Archive for the ‘Baltimore Orioles’ Category

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Al Bumbry

February 1, 2008
 

Born in the USA

(continued from Bob Jones)

Chapter Three

“The Iraq thing has the feel of a potential quagmire where we just get deeper and deeper and deeper involved, and when that happens it’s harder and harder and harder to get out. There’s also the similarity with the difficulty in finding the enemy. In Vietnam, we couldn’t find the V.C., they were blended in with the population, and we’re having the same problem in Iraq . . .” –Tim O’Brien, author, from a 2003 interview

I.
Today in Iraq two severely retarded women were outfitted with remote control explosive devices and sent into a popular outdoor market where animals are sold. According to an AP report by Kim Gamel, the blasts killed at least seventy-three people. Many others were wounded. Many others saw things they will probably never leave behind.

“I just remember the horrible scene of the bodies of dead and wounded people mixed with the blood of animals and birds,” said a market vendor named Ali Ahmed. “Then I found myself lying in a hospital bed.”

II.
In his classic work of Vietnam War literature, The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien, who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, describes a memory so vivid it had the power to rip him out of sleep twenty years later. In the memory that O’Brien can never leave behind, a mine has just blasted a member of his platoon into a tree.

“The parts were just hanging there,” he writes, “so Dave Jensen and I were ordered to shinny up and peel him off. I remember the white bone of an arm. I remember pieces of skin and something wet and yellow that must’ve been the intestines.”

III.
“It was indelible,” recalls another person who was in Vietnam in those years, a North Vietnamese child named Tran Luong who witnessed the aftermath of the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi. The aerial attack, which came just after the United States promised to withdraw its forces from South Vietnam, killed 2,196 civilians.

“The morning after the bombing, I went to Kham Thien Street with some older children,” Tran recalls in Christian Appy’s oral history of the Vietnam War, Patriots. “I saw pieces of hair and scalp hanging on trees.”

IV.
Al Bumbry was a platoon leader in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. He won the Bronze Star, which is given to soldiers for “heroic or meritorious achievement or service,” then he came home and made significant contributions as a speedy slap-hitting outfielder for the excellent Orioles teams of the 1970s and early 1980s.

He is shown here in the middle of that career, his hunched stance and his facial expression creating the impression of a man guarding private hurt. An earlier Bumbry card in my collection, from 1975, shows on the back his minor league years and the interruption in those years signified by the statement “In Military Service.” But on the back of this 1977 card there are only his major league statistics. It’s as if enough time has passed for certain more complicated elements of the past to have faded, the gap in the soothing progression of numbers gone, the wound healed. I don’t know if Al Bumbry believed in that kind of anesthetic forgetting. But the country he’d returned to seemed to believe in it. There were no victory celebrations. There were no parades. There was just a general desire to forget the whole thing ever happened.

V.
So what was the weather like in Iraq today? It’s not usually something I concern myself with, preferring to fill my head with baseball, but information about the weather came out in the AP story about the homicide bombing mentioned above, probably because it correlates to the body count.

“It was nice weather today,” reports the hospitalized market vendor Ali Ahmed, “and the market was so crowded.”

VI.
It was nice weather on a certain day a few years ago. I was living in Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighborhood just across the East River from Manhattan. I got up early to beat the crowd at a nearby laundromat. It was a tiny place, and if you didn’t get there early the whole day was shot battling hipsters and middle-aged Dominican women for a free drier. I wrote in my journal a couple days later about what happened next:

I was folding laundry at the laundromat on Bedford Avenue when a man came in and said the World Trade Center was hit by an airplane. He was a loud black man with a slight boozy chuckle and blurriness in his voice, so my first thought was that he was a street person and crazy. The Asian man who owns the laundromat turned on the television and the World Trade Center was burning, smoke pouring out a black gash near the top. I thought: accident. The adjacent tower exploded a few minutes later. I did not see an airplane flying into it and thought somehow the first building produced an explosion in the second. The television screen went blank. The Asian man tried to fix the television. I finished folding my laundry. . . .

All of us in New York have been breathing in dust and smoke and dead bodies for three days. I worked at the book store yesterday and had arguments with three coworkers, then late in my shift Abby called to tell me they were evacuating midtown. They were telling people to run toward the river. I thought: nuclear bomb. I am afraid of dying. The evacuation turned out to be based on a hoax, but for a few minutes I was waiting for the flash. I stole some post cards from the store that had the World Trade Centers on them. I went to Queens after work to see Abby and I was shaky and hollow and scared. I wanted to fuck but we were breathing in dead bodies then I didn’t want to fuck anymore.

