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.)


Ellie Hendricks

February 26, 2010

The Blue Jacket

(continued from Dave Rader)


It’s easy to see, looking at Ellie Hendricks, that one’s time in the big leagues is a state of grace. It’s not always so easy to see that the same can be said about one time’s here on earth.

February, the winter starts getting long. You slog through the slush. You stare out dirty windows. You get sick. You worry. You get older.

You try to imagine that first sunny day far away. Ellie Hendricks putting on his big league uniform once again. Ellie Hendricks grabbing a bat. Ellie Hendricks pausing for a moment, bat on shoulder. Ellie Hendricks smiling in the sun.


Earlier in this meandering piece I mentioned the feeling of being 22 and 23 and not knowing if it’s all still to come or all already gone. I thought when I wrote those words that the one concrete detail that I imagine as the center of these current ramblings, the blue jacket, came into my life when I was 22 and 23. But this morning when I checked a cultural event that I loosely associate with the blue jacket—the day Kurt Cobain blew his head off—I see that I was actually 26. Everything else was pretty much the same. Still working at the liquor store. Still wondering if it was all already gone. Still staring out dirty windows, waiting, trying to imagine.


When Ellie Hendricks was 22 and 23, he was not far removed from being released by the major league organization that had signed him (the Atlanta Braves).  Before that release, he had played minor league ball with, among others, Pat Jordan, the highly touted pitching prospect who would never reach the major leagues and who would brilliantly recount that failure in his book A False Spring. Jordan, who has gone on to become one of the best sportswriters of his time, got down on the page better than anyone ever has the wrenching heartbreak of having the dream of a big league career crash. Though Ellie Hendricks seems by all accounts (including Jordan’s in A False Spring) to have been someone in possession of a much more unshakably upbeat disposition than the smoldering, angst-ridden Jordan, you have to assume that Hendricks also felt the sting of being cut loose from the dream.

But while Jordan reacted to this in a way similar to my own reaction to being kicked out of childhood—by starting to try to get the words down—Ellie Hendricks kept playing. He played in the Puerto Rican leagues and became, for several years, a power hitter of such renown in those parts that he was known (for reasons I don’t quite understand, given the location of the leagues and Hendricks being a native of the Virgin Islands) as “The Babe Ruth of Mexico.” When he was 26, presumably in some ways still waiting and imagining, the big leagues finally took notice. The next season he was playing for the Baltimore Orioles, basking in the glow of that rare state of grace.


You wait for the call. Hey, I need you. You wait to hear those words. When I was just about to turn 26 and slouching through another February at the liquor store, I got such a call, it seemed. The woman on the other end had an English accent. She was friends with an English woman I’d met at a short story workshop. The woman on the phone worked for a publisher in London, and they put out books on popular American culture.

“Are you familiar with Pearl Jam?” she asked in a thrillingly refined accent.

I had a vague and faintly sour conception of the band she mentioned. A pack of stout longhaired galoots moaning and yowling. They were relatively new and huge, of course, and at that time I had adopted a general philosophy that anything that hadn’t already happened—in music, in movies, in books, in life—was (not counting a few exceptions) part of a hopeless, hackneyed, annoying aftermath.

“Yes, I know Pearl Jam,” I said.

“How would you feel about writing a book about Pearl Jam?” the English woman asked.

If you wait long enough, you can make a call seem like the call.

“I’d feel. I’d feel great,” I said.


Ellie Hendricks leaned on love. Surely it was his dream to reach the big leagues, but he didn’t put the dream before his love of the game and of, one has to believe, life itself.

“But one must look beyond the field to get the full measure of this giving man,” writes Rory Costello in an excellent installment on Ellie Hendricks in the inexhaustible, ever-growing wonder that is the Baseball Biography Project.

“He was warm-hearted, always beaming, with a rumbling (often colorfully profane) voice and laugh. Ellie made a personal connection with thousands of fans—especially the young.”

Hendricks played for several years in the big leagues, and continued on as an Orioles coach for several more. Once he got to put on that big league uniform, he never wanted to take it off, becoming for the Orioles what Johnny Pesky is to the Red Sox, a common denominator across the years, a human heart beating at the center of an organization. When he died in 2005, he had been soaking up the sunshine in an Orioles uniform for 37 years.


There was no big league uniform for me to slip into when I began working on a book about Pearl Jam. But on my 26th birthday my mother, who had apparently deemed the torn Corvoisier windbreaker I’d been shivering in as an unworthy guard against the weather for her son, got me (yes, finally we have come to it) a blue jacket.

