Archive for the ‘Willie McCovey’ Category

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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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Willie McCovey

December 12, 2006

Drinkin’ man listens to the voice he hears
In a crowded room full of covered up mirrors
Lookin’ into the lost forgotten years
For dignity

–Bob Dylan

Oddly enough, while the departure of the great Willie McCovey from San Francisco ushered in the aura of vagueness that engulfed the Giants for years to come (at least as I perceived it from my distortingly distant perch), his arrival in San Diego did nothing to pull the Padres out of a similarly obscure miasma. A few years later, McCovey returned to the Giants, but it was too late. They remained to me as they had been in his absence, a kind of grayness in which, as Travis Bickle might describe it, “one day [is] indistinguishable from the next, a long continuous chain.”

Nonetheless, the Giants always seemed to retain some semblance of dignity in their trudge from nowhere to nowhere, something that could not really be said for the Padres. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Padres were an expansion team, unlike the legend-rich Giants, and did not have a history to draw on beyond the futile muttonchopped one-man RBI barrages of slugger Nate Colbert. The rest of it has to do with the uniforms. Although I can’t find confirmation of this anywhere, it’s probably no accident that Willie McCovey is dressed here in colors that resemble those worn by McDonald’s wage slaves of that era. The year McCovey came to the Padres, 1974, was the same year they were bought by Ray Kroc, who’d made hundreds of millions of dollars developing McDonald’s from a small southern California restaurant chain into a shiny nationwide yellow and red clown-haunted malignancy.

Strangely enough, 1974 was also the year my family moved from the McDonald’s-heavy suburbs of New Jersey to rural Vermont, in large part to escape the encroaching paved-over sameness of strip-malling America. My mother and stepfather, high on the back-to-the-land visions in books such as Living on the Earth (“When we depend less on industrially produced consumer goods, we can live in quiet places. Our bodies become vigorous; we discover the serenity of living with the rhythms of the earth. We cease oppressing one another.”), were, symbolically speaking, fleeing from the Golden Arches. Ironically, if either I or my brother had been asked in the following years to provide an example of our agonized belief that we had been moved against our will by soy-loving hippies away from actual America to the middle of an unreachable nowhere, I feel pretty certain that we would have whiningly replied that there wasn’t even a McDonald’s within 40 miles of our house.

While drifting around the Internet with a vague hope that I could latch onto something that would lend coherence to this rambling tribute to Willie McCovey, I happened upon an article that includes links to and comments on McDonald’s commercials through the ages. The first ad features Ronald McDonald leading children through a wonderland where hamburgers and white bags of French fries grow in special hamburger and French fry patches. I had seen the ad years before, many times, and had longed to be one of those children, free to harvest bags of French fries at will. Seeing the ad again, especially the moment when the French fry patch comes into the view and then the reach of the smiling, skipping, throroughly untroubled children, actually made me emotional. People say stuff like “stay true to the dreams of your youth,” but the dreams of my youth were all about imagining weeping with joy at the discovery in my otherwise boring rustic surroundings of a thriving McDonald’s French fry patch.

In other words, yes, Willie McCovey. Yes, I want fries with that. Hold the dignity.