I finally put away my clean laundry yesterday. The folded shirts and balled-up socks. I vacuumed the rug. I swept the kitchen floor.

A couple days later I met up with my brother in Manhattan. We went to a bar on Seventh Avenue and Nineteenth Street, the Peter McManus Cafe. There were a lot of off-duty firefighters and other rescue workers there, guys who’d been told, maybe even forced, to take a breather. One of the guys was next to us at the bar and something in him had snapped. He was a big guy and very strong and he kept grabbing onto us, clawing at us. He told us he’d served in Vietnam, special forces, and his training had gotten him onto a list of people called in to help with the rescue attempts at Ground Zero.

“I just can’t do it no more,” he said. “I can’t pull out no more bodies. When’s it gonna end?”

He kept repeating versions of these statements. Grabbing us, clawing us. He also said all the bodies he was pulling out were women. And a couple of times he said, “I’m back.”

I’m back. 

It’s OK, we kept trying to tell him. It’s OK, it’s OK. It’s over. But he was inconsolable. He was trapped pulling out bodies of dead women from the rubble. He had been in Vietnam. He was back.

“When’s it gonna end?” he kept saying.

(to be continued)

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Tippy Martinez

November 9, 2007
 

 

During my American League East childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Yankees rose to the top and fell, the Red Sox rose almost to the top and then fell, the Brewers rose from the middle up toward the top, the Tigers drifted around the middle while showing a few hints near the end that they might be preparing to rise, and the Blue Jays fell or rose, depending on your metaphysical bent, from nonexistence to the bottom, where they kept the Indians company. Only the Orioles escaped those years unscathed by ineptitude. They were always dignified contenders, somehow above both the mediocrity gripping the also-rans padding the lower ranks of the division and the ugly angst and anger surrounding the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. I always kind of liked them. How could you not like a team that would often handle a late-inning crisis by turning to a guy named Tippy? 

The Orioles lacked the star power of the Yankees and Red Sox, and even when those teams began to crumble the bearded, swashbuckling Brewers swooped in to take their place as the contender with the charisma. But the Orioles almost always had the most complete team, with strong defense, good starting pitching, some speed, good power hitters in the middle of the lineup, a skilled, versatile bench, and, perhaps most important of all, an excellent bullpen. They contended nearly every year, but during the years when I was paying the closest attention they never made it all the way to a World Series championship. 

They did finally win it all in 1983, a couple years after I’d stopped collecting cards and caring so much. I don’t know when they started to believe it was their year, but a good guess might be after a game on August 24. Going into the 9th inning that day, the Orioles trailed the Blue Jays by two runs, seeming to be on the brink of falling further behind the division-leading Brewers. But the Orioles scored two runs with a scrambling, bench-depleting rally that left them out of catchers: They had to send utility infielder Lenn Sakata behind the plate. Meanwhile, outfielders John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke were forced into service in the infield, at second base and third base, respectively. I’ll conclude my appreciation of Tippy Martinez with the rest of the game (courtesy of baseball reference.com), which started the Orioles on an 8-game winning streak that catapulted them into a division lead they would not relinquish. Please pay special attention to how Tippy Martinez recorded what would turn out to be the Blue Jays’ final three outs, and how in the bottom of the inning Tippy’s overmatched catcher showed his gratitude: 

Top of the 10th, Blue Jays Batting, Tied 3-3, Tim Stoddard facing 4-5-6
                  Tim Stoddard replaces Scott McGregor pitching; Lenn Sakata moves to C; John Lowenstein moves to 2B; Gary Roenicke moves to 3B; Benny Ayala moves to LF
   R           C Johnson       Home Run (CF)
               B Bonnell       Single to CF
                  Tippy Martinez replaces Tim Stoddard pitching; Dave Collins pinch hits for Jesse Barfield batting 6th
   O      1–     D Collins       Bonnell Caught Stealing (PO) 2B (P-1B)
               ” ”             Walk
   O      1–     W Upshaw        Collins Picked off 1B (P-1B)
               ” ”             Single to 2B
   O      1–     B Martinez      Upshaw Picked off 1B (P-1B)
                  1 run, 3 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB. Blue Jays 4, Orioles 3.