It was, unlike childhood birthday gifts, not an immediately thrilling present to receive, but it played a key role in the fantasy I was about to enact for the next month. A second key part of the fantasy was the book on Pearl Jam, which I began researching by reading articles about them on file at the public library at Lincoln Center. A third part of the fantasy was a woman whom I somehow began to date. 

I don’t fully remember how I got that last ball up in the air, so to speak, but it’s not important for this story. What’s important is that I hadn’t dated a woman in years, and that I seized on this woman as if she were a vital key to gain entry to some state of grace.

For a couple weeks there, with my new blue jacket, and my Pearl Jam book, and my girl, I was, I tried to believe, in the big leagues. I was still pulling my regular shifts at the liquor store, but in my free time I was striding around town in my blue jacket with Pearl Jam blasting in my ears. 

I was going to do it. I was going to change into someone else. Some guy in a blue jacket with a girlfriend and the members of Pearl Jam on speed dial.

I’ll save most of the grisly details of the sudden and near-total collapse of this fantasy. I’ve droned on long enough anyway. Basically, there came a point when I had to try to make actual contact with Pearl Jam. I got the number of a publicist and called her.

“But who are you?” she asked me. “You see what I mean? Who are you?”

Not long after that, in a cab with the woman I was dating, in lieu of telling her how much I wanted her and needed her now, more than ever, I quoted one of my favorite lines from a Woody Allen movie.

“You’re so beautiful I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter,” I said.

“Josh, we need to talk,” she said.

Then Kurt Cobain blew his brains out. I somehow used this as a reason to back out of my verbal agreement to write the Pearl Jam book, sending a letter to the English woman in which I professed great emotional turmoil about “working in an industry” in which such a bright talent might be tortured to the point where he decided to remove his brains from inside his own head. The letter must have read like the cousin of a suicide note, like a note, in other words, in which the author vows to no longer be a part of waking life if he can help it.

And the next day I went back to the liquor store. No Pearl Jam in my ears. No upcoming dates on the calendar. But I still had my blue jacket. And spring had begun.


Scott McGregor

August 7, 2009

Scott McGregor 80


(Continued from Gary Beare)


In 1972, Scott McGregor was chosen by the New York Yankees with the 14th pick of major league baseball’s amateur draft. Only a little over half the players picked in the first round of that draft made it to the majors. This surprises me. I haven’t spent a lot of time evaluating major league drafts, but I always assumed that the Chosen Ones who have their names called in the first round had by virtue of their athletic abilities wrested a greater level of certainty from the world than the rest of us. Turns out there’s uncertainty everywhere.

Read the rest of this entry ?


Tim Stoddard

March 19, 2009


I started becoming aware of baseball about thirty-five years ago, in 1974, when I was six. Basketball lagged behind baseball in that regard, only edging onto my personal radar when my brother, who I followed almost everywhere and into almost everything, began to play on his junior high team in the late 1970s.

My attachment to basketball became official in or around 1980, when a large poster of David Thompson went up on my wall. Thompson’s nickname was Skywalker, and the poster did the name justice, making it seem that he was not simply leaping but that he was in possession of some kind of magic that allowed him to stroll in midair until all mortals attempting to stop him clattered back to earth, at which point Thompson would punctuate the moment with a ferocious tomahawk slam. Read the rest of this entry ?


Dave Skaggs

January 30, 2009

Somewhere I Lost Connection

(continued from Larry Hardy)

Chapter Four

I never made it to Galicia to wander the ghostly grounds of the vanished gas-chambered shtetl thinking tragic historical thoughts about my ancestors, or whatever the fuck I’d been hoping to do. Instead I started seeping back westward not long after having a bleak vision of universal loneliness and alienation in a town in East Germany called Schwerin. I’d been trying to hitchhike farther east than Schwerin, to Berlin, and from there to points even deeper into the grim mysterious regions beyond the recently lifted Iron Curtain. But after standing on the shoulder of a highway in Hamburg for a very long time without even a nibble I had begun silently chanting the mantra of the stranded:

Anywhere is better than here. Anywhere is better than here.

Finally, a car pulled over and the driver said a word I’d never heard: “Schwerin?”

He could have said anything. I got in the car.


