“The older you get, the more rules they are going to try and get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.” – Wooderson, Dazed and Confused
The 1970s started so promisingly for Steve Dunning, his college heroics prompting the Cleveland Indians to select him in the first round of the amateur draft, that choice seeming to pay quick dividends when Dunning pitched a one-hitter against the Washington Senators that according to Baseball Library.com caused Ted Williams, seldom one to sing the praises of pitchers, to utter that the young hurler was “going to be some pitcher some day.” Just a couple weeks after that booming blessing, Dunning smashed a grand slam home run, the last by an American League pitcher for 37 years, until Felix Hernandez equaled the feat yesterday, an occurrence that has released perhaps for the last time the name Steve Dunning into the general babble of the world, a final puff of seed from a desiccated pod.
But almost immediately after Dunning’s slam the young, golden decade started to turn. Dunning was chased to the showers just two innings after his salami by the up and coming Oakland A’s, the lead he’d staked himself to gone in a barrage of sizzling liners and arcing blasts. Years of mediocrity and transience ensued. By the time he reached the A’s he’d played for four other major league franchises and spent large chunks of time in the minors (a step that he’d skipped on his initial rush from college glory to the majors). The A’s themselves had won three World Series titles but had been dismantled and were plummeting into irrelevancy. Dunning pitched sparingly for the gutted squad the season before this card came out, Topps apparently judging his spot with the team too tenuous to dispatch a photographer for a shot of him in an actual A’s shirt and cap. Instead they took whatever photograph they could find and dumped throbbingly bright green and yellow paint all over it. Steve Dunning, never again to appear on a baseball card, seems untroubled by his imminent disappearance into obscurity, untroubled by the apparent vanishing of his youth, untroubled by the unreality all around him, untroubled by doubt. We should all face the void so unshakably toasted, as if a kegger at the quarry is in the offing, and not an irrevocable nameless undoing.
(Love versus Hate update: Steve Dunning’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)