Bottom of the 10th, Orioles Batting, Behind 3-4, Joey McLaughlin facing 3-4-5
                  Dave Collins moves to LF; Barry Bonnell moves to RF
   R           C Ripken        Home Run
               E Murray        Walk
   O      1–     J Lowenstein    Groundout: 1B unassisted; Murray to 2B
          -2-     J Shelby        Intentional Walk
                  Randy Moffitt replaces Joey McLaughlin pitching
   O      12-     G Roenicke      Strikeout
   RRR    12-     L Sakata        Home Run; Murray Scores; Shelby Scores
        4 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB. Blue Jays 4, Orioles 7.

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Mike Cuellar

July 31, 2007
 

 
When I was boy, I thought Mike Cuellar’s last name was pronounced KEW-ler. It’s actually pronounced KWAY-ar, I think. But the point is, I sort of miss Mike “KEW-ler” Cuellar. I think of him as a separate entity from the actual Mike “KWAY-ar” Cuellar, but though the latter lives on (in both actuality and in the record books), the former lives on nowhere except in the large graveyard in my mind set aside for mistakes and misperceptions. The mispronounced Mike Cuellar was both more mysterious and closer to me than his successor, and his departure was part of a general trend in life toward distance and the dwindling of mystery.

Other baseball card names I mangled included Miguel Dilone (I pronounced it mi-GWELL di-LOAN), Rogelio Moret (Rah-JEE-leo ma-RETT), and Diego Segui (DAY-go seh-GWEE). I wasn’t so clear on Bruce Bochte, either. Was it BOCK-tee or BOTCH-tee? I didn’t know. Even one of the few names I knew beyond doubt how to pronounce aloud, and that I had in fact shouted until my throat was raw with thousands of others in his presence, became strange and complicated on his baseball card: Yastrzemski. And to this day I’m unclear on Sid Monge. Is it Monj? Mong? Mon-jay? Monjy? Mon-hay? Mongy? Mon-gay? Though I worry that some day some preposterous situation will arise that will require me to correctly pronounce Sid Monge, my confusion over which of the above options is correct strikes me as a rare surviving species from the world of my childhood. So if you know how to pronounce Sid Monge, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

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Boog Powell

May 4, 2007
  
Some days seem really thin, useless. I drift around in a daze of public transportation and work for hire. I eat my stupid little breakfast, wade through the first swamp of hours, eat my stupid little sandwich, wade through the second swamp of hours, somewhere in there read about the Red Sox and take a couple dumps, then watch television, maybe pick up a player on waivers for one of my imaginary teams, at some point try and fail to write a true sentence, go to bed feeling tired and paradoxically bloated and empty, wishing I was religious so I could swipe the whole vague heavy ache away with prayer, but instead I just fall unconscious and wake up the next day still far from the Wonder of Boog.

What is the Wonder of Boog? I’m not entirely sure, since I just sort of made it up. I mean, in a way I just sort of made it up, but in another way it’s been with me as long as this card’s been with me, 32 years and counting. In fact it’s been with me even longer, but the arrival of the card in my young life concentrated the nameless concept into the image seen here. As with the Rudy Meoli card from the same year, I did not initially understand the literal meaning of this image, and my initial misunderstanding has lasted far beyond the point when I realized Boog Powell was calling for a fly ball, nothing more. The misunderstood view still defines this card and defines, as much as anything can, the concept of the Wonder of Boog: I thought when I first looked at the card that Boog Powell—Boog Powell!—was throwing his gargantuan arms wide to the sky in awe and jubilation.

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Sammy Stewart

January 20, 2007

“I went to a party [in 1988] and there were some girls moving around a little funny after going into the bathroom. I said, ‘What are they doing?’ and they said they were smoking crack. And I said, ‘Won’t that bust your heart?’ They said, ‘No, no, try it.’ The high was euphoric, super. It took away the absence of baseball.”
— Sammy Stewart

Sammy Stewart had some euphoric highs. In 1978, in the very first game of his rookie season, he struck out seven Chicago White Sox batters in a row to set a record that still stands: most consecutive strikeouts in a major league debut. Stewart also owns an admirable string of scoreless innings pitched in the World Series, a mark that he did not get the chance to extend late in his career, despite being on the playoff roster of the 1986 Boston Red Sox.

