Archive for the ‘Chicago White Sox’ Category

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Ron Schueler (3)

January 18, 2008

Adjunct!

Act III

(continued from Ron Schueler (2))

I lasted two years as an adjunct, which matches the average stay by Ron Schueler on each of his four major league teams. He spent two years with the Braves, three with the Phillies, one with the Twins, and two with the White Sox. Maybe two years is the normal shelf-life for adjuncts. Most of the other adjuncts at my college also seemed to be just passing through. There were a couple of long-timers, but they had fit their adjunct duties into a sturdy arsenal of resourceful chisel-jawed remunerative pursuits, one guy teaching a couple of classes when he wasn’t leading tours through the Amazon rainforest and selling photographs to National Geographic, another guy maintaining his on-campus reputation as a ruthless grammarian in between professional jazz trumpeter engagements. Most of the others seemed to view the low-paying, no-insurance, no-security job as a steppingstone to something better. I may have entertained that thought, too, early on, but in the same blurry, hypothetical way that I daydreamed about someday publishing a novel or owning a house or ceremonially passing my baseball cards down to a son. It became apparent eventually that the job was merely another in my long line of crumbling ledges to cling to by my fingertips.

One day while clinging I stopped in to see my old teacher and good friend Tony, who had helped get me the adjunct job. Tony told me of a dream he’d had the night before. In it, he’d gathered me and his wife together to tell us that he’d come up with an idea for a Broadway musical. One of the clearest impressions from the dream for him were the looks on our faces as he described the idea. First we were skeptical, then alarmed.

“It was a whole musical about adjunct professors,” Tony explained. “I even remember the big closing number. Paaaart-timers are indispensable!” Tony came up out of his chair behind his desk to sing this last part. As he did I saw the whole thing in my mind, a stage full of singers and dancers wearing fake bald spots and glasses, wool sweaters and corduroy, stacks of marked-up student papers in their fists, everyone leaping to and fro to express the unconquerable nature of the human spirit, the hero in the center of the action an adjunct who overcame all the odds, who found the song deep down below all the meaningless noise, who let the song flow through him, who found while singing that he and his fellow adjuncts and every last creature on earth were worthy of song. Worthy of love. Indispensable. I laughed so hard I felt temporarily cured.

“The end of the dream was you guys walking out on me,” Tony said. “You were shaking your head and saying ‘I don’t know, man. I don’t know.’”

(to be continued)

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Ron Schueler (2)

January 16, 2008

Adjunct!

Act II

(continued from Ron Schueler (1))

The back of this card, the same card I displayed a couple days ago, shows a handful of years and a handful of teams, a portrait in numbers and place names of a nonessential migratory clause, a body to throw at the useless innings, an adjunct. Add him, junk him. Add junk? Adjunct. I hadn’t planned to rely so heavily on Ron Schueler in this latest attempt of mine to defeat the defeat of the past. Who would? But the computer hooked to my scanner is wheezing, unusable, poisoned with viral malignancies. I have no other option, no one in the bullpen. For better or worse, it’s Ron Schueler’s game to win.

I spend much of my waking life wired to a computer, so when the thing went down with a virus a couple days ago it felt like more than just the malfunctioning of an inanimate tool. I felt damaged, invaded. As the popups kept mushrooming relentlessly across the screen I had the urge to bash the computer to shards with a baseball bat and head for the hills. Maybe in the hills I’d find peace or maybe instead I’d feel the need to hack at my skull with a screwdriver to dislodge what I believed to be a wireless transmitter embedded inside. I mean maybe it’s too late. Maybe I’m beyond repair.

This possibly fatal graft of my brain to the computer began about the time where we last left off. As an adjunct professor I was given space in an office shared by several other adjunct professors. I was also given the use of a computer. A friend from graduate school, Rick, had begun working as an adjunct professor at the school that year, and he helped me set up a Yahoo account. He had one, which he used to play fantasy football. “It’s fun,” Rick said. He seemed unconvinced. Still, I drafted a fantasy basketball team within minutes of creating my online proxy. I named them Desolation Angels, after Jack Kerouac’s saddest novel.  

