According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview
The center of my identity is my childhood, and the center of my childhood was baseball, and the happiest time of my childhood in terms of baseball were the two years when my brother and I played on the same little league team while our favorite big league team, the Red Sox, had their best two-year run in franchise history in terms of games won, with 97 in 1977 and 99 and 1978, and during those years I deepened my attachment to baseball statistics, as if they could be a way to hold onto the happiness, and I held above all other statistics the triple crown categories of home runs, RBI, and batting average. There was something comforting about believing that if a player, such as Jim Rice, was able to consistently rank high in these three statistics, it was inarguable proof of that player’s greatness. In terms of a high ranking in those categories, Rice towered above baseball in 1977, 1978, and 1979, but for the first of those two years, the two years at the center of my identity, a player named Larry Hisle was right there with him. There was something mysterious about this triple-crown rival of Jim Rice, even before he vanished from the leader boards in 1979. While Rice stayed with the Red Sox and would, I assumed (as I did with all the 1970s Red Sox stars, though as it turned out only Yaz and Rice would stick around for the duration), stay with the Red Sox forever, Hisle played for one team in 1977 and another team in 1978, both teams somewhere out there in the middle of the country and the middle of the standings, far away and never seen by me, this hint of transience in association with Larry Hisle blooming into his complete disappearance from the leader boards in 1979.
This morning I learned that Hisle’s disappearance was caused by a rotator cuff injury in early 1979 that effectively ended his career as a regular. I also learned that Larry Hisle became an orphan at age 11 and that he mentors at-risk children in Milwaukee. He is thought of by those who know him as an extraordinarily nice and generous man. I didn’t know any of this back when I was a kid, of course, so Larry Hisle, Jim Rice’s vanishing rival, will always have to me an aura of mysterious greatness. If you could take a picture of the center of my identity, that picture would show a kid with glasses and a baseball cap studying the list of league leaders in the paper, and the kid would mostly be reveling in the seemingly immortal presence of Jim Rice, but the kid would also be wondering, just a little, what happened to Larry Hisle.
This 1975 card predates that moment, of course. I wonder if I ever pulled this card from my pack of Twins in hopes of discovering why Larry Hisle and not Jim Rice (or I) had suddenly been removed from the visible world. With his furrowed brow, he looks old in this card, older than Rice, none of the sense of crackling power in Hisle’s card that seemed to emanate from the photos of Rice. The back of the card shows that he’d already kicked around for some years as a moderately successful regular before 1975, the year Jim Rice sprung into the league as an instant rookie sensation. At this remove, decades after the years at the center of my identity, Larry Hisle’s card looks more like what I would come to know as life: Some ups, some downs, some moves from here to there, some signs of the inexorable march of time.
The 2011 Twins will be human, which doesn’t mean they can’t be great but only that the greatness won’t last.
How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 12 of 30: Check in with Aaron Gleeman for passionately gathered Twins news, keen baseball analysis, and dizzyingly prolific pop culture links/appreciations; Gleeman’s current well-researched series counting down the best Twins of all time is up to number 21 (Larry Hisle showed up at number 27)
2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers