Archive for the ‘New York Mets’ Category

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Dwight Gooden

December 28, 2010

Heaven, the idea of it, creeped me out when I began to really think about it for the first time, which was when I was about the age of the player pictured here. I had recently finished college and was working as a truck loader on the overnight shift in the UPS warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen, and during my ten-minute break every day I read Dante’s Divine Comedy, the third part of which, Paradiso, seemed to me to depict heaven as much more static and frozen than the roiling lower realms. You just kind of hung there forever in bright light, free of suffering and sin but with nothing to do and nowhere to go. A celestial meat locker. Better if heaven were a place where we might be capable of inhabiting our most graceful selves. Beyond disappointment and wanting and blundering and wandering, of losing and getting and losing again, we come back to some moment beyond and before results, when it was all beginning.

The year is just about done, but I want to write about one more card before saying goodbye to 2010. My desk is a mess, like my mind. Most prominent is a pile of baseball cards, all new to me. My wife’s aunt gave them to me a couple of days ago, for Christmas, in a big ziplock bag, and I spent parts of the rest of the day leafing through them with curiosity and hope and excitement. Near the pile of cards on my desk is a smaller pile of bills to pay, and next to that pile is a stack of things I have to get to at some point, or throw away, or file. From all the clutter I’ve pulled free this Dwight Gooden card from 1988, hoping for it to inspire something pure.

I don’t know if “pure” is ever possible. Everything is tangled up with everything else, at least a little. But I like dwelling on the idea of a moment when something is just beginning. This card captures that, a 22-year-old phenom lightly rocking back on his left foot to start his windup, which for a little while seemed like just about the purest physical act a human could ever be capable of: balanced, focused, without the slightest tremor of wasted motion or anxiety or doubt.

My UPS loader shift ended in the morning, and I’d leave the building with my clothes and hands and face covered in a thin film of dark gray dust from handling packages all night, and the sun had just come up, and I started my 40-block walk home through the city that Dwight Gooden briefly but toweringly ruled. It was 1990, so his reign was ending. Nobody rules anyway. Once in a while during my walk home, building the relief of quitting time and my exhaustion and the bright morning light into a faint, shaky euphoria, I’d stop worrying about my life and revel just a little in being a 22-year-old dipshit shambling home, where I planned to conk myself unconscious with a couple of beers and sleep all day. I liked to read the box scores as I drank my morning knockout beer. On the mornings after Doc Gooden had pitched, I’m sure I scrutinized the Mets box score for signs of a miraculous return to grace.

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Leo Foster

November 24, 2010

Leo Foster got his first major league at bat July 9, 1971, with his team, the Atlanta Braves, down 3-0 in the third inning to the fearsome Pittsburgh Pirates. He flied out to center. He batted again in the fifth with the score 5-0, but the Braves had gotten two men aboard with only one out. If they were going to make a game of it, this was their chance. Foster grounded into an inning-ending double play. His third major league at-bat came in the seventh with the game completely out of hand, the Pirates leading 11-2. Could some pride still be salvaged? Foster came to the plate with two men on base again, this time with no one out, and grounded into a triple play.

Some years later, things evened out for Leo Foster in terms of memorable days. After never cracking the Mendoza line in three partial seasons with the Braves, he’d been traded to the Mets for Joe Nolan, and on September 7, 1976, in Wrigley Field, he singled twice and homered, driving in five runs, or 19% of his career RBI total, which, in terms of percentages and big days, would be like if Hank Aaron had a game where he erupted for 436 RBI.

You get good days and bad days, and then it all ends in tears, or so it did for Leo Foster, at least according to the memory shared on the endlessly entertaining Ultimate Mets Database site by a commenter named Vito: “I vividly remember the Star-Ledger article reporting that he started crying when the Mets told him he had been traded. Personally, I was amazed that anyone would trade for him.”

The Boston Red Sox saw value in Leo Foster, or else saw value in unloading Jim Burton on the Mets. Neither Burton nor Foster would appear in another major league game. I don’t know if Burton ever had the kind of day Leo Foster had in 1976 at Wrigley, but he definitely had a bad day, when he lost Game Seven of the 1975 World Series as a reliever. The following year, when my family was at Fenway for a game, a few players were giving autographs and my brother, unable to get through the throng to anyone else, got the autograph of a player he didn’t recognize who was standing all by himself. Maybe Leo Foster cried when he heard he’d been traded because he didn’t want to leave the Mets, with whom he’d experienced his one big day in the sun, or maybe he cried because trades are just inherently cruel, not just for requiring an uprooting of every aspect of your life but for the way they fix your worth so rigidly and graphically in terms of what you can fetch on the human meat market. And Leo Foster, who had once been traded for Joe Nolan, a decent-hitting young catcher destined to stick around in the majors for over a decade, now amounted exactly to a luckless pitcher young autograph seekers avoided.

Leo Foster stuck it out for one season in the Red Sox minor league system in 1978, avoiding being part of the catastrophe on the parent club that season, then he called it a day, or maybe had it called a day for him. I don’t know what point I’m groping for in these notes on Leo Foster, but I guess I’m hoping Leo Foster was able to look back past the tears and the bad days to see that one big day when the ball kept rocketing off his bat and his teammates kept crossing the plate in front of him and he couldn’t be stopped and was, in those hours, the best baseball player in the world.

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Gregg Jefferies

December 28, 2009

This Christmas, just like the last one, happily, I got a gift of a stack of thrift store baseball cards from my wife’s aunt. She also gave me four large microbrewery beers and a game called “Classic Baseball” that included about 50 cheaply produced 1989 baseball cards, a small cardboard game board in the shape of a baseball diamond, a die, and three Parcheesi-esque game pieces. There were no directions on how to play the game, but on the back of each card, below statistics that show the player’s 1988 output and his career totals, there are five trivia questions labeled S, D, T, HR, and R. After Christmas my wife used the cards to quiz me, and I stumbled along at a 50/50 pace at first and then, after polishing off most of the microbrews, I started to heat up. I came up with the correct answers for all the questions on the back of this Gregg Jefferies card, though I had to take a couple stabs at the third question before getting it right.

S (T-F) Carl Yastrzemski appeared in at least 3000 M.L. games.

D I was the last player to hit 50 HRs in a season. Who am I? [Note: Remember, the cards were produced in 1989.]

T Who was the Career Strike Out King, prior to Reggie Jackson?

HR Name the only M.L. player killed by a pitched ball?

R Dwight Gooden is sometimes referred to as whom?

I don’t know what to do with the game board and die and game pieces, but the cards will be going into the shoebox with all my cards from my childhood. I like these new arrivals, as they throw light on a section of baseball history that is otherwise not represented in the box of cards that stopped growing in 1981. And even after I stopped worshipping the gods, I still relied on baseball to measure my life by. So seeing players from the late 1980s and early 1990s, which is where the players in the thrift store stacks from Aunt Celia are always from, brings back that time in my life, when I was edging into my twenties, leaving college, starting to see what the world had in store for me.

Gregg Jefferies occupies a small but key place in my internal baseball-compassed map of the world. By the time I started living in New York, fresh out of college, in 1990, Jefferies (just a few months my senior) had already begun gathering blame for the flagging fortunes of the New York Mets.

Jefferies had been drafted in the first round by the Mets in 1985, the same year the team arrived as a force in the National League, winning 98 games behind a young, talented core that seemed destined to lead the team to championship contention for years to come. The promise of the team arrived the following year, the Mets winning 108 games and a World Series title. That year, Jefferies, just 18 years old, blitzed the minors at the A and AA levels with a combined .353 batting average with 32 doubles, 11 triples, and 16 home runs in 125 games. He hit .367 in the minors the following year, earning a late-season cup of scorching coffee (3 hits in 6 at-bats) with the big club, and in 1988, the year depicted in this “Classic Baseball” card, he came up to the Mets in late August and sparked the team to a dominating 24-7 finish to the season by hitting .321 with 8 doubles, 2 triples, and 6 home runs in 29 games. The 20-year-old kept up the hot hitting in the playoffs, playing in all seven games of the team’s series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, in which he hit .333 with a .438 on-base percentage. Despite the loss, the future still seemed bright for the Mets, in large part because of the great expectations created by the young switch-hitter.

As the would-be dynasty of the Mets began to unravel due to poor trades, drug problems, and aging, the spotlight of fan hopes for the team fell on Gregg Jefferies, and Gregg Jefferies proved to be something less than the sawed-off shotgun version of Mickey Mantle that he had first appeared to be. Unfortunately for him, the disappointment around his failure to meet nearly impossible expectations was compounded by his being something of a polar opposite of the Mets at their 1986 peak. Compared to those Mets, who collectively had spilled over with the volatile, abrasive, magnetic personality of a band of outlaws, Jefferies seemed almost robotic. Worse, his dogged pursuance of a metronomic consistency in his game came across as bordering on selfish, as if all he cared about was the health of his batting average and not about “doing the little things” it took to win. Also, he was well short of being a wizard with the glove, and his inability to put an ironclad claim on a fielding position added more marks against him in fans’ minds. As he bounced from position to position he kept supplanting the incumbent at the position, and it was almost as if he was an eraser, removing one player after another who had been on the 1986 team. I don’t think this is actually how it went down, i.e., that as he switched from position to position he sent one after another ’86 champ packing, but I’m pretty confident that I’m getting the general subjective view of Jefferies correct: he replaced the ’86 Mets. It was hard for Mets fans to look at Gregg Jefferies’ youthful, slightly pudgy face and his underwhelming batting average and not feel a little cheated.

So by the time I got to New York City to start my adult life, Gregg Jefferies had become something of a human bad luck charm. If it had been colonial Salem, he probably would have been deemed a witch and tossed onto a bonfire. Nowadays such offenders are shipped to Kansas City. The following season the erstwhile future of the Mets returned to the National League, with the Cardinals, and hit his stride, vying for the 1993 N.L. batting title and hitting over .300 for three years in a row. He kicked around for a few more years beyond this admirable peak, and hung it up in 2000 with 1593 total hits and a .289 career batting average. (A few years later, he somehow even garnered two Hall of Fame votes.) But I’ll always remember him as a young guy who couldn’t get it together back when I was a young guy who also couldn’t get it together. You’d think I’d have thought fondly of him, or at least empathized with his plight, but I razzed him along with everyone else. Even to this day I can’t help looking at this 1989 “Classic Baseball” card of him laying down a bunt and think that he is in the midst of a humiliating failure. In truth, the ball has probably already made contact with his bat, and he has ably carried out his task. But it just seems more fitting to think that the ball is still on its way from the pitcher, and that Jefferies has sorely miscalculated in his gyrations, and in the next moment the ball will punch him in the stomach and he will crumple to the dirt in a heap as mockery and derision rain down from the stands. 

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Bobby Valentine

June 10, 2009

Bobby Valentine 79

The major league baseball amateur draft occurred yesterday, the forty-first such draft I’ve lived through, not that I’ve ever paid much attention to any of them. Certainly I was least equipped to fathom the one that occurred in June 1968, when I was a two-month-old blob, so I didn’t understand then or for many years afterward that 1968 first round draft pick Bobby Valentine was, for a while at least, a superstar in the making.

From what I have read about him not only as a baseball player but as an all-around athlete (I think he was particularly good at basketball), the player from baseball history he seems to have most resembled in his golden early years was Pete Reiser, the legendary ambidextrous line-drive smashing speedsteer from the 1940s, whose probable Hall of Fame career was derailed by his penchant for smashing into outfield walls. Like Reiser, Valentine’s athletic ability seemed to suggest he was capable of playing any position on the diamond. Also as in the case of Reiser, it seems in retrospect that it would have been wise to confine Valentine to a position that would keep him away from walls—in 1973, while still in the formative stage of his career, Valentine wrecked his leg in a collision and entanglement with a chain-link fence while trying to catch a ball hit by Dick Green. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Dave Kingman, 1976

November 20, 2008
 

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As implied in yesterday’s post on Freddie Patek, everybody loves a short guy. A tall guy? Not so much.

In some brief haphazard study done last night (a significant portion of it—my squinting, face-inches-from-the-page perusal of the tiny listings of the heights of players in the 1973-2006 section of my baseball encyclopedia—mocked by my wife), I have been able to formulate a hypothesis that young skilled baseball players who are unusually tall are generally valued higher than young skilled baseball players who are unusually short. The unusually tall (6’6″) guy pictured here, for example, was taken by the Giants (naturally) with the first pick of the 1970 amateur draft. Other tall guys of the Cardboard Gods era, such as J.R. Richard, Rick Sutcliffe, and Dave Winfield, were also first-rounders. By contrast, Freddie Patek was not selected until the 22nd round. (It’s interesting to note that this apparent bias toward tall guys was occurring during an era in which the most dominant player was 5’7”.)

I suppose it’s hard not to be impressed, as scouts must be, when a guy towering over the other guys on the high school or college diamond displays the coordination and skills of a top-flight regular-sized guy. Tall guys stick out. Moreover, the life of anyone who grew up playing sports is sure to be haunted by painful, disheartening memories of moments when a look across the court or the field or the diamond revealed that the opposition was comprised of kids who were a lot bigger than the viewer or anyone on the viewer’s team. (Take it from an expert in this regard: those were the games that were lost before they even began.) A scout would on some subconscious level probably want to help assemble a team that would never have to make that demoralizing pregame assessment. A team of towering Goliaths! Unbeatable!

