Archive for the ‘Chicago Cubs’ Category


Steve Ontiveros and Doug Capilla

September 26, 2008

                    One Continuous Mistake: The Cardboard Gods Story (So Far)
                              Part 3 of 3 (Continued from Rowland Office, 1976)

As the playoffs approach there’s been a lot of talk of the 2008 Chicago Cubs, the class of the National League, and of the 1908 Chicago Cubs, the last team in franchise history to win a World Series, and of certain disappointing Cubs teams from the century of waiting between Johnny Evers and Ryan Theriot, such as the 1969 Cubs and the 1984 Cubs and the 1989 Cubs and the 2003 Cubs. Lost in the litany of Cubs teams that Did Not Win It All is the 1979 Cubs, who nearly perfected mediocrity but ultimately failed at that, too, just barely, losing their final game of the season to finish 80 and 82 instead of 81 and 81, with 706 total runs scored and 707 allowed. History tends to shuck such inconsequentialities, which saddens me. Maybe it’s my purpose in life to push back against the obliterating tide. I don’t know. But I do know that the 1979 Cubs deserve to be remembered because, if nothing else, they set the all-time single season record for nostrils.

The Cubs’ Gehrig-Ruth combo in nostrilness, shown above, came together in midseason with the acquisition of Doug Capilla, who became to the pitching staff what Steve Ontiveros had already been to the everyday players: someone capable of moving staggering quantities of oxygen and carbon dioxide, respectively, into and out of his nose. Cubs management may have been motivated to make the move by the strong play in the 1979 season of the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose alert, inspired, electrifying play and ebullient disco-laced camaraderie have been associated with and even partially explained by their ingestion via nasal canals of prodigious amounts of cocaine; Cubs brass may have reasoned that to compete with the Pirates they needed to get more “oomph” running through the bloodlines of their sluggish, lackluster squad, and saw the giant-nostrilled Doug Capilla as the means to this end.

It’s not enough for me to end here, however, with this tribute to one of history’s forgotten collective achievements. I find myself wondering about Steve Ontiveros, who is like a forgotten entity within a forgotten entity. Not only is the 1979 Cubs’ nostril record uncelebrated, but the man who laid the foundation for the record, who brought his sizable nostrils to the ballyard every day, was likely cast aside by the Windy City’s top nostril groupies as soon as the massive twin circular canyons in the middle of Doug Capilla’s face hit town. Worse, once Capilla took center stage on the team, Ontiveros became expendable, playing 31 games the following season before being released on June 24. He did not play major league baseball again.

But in 1985 Steve Ontiveros debuted as an Oakland A’s reliever, only it wasn’t the Steve Ontiveros shown here. It was a different Steve Ontiveros. When you type the search terms “Steve Ontiveros” into Google, the first listing is for a page on It is for the second Steve Ontiveros. In that way, the first Steve Ontiveros has been usurped once again, paved over by history. I’ve seen this kind of thing before while writing about my childhood baseball cards, seen guys named Dave Johnson and Dave Roberts dissolve into other guys named Dave Johnson and Dave Roberts. But, as names, Dave Johnson and Dave Roberts seem much more generic to me than Steve Ontiveros. I mean, I’ve lived a few decades and lived in two big cities and read a lot and I’ve never met or heard of anyone with Ontiveros as a last name. Are there two Kurt Bevacquas? Are there two Biff Pocorobas? Why must there be more than one Steve Ontiveros?

