sounds that are presented in movies as a signifier of loneliness and vulnerability in the big city, but to me those sounds have always felt like safety. I hear those sounds and I am lying in the dark near my unfathomable father, and I’m so close I can hear him breathing.


all Family

January 25, 2017


I’m the youngest of eleven grandchildren of a man named Charles Wilker who in the early part of the twentieth century left a region in central Europe called Galicia to come to this country with nothing because nothing in America was better than the constant threat of pogroms and the certainty of conscription as cannon fodder into the Austro-Hungarian army. He left behind a wife and two young children to find work and send for them later. He didn’t know the language of his new world.

I’m the youngest of eleven grandchildren of a woman named Lillian Wilker who gave birth to three children in Galicia, one of whom died. She eventually followed her husband to America and didn’t know the language either and found that her husband hadn’t established much of a footing. At some point either before or not long after her arrival, he sustained a head injury that either contributed to or was the basis altogether of mental illness that prevented him from gaining steady employment. A couple of decades into his life in the new world, he was found floating in the East River, dead. The children, who now numbered four living souls and two dead, were raised alone by Lillian, who also worked, as did the two eldest children, leaving school for work while barely into their teens. There was one girl, my Aunt Helen, and three boys, my Uncle Joe, my Uncle Dave, and the baby, my father.

This fatherless family made it through the Great Depression while living in Lower East Side tenements. All three boys served this country in World War II. My uncles saw grisly combat in the South Pacific. I like to believe my father, who was rejected the first few times he tried to enlist, was kept safely on land, stateside, throughout his Navy tour with a battalion of similarly spindly aesthetes who had been sorted into a “last resorts” pile. The point is: the Wilker boys served. They were exemplary American citizens, as was my aunt. All four went on to raise beautiful families of children, many of whom who now have their own children, all of us Americans.

I’m the father of the two youngest great-grandchildren of Charles and Lillian Wilker. The youngest great-grandchild, Exley, is the sculptor of the fragment at the top of this page. You can probably guess from the clues—the team name, the one clearly visible number on the jersey, the word “Family”—that this is a card featuring Cal Ripken Sr. and his two sons, Cal and Billy. The full text of the front of the card is probably something like “A Baseball Family.”

I like the fragment better: all family.

We’re all in this together, is the point of my story of my grandfather and grandmother. I love this country for that story and for every other story like it. You’re more than likely the product of a story just like this one. Some people were here before Columbus, but the rest of us came from somewhere else. Here’s another of those stories, from a September 4, 1995, article in The Baltimore Sun by Mike Klingaman:

[Cal] Ripken’s father, Cal Sr., is the grandson of 19th-century German immigrants, Frederick Peter Ripken and Affena Lubina Wychgram. They settled in Harford County and opened a general store in Stepney, a crossroads three miles south of Aberdeen. There, in a tiny room above the store, Cal Sr. was born, the third son of Arend Frederick Ripken and Clara Amelia Oliver Ripken, an Irishwoman whose farming family also immigrated to America in the mid-1800s. Arend Ripken was the first of the clan to play baseball, taking part in sandlot games on weekends.

If you don’t love these stories, you don’t love America. If you build a wall between yourself and these stories, you don’t love America.


Mike Flanagan

August 29, 2011

When I got this card in 1978, I would have had no wish for my life above being a major league baseball player. Back then I would have envisioned myself as a member of my favorite team, which was not the Orioles, but now, in my early 40s, looking back on that purposeful team and on my own often purposeless life, looking also at this card of a young focused left-hander throwing free and easy, a year from winning the Cy Young award and the first game of the World Series, I am thinking that if I could have been a baseball player, someone with a rare and beautiful gift, and I could have chosen an organization to come up in as a player, I would have been an Oriole during the golden years of that franchise.

I would have learned the right way to do things, the Oriole Way, and I would have learned what my place was in the world, my role, and I would have learned how to play that role. I would have been surrounded by others with rare and beautiful gifts doing the same thing, all of us coming together instead of pulling apart. Life is in constant disintegration, but to be an Oriole during those years must have felt like something close to that opposite of that, as if a life could be led, at least for a while, as an integral part of a song.

