In Donald Honig’s Baseball Between the Lines, 1940s Yankees standout Tommy Henrich is asked about Al Simmons, a fearsome hitter from the late ’20s and ’30s. He relates a story from Bill Dickey about the punishment Simmons used to unleash on the Yankees, then goes on to add his own description of Bucketfoot Al after the A’s Hall of Famer had retired:
“He hung around as a coach after he was through playing. I used to yell to him during batting practice. ‘Hey, Al, get in and hit a few.’ He’d push out his lip and shake his head. ‘Go on, Al,’ I’d yell. ‘Go on and hit a couple.’ The guys would hear it and they’d let him get in. The reason I’d do it was to just watch him step in there. It was something to see. When Al Simmons would grab hold of a ball bat and dig in he’d squeeze the handle of that doggone thing and throw the barrel of that bat toward the pitcher in his warm-up swings, and he would look so bloomin’ mad. In batting practice, years after he’d retired! I’d watch him and say to myself, ‘Tom, old boy, that’s the mood you ought to be in when you go to home plate.'”
With that in mind, here’s Tom Hutton, who amassed 186 RBI in his career, just 21 more than Al Simmons had in 1930 alone. If I was, like Tommy Henrich, a habitual champion seeking to emulate an earlier star’s focused, aggressive attack at the plate–at life itself–I’d probably seek out a seething conqueror such as Al Simmons. But I’m no all-star batsman. Literally speaking, I haven’t even held a baseball bat in my hands since my liquor clerking years in the 1990s when I periodically hefted the Jeff Burroughs Louisville Slugger we kept hanging from two nails behind the counter. Back then I occasionally imagined single-handedly and with much gruesome head-smashing foiling the repeated nerve-jangling, racially-charged shoplifting assaults on the store from gangs of parka-clad teenagers. But anyway, literally speaking, my bat-wielding days, such as they were, are over, and I’m no figurative all-star ballplayer either, and not really a player at all. If anything, maybe I’m a player to be named later, but if so, when is later? When will I be named? And do I even want to be named? Maybe I’d just rather remain nameless. Do I want to even stand in there in the box hesitantly facing down the unknown as Tom Hutton is doing here? Maybe I’ll just continue to lurk in the shadows. Or am I sick of the shadows? O, Tom Hutton, help me! O, Tom Hutton: In the big scheme of things I’m much closer to you than to Towering Immortal Al Simmons or October Hero Tommy “Old Reliable” Henrich, and so I turn to you for guidance in finding my way. You speak to me from your cringing, beady-eyed, mouth-breathing, lank-haired .250-hitting tremulous flinch of a batting stance. So that you might speak to other players-to-be-named-later-or-not-at-all, I have taken the liberty of attempting to translate your ineffable message into the following thick-tongued treatise:
Tom Hutton’s Three-Step Guide to Existing within the Unfathomable Void
Step 1: Get a bat. You don’t have to angrily grab or purposefully seize or heroically commandeer a bat, and once you have your hands on it you don’t have to wave it menacingly or twirl it dashingly or throttle it with murderous ferocity. But you have to get one. I mean, not literally, unless you want to start an urban liquor retail business. But you can’t go up to the figurative plate of life without a bat. So get a fucking bat. You know?
Step 2: Get in there. As shown by the instructional visual aid or holy icon or whatever you want to call Topps 1980 Montreal Expos card #427, “getting in there” can and often will, in most walks of life, fraught with ambiguity as they are, present some difficulties in the sense that there may seem to be no “there” there. Some in life are fortunate enough to be summoned unequivocally to the batter’s box, to have a clearly defined purpose, a path, a calling, but the Tom Hutton Way shows that you can get in there with your bat even if there is no batter’s box anywhere in sight. Look at Tom Hutton. He is most likely no closer than several hundred feet away from the possible flight of a pitched ball. Judging from the complete lack of other human forms in the photograph, Tom Hutton may, in fact, be on an entirely different training complex from that of his teammates, and so may be completely without hope of hitting a baseball while in his current stance. But he’s in there anyway.
Step 3: Wait for the pitch. As suggested in Step 2 above, such waiting may be absurd. But wait you must, for consider the alternative: Without getting a bat, getting in there, and waiting for a pitch, where are you? You are nowhere. You are nowhere even after following the three steps but there is at least some humble dignity in your existence. You do not know if the pitch will ever come. You will begin to suspect, as Tom Hutton seems to be suspecting here, that you have already seen the last pitch you will ever see, and this suspicion will crease your brow and make your posture hunched and unsure. You will take on the look of someone in a cringe, cringing against the infinity embedded in the notion that no pitch will ever come and also against the notion that it will come, but only after your mind has wandered, and it’ll be a bad pitch, up and in, and will hit you in the shoulder blade, and will hurt. But with all that you will also just stand there, waiting for your pitch, maybe cringing, maybe afraid, maybe full of doubt, but still with your tired eyes open and your bat sort of ready. You buck-toothed cipher, you drifting journeyman, you fifth outfielder on a doomed team in a foreign land, you wait.