Archive for the ‘San Diego Padres’ Category

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Mickey Lolich

March 19, 2018

Mickey Lolich

It’s hard to find the words. That’s what’s been happening to me lately. It happens a lot to my three-year-old too. His older brother, Jack, is hyper-verbal, and he started talking early and hasn’t stopped, but it took a lot longer for Exley to find the words, and perhaps because he’s growing up in the shadow of his brother’s constantly babbling multisyllabic oratory, he still gets upset when he can’t express himself clearly. When he was younger this would result in tears, but now he rages, and he’s bizarrely strong, seemingly able to throw as hard as, say, Mickey Lolich, who, I noticed a few days ago, before this card was ripped in half and chomped, struck out over 200 men six years in a row, every year from 1969 until 1974 (and in one of those years he topped 300 Ks). But I digress. I was talking about Exley’s raging cannon. We’ve all been beaned by him. Earlier today, he wailed Jack in the head with a canister of Play-Doh and dinged me in the nose with an arm from Mr. Potato Head. It happens all the time. My wife is the Ron Hunt of the house, racking up HBPs on a near daily basis. The worst incident, though, was two weeks ago, when Exley, frustrated during dinner with his inability to find the words, whipped a fork and struck my grieving widowed mother in the head.

“That hurt, Exley,” she said pretty gently, I think. It’s hard to be clear about some auditory details of the moment, because I was also roaring.

“GOD FUCKING DAMN IT, EXLEY!” I roared.

Those were the words I found. What can I say? It’s hard to watch the tines of a fork strike your mom in the temple because of your son. It’s hard to watch your mom suffer at all. I realized when she came to visit, the first time I’d seen her since my dad’s passing in January, that parenting two young children and working full time and overtime at my job has kept me relatively cushioned from that state of torn-up wordlessness called grief. My mom was not so cushioned from it. She moved slowly the whole visit and sometimes stopped moving altogether and just cried.

Anyway, she went home and I went back to the daily routine of going to work and coming home and ducking flying matchbox cars and carrots and Transformers. I came home today and found this card on the kitchen counter. It had been on my writing table downstairs, and for a while had been the next card in the deck I’d pulled from my shoebox as a way to move through my year even before my dad’s death shredded my quaint writing project. Now I’m just trying to keep moving. I should have just written something, anything, about Mickey Lolich days ago and moved on, but instead I found a 1979 trading card produced to promote the James Bond movie of that year, Moonraker, and I fell into a long, flailing, futile attempt to put meaningful words to how my dad used to take my brother and me to movies every summer, movie after movie after movie, including Moonraker, but I can’t find the words. Then Exley brought Mickey Lolich back into my awareness. It’s the first time one of my cards from my childhood have been damaged by my children. I wasn’t mad. These cards mean a lot to me, but also, in light of other disintegrations, they don’t mean shit. I told Exley who the player was. Exley found some words.

“I ate Mickey Lolich,” he said.

That’s all I can say for now, but I’ll share this video of Exley and my father from the last time I saw my father. Exley probably won’t remember his grandfather, but he was a fan of his grandfather’s homemade soup.

Near the end of the clip you can hear my father ask, “Is there a video store in Asheville?” He probably wanted to rent a movie he’d seen recently so he could show it to me. He loved movies, from the time he went to see King Kong as a little boy to the time he took my brother and me to Moonraker to the time he ate soup with my son and thought about some fucking Daniel-Day Lewis period piece probably and wanted me to see it. It wasn’t a Daniel-Day Lewis movie that time, actually, but I can’t remember what it was. I wish I could. He may have mentioned it himself, but he gets drowned out by the other soup eater.

“All gone,” Exley says, finding the words. “All gone.”

 

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Willie McCovey

January 10, 2017

willie-mccovey

I believe in mistakes. I believe they will be made, and you can’t stop them, but more than that I believe they may even be the hand of God, though I’m not sure I believe in God.

