(continued from Tom Brunansky)
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)