There were days, plenty of them, when the Desolation Angels provided the brightest moment of my day. I didn’t have much else going on. I had an apartment with two empty bedrooms, blindless windows that stared unblinkingly at Time, and terror that crested four times a week in the firing-squad minutes directly preceding each meeting of one of my two classes. Each flare-up of terror gave way to a kind of public seizure that gripped me for 90 minutes before casting me back to my solitude sweaty and stunned, my voice raw, as if I had spent the entire hazy interval sobbing.

The students gone, I sat at the head of the empty class until my legs stopped trembling. I usually felt ashamed about one or another of the things that had tumbled from my mouth during the ill-planned lesson.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I said out loud.

But the Desolation Angels got off to a decent start and kept climbing. As the days got shorter and colder, I leaned on them more and more. I started coming into the office on weekends to study the numbers of guys on the free agent wire. I made shrewd pickups. I climbed into third place. I climbed into second.

“I can win this,” I said out loud. 

(to be continued)

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Ron Schueler (1)

January 14, 2008
 

Adjunct!

Act I

In 1998 I applied for a job as an adjunct professor at Johnson State College, a small state school in northern Vermont. I had been living in Brooklyn for awhile, getting by on sporadic temporary jobs. I had been, among other things, a liquor store clerk, a proofreader, a writer of cheaply made books sold to school libraries. I was thirty, same age as the man pictured here. I guess I hoped the teaching job would lead me to a more purposeful existence.

I had gotten my undergraduate degree from Johnson a few years before and was still close with two of my writing teachers there, who put in the good word for me. I didn’t have any teaching experience, but their recommendation helped me get the job anyway. Or maybe they just needed someone, a body. I was given two classes, Basic Writing and College Writing. The pay was meager, but that had never held me back before.

I didn’t have a car or even a driver’s license but a friend gave me a ride to Johnson a few days before classes were set to begin. I had few possessions. I got a second floor apartment within walking distance of campus. The apartment had two small bedrooms, which I left empty. I slept on a futon mattress on the floor of the space meant for a living room. My little gray cat Alice slept with me, burrowing under the blankets and pressing up against me. There were no blinds on the living room windows, so light from the street lamps came in. It was hard to sleep. The view from these windows was of a bank with a digital sign that gave the time and temperature. If I wanted to know what time it was I just had to look out the window. If I didn’t want to know what time it was I was in the wrong place.

I bought a card table and two white plastic chairs from the hardware store next door. I had borrowed a small television from my stepfather, and I set it up on a couple cardboard boxes. It only got a couple channels. I had a boombox, too, but there wasn’t much in the way of radio in northern Vermont. I found I missed the sports talk that had helped fill my hours in Brooklyn. Mike and the Mad Dog. The Schmooze.

The two unused bedrooms faced the part of Route 100 that was known for a few hundred yards as Main Street. There wasn’t much on Main Street besides the hardware store and, further away, a place to buy beer, grinders, and gasoline. Just below the window in one of my empty bedrooms was a slight raised mound of concrete in the sidewalk, right by the doorway of a vacant storefront. Maybe it had once been a doorstep. Teenagers with skateboards were drawn to the concrete mound. It seemed there were always two or three of them out there, taking turns failing some attempt at a trick involving the mound of concrete. The same sound, again and again: rolling wheels for a few seconds, then the clattering of the skateboard, then a pause, then the same sequence again. I sat in my apartment trying not to listen and trying not to stare at what time it was. I bought generic macaroni and cheese and Molson and chocolate at a grocery store just on the other side of the bank. I didn’t have a bottle opener, so I had to pry open the caps of the beer on the kitchen counter, but I wasn’t very good at it, so I ended up having to pound on the top of the beer until my hand was bruised and foam had spilled onto the floor. The formica edge of the counter got torn away from the particle board beneath. The days went by.