I believe in gods. That is to say I believe in the feeling of connection to something more than this world. You feel it once in a while. I felt it in 1975, the year I started collecting cards, when I pulled this Willie McCovey card out of a wax pack. I may not have recognized the name from my budding study of the baseball encyclopedia, but even if I didn’t I would have realized I was holding something amazing in my hands when I turned the card over and saw that the card number ended in an even number—the sign of a superstar—and that the home run totals added up to a towering pillar of awe.

I believe even the gods will be humbled. It happened to Willie McCovey. Some would say it happened as a result of the mistake by the San Francisco Giants, who traded him away, leading to his appearance on this 1975 Topps offering, which my friend Pete calls the “You want fries with that?” card, a reference to the unsettling image of a god suddenly transfigured into fast-food serfdom, wrapped in the brown and yellow garb of the Padres, the team owned from 1974 to 1984 by the creator of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc. The first time McCovey played a home game for the Padres, on April 9, 1974, he committed an error on an attempted pick-off throw. It was the Padres’ third error of the game. The team’s new owner, who built his empire on a vision of sameness, of no mistakes, of a cheeseburger in Portland, Maine, tasting exactly like a cheeseburger in Portland, Oregon, took the public address microphone and yelled to the crowd (and at his players, and most directly, intentionally or not, at the player who had made the most recent mistake): “This is the most stupid baseball playing I’ve ever seen.”

I believe people want to be free. Just before Ray Kroc took the PA microphone, a streaker ran across the field. A streaker! Youngsters: time was you couldn’t cross the street without a naked ecstatic blurring past you. And now? Forget it. Now any intrusions on the field of play are—because of the armored context of these times—acts of violence. But streakers—how could they be violent? They have freed themselves of everything. Where have you gone, streakers?

I believe the urge for freedom, for the casting off of hierarchical uniformity, is met pretty harshly with in this world, either overtly or otherwise. Streakers, dreamers: how far do they ever get? “Throw him in jail” was actually the first thing Ray Kroc bellowed into the PA, meaning the streaker. He would later apologize for calling his players stupid but wouldn’t mention the streaker, who probably did get locked up. At any rate it’s a pretty sure bet that he’s not still out there somewhere, freely streaking.

I believe that when you run up against your limitations in this cruel hierarchical illusion of a world, you have to just try to keep going. When I was 32, a collection of debt and mistakes, I was lucky enough to get a job at a bookstore. I had no money and throbbing credit card, student loan, and tax debt. All the mistakes and some luck and the good word of my friend Pete, who was already working there, equaled me at the bookstore. I was glad to be there, making some money. One day I found myself looking across the floor of the store to one of the cashiers who had a streak of bright pink in her hair.

I believe you’re a shining star no matter who you are. Those words to live by, authored by Kool and the Gang Earth, Wind, and Fire, ushered into the world in 1975, the same year I got this Willie McCovey card. Many years later, the cashier with the bright pink streak in her hair screamed out our first boy, and then when she forgot that ordeal enough she did it again, and both times I held the new naked being in my arms. Both times I wondered how anyone could not know beyond any doubt that there is no such thing as original sin. How could anyone not know that we’re all born superstars, unique, singular mistakes straight from heaven?

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Hector Torres

November 22, 2016

hector-torres

Who are you now?

I don’t know about now, but a long time ago I was just a kid collecting cards, a kid collecting joy. I was eight when this one came to me. The name wouldn’t have meant anything to me, but I might have paused for a moment and looked into his eyes. I think it would have made me want to go get a bat. I don’t know who I am now, but when I was a kid I wanted to get in the game. I wanted to go forward. I wanted to play. With anyone, everyone.

Who are you now?

Hector Torres is the son of Epitacio “La Mala” Torres, a legendary Mexican rightfielder who Whitey Ford once called the best he’d ever seen. The elder Torres, whose nickname means “The Bad,” seems to have been the Ichiro of his time and place, a relatively quiet man who didn’t hit for much power but hit for high average and had a cannon arm. Hector’s own skills showed themselves early, and he used them as a dominant 12-year-old pitcher to lead his Monterrey team to the Little League World Series championship in 1958. He wasn’t a pitcher in the majors, though he did once log two-thirds of an inning for the Montreal Expos in a rout. La Malita (“The Little Bad”) got shelled in the return to the elevated locus of his childhood. Whatever you were as a kid is gone.