I don’t know. But my disillusionment in this matter reminds me of when I was a kid and discovered that there was not just one Ray’s Pizza in New York but dozens of Ray’s Pizzas. This shook me up a little. Every summer, my brother and I would come down from Vermont and see our father in Manhattan, and our visit would always include at least one trip to Ray’s Pizza on Sixth Avenue and 11th Street, just a couple blocks from Dad’s apartment. It was, I believed, the best pizza that has ever been made. As I remember it, there were times when the line for their giant cheesy slices was out onto the street, as if a piece of Ray’s was perpetually like a smash hit on Broadway. At some point, probably during solo visits from boarding school or college, when long pot-driven walks took me on my own through the city for the first time, I started seeing places that called themselves Ray’s Pizza everywhere. Worse, many of them claimed to be “The Famous Ray’s Pizza” or “The Original Ray’s Pizza” or even “The Famous Original Ray’s Pizza.” Being that I was still the kind of neophyte pot enthusiast who “got the munchies” I occasionally found myself far from the village and hungry, and, feeling traitorous, I was forced to patronize some of these imposters, their uninspired triangular groupings of crust, sauce, and cheese always confirming my belief that there was only one Ray’s Pizza, and it was the one my father had taken me to. I of course don’t actually know which Ray’s Pizza came first; they don’t have their histories printed on handbills near the napkins and hot pepper shakers. But I know emotionally, and it galls me, a little. Why must there be more than one Ray’s Pizza?

Which brings us back to Cardboard Gods. As I mentioned earlier in this series, I started Cardboard Gods a little over two years ago with some words on Mark Fidrych. Before that posting I had come up with the name and had typed the two words into Google to see if anyone else had beaten me to it. A handful of listings came up, but none of them had anything to do with baseball or baseball cards, so I had a name for my endeavor. If you type those two words into Google now you’ll find listings that differ quite a bit from the sparse listings I found back in the summer of 2006. I’m not encouraging anyone to perform such a search. Why would you? But if you do ever happen to find yourself wandering around and wondering about Cardboard Gods, I just wanted to get it down in writing that this is the original Cardboard Gods. The one that was here first. The one with the extra cheese. The one with the record-breaking nostrils.


Greg Gross

September 10, 2008
The Two Freaks
(continued from John Curtis)

Chapter Three

In the 1970s everyone looked toward the sky with amazement and consternation and wonder and fear. Nuclear bombs might fall any second, hangliders and hot-air balloonists might rise. One nut strung a tightrope across the World Trade Center buildings and did his highwire act up there, and a few years later another nut climbed up the side of one of those giant doomed towers. Jonathan Livingston Seagull ruled the bestseller list with its laxative-soft tale of a noncomformist bird who flew in odd ways, outside the flock, and later in the decade the author of that book further fattened his bank account with another enormous smash entitled Illusions, a pamphlet-thin tract about a magical guru who roamed from town to town giving enlightening platitude-heavy rides in his small magical propeller airplane. Oh to fly free and easy far above all the ungroovy problems of the earth! But how free and easy was it? Bald eagles grew scarce, their endangerment symbolic in the flagging Age of Malaise. Gunpoint skyjackings and fiery crashes made even larger claims on the public imagination than usual, as evidenced by the decade-long franchise of a particular wing of the then-booming disaster movie genre (Airport, Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and The Concorde . . . Airport ’79). Meanwhile Skylab was falling, big chunks of it raining down, the once-gleaming American space program impoverished and in shambles. The sky was full of danger! Even standing around outside gazing up at the thing might get you brained by shards of flaming metal.

Greg Gross was not a guy you’d think of as being a sky-gazer. He was welded to earth, neither a guy who could “fly” on the basepaths (like two of the guys who kept him on the bench in his many years with the Phillies, Garry Maddox and Bake McBride) nor a guy (like the other fellow who kept Greg Gross on the bench, Greg Luzinski) who could hit “towering moonshots.” His combination of a complete lack of power and an utter lack of speed was as rare among outfielders then as it would be now. In seventeen seasons, he hit just seven home runs, but he erupted for five of them in the year just prior to this card. I imagine him allowing the keen focus that would allow him to compile a .287 lifetime average and a .372 lifetime on-base percentage to wander momentarily after that power barrage.

Maybe I could become one of those guys, he thinks for a second. He holds a bat in his hands as he thinks this, imagining for one second that he might yet author majestic drive after majestic drive and thus become a creature not of the earth but of the lordly sky.