At that very moment, late October 1990, Dave Skaggs may have been playing or getting ready to play his last games of professional baseball. According to BR bullpen, Skaggs appeared that year in the Senior Professional Baseball Association. The short-lived winter league, loaded with former stars and journeymen from the Cardboard Gods era, shut its doors in December of 1990, but not before Skaggs and his teammates on the San Bernadino Pride battled their way to a record of 13 and 12.

He hadn’t played in the major leagues for ten years, since 1980 when he appeared in two games for the Baltimore Orioles and 24 games for the California Angels. I don’t know if he played in the minor leagues after that, because baseball cards only show the minor leagues as a prelude, never as an aftermath. The fact that Skaggs was available to limp around for meager pay in a doomed geezer winter league suggests that he probably didn’t instantly leap from his 1981 release by the Seattle Mariners (who had signed him a month earlier but didn’t need him because they already had Terry Bulling) to a spectacularly successful career in some other field. He probably kept playing ball. Perhaps he even stuck around long enough to gradually make his way back down the minor league ladder he’d spent several hard years climbing. Back to Rochester, where he’d toiled in 1976 and part of 1975. Back to Asheville, where he’d toiled in 1974 and part of 1975. Back even earlier and lower, to the team he played for in 1973, five years into his professional career and still a million miles from the majors.

Back to Lodi.


The driver let me off at an exit ramp in Schwerin. He must have pointed me the way to go, but I got confused instantly, and for a very long time I wandered lost in a landscape only slightly more habitable for a pedestrian than the surface of Jupiter. Here’s what I wrote in my notebook the next day:

I was trying to walk to the youth hostel. I took a wrong turn and walked two miles in a nowhere direction. The road was flat and cracked and stretched into afternoon hazy visions of steel industrial plants, the smokestacks breathing streaks of dirt into the sky. The cars that passed were mostly broken down Russian cars with no catalytic converters, so their foul air was noisily blasted in my face until I was light-headed and achy and felt enclosed. The pack was heavy and beginning to dig down into my shoulders. The landscape was gray and barren. Earlier I had walked past a huge Russian Army barracks, a truck of dark-eyed soldiers passing me into its entrance. Soon they would all abandon the hulking stone buildings to go back to their country to starve. I was walking on the road and thinking not only of my own nowhere going but the whole earth wrapped as it is in cracked, nowhere going roads and abandoned useless buildings and towers and potatoes falling and rotting to the ground as millions starve in muddy hovels in the cold. This was the black end. I was saying to myself, “I will go home, I must go home,” and as I said it I thought of the massive half-realized failure of my own life and how I couldn’t speak to anyone ever from shame and how I would lead a mundane, death-surrounded life and never really know home.


If I lost connection somewhere, that implies that somewhere I had connection. If I find myself hoping to take the next train back to where I lived, that implies that, sometime before setting off in 1990 to find my life and finding instead that the whole wide world was Lodi, there once was a place where I lived. I can’t put my finger on any map of where that might be, except to locate personal versions of ghost towns, just as I can’t put words to that connection.

But I know what that connection feels like. It feels like holding a piece of cardboard in my hands and pronouncing the name on the card for the first time, the player brand new to the Cardboard Gods, his name one that by its strange and biting sound alone instantly scored an indelible groove in my 10-year-old brain:

Dave Skaggs.

The guarded, menacing face on the 1978 card, his first, fit the name, as did the fading light in the blurred background behind him, dusk coming on in the anonymous nowhere of Dave Skaggs, Skaggs who knows the nowhere well and grips the bat and glares, ready for trouble, for grim toothless tormentors in scars and rags, Skaggs mean and lonely, hopeless and brave. Skaggs never nobody. Skaggs unbowed.

(to be continued)


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


Lee May

January 9, 2009
According to the back of this card, Lee May drove in 195 runs for the Houston Astros in 1973, more RBI than anyone has ever produced in a single major league season. More than Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Hank Greenberg, etc. Name a slugger, any slugger. Lee May topped him, according to the back of this card.

But it’s a mistake, right? If it’s not, I can’t think of a more subtly shattering blow to my sanity than the sudden knowledge that for all these years, my whole conscious life, the subject I know most about includes a glaring absence of knowledge about the all-time single-season RBI champ. It would be like a guy who spent every spare hour birdwatching and reading about birds and studying birdcalls suddenly finding out that there was a bird known as the bald eagle.