The fact is, however, unusually tall guys are as rare in baseball as unusually short guys. Check out this chart on Baseball Almanac, which provides support for the notion that tall guys excelling at the major league level are beating the odds every bit as much as short guys. They should be inspirational figures.

They aren’t.

The best they can hope for in terms of appreciation by fans is a kind of subtly dehumanizing awe, such as the reaction the 6’8” Richard began to elicit in the dominant latter stages of his stroke-shortened career. Even the best of all the tall guys of those years, Dave Winfield, would come to be defined and demeaned, at least partially, by withering comparisons to two fellow Yankees, Reggie Jackson and Don Mattingly. At the base of the comparisons was a belief that despite his prodigious athletic gifts, which surely included the notion that on top of his speed and cannon arm and power he was simply bigger than everyone else, Winfield just didn’t have the guts or the desire of a Mr. October or a Donnie Baseball.

Winfield had the final word on the matter, of course, winning a World Series (with a clutch hit, no less) and gaining entry into the Hall of Fame. Most tall guys aren’t as fortunate. If they are a pitcher and they strike a guy out, or if they are a hitter and swat a home run, they are merely harnessing their prodigious talent, no more. If they fail to do these things, they make a nice, big target for boos.

I imagine Dave Kingman heard his share of boos as he drifted from team to team throughout his career as a major league tall guy. In some ways he makes a perfect mirror image of Freddie Patek. While Patek is associated with one major league franchise for whom he provided all-around skill and team play and guts and fire, Kingman is known as a disliked ill-tempered one-dimensional journeyman, loyal to no one and with no one loyal to him.

In many ways the defining seasons of Patek and Kingman occurred in the same year, 1977. The consistent Patek had a typically decent season for the team he will always be associated with, the Kansas City Royals: 53 steals, solid defense-anchoring glovework at shortstop, and an at least slightly pesky .320 on-base percentage. Kingman, for his part, struck out a lot and crushed a home run every few games, managing to blast 26 dingers in all, a somewhat down year for him, while playing for four different teams throughout the course of the year. (He would be shipped to a fifth team before the following year began.) The year ended for Patek with the shortstop weeping in the dugout because his team had lost. The team the Royals lost to went on the win the World Series. Presumably, a World Series ring, something Patek would never win, was given to Kingman, a late-season acquisition who didn’t appear in any postseason games for the team.

Figures. Tall guys are always getting the world handed to them on the platter.

Aren’t they?

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Even the All-Time Tall Guy All-Star Team underscores the fact that the deck is stacked against tall guys. Turns out there are more unusually short guys in the Hall of Fame than unusually tall guys. (And the only guy who would really turn heads with his height if he came into a room, the team’s pitcher, is not even in the Hall of Fame yet.) If the all-time short guy team played the tall guy team, I might bet on the short guys. But I’d root for the tall guys.

C: Ernie Lombardi, 6’3”
1B: George “Highpockets” Kelly, 6’4”
2B: Ryne Sandberg, 6’2”
SS: Cal Ripken, 6’4”
3B: Mike Schmidt, 6’2”
OF: Ted Williams, 6’3”
OF: Joe DiMaggio, 6’2”
OF: Dave Winfield, 6’6”
P: Randy Johnson, 6’10”

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Joel Youngblood

October 5, 2008
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“. . . and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old . . .” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I can deal with Greats getting old. When I was a kid Old Greats shilled for coffee makers and lite beer on TV and showed up every so often at the ballpark to wave at the crowd, who roared with tears in their eyes at the Old Greats for their glorious pasts and for continuing to elude the grave. I learned that this is what happened to Greats: They became Old Greats. This prepared me for the subsequent graying and balding and widening and stiffening and bejoweling of Greats from my youth such as Seaver and Bench and Reggie and Schmidt. But when a member of the Cardboard God rank and file suddenly shows up out of nowhere looking old or, worse, dies (as, for example, Ed Brinkman did last week) I feel it a lot more intimately than when I see, for example, that Gaylord Perry has no hair.

So if you happen to know what Joel Youngblood looks like these days, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. To me he’ll always be like he is here, his helmet hiding his premature baldness and preserving his look of glowing youth and vitality. I guess he played for several seasons after this 1980 card, lasting all the way until 1989, but to me he was always one of my two or three favorite Mets during that time in the late 1970s when my affection for the Mets was at its height. As I’ve mentioned before, I always followed the Mets intensely for two weeks every summer during visits from Vermont to see my dad in New York. Dad kept his small black and white television in the one closet of his studio apartment, but he let us take it out to watch Mets games, and for some reason I always associate those viewings, the television propped on a wooden chair, my brother and me sitting on big pillows on the floor, Dad at his desk listening to Bach on headphones, his eyes closed, no interest in the game whatsoever, the three of us about as close as we’d ever be, with Joel Youngblood.

In this card Joel Youngblood wears the number 18, a number which, just a few years later, as it festooned the tight mid-’80s uniform of Youngblood’s number heir, would seem to be targeted for sure retirement by the franchise. If you ever sat in Shea and watched Darryl Strawberry blast a home run off the scoreboard in right field you know what I mean. He seemed to have an invincible talent. But nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody, and after years of drug addiction and legal problems for Strawberry the number 18 remains officially eligible for further use by the team.

I think Strawberry showed up last week for the closing of Shea Stadium. I’m not sure if Joel Youngblood did. It looked, just a couple weeks earlier, like the Mets would extend Shea’s lifetime beyond the end of the regular season by banishing the aftertaste of last season’s collapse with some playoff baseball. But you can never count on anything, so Shea’s last moment was not a playoff game but a bittersweet ceremony in the cold dusk featuring a gathering of Old Greats and Old Pretty Goods and Old OKs. The stands must have looked ragged, forlorn, many too disappointed to stay and watch. As the Allen Ginsberg stand-in in Dharma Bums put it, “It all ends in tears.”

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(Note: The Griddle will be doing the game thread for tonight’s Angels-Red Sox game.)

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Beat

August 11, 2008
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This Ed Kranepool card is softer now than it was a week ago. It still feels pretty sturdy though. In fact, in some ways it seems tougher, as if it would be harder to rip in half than the other 1976 Ed Kranepool card I have, the one that stayed in my shoebox while I kept this Ed Kranepool in my pocket for the entirety of my just concluded week-long trip east. Maybe what seems like damage is something else altogether. Jack Kerouac pointed out that while the word beat in Beat Generation started out meaning “poor, down and out, deadbeat, on the bum, sad . . .” it came to accrue many more meanings, most notably beatific, as if the defeats of life, the beatings, could transform the loser, the beat, into the humble indestructible holy fool of god.