But just as he thinks this the Two Freaks appear right in the center of his vision. That is to say they are flying. Or falling. It all happens very fast. There is always the whisper of doom around the Two Freaks, a sense somehow communicated even in glimpses that they can’t keep on doing what they are doing for very long. How will they eat? How will they pay the rent? For that matter how will any of us keep ourselves above the greedy pull of the ground? This all flashes past Greg Gross’s eyes in an instant to end his visions of a bevy of slugging percentage crowns. One of the Two Freaks, the curly-haired one seen elsewhere tooting a recorder, is pedaling an ungainly bicycle-powered contraption with wings, and the other, the thin longhaired one, is lashed to a giant yellow kite attached by thin string to the rear of the bike-plane.

Flying? Falling? Hard to tell. It all happens so quickly.

It always happens quickly. Greg Gross lasted 17 seasons as an earthbound hitter of singles. A long time as baseball careers go, but surely a blip in his mind by now. It all goes by quickly. It flies.

Such was the case with each ambiguous and unsettling visitation by the Two Freaks. A blink of the eye, here then gone. This must have been by design, the two figures seeking to define their doomed and beautiful decade as if whispering inaudibly the curses and praise of an institutionalized angel.

(to be continued)

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


Oscar Zamora

April 8, 2008

A few days ago my wife and I were talking about what to do with the ashes when one of us keels over.

“You don’t have to do anything with mine,” she said.

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t want to be sitting around in some stupid urn.”

“What? No, they have to be sprinkled on something.”

“Sprinkled?” She laughed at the word. We were both laughing, actually. Sprinkled. The word seemed better suited to a sunny tableau involving laughing children and a Good Humor truck.

“Just burn them,” she said.

“You can’t burn ashes.” We started laughing some more. What a hilarious topic!

“I don’t know. I don’t care,” she said. “Who needs it?”

We went back and forth for a while. I finally harangued her into agreeing that I’d take her to Amsterdam and throw her at the door of the place that used to be the club where she danced through her adolescent and young adult years. I’ll keep my own specific requests to myself, but if all goes according to plan my extinction will result in my widow being led away in handcuffs by the Fenway Park police.


Oscar Zamora toiled in the minor leagues for nine seasons before making the major leagues at the age of 29. He was decent his first season in the big leagues, quite a bit worse the following season, worse still the season after that, and demoted to the minors the next year. At the end of that year he was sold to another team, who brought him back up for one more chance, which he squandered, posting a 7.20 ERA in 10 games, an effort that cast him into the oblivion beyond any back of the card stats.

What remains of him in the collective memory is a ditty either written by a sportswriter or sung by Cubs fans or both, depending on which of the various sketchy versions of the past lingering in the ether of the Internet you choose to believe. It was sung to the tune of “That’s Amore” and went like this:

When the pitch is so fat, that the ball hits the bat, that’s Zamora.


What traces will you leave? To date I’ve had a couple things named after me, but both fell into disuse long ago.

The first was something called The Wilker, and it was a punishment invented by my high school ultimate frisbee coach. His name was Buzz and he was a surfer dude from Santa Barbara who was getting his phys ed degree from a nearby college, UMass, which he helped lead to the college ultimate frisbee national championship one year. He was probably the best coach I ever had both because he taught me a lot about the sport and because he was a nice guy and with his van and surferly ways made us all feel cooler by extension. But one day I just ditched practice to go to a pizza place and play the Star Wars video game with my friend Julian. I guess I figured that since I thought of myself as invisible then the whole world thought the same, and so no one would notice I was gone. But Buzz noticed, and the next day he gathered up all our frisbees and had me chase down his long throws one after another, which basically amounted to fifteen or sixteen wind sprints in a row. From then on, if anybody did anything out of line or stupid or lazy the team would clamor for them to be given The Wilker. The tradition, such as it was, only lasted the season.

The other time I had something named after me was when I was a part-time liquor store clerk in my early twenties with no money and an aura of glowering desperation, and yet I somehow briefly dated a successful, attractive woman. She was, it was later determined, way out of my league. Somehow the whole improbable situation got wrapped up in me getting a $10,000 deal from a British publisher to write a book about Pearl Jam, a band I knew nothing about and didn’t particularly like. I raced around for a while thinking that my life was going to change completely, that I was going to be an exciting, successful, unlonely guy.

