Archive for the ‘San Diego Padres’ Category

h1

Andy Hawkins

April 7, 2019

Andy Hawkins

Dazzler

One

Today, a Sunday, the toughest of days, it was warm, in the 60s. It hasn’t been that warm in a while. It’s been a long winter. “Want to go over to the beach?” I asked my sons. It’s often hard to get them to leave the house, but this time they were out on the sidewalk, waiting for me, while I was still tying my sneakers. When I got out there, I felt a few raindrops. We all pulled our hoods up and walked down the street. For a long time, it seemed like I’d never not be carrying one or both of them, and now here we all were, walking. As we crossed the street, a woman carrying a stack of papers in her hand veered over to us. “Yes, I have lost my cat,” she said in some kind of a European accent. She showed me the flyers. A small, black cat looked out at me. The three of us started looking for the cat as we walked on. We looked under cars and through fences. The rain started falling harder. We turned around and walked back home, well short of the beach. “Do you think she’ll find her cat?” Jack asked. “Yes,” I said. Later, and also earlier, and repeatedly throughout our lives, the younger boy, Exley, got upset that his older brother didn’t feel like playing with him, and so he started screaming at the top of his lungs with feral power. Jack has extremely sensitive hearing, so these screams are like knifing him in the brain. He gets as overwhelmed and angry as his brother, and both are hitting and screaming, and my wife and I are pulling them apart and trying to speak calmly and also often losing our fucking shit and at some point during this shitstorm I thought about Strat-O-Matic basketball, which I haven’t played in over thirty years. There was a thing on the cards called a “Dazzler,” which connoted a brilliant pass that led to an instant basket. Magic Johnson had a lot of them on his card. As I played it alone in my adolescent bedroom it pressed some numbing synapse in my brain that I have been addicted to in one way or another ever since. I want to not feel anything but that sizzling fiction of connection. Anyway, another Sunday a while back, my sons and I smeared glue and glitter on some cards. The one at the top of this page got the worst of it. On the back, which isn’t as thoroughly bedazzled, it’s possible to read a note about Andy Hawkins’s 11–0 start to his 1985 season. That’s the year I really started drinking booze and smoking pot. I’m more or less off all of that, but the impulse to obliterate everything with some glittering reversal of reality is as strong as ever. I don’t know what to do. I never have. At least Sunday’s just about over now, both boys asleep, but now it’s on to Monday, the toughest of days.

h1

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.”

 

h1

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?

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

Ekim Xuddam

October 27, 2011

The Cardboard Gods Ass Backwards ABCs of Parenting

X Is for Xuddam

After a few weeks of being a father, I have everything pretty much figured out and am certainly among the world’s foremost experts on the subject, but I am as yet undecided on which of the following theories should become the central pillar in my philosophy of fathering:

1. The Theory of Cancellation: To be a father, one must accept a large X across the version of oneself that existed up to the point of becoming a father.

2. The Theory of Total Upheaval: To be a father, one must accept that everything has been so completely upended that one’s anus is now one’s brain and vice versa, and in this upheaval nothing will really seem to work, and it will be as if one has been a right-handed pitcher all one’s life and is now being asked to escape late-inning jams while pitching left-handed.

Let me hasten to add that these theories, now that they are written out and not merely thoughts in my mind, both strike me as repugnant in that they focus self-pityingly on the father and not on the child or even the fathering of the child. I can’t help it, it seems. I have to complain, it seems. Acquaintances, friends, family members all ask about the baby, and while I may be able to briefly mouth a platitude about the child’s well-being and my genuine loving feelings for him, I then can’t help myself from trying to channel at least some of my darker thoughts into a conversational exchange set up to bear only platitudes.

“He doesn’t sleep,” I say.

Depending on my mood at the moment and on how well I know the person I’m speaking to, I might say this cheerfully, as if it’s just “one of those things,” or I might say it more weightily, like I’m trying to communicate over the phone that I am in a dire hostage situation, my captor pressing the barrel of a gun to my head.

My actual captor would not be able to hold a gun yet, but if you place a rattle near his fingers he’ll grab hold of it and grip it in his fist. He can’t control the rattle, but he’ll hold onto it pretty tightly. He usually ends up flailing his arm and bopping himself in the head with the thing. And yet, despite his inability to control a rattle or wield a gun, he’s got me wrapped up as securely as if I were mummified to a chair with several yards of duct tape. He doesn’t sleep, he wails, all day, all night, I hold him and stand and bounce and rock him in my arms and go “shhh” until my legs ache and I’m covered in sweat and I’m so low on saliva that my “shhh” sound is no more impactful than the scrape of a dry leaf on concrete several blocks away, and he’s still there, staring wide-eyed at the wall or up at me.