I can’t tell you if that’s true, about beatings leading to adamantine bliss. In fact right now I just feel beat, in the original sense of the slang phrase uttered by smalltime criminal and poet Herbert Huncke to Jack Kerouac (the first time the latter heard the phrase) in Times Square some sixty years ago. I feel a little ill, tired, maybe on the verge of a nasty summertime cold. I sort of deserve it, I guess. On Friday I got only a couple hours sleep after drinking many beers and seeing the Stooges in New York City, then Saturday drove a lot then rode on an airplane then on a train then a shuttle bus then a train then a bus and spent the rest of the day moaning on the toilet from maybe a bad pre-Stooges free hot dog at Rudy’s on 9th Avenue, then yesterday it being August I went to a baseball game back here in Chicago in only a T-shirt and shorts and shivered in the upper deck shade and wind for a long time as my team, the visiting Red Sox, proved that they might not have enough this year, their starting pitcher for the day, Clay Buchholz, beat in the sense of utterly defeated, lost (from today’s Boston Globe: “Once [Buchholz] was dressed yesterday [after the loss], he sat for a few beats, staring into his locker. He got up, missed while trying to kick a towel into a basket, and wandered off toward the back of the clubhouse. He seemed lost, in many ways . . .”). My team is beat, I’m beat, and now it’s back to the daily grind, which for all its unavoidable virtues (roof over head, food in stomach) is very rarely, if ever, going to bloom into the beatific. Whatever, big deal: I went on a vacation and now it’s that steroidal first Monday back. As Iggy might say, boo hoo.

But I still have this Ed Kranepool souvenir of my beatific, or at least interesting, week away. In its creases and fades are a hike up Camel’s Hump in Vermont, some mucky golf some miles south of Camel’s Hump, some mini golf a few hundred yards or so from doomed Shea Stadium, one last trip before the mini golf to Shea Stadium, that old undemanding friend, for a perfect sunny sweaty day drinking beer and cheering for the Mets yet not giving a shit when they lost their lead late and cheering again when they got it back in the bottom of the ninth on a David Wright two-run home run. In the creases of this card also the Stooges show and maybe also all the good moments with loved ones I don’t get to see that often in Vermont and New York, and (I’m rushing now because it’s time to go to work) also most of all for the water damage or on the other hand beatitude inflicted or bestowed on this card by a massive flash downpour on me and Ed Kranepool and a friend of mine who has been depressed, the downpour occuring as we walked over the Williamsburg Bridge, no shelter anywhere in sight. As it rained down my friend, who has been getting crushed lately in his mind by the beatings of the past, woke up fully to his old and real and alive road-going self for the first time all day, reveling in the rain beating down.

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Ed Kranepool

August 2, 2008
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I’ve been to Shea Stadium many times, and I’ve never left unhappy. Unlike at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, the other two places where I’ve witnessed many major league baseball games, the stakes were never very high for me at Shea. Although I rooted for the Mets there, it never mattered that much to me if they didn’t get the job done. I was only ever there to get out of the day. In that way it’s a special place to me, a friend who never demanded anything but who was always there if you needed someone to hang out with. A mensch. I’ll be sad to see it go.

You don’t hear that much about this being the last year of Shea, at least not compared to the bombast of the extended elegaic farewell being offered to the other stadium in New York. They call that other place The House That Ruth Built, a moniker that communicates the deep aura of history and legend surrounding that structure. They don’t call Shea anything and never have, at least as far as I know. But maybe in this its last few weeks, to parallel the more well-known stadium in the Bronx, it can become known as The Building Where Ed Kranepool Resided for Quite a While. 

For many, many years, Shea Stadium did not exist without Ed Kranepool, a member of the original Mets in 1962. He is shown here in 1976, fourteen years later and still with a ways yet to go in his Mets career as a part-time first baseman. He has just completed his best year, batting .323 in 325 at-bats, but one gets the sense from his expression that he is not putting much stock in the sizzling batting average. Some days you do OK, some days you don’t. This is the unflappable credo of Kranepool, the tough, humble survivor, the reliable friend, the mensch.

Anyway, I’m going to be taking the next week to travel. No work, no writing. Part of the trip will be one last happy baseball game at Shea. I’m bringing this card of ol’ Ed Kranepool with me.

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Lee Mazzilli

July 14, 2008
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Lee Mazzilli was good, not great, at just about everything. He could draw walks, hit for a decent average, smack 15 or so home runs and steal 15 or so bases a year, and cover a lot of ground in the outfield. You could almost say that he was flawless, a characterization that he seemed inclined to emphasize by custom-tailoring his uniforms and maintaining his archetypical feathered haircut with the level of care usually only given to invaluable cultural relics, which in a way is what it was. But in truth he did have one flaw: a relatively weak throwing arm. Ironically, Mazzilli lost out on a chance to win an All-Star Game MVP award because of the powerful throwing arm of another player. In the 1979 All-Star Game, Mazzilli entered as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and blasted a game-tying home run, becoming the first player ever to homer in his first All-Star Game at-bat. In the ninth inning he came to bat again and drove in the game-winning run by drawing a bases-loaded walk. Unfortunately, each of his batting feats had immediately followed a half-inning punctuated by right-fielder Dave Parker using the cannon attached to his shoulder to eliminate baserunners. Next to the national debut of Bruce Sutter’s forkball during the 1978 All-Star Game, Dave Parker’s pair of lightning bolts stands as the most vivid All-Star Game memory of my childhood. The voters for the All-Star Game MVP award were similarly amazed, and looked past Mazzilli’s batting heroics to give the award to Parker. Mazzilli never made it to another All-Star game, ensuring that his batting record in the midsummer classic would remain forever flawless.