“You’re so beautiful I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter,” I told the woman one night, quoting Woody Allen. We were riding in a cab to her apartment.

“Josh, we need to talk,” she said.

“Who the hell are you?” a member of Pearl Jam’s publicity team demanded of me the next day. I was trying to request an interview with the band for the book.

“I’m a nice guy,” I think I said. I felt like crying. Kurt Cobain blew his brains out right around then, and once I heard the news I worked it into a gloomy letter of resignation to the nice woman at the British publishing house who had wanted to give me $10,000. I went back to peddling booze and glowering alone. Anyway, from then on the notion of somehow connecting with someone or something out of your league became known among my small group of friends, at least for a little while, as “pulling a Wilker.”


Ivan DeJesus

March 29, 2008
I was twice ordered to bunt in what turned out to be the final game of my baseball career. I was 14 and on a terrible Babe Ruth team that got worse as the season wore on. But we eventually found a team even worse than us, probably the same ragged collection of hippie teens that my brother almost no-hit the year before. We got a good lead early, yet when I came to bat our coach gave me the sign from the third base coach’s box to lay down a bunt. In retrospect I think he was trying to let me know that my opinion of myself as a baseball player, which I’d formed while doing pretty well in Little League, was outdated. I was a scrub now, a bench guy. I wasn’t as happy to throw away my at-bat as Ivan DeJesus appears to be, but I followed orders and laid down a good bunt. The coach never acknowledged it. By my next time up we were really pounding them. Everyone had gotten into the fun but me. I looked up the third base line to the coach and he touched his belt again, the bunt sign. I couldn’t figure out if he was an idiot or if he was punishing me. Either way, I was through with baseball. I lashed a double, probably my only solid hit since Little League. As I stood on second base I didn’t look at the coach. My body tingled from making good contact. The first true love of my life had ended.

                                                        *    *    *

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


Geoff Zahn

January 11, 2008

No angels, no devils. Maybe some celestial functionaries, two of them, sitting together a little ways away, slightly elevated. But these figures, if they even exist at all, can only peruse the goings-on below, powerless to influence them in any way, the world of the beyond a bureaucratic morass, reports compiled and filed away unread. So there is only this, this life in the foreground, this wall close at our backs. This wall! Some find it quaint. But it’s so close it tenses your shoulders, tightens your features, subtly riddles your cheer. It even sours the prayer hidden in your hands. You are on the brink of bursting out laughing. No joke has been told.


Cubs, 1977

October 2, 2007
I will not be good for much for the next few days, or next couple weeks, or next month, depending on how far the Boston Red Sox can advance in the playoffs (or, taken from a darker angle, how physically and mentally debilitating a premature exit by the Boston Red Sox might prove to be). Starting tomorrow, Cardboard Gods will begin serving as Baseball Toaster’s headquarters for Open Game Thread chatter for each of the Red Sox games versus the California Angels. While I may be able to enhance that coverage with some stray memories about the past, I doubt I’ll be launching any wrenching multipart excursions into the wistful days of yore anytime soon. It’s the playoffs, and my concentration is already a little spotty. My primary goal for October is to not get hit by a bus.  

Anyway, I wanted to kick off the playoff coverage here at Cardboard Gods by mentioning the team that has the potential to be the biggest story of October 2007. As all baseball fans know, the Cubs have not won a World Series in 99 years, a drought that has gained some added sting in recent years with the long-awaited World Series wins of the Red Sox and, worse, the Cubs’ crosstown rivals, the White Sox. For many years the Red Sox, White Sox, and Cubs sat together at the loser table at lunch, duct tape on their glasses, acne on their faces, making each other snicker joylessly by spelling out “boobs” and “hELL” on their calculators as the cool guys sat at the Champions table with all the pretty girls. Now the Cubs are all alone at the loser table, nothing to keep them company but their stale peanut butter sandwich and their disappointing memories. As Merle Haggard might have put if he was a Cubs fan: “The only things I can count on now are my failures.”   