“Good lord, what is that?” he’d remark to his fellow birders as he stared through binoculars at the familiar patriotic icon perched on a high branch. By the time he lowered his binoculars to investigate the silence greeting his exclamation, his fellow birders would have realized he wasn’t joking, but shaky grins would remain frozen on all their faces. No one would be making any eye contact.

But that’s too unfathomable to think about. I’d rather identify the 195 RBI as a typo. I’d rather envision some Topps temp concentrating on her glazed donut while thudding the 9 key instead of the 0 key on a typewriter, then later in the process the proofreader rationalizing his half-assed half-asleep effort by telling himself that he wouldn’t even care that much if he got canned. Thus, with these two parenting mediocrities—the key-entry functionary and the quality assurance functionary—a mistake is born.

I should know. I work as a proofreader, which means all day long I search for mistakes. Sometimes my mind wanders and mistakes slip through. I think about this phenomenon a lot. It’s my window into one of the rare certainties about human life: mistakes will be made. Sometimes the mistakes won’t matter much, but other times they might. Someone’s mind wanders when they’re inspecting an airplane. Someone’s mind wanders when they’re checking a chest x-ray. Someone’s mind wanders when they’re speeding down the highway. Last night my wife told me about what she saw on her long drive home. One of the cars in a crash had been crushed to the size of a juke box. Years ago, on a road trip, we’d been on that same highway and had seen the aftermath of a crash involving eight or nine cars all crumpled and intertwined in an awful metallic conga line, complete with sirens and revolving red lights. One mistake had been made. One little mistake.

It’s the kind of thing that can make you want to never leave your house, or to pack yourself in a thick coating of bubble wrap for so much as a short walk to the corner to buy Q-Tips. So for the sake of my continuing ability to barely function in society, maybe what I need to do is once again entertain the idea that the info on the back of Lee May’s card isn’t a mistake. Maybe every other source on the subject is wrong, and this one card is right. Maybe Lee May just had one magical season where he could do no wrong.

I never had such a season (and judging by Lee May’s expression on the front of the card, I think it’s safe to assume that he never had such a season, either), but I did at least have one long summer afternoon. I was nine or ten and I went to stay overnight at my friend Mike’s house. Mike lived in town, while I lived far out in the country, where there weren’t very many other kids around, so it was amazing to me when Mike and I took a few steps out of his house and found a bunch of kids already gathering in a big open grassy lot that happened to be next a cemetary. Teams were formed, a baseball diamond laid out using rocks and pieces of clothing for bases. For some reason we used a tennis ball instead of a baseball. It was a good choice. Everyone was a slugger, thocking the fuzzy yellow ball into the far reaches of the field, the farthest clouts bounding all the way into the newest rows of graves.

By this time I had fallen in love with the statistics on the backs of baseball cards, so as the slugfest went on and the runners kept whirling around the bases and home I started getting giddy about my own stats for the game. Let’s see. Four doubles, a couple triples, three home runs, fourteen RBIs. Or is it fifteen? I was, I decided, an RBI machine.

I don’t remember how outs were even made, but somehow they were once every half-dozen runs, because the beautiful thing was that everyone on both teams got easy chance after easy chance to be a record-breaking slugger. I guess if I had the opportunity to play that kind of a game every day I might have grown bored with it, but since I so rarely got to play with a huge group of other kids I loved it. As I remember it, the game didn’t end with anyone losing but with the slow soft arrival of dusk, the beaten tennis ball a dimming yellow glow floating toward the batter then flaring in a sizzling shooting star arc deep into the outfield. Finally someone drove the ball into the granite stubs and slabs at the far border of the field and it was too dark to find it, though we all looked for a while, every player on both teams, everyone a cheerful chattering superstar slaloming fearlessly through the graves.


OK, I’ve already droned on enough for one day, but before finally shutting up I did want to pass along to any fellow Stooges fans a link to an LA Times interview with Mike Watt in which the legendary bass player pays moving tribute to his fallen idol and bandmate, Ron Asheton.


Mark Corey

August 27, 2008
I Walk the (Mendoza) Line
continued from Tom Paciorek

Chapter Three
Things started moving too fast for me in 1981, the same year I loosened my grip on the Cardboard Gods. I was 13. I bought a few packs of cards that year, no more, so I didn’t get the 1981 Orioles Future Stars card featuring Mike Boddicker, Floyd Rayford, and Mark Corey. It was the third year in a row in which Mark Corey appeared for Topps in a group portrait with other hopefuls. Had I seen the 1981 version of the card I might have wondered if Mark Corey had somehow found a way to make time stand still, to remain forever in a hypothetical world, the future always far off and golden. But even perpetual Future Star Mark Corey couldn’t find the stop button on this ride. We all are carried forward. In September of 1981 Corey got the last of his three brief tastes of the major leagues, going 0 for 8 and bringing his career batting average down to .211, perilously close to the Mendoza Line. Me, I entered ninth grade.