Here I am, he is saying.

It’s a statement that I am able to appreciate at certain times as the greatest gift of my entire life. The statement takes on a different meaning when I’ve been rocking him uselessly for a long time and my poor wife—who bears an exponentially larger amount of the brunt of the ravages of this sleepless hostage situation than I do—is staring at the wall like she just got carted home after storming the beach at Anzio. In those moments, which are so plentiful as to suggest themselves as the norm, my son’s “here I am” is more like the living, breathing embodiment of the kind of math problem that shows up in nightmares, an unsolvable complexity designed expressly to confound, frustrate, and defeat.

And another problem is that everything I try to write on this subject misses the mark. For example, just as I was finishing off the above paragraph, I heard my son making “talking” sounds upstairs with my wife, and I stopped writing and went upstairs and played with him on a blanket on the floor and took a video of him using his legs to push off his mom’s hands and slide across the blanket and smile. He has been trying to laugh lately, but he doesn’t quite know how to do it. He smiles and goes “uuuuh,” not getting how to break the sound up into laughs. Whenever he does this I laugh so hard my face hurts. I came back downstairs from that and the words I’ve written so far make me want to carve a big X over the writing. This is how the writing has been going lately—everything I say seems within moments like it deserves cancellation. Whatever used to work or appeared to work doesn’t work anymore. Parenting is like that for me. Whatever worked the day before doesn’t work today, so you have to write a big X through it and start over. One moment doesn’t seem to offer much relation or support to the next.

I had a moment on the bus a few days ago, coming home. I can’t really access it now, but the whole world seemed to be glowing and I was thinking about writing, thinking about how the way to do it is like Van Gogh and approach form in a siege of messy feeling instead of caution and hesitating care. I was thinking about my son, hoping and praying for him to have moments when the world is all possibility, a sunflower the same as a creator deity’s cupped hands full of brand-new stars. The bus groaned past a guy standing in a sandwich board in the growing dusk outside a muffler shop, advertising $10 off something, and even that or especially that in conjunction with an inexplicable burst of a memory of watching the sun set in China at dusk when I was 21 years old moved me almost to tears, to think that my son will have the feel of life inside him, the weight of a sandwich board on his shoulders, maybe, or the glow of a sunset in a faraway place, the memory of his mother’s soft words, all of it, the highs and lows, and I wanted to find words for this and started wondering whether I could find a way to use it in this post about Ekim Xuddam, left-handed unassuming pencil-mustached journeyman and representative of a world turned upside down.

The X in the surname of this player, Xuddam, is pronounced as an “sh” sound, as if it is an X in pinyin, the pronunciation system used for the rendering of the Chinese language into our alphabet. Also in keeping with the upside down nature of the player, and in line with the Chinese custom, this surname is listed first on the player’s card. I studied Chinese for a few months in Shanghai when I was 21, and this study pinnacled one day in a public park with a conversation I was able to hold, barely, with a Chinese toddler. Almost all the words I learned are gone from my mind now, cancelled like most things that come and go in a life. I sometimes worry about my memory, my purchase on life, my lack of expertise about anything, even baseball, that primary lifelong means of escape from life, but in a way it is good to be—at least in terms of baseball fandom—in possession of a porous, faulty memory, because it allows the game to retain the vastness and mystery it had when I was first discovering it. The day before my glowing bus-ride moment, when still trying to figure out who I could possibly write an “X is for” essay about in the world of baseball, I started casting around baseball-reference.com, and for several minutes I lingered on the player with the most X’s in his name in baseball history, plus a nickname (“Double X”—one of two nicknames, along with “The Beast”) that made reference to the X’s. As I was studying Jimmie Foxx’s page on baseball-reference.com I was remembering the particular pleasure or even joy in first discovering his numbers, back when I was a little boy just beginning to explore baseball history. I knew Ruth and Aaron and Dimaggio, but in those early days there was actually a moment when I loved baseball yet still didn’t know Jimmie Foxx, who was tucked away just a little, a surprise for the young baseball explorer to find. And what a find.