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

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Jerry Koosman in . . . The Franchise All-Time All-Stars

May 26, 2008
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In honor of today’s military-minded holiday, here’s a card featuring a player who served (stateside, I believe) in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The card also happens to have been one of my favorites when I was kid, a great action shot of a guy who seems with his balance and his powerful legs and his rubbery upper body to have been made to be that poised human whipcrack known as a major league pitcher. From the position of his wrist it looks like Koosman’s about to snap off a 12-to-6 curveball. I don’t know what pitches Koosman threw, actually, but I know he was good at throwing them, helping the Mets to two pennants and one World Series. Two years before this card he won 21 games and finished second in the National League Cy Young voting. The following year, when this photo was snapped, he went 8 and 20. But here he is, in the midst of that dismally unlucky season, showing perfect balance. Can you stay balanced during the bad times? I guess that’s the key. Koosman could. The year of this card he had another lousy won-loss record, 3-15, which dropped his all-time record with the Mets to just three games over .500, and the Mets traded him away in a move that reduced the number of members of the 1969 Miracle team remaining on the squad to one, the invincible Ed Kranepool. The Mets had been floundering since Tom Seaver had been jettisoned the year before, but the trade of Koosman truly closed the book on the Mets’ first golden age while, in a pleasing twist, opening the door just a crack for their next golden age. Koosman had recorded the final out of the Mets’ first World Series win, and the minor leaguer he was traded for, Jesse Orosco, would record the final out of their second World Series win.

But Orosco, who would become a very important figure to me—the last strand of childhood—for being the last Cardboard God to hang up his major league spikes, is a story for another day. Today I want to just do some holiday blabbing about Jerry Koosman, who kept his balance through the last couple unlucky years with the Mets and was able to stick around long enough for the wins to start coming back to him on the Twins, winning 20 games his first season with them and 16 the next. He dropped off the following year, and the Twins dumped him for Randy Johnson, who unfortunately for the Twins was not Randy Johnson. Koosman soldiered on, winning 11 games both of the next two years, the latter effort helping the White Sox post the best record in the major leagues in 1983. He hung it up two seasons later with 222 lifetime wins.

A consideration of Koosman’s estimable career, combined with thoughts sparked by the thought-sparking saint of baseball blogdom, Joe Posnanski, who a few days ago wondered who was the best everyday player the Mets have ever had, has inspired a new, hopefully recurring, feature here on Cardboard Gods in which I will ask readers to chime in with their picks for the all-time best team for every franchise. (I’m certainly not the first to ever think of fooling around with this idea; the great Rob Neyer riffed on the idea in producing one of the most entertaining baseball books ever written, The Big Book of Baseball Lineups.) I decided to start with the Mets, figuring that their fans could use an opportunity to dwell on the good times in the past, what with the present fortunes of the team looking so gloomy, losses mounting, the guillotine seemingly inches from the neck of the cornered manager. 

I decided, to keep things relatively lean and mean, to not do 25-man rosters, but instead to pick 12 guys: a starting eight, a right-handed and a left-handed starting pitcher, a relief ace, and a wild card, which is basically a spot reserved for a player who doesn’t quite fit anywhere else but who you couldn’t bear seeing left off the franchise all-time team. I’ll get things started with my own picks. I had a lot of tough calls, so I’ll be very interested to see what other people come up with for their lists. Please feel free to provide honorable mentions.

C: Mike Piazza
1B: Keith Hernandez
2B: Edgardo Alfonso
SS: Buddy Harrelson
3B: David Wright
LF: Cleon Jones
CF: Mookie Wilson
RF: Darryl Strawberry

RSP: Tom Seaver
LSP: Jerry Koosman
RP: John Franco

Wild card: Ed Kranepool

***

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

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Tom Seaver

February 4, 2008
 

Born in the USA 

(continued from Al Bumbry)

Chapter Four

I.
Baseball came to a halt for a while. Xeroxed fliers with pictures of the missing blossomed on walls all over the city. Obituaries began appearing in the newspaper. Eventually the fliers withered, feeding the next bloom, the glittering fungal explosion of flags.

A metal flag pin the size of a thumbnail came into my possession. I don’t remember how. They were everywhere, these flags. Baseball returned, festooned in flags. In the seventh inning everyone in attendance now rose to sing “God Bless America.” I wasn’t sleeping much. “Last night there was a loud noise that woke me,” I wrote in my journal on September 18. “I guess it was a slow-moving tractor trailer, but at first, coming out of sleep, all I could think was bomb, shockwave, death on the way.” I’d never before worn a pin of any kind, but right around then I started wearing the little metal flag on the heart-side pocket of my jacket.

II.
Baseball and war have almost always marched in lockstep. According to Hall of Fame baseball pioneer Albert Spalding, who learned the game from veterans returning from the Civil War, baseball took root as America’s national game during “the bloody days of our Nation’s direst danger . . . when soldiers, North and South, [strove] to forget their foes by cultivating, through this grand game, fraternal friendship with comrades in arms.” During World War I major league teams spent part of each day performing military drills, and several players went into the armed forces, including two of the greatest pitchers of all time, Christy Mathewson and Grover Cleveland Alexander, who both sustained serious injuries during the war. In World War II, major league rosters emptied of anyone determined to be physically able to serve, some of the players spending the war on morale-boosting service baseball teams while others, such as eventual Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg, won medals for their service and bravery during combat.

The man shown in the 1977 card above enlisted in the Marines in the early 1960s, before his ability to throw a baseball had gained widespread renown. His time in the service predated heavy U.S. involvement in Vietnam. After the Marines he pitched for Fresno City College, then for the Alaska Goldpanners, then for the University of Southern California. By the year I was born, that bloody divisive year of 1968, Tom Seaver had established himself as one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball.

III.
I don’t remember much about the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. I just checked my journal from that time and found that I stopped writing about life as I was living it, instead making attempts to disappear into the creation of a fictional world based on my life as a child in the 1970s. I remember wondering if the fiction I was writing had any worth at all. This doubt went beyond my usual doubt about my work, went beyond questions of whether it was good enough. I could look out my window in Williamsburg and see the black smoke rising across the river. How could my stupid little story speak to that?

“I have to go to work now,” I wrote in my journal on September 19, abandoning that day’s stab at fiction to speak directly about the world around me for what would be the last time for a long time. “The rubble at the World Trade Center is still smoking. The corpses and pieces of corpses must be charred, black, ashes. I work at a book store. The book store will be closing soon. . . . Nothing is certain. This is why I’m writing about the people I love and the life I’ve seen.”

That’s what I told myself anyway. But I think in retrospect it was also a question of trying to find a safe haven. In some ways it was the strangest fiction project I’d ever undertaken, because what I ended up doing was trying to rewrite from scratch a story that I’d already written several years before, the first short story I’d ever been at least temporarily happy with. It was a story about my brother and me visiting my father in New York City during the blackout of 1977. I’d written it in the early 1990s, and then in the fall of 2001 I wrote it again, going to the notebook each day to disappear into the citywide calamity that had never felt dangerous. It had felt, on the contrary, as if we were part of an us, connected to the rest of the people in the city, and more than that it had felt as if the three of us, my brother, my father, and me, were connected as never before. We were all in it together. We were safe.