The Cubs had many years when they didn’t even sniff the playoffs, which in some ways is a less painful fate than getting so close you can taste it and then caving (if you don’t believe me, just ask a Mets fan or a Padres fan today how they’re feeling and then compare the response to the feelings of a Baltimore Oriole fan who long ago turned his attention to building a ship in a bottle or porn or whatever one does when not obsessed with baseball). But there have been some awful Cubs moments, especially in recent years. Before the hideous 2003 playoff collapse and the 2004 end-of-season el foldo there were playoff disappointments in 1998, 1989, and, most painfully, 1984, as well as a monumental implosion in 1969 that turned a mid-August World Smashing 9-game lead into a pitifully meek 8-game deficit by the end of the season. 

Eight years after the 1969 flop, the Cubs authored another lesser-known season of disillusionment. In 1977, the heads pictured in the card above combined with their unpictured necks, torsos, limbs, and other below-the-jaw bodily parts to race to a first-half lead in their division that grew as large as 8.5 games by June 28. They went 34-59 the rest of the way, however, finishing 20 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. They say that when you get beheaded you are aware of what’s going on for a few seconds. You remember that you were once whole and realize that you are no longer. I wonder if that feeling is anything like being 20 games out of the money by season’s end, dead as a doornail, and thinking back for one brief second before the final out of the year, remembering how sweet life was in the middle of summer.


Bruce Sutter in . . . The Nagging Question

May 22, 2007

I was never much of a pitcher. In fact, I only took the hill three times, all in my last year of little league, once when I somehow struck out the side in the last inning of a blowout against a team of asthmatic 8-year-olds, once when I walked seven guys in a row, and then finally once when my straight slowballs got so repeatedly hammered that I actually began to cry.

Needless to say, I never got straight which kind of grips were good for throwing different kinds of pitches. That said, I don’t think Bruce Sutter is showing off the grip for his famous forkball here. I may be wrong, but I’ve always had it that the forkball called for the forefinger and middle finger to be spread wide on the ball.

If I’m right about Bruce Sutter neglecting to reveal his forkball grip here, it’s fitting, for at the time I got this 1979 card, Bruce Sutter’s forkball was to me about the most mysterious and awe-inspiring weapon in all of baseball. It’s just as well I didn’t ever see the grip that produced this devastating pitch. Better to preserve the mystery.

I’d actually only seen the pitch in action once, in the previous year’s all-star game. Once was enough. Back then the all-star game was just about the only time a kid living in rural Vermont would get a chance to see many of the National League stars. I had never seen Sutter before, had not even heard of him, and then suddenly here he was. According to Retrosheet’s play-by-play of the game he came into a 3-3 tie in the 8th inning and got George Brett to ground out. I don’t remember that at-bat, but I distinctly remember the next two, in which he made two of my beloved Red Sox, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, look like two drunken sailors trying to whack a divebombing sparrow with a barstool. Sutter’s utter domination seemed to inspire the N.L. batsmen, who erupted for 4 runs in the bottom of the inning, and Sutter was fittingly credited as the game’s winning pitcher. 

Anyway, the Nagging Question this week grows out of thoughts of that awe-inspiring forkball, and also out of the still-lingering discussion of beloved Shlabotniks in the previous edition of The Nagging Question. Yesterday a friend of one player, Adrian Garrett, brought up earlier in the conversation posted some information that reminded me that even the guys I am all too often apt to casually refer to as journeymen or drifters or even “nobodies” were all tremendously gifted athletes worthy of praise.*

So for today’s edition of The Nagging Question I wanted to momentarily try to set aside my usual predilection for using my old baseball cards as springboards to dive into the polluted canals of personal failure and disappointment. 

Instead, I’d like to focus on the jaw-dropping moment. For me it was when Bruce Sutter unleashed a pitch that made guys I’d seen mangle the offerings of other pitchers seem like absolute beginners. I wonder if others can remember having a similar experience as a fan. A spectacular catch, maybe, or a barrage of unhittable fastballs, or a sizzling home run leaving the yard in the time it takes to blink. A moment that not only turned the opposition into seeming beginners but made everyone watching feel like a beginner, too, as if something was happening for the first time, the moment brand new, a gleaming manifestation of the words of the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, who said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities.” In other words: 

Who wowed you? 