“My name is Josh Wilker,” I eventually said to a room full of 18-year-olds. “I’m going to be your teacher.”

(to be continued)

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White Sox, 1977

October 9, 2007
  
I grew up in the 1970s, the age of embarrassment. In the early years of the decade the president was revealed as a paranoid criminal. He quit, disgraced, and was replaced by a guy known for being ineffectual and tripping over things. This second guy soon got voted out of office in favor of a peanut farmer who revealed more than anyone wanted to know in an interview in Playboy, admitting he had “lust in his heart.” Later, in a nationally-televised speech, he described America’s “erosion of confidence”; in the embarrassingly frank president’s estimation the whole country by the end of the 1970s was demoralized and ashamed, as if it had somehow channeled from sea to shining sea the cringe-shouldered stoop of an awkward acned bespectacled teenager who spent his free time playing solitaire Strat-O-Matic and masturbating.

It’s fitting that this infamously depressing “malaise” speech by President Jimmy Carter on July 15, 1979, came just three nights after Disco Demolition Night, just as it’s fitting that Disco Demolition Night occurred in the same place where, three years earlier, several of the gentlemen pictured here played a major league baseball game while wearing shorts, an event that, until the time when a major league baseball team takes the field wearing flowery sleeveless summer dresses and heels, will stand as the single most embarrassing uniform-related moment in baseball history. Though embarrassment was everywhere in the 1970s, it may have crested on August 8, 1976, when the White Sox plied their trade in front of their competitors, the media, and 15,997 paying customers while dressed in what must have felt for all the world exactly like it feels in a dream when you realize you’ve left the house after forgetting to put on your pants.

Incredibly, the White Sox won that game. They did not win many others that year and did not ever wear the shorts again, except, curiously, for this portrait for their 1977 team card. I’m not sure why they did this, but whoever made it happen deserves a medal. The whole team deserves a medal, in fact, for they and whoever had the idea for the pose in the first place are embodying the greatest aspect of the 1970s, one that goes hand in hand with its designation as the age of embarrassment: no matter what might come your way, embrace it. If you find yourself out in the middle of the action dressed in a shirt with a preposterously huge collar and your afro bulging like Mickey Mouse ears out from under your cap and your touchingly vulnerable knees as visible as those of a skirt-wearing member of the flag squad, embrace it. You only go around once, and most of that once is monotony and sameness, so you might as well celebrate the glorious mistakes.

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Rich Gossage in . . . The Nagging Question

June 1, 2007
 

One thing I think about a lot, especially during times when I probably should be addressing other more vital and pressing issues, is my all-time baseball all-star team. Actually, I have many variations on this line of thinking, coming up at various times with all-time squads for each major league franchise, all-time squads made up of various ethnicities (a few years ago, back in the early screw-around-at-length-for-free days of Whatifsports.com, I pitted my favorite of these squads, featuring Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Benny “The Ty Cobb of the Federal League” Kauff, Gabe Kapler, et al, against a series of major league champions from the past for an entire 162-game season, and the Galicia Wiesels—named for the great writer and for the region in Austria-Hungary my father’s parents fled—went 97 and 65 against the likes of the 1927 Yankees, the 1953 Dodgers, and the 1975 Reds, among others), and even specialty all-time squads such as Most Misshapen (John “I’m not an athlete” Kruk, meet Walt “No Neck” Williams), Most Tragic (Lyman Bostock, meet Willard Hershberger), and Most Likely to Be “On Something” (Hit the showers, Pete Alexander, it’s time to hand the game over to Steve Howe). But I’ve always circled back around to the all-time team, making revisions and substitutions, envisioning tape measure shots and astounding catches, and staging entire Lincoln-Douglass debates in my mind over such issues as how many pitchers to carry and who should be the fifth outfielder.