The game never stops offering up these surprises, though in different ways, no monumental icons like Foxx left to discover but plenty of other discoveries to be made, even in the recent past. I drift into and out of the game. Years go by where it seems in retrospect that I was hardly paying attention at all. I don’t know what the fuck else I was doing but somehow I couldn’t even get it together to grasp the details of whatever baseball season was unfolding somewhere beyond my personal fog. For example, after I left Jimmie Foxx’s page in order to search for more candidates for the “X is for” post, my search brought me to Xavier Nady, and though I then searched my shoebox for cards for this player and found I had none (and none for Xavier Hernandez, either), I lingered on the Xavier Nady page because I guess I don’t want to entirely cancel my former self in these strange new sleepless days and instead want to linger and digress and waste time, just a little, please, and I poked around Xavier Nady’s page until I got to his first at-bat, which turned out to be against a pitcher whose first name, incredibly, was Onan. What is incredible about this is that I had never heard of this Onan, despite his presence in box scores for a couple of years and despite Onanism being very near the foundation of the cluster of practices and habits and compulsions that have ferried me haphazardly through 43 years and that more or less make up the self that is known as Josh Wilker and that seem now under the duress and angst and joy of parenthood in need of either cancellation or total upheaval, depending upon which of my self-pitying theories of fatherhood is holding sway at any given time.

Oh Onan, I can’t believe I missed you. What am I missing now? I guess I never catch much on the first go-round anyway but only ever find anything in the detritus after the fact, little treasures left behind and forgotten. Onan was born in Hawaii but the name suggests Japanese descent. I was in Japan once, but only for a night, a stopover on my trip to Shanghai, the night after I wept in a weakened state at the in-flight movie Field of Dreams while thousands of feet above the Pacific. The next day I arrived in China and knew no words at all, not even hello. One of the words I learned early on, and one of the few that haven’t been X-ed out in the acid-bath barrel of my memory, is the word for thank you, which is written as “xie xie” in pinyin and is pronounced with the same “sh” sound that begins Xuddam, so the word to express gratitude sounds like waves or like the sound I use to try to get my son to sleep.

Here I am, he keeps telling me, eyes wide open.

Xie xie, I say. I’ll keep saying it. I’ll say it to him the rest of my life. I’ll never forget what it means.

***

Previous installments in the Cardboard Gods Ass Backwards ABCs of Parenting:
Z Is for Zisk
Y is For Yeager

h1

Gene Richards

April 6, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

San Diego Padres

At a certain point, you learn that you aren’t very powerful. You start choking up, just a little at first, hoping to retain a shred of the primal illusion of willful potency. You choke up some more, and then some more. Results are dubious. There’s no right way. What can be done? You keep choking up. Dreams of long ball glory recede beyond reach. In the end, you cling only to a hope for continued survival and, at most, tepid sporadic connection. Your posture is suggestive of a cringe. There’s no way to avoid the moment, sooner or later, of complete usurpation. To exist is ridiculous. You exist, you exist.

***

How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part of 22 of 30: Consider the fate of Mascots Who Have Come and Gone Leaving Nary a Trace, for example (via Gaslamp Ball), Bluepper

***

2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins; Atlanta Braves; Cincinnati Reds; Oakland A’s; Seattle Mariners; Chicago Cubs; Baltimore Orioles; [California] Angels; Texas Rangers; Boston Red Sox

h1

Willie Davis

October 19, 2009

Willie Davis 76

In college I lived for a year in a house on a steep dirt road a couple miles from campus. In the morning, I walked down the dirt road toward the town, and as I walked I chanted “om mane padme hum,” which I think means “jewel in the heart of the lotus.” That was the year I stopped taking LSD, because my experiences with the substance kept getting narrower and narrower, but I wanted to find a way to hold on to a sense of elevated reality that the hallucinogens had offered. After about twenty minutes of walking and chanting, I reached the place where the dirt road turned to asphalt, by a lumber yard at the edge of town. I stopped chanting. Often, a morning mist was still hanging over the stacks of wood and parked forklifts. I felt high and awake and had no thoughts in my head for a little while.

After I passed through the small town I climbed another hill for a while and arrived among the complex of brick buildings. Often I got to the library just as it was opening. I’d been a bad student through high school, but in college I was interested in everything. I read and wrote in the library until it was time to go to my first class, and then during free periods I went back to the library, or else went to the gym to play pickup basketball. One evening after classes were done for the day I was walking back up the steep dirt road toward home and I looked up at the stars and prayed silently to Jack Kerouac. I don’t remember what I said or what exactly I was thinking. We had been reading the Dharma Bums in one of my classes, and at one point I’d blown up at the teacher (the poet Neil Shepard, one of the great teachers of my life) for allowing a few criticisms of Kerouac to seep into his lecture on the book. But the prayer wasn’t about that. It was more like an imitation of the yearning plea for meaning woven through that book.