My sole memory of him being on the Red Sox that year involved seeing his name on a disheartening list of available pitchers that flashed on the TV screen as the Red Sox bullpen unraveled in Game 6 of the World Series. Either just before or just after that list flashed, the tragicomedy team of pearshaped Bob Stanley and nearsighted Rich Gedman combined to allow a sloppy sinker free passage to the backstop, which allowed the tying run to score, which allowed Shea Stadium to erupt into a sound that, had I myself been an available reliever in the Boston bullpen, would have caused me to lose control of my bladder.

Before the hobbling, mustachioed man playing first base ever got involved, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was over. Like every other Red Sox fan, I’d already been feeling pretty doomed the moment that the camera swung away from the image of undone would-be closer and future icon of the notion of “failure face,” Calvin Schiraldi, to the image of the bullpen door swinging open to reveal that our fate lay in the hands of Bob Stanley. And once the tying run actually did cross the plate, forget it. I knew there was no way things could possibly end well. Not with that crowd roaring like 50,000 Roman spectators greeting the arrival into the arena of hunger-enraged lions. Not with the ghost of Enos Slaughter leading off first, the ghost of Bucky Dent in the batter’s box. Not with our only hope resting on Bob Stanley, Steve Crawford, Joe Sambito, and . . . Sammy Stewart? Since when did we have Sammy Stewart?

The Red Sox had used Crawford and Sambito sparingly in the playoffs, and both had still found ways to hemorrhage runs. The fact that the Red Sox hadn’t used Stewart at all suggested to me that he must have been an even worse option than his fellow last resorts. I remembered him in previous years as part of the effective army of relievers the Orioles deployed in their quietly ass-kicking manner, but I figured that he must have lost it, that he was washed up, a has-been. To use a metaphor that at that very moment was yet in its embryonic stage, I just assumed Stewart must have already taken that slow malodorous Greyhound to Schiraldiville.

Sammy Stewart claims that this is not so. He had hurt his arm earlier in the season, but by the World Series he was feeling strong. He believes Red Sox manager John McNamara had it in for him and so avoided using him. There’s no telling what would have happened if he had come in with the game still in question, but it’s probably safe to say that the man who had not allowed a run in 7 2/3 innings of World Series work with the Orioles would not be overwhelmed by the spotlight.

As the above quote from Sammy Stewart suggests, being away from the spotlight was another story. He lasted one more year in the majors and then, according to “Rock Bottom,” a harrowing October 25, 2006, Boston Globe story by Stan Grossfeld, he began compiling a different set of stats: 26 arrests, 43 criminal charges, 6 prison stints. Stewart is currently incarcerated at the Piedmont Correctional Institution in North Carolina for being a habitual felon, felony drug possession, and failure to appear in court on a felony charge.

The baseball card above is from 1980, just after Sammy Stewart’s first full season in the majors, during which he helped the Orioles win the 1979 pennant. He led the strong Oriole bullpen in innings pitched, won 8 games, and posted a 3.56 ERA, then added 2 2/3 scoreless innings of work in the World Series. The Orioles lost in seven games to the Pirates that year, but Stewart’s expression seems to show that he’s not too worried about the defeat. Why should he be? He’s got years and years of baseball still to play.

The Orioles returned to the World Series in 1983, and Stewart again took the ball in key spots and again pitched flawlessly, and this time the Orioles won. The following season Stewart received his World Champion ring, which he subsequently relinquished while suffering the absence of baseball.

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Mark Belanger

December 4, 2006

My life has three stages.

Stage One: the years when I was not yet aware of Mark Belanger

Stage Two: the years when Mark Belanger was a constant if barely noticed presence in my life

Stage Three: the Mark Belangerless years

This card is from the second year of Stage Two, 1976, and it oozes comforting sameness from every pore. He is the same height and weight, 6’2″ and 175 pounds, as he was the year before; he was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts; he is an Oriole and has always been an Oriole, even before I was born; his batting averages for the three most recent seasons are .226, .225, and .226; and the highlight note underneath his statistics–“Mark hit a Homer in 1969 AL Playoffs”–is just a shorter version of the same highlight note at the bottom of his card for the previous year (“Mark hit a Homer in 1st A.L. Playoff game ever, for O’s vs. Twins in 1969.”).