Who are you now?

Who are you now that we’re talking about Nazis and internment camps and walls of all kinds, figurative and literal, all amounting to the same thing: the bad is the other, not us, and needs to be on the other side of the wall?

Who are you now?

Everywhere you look there’s darkness. Take the name of the team shown at the bottom of this card, the Padres, a reference to the religious missionaries who came into California to spread Christianity. Indians who had thrived without it for thousands of years were forced into missions, where they were whipped and beaten if they didn’t behave according to the dictates of the missionaries who believed that they were doing holy work. If you believe differently, who are you now?

Who are you now?

I don’t know if Hector Torres is religious, but he once nearly killed Jesus. Jesus Alou, that is. From the June 6, 1969 issue of Sports Illustrated:

A frightening collision between Jesus Alou and Hector Torres of Houston . . . could have resulted in tragedy had it not been for fast work by Pittsburgh trainer Tony Bartirome and his Houston counterpart, Jim Ewell. They may well have saved Alou’s life, prying his tongue from the back of his throat and inserting a rubber hose that permitted Alou to breathe normally again. Torres received only minor cuts, but Alou got a severe concussion and a broken jaw.

Who are you now?

You might think that Hector Torres’s collision with Jesus was neither holy nor unholy, but maybe the essence of holiness is a connection between people, some communication either said or unsaid that allows for peaceful interdependence, and maybe the essence of unholiness is the lack of this connection, which leads instead to jarring, injurious collision. We’re coming together whether we like it or not. There are no lasting borders here on earth, and probably not anywhere else either. Heaven and hell are just words. The choice is connection or collision.

Who are you now?

Hector Torres made borders dissolve. He was the first Mexican player to play in both the Little League World Series and the major leagues. He was also the first man to play for both Canadian teams, beating Toronto Blue Jay teammate and fellow former Expo Ron Fairly to the honor by two days. I didn’t know any of that when I looked at his card in 1976, but I may have wondered about another border, the one between here and gone. On the back of the card, below the heading “Complete Major League Batting Record,” there are statistical entries for every year between 1968 and 1973 and then one last entry for 1975. Nothing for 1974. Where did he disappear to that year? Could he disappear again? My understanding of baseball statistics surely indicated that for Torres, a lifetime .214 hitter at the time of this card, this was a distinct possibility.

Who are you now?

Or where are you now? Do you have one foot out the door? Are you planning to follow Hector Torres’s twice-trod path to Canada? Are you planning to follow Hector Torres’s path into mysterious invisibility? I’ve entertained both thoughts, though the latter has gotten much more serious consideration. Just try to imagine we’re not all bound for strangulating collisions of every kind. Just watch old TV shows and look at old baseball cards and try to disappear into what you once were, a simple collector of joy.

Who are you now?

I’m a father, fearful for my boys and the world, and I’m giving the front of this card another look now, same as I would have done when I was eight. That look in Hector Torres’s eyes. La Malita has been gone, but he’s battled his way back. He’s here. He’s no superstar. He’s choking up on the bat. He’s going to try to connect.

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Bill Greif

March 20, 2012

The Tour Guide

Pitcher and Sky #5

In this last piece, we see the completion of a motion that has so far in this series been shown only at an early stage. In this card there is blue sky, as in the others, but there’s also one shred, finally, of the everyday world: in the lower left, just behind the icon of a pitcher, what appears to be the top of a metal fence or a backstop. The pitcher icon in the lower left reveals the larger human figure to be an off-rhyme of an ideal. The real version is slightly ahead of the icon in the motion, his right leg settled. Forward momentum has ceased.