IV.
Imperfections feed perfection. Take the slight imbalance of the card at the top of this page, the right border thinner than the left. This imperfection feeds the impression of coiled energy created by the photo of the pitcher in mid-windup. The lopsided bordering makes it seem the whole world is one slim moment away from catapulting with perfect graceful ferocity forward. Or take the dirt on the knee, the only smudge on the otherwise immaculate uniform. This imperfection further foreshadows the likely perfection of the pitch, Seaver famous for getting his body so low while unleashing his blazing offerings that his right knee scraped the ground. Or take the dulled corners of the card. This imperfection speaks of the card as an active part of a boy’s life, a much-used talisman, and it speaks also of the back of the card, of fingers constantly turning the card from one side to the other, from photo of perfect crackling poise to table of perfect statistics.

And on the back the only imperfection is one that comes from the overlay of history. Looking at the back of the card, seeing the unbroken string of years with one team, no team in baseball history ever as associated with a single player as much as the Mets and Tom Seaver, there is the knowledge that Tom Seaver will soon be traded. It will happen in the middle of this very season, just a month before the blackout, the back-of-the-card perfection forever marred. But it hasn’t happened yet. On this card there is only one season after another of excellence. The brief line of text below the statistics highlights the most perfect of all the columns: “Tom extended his all-time mark in 1976 by topping 200 K’s 9th straight season.”

He’d been striking out 200 men every year that I’d been alive. In 1977, the year I would later try to escape to as an adult, I looked at this card and followed the perfect line of 200s up and back through the years, each year festooned with other spectacular numbers, stellar ERAs, admirable won-loss records. But none were better than his second year, 1969, the year Tom Seaver and the team he will forever be associated with blossomed into the miraculous.

V.
We went to war. I had my flag pin on. I’d never supported a war before, had never really seen the reasons behind the various U.S. hostilities in my adult lifetime. But if I remember correctly my feelings as we moved toward an invasion of Afghanistan were that we were an Us who had been attacked by a Them, a Them that wanted anyone born in the USA dead, and the Them was hiding in caves in Afghanistan. The newspapers I read kept bringing me pictures of the dead. Could have been a loved one. Could have been me. It scared and angered me. Go ahead, I thought. Blow them and their infantile virgin-glutted paradise to dust.

VI.
“If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.” – Tom Seaver, 1969

On October 15, 1969, protesters in cities all across the country staged the largest antiwar protest in the history of the United States. That same day, Tom Seaver took the mound at Shea Stadium in Game 4 of the World Series against a mighty Baltimore Orioles team. An Oriole win would even the series and ensure that it return to Baltimore. Seaver gutted out a 10-inning 2-1 win, putting the Mets on the brink of perhaps the most improbable World Series championship in the history of baseball.

A month later, my mother went to a peace march in Washington, D.C., that topped the October march for participation and impact. The message was starting to get across. The Nixon administration had already begun trying to portray antiwar protesters as dangerous radicals, but it was beginning to be clear that it was more than that. Many Americans were starting to wonder why we had gotten so deep into a war that didn’t seem to make any sense. Housewives from New Jersey were wondering. Tom Seaver was wondering. As far as I can tell, it was the first time the U.S. pastime of baseball ever stepped out of cadence with the U.S. pastime of war.

VII.
I tried to go to an antiwar rally, my first, as the Bush administration pushed the United States into a war against Iraq. I’d stopped wearing my little flag pin by then. I’d grown weary of the seventh inning singing of “God Bless America.” Or maybe wary is a better word than weary. Now the flags and the song seemed less a way of asserting that We were a We and more a way of stomping out any dissenting opinions while bulldozing toward a new era of war. An invasion of Iraq didn’t seem to make any sense except as a way for rich oilmen to grab oil fields. The people who had attacked us didn’t have any connection with Iraq.

I went to the rally with my mom but we got separated in the crowd somehow. There were cops everywhere and the protesters had been shuttled into a relatively tiny area. The rationale for the treatment of protesters as if they were dangerous had been that it was for “security.” There was a menacing feel to the day. Cops in riot helmets, gripping nightsticks, younger protesters getting impatient, knocking over the blue barriers that had turned the city into an asphyxiating maze. I got out of there before hearing any speeches. Fuck it. The war began anyway. Baseball continued. The war continued. I dissolved into one, tried to ignore the other. God bless America. Land that I love.

“On the ground were two blood-soaked Iraqi men,” former Iraq War combatant John Crawford writes in his 2005 book The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell. “Both were on their faces with their hands tied behind their backs. The skinnier one was crying, and with the nudge of the foot someone tried to shut him up. ‘There’s no crying in baseball.’ 

“We all giggled a little at that.”

(continued)

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Bob Apodaca/Red Sox-Rockies Game 3 Chat

October 27, 2007
  
(Note: The ongoing story The Yazmobile will resume at Cardboard Gods on Monday.)

In his injury-shortened career as a Mets reliever, Bob Apodaca faced Biff Pocoroba three times. He got him to ground out, then intentionally walked him, then got him to line out. The Mets lost all three games. I don’t know what became of Biff Pocoroba after that, but this past Thursday night Bob Apodaca contributed to the continuing disenchantment of the world I marveled at as a child. All my life I have wondered about what is said during pitching mound conferences, but on Thursday my curiosity on the subject shriveled and died, thanks to a running patter of numbingly banal self-help-guru exhortations by Colorado Rockies’ pitching coach Bob Apodaca, who had been miked up for the game by Fox, part of the seemingly unstoppable trend on the part of networks toward bringing the TV viewer ever deeper “inside the game.” Besides the miking of players, coaches, umps and, soon, team owners, mascots, scouts, groundskeepers, and the toilet where Big Papi takes his ceremonial pregame dump, these “inside the game” ploys include among many other annoyances the sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing use of current players as analysts (e.g., Eric Byrnes), the loathsome, game-action obstructing in-game dugout managerial interview, and the on-scene misinformational stylings of rictus-grin Ken “The Rockies beat the Cubs in Round 1” Rosenthal. None of it pulls me further into the game. Luckily the game can’t be so easily autopsied by the brutish invisible corporate hands at the controls. Its beauty and joy and drama survive. Still, sometimes I wish I could return to a time when I didn’t know that meetings at the mound between pitching coaches and beleagured, unraveling pitchers resembled a one-on-one pep talk between a sales manager and an underperforming salesman in a conference room on the second floor of a nondescript building out by the Ikea and the Chilis on Route 73. The truth is I was never farther inside the game than when I had to imagine almost everything about it, when all I had were these cards and a few stats and an occasional soberly announced game on TV. And names. I had names. Sometimes they worked on me like a magic spell. I went inside the game saying Bob Apodaca . . . Biff Pocoroba. Bob Apodaca . . . Biff Pocoroba. Bob Apodaca . . . Biff Pocoroba.