*(note: Bucky Dent is not worthy of praise; in fact, he should either be shunned or put in Pilgrimy shackles at the center of the village and pelted with vegetables, I can’t decide which.)


Larry Biittner in . . . The Nagging Question

May 11, 2007
In the interest of plunging ever further into the abyss of bottomless collective nostalgia for a hazy, intangible era full of things that never quite were, I am today introducing a new and (I am hoping) interactive feature on Cardboard Gods…

The Nagging Question

Today’s Nagging Question started forming a couple days ago when I saw a beer-thickened guy about my age in a too-small Larry Biittner Cubs jersey while I was riding the Blue Line home from work. I knew Larry Biittner’s faintly acrid expression from my shoebox of cards, but little else, so I looked into it a bit and found out that he was a part-time player who was something of a Joe Shlabotnikesque favorite in Chicago during the late ’70s. In other words, he seems to have been the guy certain lonely bespectacled kids might most wanted to have found in a pack of baseball cards, despite his lack of widespread stardom, as in this scenario described in the Wikipedia entry for Joe Shlabotnik:

One memorable 1960s Peanuts comic strip (which to this day . . . is still on display at the Topps Company) shows Charlie Brown buying five dollars worth of baseball cards (in 500 one-card penny packs) to get a card of Shlabotnik. Charlie Brown frantically rips open all the packs and does not get one. Lucy then buys one penny pack and much to Charlie Brown’s dismay, finds Shlabotnik in her one and only pack. To add insult to injury, he offers her every card he owns in trade, but Lucy, knowing nothing about baseball, refuses to trade and maintains, “He’s kind of cute.” After Charlie Brown leaves in obvious misery, Lucy throws the card into a dumpster, claiming, “He wasn’t as cute as I thought.”

A decent left-handed hitter who lasted 14 years in the majors, Biittner was definitely better than Charlie Brown’s famously inept hero, but his narrow yet impassioned, perhaps even somewhat cultish, popularity (from what I could gather while surfing through Cubs-themed blogs, his name is shorthand for the Cubs’ version of the call of the long-time fan: “I was there, I saw, I hoped, I suffered”) seems to owe more to his Shlabotniky turns than to his respectable .273 lifetime batting average. He described the most famous of these incidents in a 2002 Chicago Sun-Times interview

Bruce Boisclair hit a sinker at my feet. I caught it, but my glove opened up when it hit the ground, the ball rolled out and my cap covered it up. Jerry Martin came running over from center field. He’s laughing into his glove and yelling, “It’s under your bleeping cap.” The Bleacher Bums are shouting, “Hat! Hat! Hat!” Boisclair must have been confused, too, because he hesitated rounding second. That gave me time to pick the ball up and throw him out at third. [Laughter] I’ll bet no one remembers that, huh?

If I had grown up in the city where I live now, and not in Vermont, it’s quite possible that Larry Biittner would have been my Joe Shlabotnik. Oddly enough, if my family had stayed in New Jersey, where I was born, and where we moved from before I was old enough to become interested in baseball, my Joe Shlabotnik would probably have been the player who out-Shlabotniked Biittner in the episode described above, the Mets’ immortal Bruce Boisclair.

But I did grow up in Vermont, so my Joe Shlabotnik (who I, like Charlie Brown, never did find in a pack of cards) was Garry Hancock, a Red Sox outfielder in the late ’70s and early ’80s whose playing time was impeded merely by Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, 9-time all-star Fred Lynn, 8-time all-star Jim Rice, 8-time Gold Glove Award winner Dwight Evans, October hero and former Rookie of the Year Bernie Carbo, Gold-Glove winner Rick Miller, and, in the very last throes of the Garry Hancock era at Fenway, by both Joe “Nothin’ Left in the Tank” Rudi and Reid “I Would Have Probably Been Josh’s Joe Shlabotnik If He Was Born a Couple Years Later” Nichols.