When I can’t write, when I can’t see anything, I feel like I’m imitating existence instead of actually living. I’m going through a motion, pitching without a ball. It has been this way for a few days. It always comes back around to this. It is like this more often than not, yet the other life I see in brief glimpses, when I’m curious, interested, working, always feels real, while this way, though inescapable, feels fake, the milieu of a fraud.

Bill Greif has hope. I would venture to say that he believes that his authentic self as a pitcher is one who succeeds. Yet in the three seasons leading up to when this photo was taken in the spring of 1975, Bill Greif lost a total of 52 games, the most over that span in the National League. His American League counterpart, Wilbur Wood, lost even more games during that time, 57, but Wood also won 64 games, while Greif won just 24.

It’s difficult to know what’s authentic. The distortion of limb in this portrait of Greif—the right arm seems elongated, exaggerated, while the left arm is thin, small, barely visible—reminded me of Mannerism, a movement in the visual arts during the renaissance. A blog called Beauty in Distortion includes this quote from Montaigne in its discussion of Mannerism: “Since our state makes things correspond to itself and transforms them in conformity with itself, we can no longer claim to know what anything truly is: nothing reaches us except as altered and falsified by our senses.”

This morning, I did a search on Daumier and Montaigne, hoping to find some connection that might tie this meandering tour together. All I found was that they both commented on the crinoline. The crinoline was that giant frame of a house kind of thing women wore under their dresses in olden times. Out of all the endless series of torture chambers women have been forced to wrestle themselves into in the name of fashion, the crinoline seems to me to be the most pronounced and absurd, yet at the time I’m sure it seemed like a good idea. It idealized and codified and disempowered the most powerful form in human culture, that of the human female. It distanced everyone from everyone, including themselves.

The moment in history I keep coming back to is the era when I was a child, the 1970s, when Bill Greif was losing and yet had hope and a droopy, elongated Mannerist mustache. Bras and draft cards had recently been burned. The distorting virtual crinoline below the nation’s idea of itself, that postwar blue sky Mickey Mantle America, had disintegrated from within as if gnawed by termites. Mickey Mantle was out of his uniform, red-nosed and limping. There was defeat overseas, fraud at home. My mother painted her loved ones backed by blue sky. I moved toward blue sky captured in cardboard rectangles. No one is leading the tour.

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Dave Freisleben

March 6, 2012

Tour Guide

Pitcher and Sky #4

I’m going to try to get out of the way for once, so I’ll keep this brief. Take a moment with this Dave Freisleben card, another 1976 offering of a long-sleeved San Diego Padres pitcher backed by blue sky. Your day is hectic, imperfect, a snarl of worries and frustrations. Step out of all that for one moment. That’s what these cards are for.

Now, let’s have a look at the moment behind this moment of blue sky. Go to the Fantography™ website homepage and click on the second photo from the top in the far left-hand column of photos. When you click on the photo, it will expand, and you’ll be able to see it along with this 1976 Dave Freisleben card and a caption: “This is the exact moment that Topps’ photographer Doug McWilliams shoots Dave Freisleben’s baseball card photo.”

So many things could have made it into the baseball card photo but didn’t. So many possible deflations and detractions. The blotchy brown grass, the measly bleachers, the empty field, the cages and fences and light tower and even any number of lesser versions of Dave Freisleben, whose lifetime record when the shutter clicked stood at 14 wins and 28 losses. McWilliams transforms a blotchy world. McWilliams transforms a young losing pitcher. Take one moment and attend transformation.