Jack Kerouac: What am I supposed to do with myself in this life here on earth?

And then a comet streaked across the sky, going almost from one horizon to the other, the longest shooting star I’ve ever seen.

I thought of that dirt road this morning, twenty years after those mornings and evenings, as I read that Willie Davis, underrated centerfield standout of the pitching-dominated 1960s, took up Buddhist chanting in the early 1970s. He didn’t use the chant I used but used the one that I’ve been encouraged by strangers to use on a couple of occasions, long ago, when I was young and walked around with the open, searching look of the pilgrim or rube on my face: Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. This chant is supposed to enable you to get whatever it is you want. In a 1975 article in Ebony, Willie Davis implies that the chant was going to allow his team at the time, the Texas Rangers, to “win it all.”

They didn’t, of course, and neither did any of his subsequent teams as he finished up his long pro career, but this didn’t stop him from chanting. In Japan, where he went to play after a year with the team he is beatifically depicted as a member of in the 1976 card above, he expected that his chanting would be welcomed and celebrated, but instead his teammates hated it, thinking that it made the clubhouse resemble the rite most likely in Japan to include Buddhist chanting: a funeral. (To put yourself in the cleats of those Japanese teammates of Davis, imagine if Ichiro hung around the Seattle clubhouse in a black suit and dark sunglasses singing “Amazing Grace” and weeping all the time. It’d kind of sap your will to go out and crisply hit the cutoff man.)

I live in the city now, and so I can’t walk around chanting like I did on that empty dirt road unless I want to attract the kind of attention crazy people attract. And I feel sort of stupid just sitting around in my apartment chanting, plus when I’m in my apartment I am more often than not shoving food in my mouth and staring at the television. I don’t know if that’s what the Kerouackian shooting star had in mind for me. But Keroauc died fatly watching TV, so who knows? [Correction: He died in a hospital; I may have been thinking of Kerouac’s poem about Charlie Parker, in which Bird is described as dying laughing while watching a juggler on TV.] Anyway, there’s a jewel in the heart of the lotus. No matter what. There’s a gleaming answer in the sky. There’s a stillness below everything, and morning mist everywhere. There’s a big shining smile on the face of Willie Davis.

h1

Fred Kendall

September 16, 2009

Fred Kendall 77

I’ve spent some time on this site wondering about the 1976 Expansion Draft that breathed life into the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays, largely because it’s the first league expansion I ever consciously witnessed, but I have yet to explore the machinations of the league expansion of 1969, which necessitated not one but two expansion drafts in 1968, the same year, as it happens, that I joined my own family as an expansion franchise.

I was a few months old when the drafts occurred over two days in mid-October, the first just four days after the conclusion of the Detroit Tigers’ seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The National League draft came first, on October 14, and the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos built their rosters with the likes of Billy McCool, Larry Jaster, Remy Hermoso, and Mike Corkins, among others. One day later, an odd element of off-rhyme characterized the otherwise random unspooling of names called by the brand new Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots: Joe Foy following Ray Oyler, Jack Aker echoing Steve Whitaker, and a late-round multi-name flourish sounding more like the obsessively rhythmic expressions of a madman than a litany of athletic elites: Dick Bates, Dick Drago, Larry Haney, Dick Baney.

Fred Kendall was the fourteenth name called on the first day, and he must have among the very youngest of the players gathered that day or the next. He had been drafted into professional baseball only the year before, a 1967 fourth-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds, and he was just twenty when the Padres selected him. He got into 10 games during the team’s inaugural campaign, batting .154, and played just 4 games the following season, going 0 for 9. He starting playing more after that, and in 1973 became the team’s regular backstop, posting his career high in just about every offensive category.

From there came a gradual slide back toward the relative irrelevancy captured in the card shown here. He goes about his business with an air of glum resignation, the lack of a chest protector evidence that he will not be seeing any action in the game itself but will only warm a series of anonymous Padres relievers before they trudge into the action and allow the runners on second and third to jog across home plate after a series of events too dispiriting to elaborate upon.