It’s my way of hiding from the world, I guess, and as ways of hiding from the world go I guess it’s not too bad. Still, one of these days The Nagging Question should be “Why am I hiding from the world?” But today’s not that day, probably because I’d rather hide from the world and burrow down deep into that rich cluster of meaningless distinctions and impossible scenarios I call my all-time team. It changes all the time; in fact just today I reduced the pitching staff from ten men to nine and decided on a new backup catcher after years of going with a personal favorite, Mickey Cochrane, for the job. But here’s how I see it today:

Most common starting lineup:
Ty Cobb lf
Rogers Hornsby 2b
Babe Ruth rf
Josh Gibson c
Lou Gehrig 1b
Willie Mays cf
George Brett 3b
Ozzie Smith ss 

Bench:
Honus Wagner, ss
Martin Dihigo, util
Jackie Robinson, util
Ted Williams, of
Hank Aaron, of
Mike Schmidt, 3b
Buck Ewing, c
Oscar Charleston, of

Pitchers:
Lefty Grove
Walter Johnson
Satchel Paige
Sandy Koufax
Pedro Martinez
Hoyt Wilhelm
Rube Waddell
Goose Gossage
Mariano Rivera

I could go on at length about each and every choice on here (and actually I’m hoping the chance to do so will arise in the comments portion of this post), but for right now I’ll just note three recent alterations:

1. As mentioned above, I waved the man who Mickey Mantle was named after in favor of Buck Ewing. I decided I needed a representative from baseball before the 20th Century. It doesn’t seem likely that from all the players who took the field before 1900 there wasn’t a single one who deserves to be part of my all-time roster. Ewing was generally regarded as the best all-around player of that era, a .300 hitter with good speed, dominant defensive skills, and an unsurpassed knowledge of the game.

2. I cut the pitching staff down to nine. This allowed me to cut Roger Clemens, but that’s not why I did it. First, I really, really wanted to add another hitter. Second, the starters I’ve got are going to log a ton of innings, and if for some reason I hit a tough stretch in the schedule where someone is needed to eat up innings, I’ve got the tireless knuckleballer, Hoyt Wilhelm, and beyond that I’ve already got Martin Dihigo, who was a phenomenal pitcher, as one of my two utilitymen. If you haven’t heard of Dihigo, he was a Negro League star whose versatility as a fielder could have made Bert Campaneris and Tony Phillips seem like Greg Luzinski, who hit and played the outfield like Roberto Clemente, and who performed so well on the mound that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a pitcher (Bill James, on the other hand, ranks him as the best rightfielder in Negro League history).

3. I dropped Dennis Eckersley and added the man pictured at the top of the page in his pre-goatee days. Eckersley was pretty great for a while, but I started thinking about roles on the staff, and I think the 9th inning has to belong to Rivera, whose post-season success (save for a couple beautiful moments in ’04) earns him the closer role. So who’s going to be the right-handed set-up guy, able to storm into a shaky situation and then go for two or three innings? I’d rather have a reliever from the days of the three-inning save than the king of the one-inning relievers, Eck. Plus, I don’t think any pitcher ever scared me more than the Goose.

But anyway, on to The Nagging Question:

Who makes up your all-time 25-man roster?