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Rich Folkers

February 28, 2012

Tour Guide

Pitcher and Sky #3

Ours is an age of mockery. An impotently diffuse irony has descended, a haze of tiny hooks, imperceptible quotation marks settling over everything. Consider this sentence: I love this 1976 Rich Folkers card. Air quotes want to pincer the verb and drag it toward some shading of mockery. I should know. I’ve spent over five years writing about these cards nearly every day, and in the process have written thousands and thousands of mocking words. I need look no further than Rich Folkers himself for an example of this mocking tendency in my writing. Consider my post on his spectacularly hideous 1975 card. I wrote that post very early on in this endless tour of mockery and life. In that post I can recall consciously attempting to emulate the concise witticisms that animate The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book. If I were funnier, wittier, I would have been able to continue approaching every card that way, each card the occasion for a short zinger. Soon enough, however, my long-winded ponderous digressive nature took over, and I started roaming farther and farther from that first delectable sting of irony, that rush of feeling you get when a card reappears in your hands after an absence of decades and all you can do is laugh. In the expanding posts a certain tendency of mine toward attempts at achingly sincere quasi-poetical conceits became part of the proceedings. I remember once early on when a post of mine was linked by The Baseball Think Factory; a commenter in the thread below the link pulled one of my more ambitious beatnik flower-child sentences, put quotes around it, and supplied a devastating monosyllabic response: “Ugh.” I felt it like the syllable had been propelled into my flesh with an air rifle. I’d been quoted, I’d been mocked.

What can you do? This is the world. Keep going. Try every day to see these cards with new eyes. Try to see everything with new eyes. It is a ridiculous thing for me to say. My life is monotonous, my courage meager and probably like everything else eroding. Most days I feel ridiculous, and those are the good days. Bad days I’m entirely enclosed in air quotes, product of a cosmic mocking. “Josh Wilker” rides the bus. “Josh Wilker” eats his lunch. “Josh Wilker” gazes at a 1976 Rich Folkers card and tries to shake the quotation marks, those sardonic hooked spores, off of his conviction that it is a thing of beauty.

So on to the card. There are some differences between this image and the first image in this series, that of Alan Foster. The sky here is entirely cloudless and has deepened in color. A shadow from the figure’s upraised arms is falling on his chest. The icon in the lower left corner is a reverse of the icon in the previous card. We are looking at a left-handed pitcher. He does not have a mustache or sideburns. He has aviator-style glasses. There is some damage to the card, along the top border, possibly the 36-year-old residue of gum. The damage makes this card worthless, I suppose, but also unique, one-of-a-kind. And personal. The gum that fucked it up—I chewed that gum as an 8-year-old boy.

There are also qualitative differences between the two Padres cards from 1976 and the 1957 Dave Sisler card featured most recently on this tour. The Dave Sisler card is washed out, drab; the color of the sky not as deep, producing a weak ineffectual contrast with the figure in the foreground, a compositional problem compounded by the unintentional cluttering of other shapes intruding haphazardly in the background. The photos on the 1976 cards evidence a much more focused and sensitive artistic sensibility than the photo on the Dave Sisler card. On the next stop on this tour, I will talk some more about the artist behind many of the photos on the cards that have come to center my ridiculous life. But for now, let’s linger for one last moment on Rich Folkers. Rich Folkers, journeyman reliever, bespectacled ectomorph, remembered if at all not for any heroic feats but for a Jerry Coleman malapropism (“Rich Folkers is throwing up in the bullpen”), is in his 1976 card transported beyond the deflating ironies of this world, his form natural but somehow purified, a sculpted undeniable presence lit by the sun, encased in cheap gum-flecked cardboard but haloed in a beatified cerulean emptiness. Imagine yourself in such a card. Can you see it? Maybe that’s you for once, for real.

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Alan Foster

February 23, 2012

Tour Guide

Pitcher and Sky #1

Note how the blue deepens as it rises, as if to suggest an unutterable perfection beyond the frame, just above the human figure’s clasped hands, that makeshift steeple. I love the idea of blue sky. I don’t know what to do with my life.

When my mother was just about the age I am now, edging into the mid-40s, she quit her job and left her home. She had been working as an editor and writer of technical manuals for a synthesizer company. This was in the mid-1980s. She had raised two kids, my brother and me, and we were both safely away at school. She was accepted into the NYU graduate program for art history and found a room to rent in a duplex in Manhattan owned by a woman who lived there with her daughter. She had use of the kitchen but tended to stay away. She studied art textbooks in her little room eating takeout, a nervous new life, cheap deli soup and centuries of beauty.