Anyway, lineups for tonight’s game (FOX, 6:35 MT):

Red Sox
J. Ellsbury, cf
D. Pedroia, 2b
D. Ortiz, 1b
M. Ramirez, lf
M. Lowell, 3b
J.D. Drew, rf
J. Varitek, c
J. Lugo, ss
D. Matsuzaka, p

Rockies
K. Matsui, 2b
T. Tulowitzki, ss
M. Holliday, lf
T. Helton, 1b
G. Atkins, 3b
B. Hawpe, rf
Y. Torrealba, c
C. Sullivan, cf
J. Fogg, p

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Steve Henderson

September 4, 2007
 

 

Adrift

Conclusion (continued from Dock Ellis)

“Losers live in the past.” – Denis Waitley (Member of the Motivational Speaker Hall of Fame)

I.
I keep drifting backwards.

II.
Sometimes I can barely tell if I’m awake or sleeping. I’m in my loft bed in the house I grew up in. Fourteen years old. Too old for what seems to be happening: I have once again half-surfaced from sleep into a riptide pulling me toward one of my nightmares.

The house is dark and mostly empty. My brother is gone, off to boarding school for the second year in a row, and for some reason my mother is gone too. I don’t know where she is. Within a few years she’ll leave the house for good. I’ll leave too. Everyone will leave, going separate ways. Tom will be the last one, my stepfather. He is the only one except for me in the house right now, my nightmare taking hold.

They’ve been happening for years. They started when we moved to Vermont, away from my father. Sometimes I have sought help when I can feel one coming on, but no one has ever known what to do. Once, when my brother and I were in the house alone, he saw the look on my face and started reading to me from one of his Star Trek novelizations. His voice uttering names from the painless world of television, Spock, Kirk, Chekhov, McCoy, somehow it calmed me. But that time I was only just verging on the first unstoppable feelings of the nightmare (or night terror, as I later learn it is called). And other than that, nothing has ever helped. I always end up terrified. Every wall, every chair, every inch of everything looking wrong, so wrong I run through the house screaming.

But on this night as my heart starts to pound and the walls begin to bend away from me, I go into the room where the only other person left in the house is sleeping. I’ll remember for the rest of my life what happens. Tom acts instinctively, barely awake, eyes wide, startled. I’ve come close enough for him to reach out, and he does. He holds my hand, strokes it, speaks softly. My heartbeat slows. My breathing gets deeper.

Maybe this time I’ll be OK, I start thinking. Tom’s hands holding mine.

III.
Five years earlier, while my brother and I are visiting our dad at his apartment on 11th Street and Broadway, the lights go out all over the city. To us this is a thing of wonder.

“Blackout!” we exclaim.

By then my dad has been living apart from us for three years. He is becoming a stranger. Maybe to avoid feeling this estrangement, we go to a lot of movies. We see movies almost every day, once in a while going from one movie to the next. Disaster movies are big. The Towering Inferno. Earthquake. When the lights go out the idea dawns: Maybe we’ve landed in a disaster movie!

Blackout!” we squeal.

The lights are out for a long time. Maybe they’ll be off forever! We go to Central Park and are interviewed by a Times reporter doing a story on kids during the blackout. I tell the reporter that now my dad won’t have to yell at my brother anymore to turn off the bathroom light. We get the paper the next day, see our names, see my quote. We aren’t three strangers anymore, but a family inside an adventure!

The next day Times Square gets power and to escape the sweltering heat we go to an air-conditioned double-feature in wondrous Sensurround: Midway and Rollercoaster. For hours every time a bomb explodes or a roller coaster roars the Sensurround-rigged seats shake. When it’s over we stumble into the street, blinking in the sunlight, our legs trembling.

By the next day the power has come back all over the city. We go to Shea for a doubleheader. The young man pictured in the 1979 card above bats third in the opener, and for reasons that are mostly obscure to me now he instantly becomes my most favorite player on my most favorite team in the alternate universe of our short visits to New York. Somehow I must have gleaned that Steve Henderson is the future of the Mets, their brightest young star, and I latch onto him. He is known at this time as “Stevie Wonder.” In 1977 I know, dimly, who the actual Stevie Wonder is, but I mostly ignore that association. Instead, Steve Henderson’s nickname conjures images of a superhero, a magic man, someone capable of turning the usual boredom of life fantastic.

IV.
The baffled look on his face in his 1979 card seems to suggest the days of wonder have begun to come to an end for Steve Henderson. He had followed his promising debut season of 1977, where he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Andre Dawson, with a decent but unspectacular sophomore campaign that would turn out to be the norm for the itinerant years to come. Stardom never arrived. Worse, the connection between him and the word “Wonder” seems to have vanished: no nickname is listed at his page on baseball-reference.com.

But I remember Stevie Wonder.

I also remember the day before I discovered Stevie Wonder. It was the evening following our afternoon in Sensurround. The electricity was still out in my dad’s neighborhood. We had to climb the six flights up to his apartment. No elevator. No lights in the stairway. We held on to one another going up. That’s how I remember it anyway, the wonder of it, my brother, my father, and me hand in hand, rising through the dark.

V.
I keep drifting backwards. Now I’m four years old.

A couple years earlier my mother met a man on a bus to a peace march. They fell in love. Eventually, my father was told. Divorce loomed, but the three adults agreed to instead experiment with a new kind of family. Why not try for more love, not less? It’s 1972. Many are experimenting. Many are trying for more love, not less. We move to a bigger house and a man with long hair and a long beard joins us. Tom. Tom shares a room with my mother, my father in the guest room down the hall. In later years I’ll come to learn how unusual this is. I’ll also decide that as a small child I probably sponged up, as only a small child can, many of the unsaid tensions the unusual situation created. But at the time all I knew was that I had a mom and a dad and a brother and a Tom, and they all loved me. It was a golden age of sorts, all of us together for the first and last time. Within a couple years it would be over, and I would begin a life adrift, taking refuge in the Cardboard Gods.

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Bruce Boisclair

May 14, 2007
 

“I always remember telling my father, if this guy can play in the big leagues I KNOW I can . . .” – Steve Keane on Bruce Boisclair in a 10.30.03 post on The Eddie Kranepool Society

Bruce Boisclair has for some time represented to me the road not taken. He broke into the majors in September 1974, when I was six years old. I had not yet seized on baseball as my primary life raft, but more significantly my family had just moved to Vermont from the possible Mets fan territory of Hopewell, New Jersey. I have always assumed that if we had stayed in New Jersey I would have grown up a Mets fan rather than a Red Sox fan.