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Ron Santo

February 27, 2007

Here’s Ron Santo’s last card, the only Ron Santo card I own. It will probably look a little jarring to Ron Santo fans, who are accustomed to seeing their affable hero in a Cubs uniform. I can’t recall what my thoughts were on looking at this card for the first time as a seven-year-old, but I was probably captivated by the long run of impressive statistics on the back. The numbers weren’t in quite as small a type as those on the 1975 Harmon Killebrew card that so fascinated me, and the numbers didn’t have peaks quite as high as those on Harmon Killebrew’s card, either, but they were incredibly consistent, even more consistent than Killebrew’s, year after year of 30 home runs and 90 to 100 RBI. I’m sure I also noticed the precipitous dropoff in the last season listed on the card (5 home runs, 41 RBI), and maybe I even saw it as a sign that the man’s long career was coming to a close. I don’t know. In later years I came to understand that Santo’s achievements were even more admirable given that they came in an era when “benchmark” numbers such as 30 homers and 100 RBI were inordinately hard to come by, that the offensive prowess was augmented by consistently stellar glovework at third base (attested to by 5 gold glove awards), and that Ron Santo did all this while managing an illness, Type 1 diabetes, that doctors had predicted would put him in the grave by the time he was 25 years old. He is still alive today, though he has lost both his legs to the disease. He works as a Cub broadcaster, and since I live in Chicago now I listen to him from time to time. He is, by his own admission, an incredibly biased homer for the Cubs, but for some reason I don’t find this as grating as I usually do when having to listen to other renowned homers (such as John “Thuuuuuuuuuuuuh Yankees Win!” Sterling of the Yankees or Hawk “He Gone” Harrelson of the White Sox). Though he doesn’t have the eloquence of the old Mets announcer, Bob Murphy, he does share Murphy’s relaxed, wide open manner, his voice like Murphy’s telling some part deep inside you “Take it easy, partner, you’re safe: It’s summertime.” Or maybe it’s just that he seems like a nice man.

Regardless of whether he’s a nice man or not, he is ranked by the foremost expert in such matters, Bill James, as the sixth best third baseman of all time, and the 87th best player of all time at any position, including pitcher. And today, once again, the Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame neglected to vote him into the Hall of Fame. Today the pompous, arrogant, condescending (why do I keep envisioning the smug visage of Joe Morgan?) Hall of Fame Veterans Committee neglected to vote anybody into their club. Not Luis Tiant. Not Minnie Minoso. Not Gil Hodges. Not Tony Oliva. Not Ron Santo.
Tommyrot. Sheer, unadulterated tommyrot.
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Cy Acosta

January 14, 2007
 

The first Cy in major league history was a pitcher whose full name was Clytus George Bentley. In 1872, Cy Bentley debuted at the age of 21 with the Middletown Mansfields of the National Association, a forerunner of the National League. He started 17 of their 24 games and finished the season with 2 wins, 15 losses, and a 6.14 ERA. At bat, he hit .235 with 2 triples. It is not known from which side of the plate he batted, nor which arm he threw with. The handedness of almost all of his teammates is similarly obscure, the only members of the Mansfields escaping the obfuscation of that most basic baseball player information being team batting champ Tim Murnane (Bats: left; Throws: right), manager and catcher John Clapp (Bats: right; Throws: right), and future Hall of Famer Orator Jim O’Rourke (Bats: right; Throws: right).