I’d be able to withstand the demoralizing undertones embedded in the front of Fred Kendall’s card if the 1977 Topps series been one of the yearly sets that eschewed the tendency to try to embroider a player’s lackluster statistical record with a line or two of overly cheerful praise. However, on the back of this card, below Fred Kendall’s statistics, is this line of text: “The only original Padre remaining on club’s roster, Fred ranks high in almost all of San Diego’s offensive categories.” Fred Kendall: All-Time Padre Great. I don’t know, something about it makes me want to walk along the shore of an empty beach in late November and weep.

h1

Larry Hardy

January 28, 2009
Untitled

Somewhere I Lost Connection

(continued from Tom Brunansky)

Chapter Three

As I experienced it, the Red Sox were swept out of the 1990 playoffs instantaneously. I barely had time to dry my eyes from my emotional envisioning of the Brunansky catch before buying another Herald Tribune to find that they had been flicked aside in four quick games by the Oakland A’s.

Whatever seems like it might be something is really just nothing in a cheap, unraveling disguise. But don’t grip too tightly to that glib shard of nihilism, because the opposite is also true. Or neither is true. Who knows? A few days after my team’s disappointing el foldo, I ended a long passage in my battered travel notebook this way: There is a holy hum that runs through everything, I am trying to believe.

***

This is Larry Hardy’s only baseball card. The back of his card shows that he progressed in a straight upward line through the Padres system, with just one exception, one tiny and seemingly insignificant hiccup that ended up being a much more accurate harbinger of things to come than the otherwise upward-pointing line of his minor and major league stats as of 1974. This hiccup occurred in 1971, his second year as a pro player, when he was sent back to the Padres lowest-level minor league team after moving up and away from that team at the very tail end of the previous season.

The low-level team he was sent back to was located in Lodi.

***

I don’t know where I lost connection. I can tell you that as my years in college went on, I had fewer and fewer friends, mainly because all of the guys I’d started with in a cloud of bong smoke had eventually dropped out or been asked to leave or, in a couple rare cases, had continued their nondescript education by transferring to another anonymous diplomatorium. With them gone, I spent more and more time in the library. I became a passionate student. Perhaps the best path for me to have taken right after college would have been to continue straight on into grad school, to keep wrasslin’ those books. But I had it in mind that I needed to go out beyond the walls of the library and experience life like the heroes of all the stories I loved. I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to travel up out of this world to the world of the gods and return with the holy hum coursing through my body and springing from my fingers.

***

In his debut season of 1974 Larry Hardy set a major league record. It was not a negligible, trivial mark, either, no mere accident or oddity, but a significant single-season achievement that at the very least illustrates that Larry Hardy mattered, at least for one year: He pitched in more games than any rookie ever had. His name, which had never been called by a major league manager, was suddenly called more than anyone in the league aside from the name of another reliever, Mike Marshall, who was in the midst of appearing in more games than anyone ever has, rookie or otherwise.

“What’s the kid’s name? Right, he’s not really a kid anymore, but you know who I mean. Hardy? Get him warm.”

“Well, this one’s out of reach. Get me Hardy.”

“Guess things can’t get any worse. Might as well get Hardy going.”

“Who’s left out there. Just Hardy? Christ. [Long pause.] Get him up.”

Yes, Larry Hardy wasn’t particularly effective, getting knocked around to the tune of a 4.69 ERA that was over a run higher than the league average, but he did get credit for 9 wins against just 4 losses, and this for a team that won just 60 games while losing 102. Larry Hardy mattered. Larry Hardy won. Things were looking up for Larry Hardy.

Why then the expression of apprehension and mute alarm, as if Hardy was watching nothing shed the last of its cheap disguise?

(to be continued)

h1

Gaylord Perry

July 29, 2008
 Untitled 
In hopes of compensating for a recent summertime slowing of output here at Cardboard Gods, I offer this spectacular specimen, a card that has for some days now rendered me speechless with its boundless magnificence. Where do I start? Should I attempt to reconnect to that giddy feeling from childhood (long since faded as such things always do with the tendency to take things for granted) that derived from learning that there was a person, and not just any person but a major leaguer, and not just any major leaguer but a superstar, named Gaylord?