One of my classes was biology, which included a mix of ninth and tenth graders. The ninth graders were supposed to be the smart kids, the ones able to skip the earth science class the rest of the ninth graders were taking and go straight to the hard stuff. But though I liked the teacher, a gentle bearded former hippie named Mr. Brukhardt, I found the work both uninteresting and baffling and started falling farther and farther behind. I sat in front of two Bubble Yum-popping tenth grade girls who said I looked funny because my feet were too big. The class, in my memory, is a blur of incomprehensible concepts and the guts of upturned pickled frogs. In the end I passed the class, but with the worst mark I’d yet received, that most leaden of grades, a D.  

My mother suggested I take it again. By then it had been decided that I’d go away to boarding school in 11th grade, where things were sure to start moving even faster. My mom reasoned that I would do well to build a strong foundation in science knowledge before I had to face the major league fastball of a science class in boarding school. It sounded OK to me. I was intuitively attracted to anything that resembled the stopping of time. I regretted the decision on the first day, when Mr. Brukhardt started taking role. My name was near the end of the alphabet. By then my stomach had started to hurt.

“Josh?” Mr. Brukhardt said, looking up, surprised. “What are you doing here?”

Throughout elementary school, I had been a promising student, a kid with potential. A Prospect. Maybe even a Future Star. But as Mr. Brukhardt looked up at me, baffled, I felt the last of that promise crumble. I felt big and clumsy, a dunderhead.

Halfway through the semester I was reminded again of my status as a repeater when we started a class-wide investigation of a hypothetical problem involving a pond where all the fish were dying. We’d done the investigation the year before. It was one of the few things I’d enjoyed about the class. A mystery! Mr. Brukhardt had the presence of mind to pause in his introduction of the project. He looked at me. I sat in the back with a couple of my academically mediocre 10th-grade buddies. At the end of the year I’d get drunk for the first time with them, guzzling rum and coke in the little league dugouts.

“Now Josh,” Mr. Brukhardt said, “don’t give the answer away.”

It’s not a good feeling, knowing the answer. You’d think it might be but it isn’t.

(to be continued)


Kevin Millar

May 14, 2008
Golf Road
Chapter Five
(continued from Tim Redding)

When I first found these ripped up 2008 cards on Golf Road I envisioned spreading the lucky, hopeful buzz the find gave me over an entire month, writing nearly every day about one of the cards, welcoming the spring by celebrating the miraculous renewal of each trashed present-day journeyman, a month-long 22-chapter novella that would ultimately establish the bus stop on Golf Road as my personal church, a temple for the embrace of the moment in the heart of the blind spot of the American Dream, which also happened to be the heart of my own strongest desire to escape the moment. It was pretty ambitious. It was bound to end up incomplete.

In truth there’s not much to the story. The bus came by and I got on. That about wraps things up regarding the day I found the cards. There’s also a Grateful Dead song that starts with those words. The bus mentioned in the song is metaphorical in some ways, but the metaphor has its roots in an actual bus, Furthur, which belonged to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, who used the vehicle, an old conveyance for schoolchildren that the proto-hippies had emblazoned with Day-Glo paint, to roam the land ingesting prodigious amounts of LSD and acting unusually around members of the general populace. This was in 1964. They believed they could transform society by passing along, through artful pranks, the enlightenment they were experiencing. Mostly they exhibited their painted naked bodies and yelled at tax-paying citizens with a megaphone. When they returned to California from the cross-country trip they began inviting the general public to acid tests, which the Grateful Dead fully participated in, managing somehow to play their electrified instruments and add strange music to the general sensory assault while they, like everyone else there, hallucinated ferociously. In other words, the bus came by and they got on.