Some years after the Orioles fell from that grace into a more familiar kind of perpetual disintegration, I spent four seasons in a primitive cabin in the woods. I’ve been thinking about that cabin lately. Sometimes, at dusk, there was a symphony. I don’t want to romanticize it: more likely than not, I would have been depressed, aching with loneliness, guilty for wasting another day, angry at my inability to write anything worthwhile, wishing not that I was part of a song but that I had more batteries for my handheld battery-powered television so that I could watch sitcom reruns on the screen the size of a baseball card. That is, I was not in a lotus position peacefully drinking in the majesty of the forest. But now, many years later, I can discard the fetid personal demons fouling the moment and remember that there were two main parts of the symphony: frogs and a wood thrush. The frogs honked along dumbly, one-note simpletons, and then every once in a while the wood thrush would let loose with that watery many-noted call that I wish I could describe but can only say that whenever I heard it I loosened up just a little on the chronic grip that held me to my misery.

I thought about that symphony a few days ago when I heard that Mike Flanagan had been found dead, that he’d done himself in with a shotgun. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, one of my more memorable trips to the ballpark was when I saw the Red Sox play the Orioles and a pack of drunk guys behind us spent the whole game honking at the opposing pitcher, “Mike Flanagan: UMASS!” They were fellow UMASS guys, I guess, trumpeting their pride, but what I was thinking about a few days ago was how their drunken monotonous croaking was to the graceful pitching of the victorious Flanagan like the frogs’ guttural belching to the song of the wood thrush. Those guys were fans, like I am a fan, and we fans are of this earth, simple and dull, limited, unblessed by the rare and beautiful gift that inspires our croaking, and all we can do is call out to those we believe are part of something higher.

And if there’s such a thing as prayer, let me send mine into the sky like a frog croaking at dusk, and let the words of the prayer be “Mike Flanagan: UMASS!” and let the prayer find Mike Flanagan somewhere with the wish that such a thing, blunt and absurd, but sincere, could help spirit him back into the center of the harmony he once knew, a blessed note in the center of a swinging, indestructible song.


Tim Nordbrook

March 23, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Baltimore Orioles

The first thing I notice when I look at this card is the sweatband on Tim Nordbrook’s left wrist. I probably noticed it as a kid and it fed into my desire to own sweatbands. The card came out in 1976, which was relatively early in my childhood, before I had fully absorbed the lesson that style is a tricky thing, much more likely to hurt you than help you. Clothes, haircuts, language, music: all these things, handled without the certain ineffable core coolness of a select few, could turn into the exact opposite of their intended usage, becoming flashing billboards advertising chronic and inescapable awkwardness and undesirability. After a few hesitant forays into attempting to handle the volatile elements of style, I more or less began my lifelong courtship of invisibility. I aspire to stylelessness.

But in childhood, for a while, I loved style and wasn’t as cowed by it. For example: sweatbands. Sweatbands seemed really cool to me. But some kids who wore them seemed tough and athletic, while other kids who wore them seemed dorky and idiotic. I can’t explain why except to follow the same line of thinking I had, without consciously acknowledging it, as a kid: some people were just inherently cool.

Tim Nordbrook looks pretty good with his sweatband. Part of it is that he’s got just one, the accessory providing a dashing asymmetry. Also, the dark colors work better than some sort of more garish yellowy sweatband would. And he seems like he knows what he’s doing, a comfortable look on his face, a guy at home in the world, his world. Nordbrook’s confident, relaxed demeanor is even more impressive and more suggestive of an unflappable inner calm considering the emaciated hitting statistics on the back of his card. You’d think, looking at his numbers, that he’d more likely be a jumpy, skeletal wraith with sunken, darting eyes open wide for the inevitable coming of someone with news of his release.

But Nordbrook was at home in his skin and in his uniform. Baltimore is listed as both his birthplace and home on the back of the card, and, even more importantly, in terms of being at home on a baseball field, he was entirely a product of the Orioles’ hallowed minor league system that built the team’s long reign at or near the top of the standings from the 1960s to the 1980s. The “Orioles’ Way,” as it was called, taught all the players in the system the most efficient process for performing every necessary skill on the diamond. I don’t know what it would feel like to be armed with this knowledge in any walk of life, but I am guessing it would be approximately the opposite of how I felt as a kid, not knowing the Way to do anything or even that there might be such a thing as a Way.

I’d have to guess that Nordbrook, given that he played a crucial middle-infield position and that he had made it to the majors despite never hitting particularly well anywhere in the minors, excelled at the schooling provided by the Oriole Way. He always knew where to be on the field, and when called upon to execute a task he knew how to do it. This has to breed confidence and ease, though I can only guess about that. When I finally got sweatbands as a kid I could tell that something was off. They weren’t as cool as I’d imagined they might be. They seemed okay when I wore them around the house or out in the driveway to shoot baskets, but when I wore them in public they turned into clumsy, bulky shackles at the end of my weakling arms. They made me wonder, as I do to this day (and as the current Baltimore Orioles, long ago cut off from the path to winning, must wonder), if there’s something out there that other people know about that makes life less of a graceless stumble.