Or should I try to start a discussion about cheating? Though it has quieted down a bit since last year’s revelation of The Mitchell Report and Barry Bonds’ breaking of the all-time home run record, the issue of cheating still seems to be one of the dominant themes in baseball today. Bonds can’t get a job this year, even though he wants to play and surely can still hit better than all but a few people on earth. I suppose this is mostly due to teams not wanting the headache of the media circus sure to erupt upon Bonds’ arrival with the team. Part of that circus would certainly include the copious use of the word cheater. At the recent Hall of Fame induction ceremony, this issue was also present, in the form of an absence. By now, Mark McGwire’s prodigious numbers would have certainly gained him entry into the Hall of Fame, but it looks instead that he may never get in, voters unwilling to elect someone who is roundly assumed to have cheated by using performance enhancing drugs. The obvious hypocrisy that I’m driving at with all the finesse of a bulldozer is that in that very Hall of Fame is a plaque for the man pictured here, who rather openly admitted to cheating whenever possible. The thing is, while I see intellectually that this is a double standard, I feel on a gut level that I’m OK with this double standard. The baseball world at large seems to agree. I wonder why? Maybe it has to do with romance. Gaylord’s an Old West cardsharp, crafty and skillful. McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens, on the other hand (to name the three most prominent figures in the ongoing issue), seem to be greedy, inelegant brutes. How much skill does it take to jam a needle in your ass?

And speaking of ass, we finally come to the subject I most want to address in terms of this card. The photo, which on first glance appears to be a great action shot of a crafty gray-haired veteran in the midst of a wily offering sure to reduce the batter to a frustrated obscenity-laden tirade, on closer look appears in fact to offer the secret to the hurler’s long-running and otherwise somewhat difficult-to-explain success. Please look closely, and without the prejudical knowledge of both baseball pitching mechanics and the usual placement of body appendages. Do you see what I see? That Gaylord Perry was able, with some exertion showing plainly on his well-lined face, to excrete, from his anus, a third hand.

This would explain a lot, wouldn’t it? I mean, of all the many entertaining instances of a player getting caught red-handed (Joe Niekro trying to toss away a file as an umpire approached him on the mound, cork exploding from Sammy Sosa’s bat, etc.), the most notorious rule-stretcher of them all, Gaylord Perry, who even entitled his 1974 mid-career autobiography Me and the Spitter, eluded authorities for his first 21 years in the majors, not earning his first suspension for rule-bending until his second-to-last go-round in 1982. Everyone agreed he made baseballs do ungodly things. But how?

Probably this card shows nothing but the fact that he had a way of keeping his right arm close to his side in the middle of his delivery to add to his prodigious arsenal of deceptions. But maybe it shows, like those rare photos of Bigfoot or Nessie, something more monstrous and wondrous. I mean, maybe, just maybe, we are glimpsing Gaylord Perry’s uncanny assball.

h1

Oscar Gamble

July 22, 2008
 Untitled 
I feel I should only approach Oscar Gamble, one of the most memorable figures for us baseball-loving children of the 1970s, in a state of absolute clarity, ready to script transcendent odes to his afro. But since I’ve been at this project of writing about all my childhood baseball cards for quite a while and have yet to write about Oscar Gamble I can only deduce that such states of absolute clarity never exist. No matter how I try to capture Oscar Gamble in words I’m going to blow it, so I might as well get it over with on a nothing morning, a Tuesday after a short vacation, no inspiration or even curiosity in my mind, just a low-level sense of unease that the delayed work week is about to fall on top of me like a collapsing abandoned circus tent. It’s a day without possibilities, a day without magic, a day to remain silent, reaching for nothing.

But there’s Oscar Gamble. There’s always Oscar Gamble. In the five heaviest years of my baseball card collecting Oscar Gamble played for six different major league teams. You could never tell for sure where he was at any given moment, so there was always a chance he could appear from anywhere. Maybe even a nothing day has the possibility of his appearance in it. No matter where you are or what you are doing, Oscar Gamble might appear, his swing wicked, jagged, able to wrench pinch-hit homers into the right field seats, his afro billowing below his crushed-down batting helmet as he circles the bases, unfurling to its full magnificence when the batting helmet is removed on the walk from home plate to the dugout, big enough to blot out entire dying galaxies in the sky. His afro! There is hope! Here the caretaker of that famous life-affirming coiffure is shown in two places at once, his doctored home Padre uniform suggesting San Diego while the Brut (by Faberge) sign behind him declares the location of his home stadium as Chicago’s Comiskey Park (update: as pointed out by astute readers in the comments below, it is actually Yankee Stadium). If Oscar Gamble can be both here and there then maybe he’s everywhere. Even when I’m nowhere.

                                                    *     *     *

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