O’Rourke, who made his professional debut with the Mansfields, fled Middletown after the franchise folded at the conclusion of their one and only season as a professional club (the team, named after a Civil War general, had existed since 1866 as a topflight amateur squad), the gregarious shortstop moving to the league champion Boston Red Stockings who became the Boston Red Caps who became the Boston Beaneaters who became the Boston Doves who became the Boston Rustlers who became the Boston Bees who became the Boston Braves who became the Milwaukee Braves who became the Atlanta Braves. Murnane and Clapp hitched on with the Philadelphia Athletics, who folded in 1876 during their first season as a National League franchise only to be resurrected in 1901, at least in name, by the Philadelphia franchise of the new American League, who eventually moved to Kansas City and then to Oakland, where in 1972, exactly one century after the sole professional campaign of the Middletown Mansfields, the Athletics won the first of three straight World Series with certain key players sporting flamboyant 19th century moustaches.
The only other Mansfields to last beyond the extinction of their team were second baseman Eddie Booth, who kicked around for a few years with the Brooklyn Atlantics, Elizabeth Resolutes, and New York Mutuals, aging pitcher Asa Brainard, who hitched on with the Baltimore Canaries, for whom he went 5-22 in 1874, probably not coincidentally his last season, and outfielder Jim Tipper, who followed up his stint with the 5-19 Mansfields by toiling with the soon-to-be-defunct 16-37 Hartford Dark Blues in 1873 before bottoming out with the soon-to-be defunct 7-40 New Haven Elm Citys. Little is known of the fates of Ham Allen, Frank Buttery, and the rest of the Mansfields who disappeared from the record books after their one season together. Perhaps some continued playing semi-pro or amateur ball while others found different lines of work altogether. As for the first Cy, Cy Bentley, he died on February 26, 1873, at the age of 22.
It would be 18 years before another Cy reached the majors, but that second Cy, born Denton True Young, would retire 21 years later with 509 more major league wins than his predecessor, a deluge of namesakes in his wake. In chronological order depending on their first year in the majors, they are Cy Bowen, Cy Seymour, Cy Swaim, Cy Vorhees, Cy Morgan (not to be confused with Cy Morgan, below), Cy Falkenberg, Cy Ferry, Irv “Cy the Second” Young (career record: 63 wins, 95 losses), Cy Barger, Cy Neighbors, Harley “Cy the Third” Young (career record 0 wins, 3 losses), Cy Alberts, Cy Slapnicka, Cy Williams, Rube “Cy” Marshall (it is taking all my might not to go off on a tangent right now about that other once common but now extinct ballplayer name of yesteryear, Rube; let me just leave it for now with these three points: 1. There have been nearly as many Rubes as Cys in major league history [33 Rubes to 35 Cys, not counting 19th century journeyman Sy Sutcliffe]. 2. There have been no Rubes since Rube Walker retired in 1958. 3. Roy De Verne “Rube” “Cy” Marshall [career record: 8 wins, 10 losses], the sole improbable intersection in baseball of these two peerless monikers, needs to have some kind of mention somewhere in the Hall of Fame, even if it’s embedded within a bathroom stall limerick. And if you think that these parenthetical [and parenthetical within parenthetical] remarks are hardly resisting the urge to go off on a tangent, or tangents, please know that it is taking a Herculean effort to avoid broaching the subject of Rube Waddell at this time), Cy Pieh, Al “Cy” Cypert, Cy Rheam, Charlie “Cy” Young (career record: 2 wins, 3 losses), Orie Milton “Cy” Kerlin, Cy Perkins, Cy Warmoth, Cy Wright, Cy Fried, Cy Twombly (whose one year in the majors predated the birth of the famous painter with the same name by 7 years), Cy Morgan (not to be confused with Cy Morgan, above), Cy Moore, Ed “Cy” Cihocki, Cy Blanton, Cy Malis, Cy Block, Cy Buker, and, finally, Cy Acosta.
The gap between the sad passing of Cy Bentley and the arrival of Cy Young was 18 years, which is the third biggest Cyless gap in baseball history. The second biggest gap is the 27 years between the last pitch of Cy Buker, who played for one year for the Brooklyn Dodgers during World War II, and the first pitch of the man pictured here, Cy Acosta. The longest Cyless span is the one we are currently suffering through. It’s now 31 years and counting since Cy Acosta wrapped up his brief and forgettable career with two scoreless innings in an 11-3 loss.
 
Sigh.
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Wilbur Wood

December 5, 2006

What drew me into the world of the Cardboard Gods as much as anything else was its clean, well-defined system of statistical landmarks. You knew where you stood with the numbers on the back of a baseball player’s card. If a guy hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs, he was a star slugger. If another guy turned in a sub-3.00 ERA, he was a top pitcher. It was as simple as that, no gray areas, no confusion. This is part of why people become religious, I think. They’re looking for clear guidelines on what’s good and what isn’t.

For starting pitchers, it’s all about wins. If you win 20 games, you’re an ace. Conversely, if you lose 20 games, you’re kind of a rag arm, a luckless mushballer (though probably not utterly incompetent; after all, your team must have seen reason to keep running you out to the hill to take all those beatings).