Others followed. The man who would become my step-father was the first in my family to get on the bus, dropping out of college, growing his hair long, crisscrossing the country on a motorcycle, eventually stumbling around the Oregon woods on acid made by the Merry Prankster’s own famous chemist, Owsley. My mother followed him onto the bus. In fact they literally met on a bus to a peace march. I don’t know if you could say my father ever got on the bus, but he didn’t throw rocks at the bus or anything, and when the family split up he did ride another kind of bus (Greyhound) up to see us a lot, and my brother and I took the same Greyhound down to see him every summer. A few years later I rode a Greyhound all the way across the country. There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel. That’s another line from the Grateful Dead song. It’s a reference to Neal Cassady, who was the driver of the Merry Prankster bus and who I first read about in On the Road a couple years before my cross-country bus ride. I wanted to ride beside him, crisscrossing the country in a frenzied search for ecstatic visions, so I tried to get on the bus, but it was a Greyhound. Once the Greyhound had taken me and my liquefying spine to California I saw my first Grateful Dead show and started tripping pretty hard during the first notes of the first song the visibly aging men on stage were playing, Jack Straw. We can share the women we can share the wine. There were people sharing things all around me, most notably hugs in big unshowered hug circles. I found I wanted no part of it. It wasn’t all the hairy armpits, either. I’ve never been a joiner. I prefer solitary, even lonely, anonymity, where without ever having to actually talk to anybody I can painlessly imagine great untroubled renown and warm feelings of vibrant community. I went to a few more Grateful Dead shows over the next couple years and it was the same thing: strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hands, as another of their songs go, and me off to the side, my jaw clenching and my nostrils flaring with the chemical pulse coursing through me, my pupils like fire-blackened dimes. At one show a hippie girl even shouted at me, in a rhetorical way that was akin to a distancing shove of the palm to the chest, “Why are you hiding?”

Anyway that was all a long time ago. More recently the bus came by, the Pace Bus, and I got on and slid my transit card into the slot. That’s about it. Cowboy Neal wasn’t at the wheel but it turned out that Kevin “Cowboy Up” Millar was partially and in pieces in my pocket. Quite a while later the bus arrived at the CTA terminal and I got off. I got on a train. I got off the train. I walked home. Same as any other day. Today I heard on the radio that there’s a physiological phenomenon called synaptic rutting, which leads to physical and mental degeneration and which stems from the kind of repetitive living that I engage in. But I guess there are always slight variations in my routine. On the day in question, of course, I was able on my arrival at my apartment to delay the routine of simultaneous ingestion of food and television by dumping my card shreds onto the counter and with the help of my wife piecing together whatever we could. When she went to take a shower I taped up the pieces, trying to be careful at first but then deciding to be willfully haphazard, so that the torn parts showed even in the cards that had all their parts.

Not all the cards had all their parts, and I guess it says something about me that these partial cards are my favorites. Of those favorites, this Kevin Millar card is first and foremost. This is not surprising, given my favorite team, and given that the player featured on the card not only started what turned out to be the greatest rally in team history but also seemed to be the foremost contributor to the 2004 Red Sox’ renowned looseness. He was, and probably still is, a goofball. Before Millar the Red Sox had always stared into their chronic collapses with the Yaz-faced dourness of a man being told there was no cure for his hemorrhoids. Conversely, Millar’s response to the deeply humiliating 0-3 hole the Red Sox dug for themselves in the 2004 playoffs was to smile like he had just stumbled from a keg party and tell reporters that his team was going to shock the world. He didn’t sound like the raving young Cassius Clay, the first to make such a claim, but rather like a guy who was simply prepared to continue having some fun playing baseball. How much Millar’s attitude and locker room hijinx actually contributed to the team’s famous comeback is a matter for debate, but the fact is the team seemed to take his lead and play the game both without tension and with passion, a sure sign that they were, as any goofball would have wanted it, enjoying themselves.

I was just thinking last night that the goofball is a lucky guy. Last night as he played first base for the Baltimore Orioles a run scored when he let a groundball go through his legs. He has managed to put together a good career, but what would have happened if that error had not occurred in the first inning of an early-season game that his team would come back to win but instead had occurred in, say, the tenth inning of the sixth game of a World Series? But then again maybe there’s something to being a goofball. Maybe goofballs are just luckier. Maybe they know that the mere fact of being alive is itself a pretty lucky thing, so you might as well enjoy yourself when you can.