How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part of 18 of 30: Keep an eye on Baltimore-based historian, professor, and author Akim Reinhardt’s blog Public Professor, which focuses on the many aspects of the idea of community; Akim delves into sports periodically, most recently to weigh in with admirable vitriol on the yearly tradition going on right now in the sporting world—hating Duke


2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins; Atlanta Braves; Cincinnati Reds; Oakland A’s; Seattle Mariners; Chicago Cubs


Ross Grimsley

June 25, 2010

Two nights ago, I punched a bag of pretzel nuggets. I needed to punch something but the thing I really wanted to punch, an air conditioning control box, would have broken if I’d punched it, and then I would have had to explain to my wife and then the landlord that I had punched and broken an electronic device, and then I would have had to pay for its costly repair. It was a very hot, humid evening, and I just wanted to turn on the air conditioning, but this device, my nemesis, is extremely complicated. You can’t just turn on the air conditioning but have to program it to turn on; however, all the options for programming make no sense to me: wake, return, sleep. Return? Which one gets the thing to turn on? I could not figure it out and eventually resorted to pushing all the buttons randomly in hopes that I’d luck into turning it on, but that didn’t work, so I stalked around the apartment sweating and hurling obscenities until I came upon the bag of pretzel nuggets sitting on the counter and I punched the shit out of it. Goddamn bag, fuck you! And oh, it knew it had been punched. Many of the nuggets inside the bag were instantly pulverized into dust upon impact with the human TNT encased in my right fist, and the structural integrity of the entire bag was also ruptured significantly, so much so that I had, while tidying up the mess from the incident, heart still pounding from battle, to move the surviving pretzel nuggets into a Tupperware container. Even the surviving pretzel nuggets felt my wrath. They were traumatized crumbling versions of their former selves. I know this because yesterday evening when I got home from work I ate a few of the pretzel nuggets out of my cupped hand and my wife chastised me for scattering pretzel crumbs all over the floor. I hadn’t told her that I’d punched a bag of pretzel nuggets. She wouldn’t necessarily get a thrilling charge out of imagining her 42-year-old husband stomping around our apartment assaulting snacks. But the point is this: don’t fuck with me, pretzels.


The point is this: I have been trying and failing all week to write something about this 1974 Ross Grimsley TRADED card. I had six pages of really shitty material even before getting into it about the pretzel nuggets, which, in case you were wondering if you missed something, do indeed have nothing whatsoever to do with the 1974 Ross Grimsley TRADED card except maybe that I bought both of them, one item a few days ago and the other thirty-six years ago.


The point is this: I started buying packs of baseball cards when I was six. It was near the end of the summer of 1974. A high percentage of those first cards I ever obtained were from this disquieting 1974 TRADED cards series, those first packs rife with these indelible testaments to transience and rejection. Maybe Topps slapped together the cards late in their production cycle that year. This makes some sense—the cards depicted relatively late-breaking events from the previous year. Or maybe the gods were trying to tell me something. It was, after all, a summer of trades. You could say that I had been traded from New Jersey to Vermont, or that my New Jersey friends had been traded for Vermont strangers, but the biggest transaction involved my dad. He had been with the club from before I’d joined via the family’s expansion draft in 1968, but just before the move to Vermont he’d been traded elsewhere. There was no TRADED card explaining the trade.


The point is this: During this week’s failed attempt to use words for some clear purpose, I read a fair amount about Ross Grimsley. He was known as Scuz and Crazy Eyes. He believed a witch helped him win games. He refrained from bathing while on winning streaks. He is shown here just before he was allowed, upon being freed from the constrictive, conservative Reds, to grow a mustache and let his hair bloom into a big greasy bush in which, some argued, he secreted ball-altering substances. The back of the card has a fake newspaper story from a fake newspaper, “The Baseball News”:


“The Baltimore Orioles, shopping for another starting pitcher, today obtained Ross Grimsley . . .,” the story begins. It then notes some highlights from Grimsley’s time with the Reds and mentions that he’d be joining two other lefties in the Orioles’ rotation. If things were going a little smoother inside my mind or soul or whatever, maybe I could find a way to connect Ross Grimsley’s interesting story (related entertainingly in a good recent post by crack baseball historian Bruce Markusen) to my own life. I don’t know, it has been one of those weeks when things don’t really come together. I have gone to my job and come back from my job. My interaction with other humans has been minimal. I have a portable satellite radio with ear bud headphones. I jam the buds into my ears as I am walking out the door and take them out when I get to my cubicle, then several hours later I shut off my computer and leave my cubicle and shove the buds back into my ear and don’t take them out until I get home. Were birds singing? Did anyone call my name? I don’t know.