These seemingly mutually exclusive starting pitcher landmarks were well-known to me by the time I started inspecting the baffling statistics on the back of Wilbur Wood’s card. In a five-year span, the aging knuckleballer with the 19th century name won 20 games four times, but he also lost 20 games twice, 19 games once, and 17 games once. The most confusing year of all was 1973, when Wilbur Wood achieved both plateaus in the same year, racking up 24 wins while also suffering 20 losses.

I couldn’t figure out right away if Wilbur Wood was bad or good, but eventually I came to see him as being in both name and deed some kind of a throwback to the rugged spike-gashing dawn of major league baseball, when hurlers started both ends of a doubleheader and then came on in relief despite massive corn liquor hangovers the next day at dusk to strand the go-ahead and winning runs in scoring position. Wilbur Wood was beyond Old School. He was Old Testament. He was the last vestige of a time when men named Rube and Mordecai and Smokey Joe and Grover strode as giants upon the land, their won-loss records both gleaming and gory, good and bad entangled.

When Wilbur Wood hung it up, it left no one to stop the meek 5-inning starters and 4-pitch bullpen specialists from inheriting the earth.

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Bucky Dent

November 15, 2006

Here is the tragic figure of Bucky Dent, the mildly promising albeit light-hitting young Chicago White Sox shortstop who after being named to the Topps all-rookie team in 1975 was killed in a horrific wood chipper accident. Though some are of the opinion that this accident is a myth, and that Bucky Dent actually went on to play for several more years in the American League, at times even excelling as a power-hitter in key late season moments (a preposterous claim given his slight frame and complete lack of power-hitting skills), I offer as primary countering evidence the fact that this is the only Bucky Dent card in my entire collection, and if he had indeed played beyond this year the only way to explain his absence from my collection would be to say that I assiduously removed and destroyed any later Bucky Dent cards, as if for some reason the very sight of them caused me revulsion. But why on earth would I or anyone waste time doing something like that? Clearly, the stronger Bucky Dent theory is the one in which, tragically, Bucky Dent was thoroughly minced or possibly even pureed by a wood chipper before he was ever able to make any significant impact on major league baseball history or on the innocence of, say, a 10-year-old Red Sox fan in East Randolph, Vermont, on October 2, 1978.

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White Sox Future Stars

September 26, 2006

As everyone with even the most glancing familiarity with baseball knows, the three figures pictured on this remarkably prescient Topps card from 1980 went on to form one of the most renowned trios of players in major league history, Mike Colbern, Guy Hoffman, and Dewey Robinson spoken of by all in hushed, reverent tones for the way they repeatedly led the previously long-suffering Chicago White Sox franchise to championship after championship, and for the way they brought glamour and excitement to the world of baseball by their various relationships, amorous and otherwise, with Hollywood starlets and heads of state, and for how they changed the way the game was played, the electric Mike Colbern striking first by, in his rookie season, breaking the single-season record for doubles and triples while also shattering the mark for stolen bases by a catcher; the debonair Guy Hoffmann baffling batters with not one but two patented pitches never mastered by another hurler–the Yancey Street Stinker and the Hummingbird Conniption; the charismatic Dewey Robinson closing wins with ferocious alacrity and then celebrating with the mound-launched Dewey Twirl, a physical spasm of such grace and joy and–even after the last of his 447 lifetime saves–such a feeling of spontaneity that it is no wonder it inspired a hit song so contagious and ubiquitous that an all-star lineup featuring Toni Basil, Ron Wood, Billy Ocean, Laura Branigan, and Oates performed a version of it to close Live Aid, global starvation defeated by sheer infectious synth-beated happiness. That performance foreshadowed a shift in the careers of the Big Three, as they will forever be known, from mere baseball superstars to world changers, that latter role reaching its first but very likely not last of its history-book-worthy climaxes when Colbern, Hoffman, and Robinson (the names always mentioned in that order even before poet laureate Robert Pinsky solidified the litany while bringing his dying art back from the ivory tower hinterlands to the spotlit realm of Bruce Springsteen, The Cosby Show, and Mr. T with his best-selling ode to the famous three, “Chicago Stars Incandescent in the Gloom”) made a visit to the Berlin Wall in 1989 and with humor, diplomacy, and all-American chisel-jawed resolve crisply recorded the final three outs of the Cold War. I was tempted to sell this card, by far the most valuable of my collection, around then. After spending some years at an obscure state college adrift in the static of subpar hallucinogens, I was about to receive a diploma with a major in creative writing, my prospects for employment as narrow as if I’d majored in saying what animal shapes I thought I saw in the clouds. But I decided the legendary threesome was not done gathering glory, so I held onto my one and only asset, figuring it could only grow in value, and embarked on a life of thrilling menial labor often punctuated by periods of spirit-emboldening unemployment. All you need to do is pick up a newspaper and see the ever-widening transcontinental influence of Mike Colbern, CEO of Intel Computers, Guy Hoffmann, Nobel Peace Prize-winning solver of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and President Dewey “FDR on ‘Roids” Robinson to see that in this as in all of my major life decisions I have, as Topps did with this card, forecasted the future with pragmatic and sober-minded brilliance.