Hancock became a favorite of mine just before he stepped into a major league batter’s box for the first time. I was listening to the game in 1978 on the car radio of our VW bus in the driveway of my uncle’s house. As the announcer (either Ned Martin or Jim Woods, I believe) explained that this was his first major league at-bat, the crowd noise grew.

Fenway was giving him a standing ovation.

He had made it to the majors! He was golden! I remember thinking that I’d remember the moment forever, especially on the occasion of Garry Hancock’s enshrinement into Cooperstown. He pulled a nice just-foul line drive down the right field line, then struck out.

Interestingly, I’m not the only one who recalls the standing ovation for Garry Hancock. His page on is sponsored by someone named Markf62, who says, “I met Garry just before he debuted with the Red Sox at a flea market where I was buying baseball cards. He was interested in cards because he was playing for the Triple A team in Pawtucket. A week later he made his debut to a standing O at Fenway!” And in an interview on, Jerry Spar, editor of Boston Sports Review, says while answering a question about his favorite Red Sox players, “Garry Hancock deserves honorable mention because that standing ovation he got for his first at-bat always stuck with me.”

It’s fairly likely that Garry Hancock never got another standing ovation, though he did manage to stick around in the big leagues until 1984 despite a lifetime .262 on-base percentage. In his final at-bat he grounded into an inning ending 1-6-3 double play.

Anyway, on to the Nagging Question for today. In case you haven’t already guessed it, here it is:

Who was your Joe Shlabotnik?


Jose Cardenal

October 28, 2006

“‘I was six when I saw that everything was God, and my hair stood up, and all that,’ Teddy said. ‘It was on a Sunday, I remember. My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.'”
— J.D. Salinger, “Teddy”

Who better to honor the St. Louis Cardinals for winning the 2006 World Series championship than Jose Cardenal? One of my Cardboard God fugue states–episodes in which I sat on the floor of my room and handled the cards like rosary beads, eventually drifting into a glaze-eyed trance–involved envisioning the brief, magical sliver of the past in which journeyman Jose Cardenal had actually been a Cardinal. It had happened before I was old enough to pay attention and had lasted only a year and a half, from 1970 to midway through 1971, right around the time that my parents began experimenting with a new kind of family structure, three adults instead of two, inspired in part by the ecstatic mandate of Woodstock and the Whole Earth Catalog, etc., to invent brand new modes of living. Though it didn’t end up lasting that long, many believed a new era was at hand, a golden time in which milk would pour into milk, God into God, Cardenal into Cardinal.


Carmen Fanzone, Part 1

October 16, 2006

For a long time, these cards lived in a box in a storage facility out by a golf course in Randolph, Vermont, jammed in among broken furniture, garbage bags full of faded clothing, disintegrating books, the rolled-up canvasses of my mother’s oil paintings, tarnished silverware, etc., etc. The house I’d grown up in with my brother, mother, and mother’s longtime boyfriend, my second father, Tom, had been sold and replaced by several small, separate, temporary living spaces inhabited by my scattered family: Tom’s condo by a manmade waterfall in Montpelier, Mom’s apartment within earshot of shootings in one section of Brooklyn, the apartment I shared with my brother in another section of Brooklyn that constantly trembled because of its proximity to traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, my dad’s tiny monk-cell in Manhattan. Nobody had an attic and nobody had the heart to just throw away all the not quite necessary shit from that previous life of living like people on television, together in a house. But nothing lasts forever, not even the occupation of storage facilities. My mom and I cleared everything out one summer in the mid-’90s when she took a temporary job at a museum in Ohio. I took the baseball cards back to New York and was looking through them and showing select cards to my brother. When I showed him this card his reaction summed up the strange and unexpected feeling of disconnection from the cards, as if the iconic images of my youth had somehow been erased like the vanishing scribblings on a shaken Etch-a-Sketch. Where was my childhood? Who were these imposters? When my brother finally stopped laughing at the man in this photograph, he declared: “There was never no fucking Carmen Fanzone!”


Bill Buckner

September 25, 2006

“There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there where our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult.”
— Michael Cunningham, The Hours