Stage Two seemed as if it would last forever. I guess I knew on some level I’d get older. I knew, even if I didn’t fully believe it, that eventually I’d be too old to play little league baseball. I vaguely understood that there would come a day when my baseball cards would be a collection of artifacts gathered in the past rather than a living, breathing community that was growing in the present. I even had a hazy idea of adulthood (in my mind it meant living in a house and having everything figured out; I estimated that by age 30 I’d have the pain of life banished). I knew all these things, yet I also never really believed that it would end. How could there be a world without Mark Belanger?

Very near the beginning of Stage Three, I took my first foreign language class, 9th grade French. The teacher was new to the school, and his name was Cormier. He was of French-Canadian descent but grew up in Western Massachusetts, where many French-Canadians had migrated in the days of yore to labor in textile mills. I don’t know Mark Belanger’s heritage, but his last name (was it once pronounced “Behlanjay”?) and his Western Massachusetts birthplace suggest that he and Cormier had similar backgrounds. The twosome also shared a slightly haunted, nervous demeanor. In Mark Belanger’s case this seemed to be the price paid for such enduring competence and steadiness and sanity, the 9-time Gold Glove shortstop unblinkingly scanning the horizon for the bad hops of life, the high-strung chain-smoking sentinel of my childhood. On the other hand, Cormier’s jittery mannerisms turned out to be the trebly upper register of a year-long symphony of chaos.

We never learned any French. Cormier spent each day giving us detentions, allowing us to dare Randy Bradley to eat wads of paper, and telling us about his life. Most of his stories concerned his immediate past–he had until that year been an IRS agent and had just fled Washington, D.C., because he was convinced the angry recipient of an audit was trying to detonate his house with explosives–or his present-day battle with the state of Vermont to prevent the completion of a mental hospital under construction across the street from his new house. Cormier believed he was beset on all sides by wackos. He probably thought we were wackos, too, judging by the way he reacted whenever we turned our attention away from his monologues to talk amongst ourselves. He stopped rambling and fixed whoever was talking with a squinty malevolent stare. His finger would come up and point in the manner of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers pod person identifying someone who had yet to be replaced by an alien facsimile.

“2:30,” he’d say, naming the time he expected you to show up for your detention. Sometimes class was just a long series of 2:30s flung at us by Cormier. As far as I know, nobody ever paid any attention to any of it. I know I never showed up for one of his detentions. I’d never blatantly disobeyed that kind of order before from an authority figure, but the thought of being alone in a room with the guy in an otherwise emptied building was enough to push me into disobedience.

The next year, there was no sign of Cormier. I was in a class with Cormier veterans when a new French teacher came into the room, strange language coming out of her. We just sat there looking at her blankly. She spoke her gibberish more and more slowly, becoming increasingly exasperated at the lack of response. Finally she gave up.

“Isn’t this French II?” she asked, in English. I wasn’t among the few students who nodded. I wasn’t really sure of anything anymore.

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Rich Dauer

September 21, 2006

As can be seen from his troubled expression, Rich Dauer, the epitome of the quiet, steady, reliable middle infielder, has surrendered himself, albeit reluctantly, to a dialogue with the ever-cheerful and vaguely racist cartoon representation of an Oriole on his cap. The conversation, largely a monologue aimed at Dauer in the approximate voice of Scatman Crothers, most likely began in 1976, when Dauer was first summoned to the major leagues after blitzing the triple-A Independent League with a .336 average. The hits stopped coming in the majors, evidenced by a .103 average during the September call-up, and Dauer, influenced by a lonely late night hotel room viewing of a twilight-era Flintstones episode featuring the execrable Gazoo, attempted to laugh in the face of the widening void by gazing at his scarily bright and new big-league cap and briefly imagining that he too had a little friend that only he could see. “Don’t you worry none there, boss,” Rich Dauer mumbled, using his hands to make the beak of the Oriole move. “You’ll gets them tomorrow, plain as de sun gone rise in de west.” Unfortunately, when you start telling jokes to yourself, it’s over. Somewhere during the next season, his first full summer of authoring soft popups and dribblers in the majors, Dauer, a former number 1 draft choice, a former big star in high school, college, and the minor leagues, relinquished the reigns on the voice. In this photo, taken in the spring after that first full season, Dauer appears to be on the brink of breaking under the weight of the Oriole’s exhortations, which are so unrelentingly cheery that they have begun to reveal within them the bleak sharp seed of mockery.