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Fred Howard

September 22, 2006
 
“Let there be rock.”
— Bon Scott
July 12, 1979: The sky was raining flat black discs and lit M-80s. By the late innings, the visiting Detroit Tiger outfielders wore batting helmets in the outfield. A vendor reported selling 49 cases of beer that night, more than double the number he’d sold on any single night in his many years on the job. Smoldering bongs were passed from hand to hand up rows like change for a hot dog, giant glossy paper airplanes made of promotional posters featuring a sultry blond model known only as Lorelei swooped and dove amid the hail of explosives and frisbeed LPs and 45s, and inebriated throngs in the parking lot jumped up and down on cars and set fire to white-suited John Travolta dolls and searched for illegal entry into the slightly more focused mayhem inside the packed stadium. As game one of the scheduled doubleheader progressed this search gained urgency, for between games a local 24-year-old disc jockey and the aforementioned Lorelei were going to detonate a mountain of disco records.
 

Almost immediately after this detonation occurred, a stream and then a gushing wave of longhaired attendees flowed onto the playing field. The desire to get onto the field was strong, as reported by an anonymous contributor to a Disco Demolition Night webpage on whiteseoxinteractive.com:

“One doofus tried to go over the brick wall in centerfield by using our [Disco Sucks banner]. He asked us to hold it, which we did, and he proceeded to plummet 30 feet onto the field. The sign, made of a bed sheet, ripped immediately. I remember seeing him rolling around in pain and remember reading in the paper [the next day] that there were only some minor injuries such as fractured ankles and thought he was one of them.”

The revolution, the pointless, hysterical revolution, had come. Some lit bonfires in the outfield. Some wheeled the batting cage around like it was a stalled car that needed a running start. Some performed hook slides and headfirst Pete Rose plunges into where the bases would have been if they hadn’t already been ripped from the ground and stuffed between giggling ribcages and the fabric of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith T-Shirts. More than one person reported seeing couples fornicating, one of these reports asserting that this occurred in at least one instance in something of an orderly fashion, the participants feverishly attending to one another in stages corresponding to the general location of the aforementioned bases. Cub scout troupes and the elderly watched from the stands.

Inside the home team’s clubhouse, as his teammates went through the motions of preparing for a second game that they had begun to correctly assume would never be played, Fred Howard, shown here in the only baseball card ever produced in his likeness, tried to wash off whatever residue had accrued during his stint as the losing pitcher of game one. Though he probably didn’t see it this way, he had done his part. As another contributor to the webpage cited above recalled: “The Sox lost the first game to Detroit, which just seemed to aggravate and energize the crowd.” No one seems to remember Fred Howard, or even to ever have been aware of his existence, but the 1970s, that tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing, may not have had its decade-punctuating Woodstock without his heroic failure.