The point is this: I can picture a 1974 TRADED card for my father. I can see the headline on the back:


“New York added another solitary today,” the story would begin. The image on the front of his card would feature some doctoring, as all the traded cards did. Of course, my dad did not wear a baseball cap, then or ever, so it’s unclear what could be doctored in or out. Maybe a pair of large headphones, which he began to use extensively as soon as he moved into his studio apartment in Manhattan. He listened to Bach. He shut himself off from the sounds of the present to envision patterns of perfection beyond time.


I shut myself off from the sounds of the present but am mostly just looking for distraction. I listen mostly to chatter, Howard Stern or sports talk. Sometimes I mix in some music, too. Yesterday on the way home from work to my wife and my terrorized Tupperware container of pretzel nuggets I listened to some “classic alternative” music from the 1980s and thought about myself from that time and my friends from that time and the feelings from that time, which seemed in retrospect, backed by the poufy-haired British music in my ears, to mostly amount to a sort of swelling romantic melancholy. I started missing the way I was sad in the 1980s. It was somehow larger and more heroic than the measly lowgrade glumness I often slog around in these days. Plus I was thinner. Such is the way of the world. We get older and softer and weaker and fade. There are no TRADED cards marking the changes. There are no stats to analyze. There aren’t even any words. The point is this:


Doug DeCinces

April 2, 2010

It’s ironic that the shadow that’s so prominent in Doug DeCinces’ 1978 card belongs to Doug DeCinces and not to the man he replaced. At that time, the story of DeCinces was that he was living in Brooks Robinson’s shadow. For as long as anyone had ever been on one team, Brooks Robinson had been on the Orioles, an all-star game fixture, a mythic October hero, and the most sublime fielder to ever play the position. Then, finally, it was over, and a young player named Doug DeCinces trotted out to take The Legend’s place. You can’t look at Doug DeCinces’ career numbers, even in his earliest years, and say that the changing of the guards in Baltimore was a disaster. But certain players cast shadows so long that they are inescapable, so the story of Doug DeCinces in those years, and even to this day, is that he wasn’t Brooks Robinson.

When he first became the Orioles’ starter at third, he did not yet have the mustache he displays here. In earlier cards it is a thin, scraggly thing, making him look like the haggard, unsmiling, slightly corrupt, sneaky deputy of a more corrupt sheriff in a small southern town. The deputy knows some things he doesn’t necessarily want to know, but what is he going to do about it but go along and try to siphon off a little piece of the illicit pie for himself?

Had he not increased the size and magnificence of his mustache, the shadow would have engulfed him. He would have gotten more and more nervous-looking and beady-eyed, as if the feds had been called in to investigate a case that was tangled up in the small town racket he and the sheriff had going. He would have started grounding into more double plays and sailing more throws into the stands and snapping at reporters and pulling his hamstring more and more because of how tightly wound he and his scraggly mustache were. He would have drifted to an expansion team for a couple unremarkable seasons, then he and the paltry first version of his mustache would have disappeared.

Instead, DeCinces bloomed into a very good third baseman, and I would argue that the staggering improvements he made to his mustache contributed mightily to this. I applaud this mustache as much as I would an MVP season or a Gold Glove award, two honors that narrowly eluded DeCinces in his fine career. It takes guts to sport such a specimen on the middle of your face. It certainly takes someone who is willing to step out from behind someone else’s shadow and start casting shadows of one’s own. Without his mustache, which is, after Rollie Fingers’ creation, the second greatest mustache of the entire unprecedentedly hairy decade, he would have stayed in that shadow, dissolved in that shadow, and the heaven of the cardboard gods would have been a dimmer, more shadowy place.

The present was so disjointed in the 1970s that the past became a craze. The surging Now of the 1960s guttered to the question “what now?” It’s a sparse and scraggly and beady-eyed question. A haunted, hunted question. The answer: escape backward. Happy Days, the Bicentennial, Grease, the 19th Century flat-topped caps of the Pirates, Little House on the Prairie, the Back to the Land movement, The Waltons, and, not least of these things, the mustache of Doug DeCinces, a mustache so rich and entertaining and historical that it seemed to come with a soundtrack of old-timey “pianny,” the kind of thing playing during cowboy fistfights in which guys suffering the immediate effects of haymakers go sliding down the bar or topple backwards through swinging doors and into horse troughs. It’s a mustache with laughs and gravitas. It’s a mustache of wonder. It’s a mustache that will forever cast a majestic shadow all its own.


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