I have put considerable thought into this alternate path. Mainly, I have come to believe that if I had grown up in New Jersey, I would have been chronically beaten by bullies. In Vermont, I was twice menaced by this one kid with putrid breath, Mark, but on both occasions (once in a bathroom at school, once after school when he grabbed my baseball glove away from me) my instinctual defense mechanism—bursting into abject, uncontrollable weeping—managed to disgust and confuse him enough to prevent him from inflicting upon me any bodily harm. Both times he ended up just walking away from me with a look on his face like I was a pile of uncommonly pungent cow manure. I always assumed that New Jersey, more heavily populated in general, would have had a higher density of merciless future violent criminals roaming the sidewalks for victims. I would have been dangled from turnpike overpasses in broad daylight, beaten beneath a pollution-covered moon, and marked by pen knife scars, pellet gun wounds, and various teeth-chipping incidents. Eventually I’d have etched into my features an uneasy, pinched look similar to the one shown here by Bruce Boisclair on the cusp of his final major league season.

By the time I would have purchased this card on one of my danger-fraught New Jersey trips to the corner store, I would have seized on Bruce Boisclair as a hero. In the safety of my room I would have exulted at the discovery of this card in my new pack, for Bruce Boisclair by then would have become for me a conduit to a different reality. Through him I could have imagined another life. I would not have seen myself in the major leagues but would have dissolved myself out of existence altogether to become Bruce Boisclair. There were other, better players on the profoundly lackluster Mets at that time, but even though none of them were really that great, their abilities still were such that they would have seemed beyond the reach of my self-abnegating imaginings. I couldn’t dissolve into the dashing Lee Mazzili, for I wasn’t dashing, and I couldn’t dissolve into the fleet and promising Steve Henderson, for I wasn’t fleet or promising.

But Bruce Boisclair would have been a different story for my timid, hunted New Jersey self. I mean, just look at him. He seems to be bracing for a roundhouse left to the ear. Worse, he’s up at bat with a hitting implement that will nullify, by virtue of its illegality, any positive result he might somehow be able to produce. An aluminum bat! Why on earth would there even be an aluminum bat on the Mets’ spring training complex? Perhaps Bruce Boisclair snuck it onto the grounds himself and was considering the possibility of using it (maybe painted to look like a wooden bat) in the upcoming season. As it turned out, he seems to have had to use the same kind of bat as everyone else, with which he hit .184, and he was released the following spring. By 1980, in other words, I would have been on my own, Boisclairless, to face the troublesome world.

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Dave Kingman

March 4, 2007

The Dave Kingman Report: At-Bat #1

I would like to introduce a feature that I plan to revisit periodically here on Cardboard Gods. But first a few words on the feature’s titular player:

Throughout his career, Dave Kingman’s at-bats ended in a strikeout more frequently than anyone who had ever preceded him onto a major league field. (By the time of his retirement, his contemporary Gorman Thomas had edged in front of him for the all-time lead in worst strikeout percentage.) Dave Kingman (unlike Gorman Thomas) was an atrocious fielder, once inspiring Phillies broadcaster Richie Ashburn to remark, during a break in play devoted to the repair of Kingman’s glove, “They should have called a welder.” Kingman’s lifetime batting average was .236, and, because he seemed to lack both the ability and the will to draw a walk once in a while, his lifetime on-base percentage was an even more depressing .302, the same mark posted by Fred “Chicken” Stanley and lower than the success rates of, for example, Billy Almon and Shooty Babitt. He also had the reputation of being a detriment to the collective psychological well-being of his teammates, a characteristic most pungently described by one-time fellow Cub Bill Caudill, who said, “Dave Kingman was like a cavity that made your whole mouth sore.” Teammates weren’t the only ones subject to his malevolent demeanor: He once gift-wrapped a box with a dead rat inside it and presented it to a female reporter, apparently a Neanderthalic protest to the presence of women in the locker room.

At the time of Dave Kingman’s retirement, however, only four men in baseball history had a higher percentage of home runs per at bat, and their names were Ted Williams, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, and Babe Ruth.

He hit home runs, struck out, butchered fielding plays, sowed bad vibes. And then he hit some more home runs. Perhaps it’s not surprising that he was well-traveled player. The team for which he was playing probably grew tired of his many shortcomings, while a team he had yet to play for was able by virtue of desparation and distance to narrow their vision to see only the home runs. This card shows Kingman in the rosiest light possible: the “N.L. ALL-STARS” insignia; the photo of the strapping slugger on one of the rare occasions when he’d just made contact with the ball, which probably meant that he had just sent it on a screaming 500-foot journey toward the windshield of a vehicle in the parking lot; and, perhaps most significantly, the bestowal on the back of the card by Topps of the number 500 in the 1977 series (I’m not sure if Topps still does this, but they used to have a hierarchical numbering system that gave stars numbers on the zeroes). But this is also the card that came out the year Dave Kingman became a member of five different teams (Mets, Angels, Padres, Yankees, Cubs) in a span of five months. Not even Bobby Bonds got hot-potatoed (or rotten-potatoed?) like that.

Suffice it to say that, like all the Cardboard Gods, Dave Kingman had his flaws. But this doesn’t mean that there’s not something about him that I, a Cardboard Goddite, can find to shine some more light on my shadowy life.

With that in mind, I have decided to create an ongoing feature entitled The Dave Kingman Report, which is intended to draw inspiration from the one thing that Dave Kingman did as well as any human who has ever lived, with the possible exception of the lovable Steve Balboni: swing for the goddamn fences.

I have never liked to strike out, not in baseball, not in softball, not in life, and this has at times prevented me from taking chances. The Dave Kingman Report
is my attempt to address this shortcoming. I want to emulate Dave Kingman’s willingness to go up to the plate and take his cuts. Strikeouts? So what. Keep swinging. At least that’s the plan.

It is my hope that this project can encompass many different aspects of this life. Right now, what it most fully applies to for me is my writing “career,” such as it is. A couple weeks ago I began a concerted effort to try to get the novel I’ve been working on for a few years published. I have made some efforts before, mostly through tenuous personal contacts that did not end up panning out. Now I’m sending query letters to people who won’t know me at all. I also sent a shorter piece to a couple magazines. I have done this before but always reluctantly, hesitantly. I am trying to do it more often. Get a bat. Get in there. Swing.

Below is the box score including my first at-bat of this new season.

February 26, 2007

Dear Josh,

Thank you for your submission to Writer’s House. After careful consideration, we must inform you that we are unable to offer you representation at this time.

Sincerely,
Kelly Riley
Assistant to Michael Mejias
Writers House, LLC


Oh for one.