The figure in this card would seem almost sculpted, adamantine, if not for the entirely human facial expression, that uncertainty and self-consciousness, however slight, that cuts against the otherwise iconic nature of the portrait. The history of art is a history of disenchantment, of gods stumbling to earth, of humans in heroic poses reckoning that no moment is eternal, that the next moment, inevitable, will be some sort of undoing.

My mom was older than most of her fellow students, many of whom had not yet ventured out into the working world, as my mother had many years earlier. The department also reflected the tradition in that field of attracting members of the upper class, the future curators of major museums, those who had been practicing all their lives on Nantucket yachts and the slopes of Vail to float with grace and magnetic charm through gatherings of deep-pocketed donors. My mom didn’t have much in common with them. She had just gotten through two decades of raising children and getting by. She had been a painter herself, filling our house with colorful pop-art portraits of friends and family, and she had moved from that passion, when her family needed money, to the more stridently commercial artistic endeavor of opening and running a sign-painting business, and when that also didn’t bring in enough money she had edged away from art altogether for a while to just work and make a steady living, editing and writing the technical manuals. But art was always calling. Maybe because she had intimately experienced the pressure that needing money can exert on the creation of art, she was drawn in her new life to the study of popular art forms. Cartoons, prints, caricatures, comics: so-called low art. The kind of thing made to sell and sell cheap. The kind of thing everyone can get their hands on.

This particular example of low art appeared in 1976, selling for 25 cents with 14 other cards and a piece of gum in a waxy plastic wrapper. That year would turn out to be Alan Foster’s last in the major leagues, though he was also featured in a card in 1977. Here he wears the brown and yellow of the Padres, a homely juxtaposition to the backing blue sky, but he had come up in the system of the Los Angeles Dodgers, seemingly destined for a career entirely in blue, the life of a Dodger superstar. In 1967, with the Dodgers’ top minor league club, Foster had thrown two no-hitters, the first to ever do so in the history of the Pacific Coast League. This level of achievement did not transfer to the majors. In 1969 Foster surrendered a 506-foot blast to Willie Stargell, the first home run ever hit out of Dodger Stadium. The next year he was shipped to the Indians. He went from the Indians to the Angels to the Cardinals and finally to this last stop, the Padres.

After completing her master’s level course work, my mother spent several years researching a PhD thesis on a 19th century French caricaturist named Honoré Daumier. She spent most of a year in a small apartment in Paris. Every day she went to the national library and requested materials from the archives in her timid but capable French and worked. I visited her for a week or so in the spring, taking an unpaid break from my job at a liquor store. I walked around a lot. I looked at a lot of art. I played basketball with some French guys in a park near my mom’s apartment. They were fairly skilled but soft and didn’t know or care about boxing out, so I kept grabbing offensive rebounds and finally, after otherwise playing terribly all game, I scored the winning basket on a tip-in. It’s ridiculous what stays with you, what haunts you. Later that day I took a tour of some underground catacombs filled with thousands of human bones and skulls. Ever since then I have periodically thought of my skull below the skin of my face, just waiting there for the temporary covering to fall away.

Here in Topps 1976 card number 266 there is a covering of homely yellow and brown. Everything goes from one thing to another to another, declining, and everything goes from one thing to another and another, on up to a vanishing into blue. One day during my visit to Paris my mother took a day off from researching and we went to Chartres. We took a tour with a British tour guide famous for his illuminating spiels and erudition and learned devotion to the cathedral. He had based his whole life on one thing, that cathedral. I remember wondering how anyone could limit themselves like that. I don’t remember anything specific about the tour except that the guide was entertaining in describing the years of anonymous human toil that went into the creation of the cathedral, and that at the end of the tour he deftly let us all know that he needed our tips to survive. We all looked down at the ground and dug in our pockets for bills and coins as the cathedral beside us pointed unequivocally upward, toward an unutterable idea, the perfection of blue.