I was lucky to find these cards, especially the partial 2008 Kevin Millar. In the days following my find I continued to search the grass around the bus stop on Golf Road. I didn’t find anything the first time I did this, but on the second day I came up with three scraps, one of them the missing piece of Kevin Millar. I put them in my back pocket when the bus arrived. Later, as I was exiting the train station in my neighborhood, a guy was handing out brochures for some street fair. I avoid interpersonal contact whenever possible, but because of one of the briefest chapters in the spotty employment history that has brought me to Golf Road I now take things from people when they hand them out. Several years ago I got some money by working for an outfit that handed out surveys in front of movie theaters. We had to say the same thing over and over: “The producers would love to hear what you think of this movie.” The repetitiveness of this, and the fact that I had to go against my deep-seated personal preference to leave people alone, made me start crying on the subway home. But my money was so thin I had to do it again a few more times. Most people I accosted passed me by. During the movie we filled in blank surveys with fictional responses to the movie we hadn’t seen, then when the movie let out we went up and down the aisles and pried any castoff surveys loose from the gooey floor. So anyway I always take pity on poor slobs handing out things, which led to me taking the brochure and shoving it in my back pocket, then pulling it out when I came to a garbage can. When I got home I found that I only had two scraps of cards in my back pocket. The final piece of Kevin Millar had been jarred loose somehow, probably by a ripple from my lackluster, ridiculous past.

I was angry at first, but what are you gonna do? Punch yourself in the head? Fuck it, life is short. You might as well celebrate what luck comes to you and leave the rest for someone else to find.


Jim Palmer

March 17, 2008
My first roommate, besides my brother, was a pimply kid from Baltimore. I got assigned to him randomly when I went away to boarding school. I was fifteen. He was into computers. In fact, he had somehow built his own computer. This was in 1983, so he was ahead of the curve on that one. He didn’t have any posters but covered his walls with random things from his life. I never looked too closely, but I remember a broken calculator as being one of the things hanging on his wall. There were papers, notes, drawings, scraps from magazines. He was a smart kid, a dweeb. He played Dungeons and Dragons. Like many of the dweebs, he was simultaneously awkward and arrogant, and he had a weird but OK-looking girlfriend. We got along pretty well. He drank a Coke before going to sleep every night, claiming that it always knocked him out. He was the only Jethro Tull fan I’ve ever known. He was a rich kid, I guess. I’ve always figured that he went on to make a lot of money in computers. His mother dated Jim Palmer for a while and he and Jim Palmer once played racquetball.

Jim Palmer reached the major leagues at age 19 and capped his first full major league season the following year by ruining Sandy Koufax’s final game, beating Koufax 6-0 in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series. Palmer had not yet turned 21. He spent most of the next two years injured or in the minors, the Orioles not able to contend without him, and when he came back to stay in 1969 the Orioles won three straight American League pennants. So in Palmer’s first four full seasons in the majors, his team won four American League pennants and two World Series titles. Though things slowed down a little after that, he still was able to add four more division titles, two more pennants, and one more World Series ring to a trophy case that also included three Cy Young awards. In addition, he racked up more wins in the 1970s than any other pitcher.

I’m tired, timid, empty. It took me a long time to get out of bed. Unwrap each day like a precious gift, I thought to myself as I lay there under the blankets, unable to move. I guess later I’ll go buy a paper and scrutinize the NCAA basketball bracket. So far today I’ve written in my notebook, listened to sports radio, eaten some saltines, and tried to figure out which World Series game included the most Hall of Famers. I started investigating the subject after seeing that Jim Palmer won a game in relief against the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1983 World Series. The losing pitcher, Steve Carlton, is a Hall of Famer, as are three of his Phillies teammates (Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Mike Schmidt) and two of Palmer’s fellow Orioles (Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray). Since obvious Hall of Fame-caliber player Pete Rose also pinch-hit in that game for the Phillies, I gave the game a total score of 7* with the asterisk standing for Rose, and then started scanning through likely contenders on the postseason index. I eventually found a World Series game that featured nine Hall of Famers (plus an additional Hall of Famer if you count managers). I feel fairly confident that this is the record (author update: it’s not), but my search was inexhaustive and reliant on hunches, so please correct me if I’m wrong (author update: someone did; see comments). But let’s just say I’m right. Can you name the year and the teams and Hall of Famers involved?

Finally, to end this lackadaisical meander of a post, let me again throw out the trivia question from a comment I attached the last post, copying it from the back of Bob Coluccio’s card (“Which pitcher sang National Anthem at ’73 World Series?”). Hint: the player once contributed to a World Series defeat of Jim Palmer’s Orioles and then later wrapped up his career as Palmer’s teammate.