Archive for the ‘San Francisco Giants’ Category

h1

Brett Butler

November 17, 2019

Brett Butler

“What is the point of life?”

My son asked me that last night. He’s eight and asks a lot of questions. He wasn’t asking this question rhetorically, as a bitter, narrowing complaint, as I often have. He wanted to know.

I started saying words, haltingly, clumsily. It felt like I was trying to put up an unfamiliar tent at night in the rain. The tent directions in my mind—what I was wrestling toward with my answer—were something along the lines of the point of life being an ongoing attempt to figure out the point of life. What a shit-ass shelter! But maybe it didn’t really matter so much. Before I’d finished jamming the last of my ill-fitting mumbly tentpoles into place, Jack was already asking another question.

“What happens when you die?”

***

In a way the moment has passed, the play in our view over, and in another way it is being extended, is still in doubt. You can see it in the eyes of the standing figure, the square-jawed All-American fellow with the square-jawed All-American name. He has been and will continue to be for some years an excellent  major league, adept at every facet of the game within his grasp to master, which is to say that he wasn’t graced with the ability—from nature, from God, who really knows?—to drive the ball far enough to clear fences with any regularity, but he was fast and smart and driven and highly coordinated, and he hit for a high batting average and drew walks and stole bases and fielded his position well and about as close to flawlessly as anyone has ever come, committing just 41 errors in 2,213 career games.

The prone fielder, who would have an even better career and end up in the Hall of Fame, is shown here in just his second year trying to mask his callow stature with a flimsy mustache, and you can see the very same expression in his face that’s in the cancelled baserunner’s face above him—too immediate to be defined as curiosity, but related: a breathless waking at the core of whatever it is to be alive.

If we’re standing tall, if we’ve been knocked down, if we’re sent here from God, if we’re the product of some accident—it’s the same at the core for all of us:

We all wonder what will happen.

***

This morning I woke in the dark and put on a bunch of layers and a balaclava and scarf and bright reflective coat and helmet and rode my bike four miles or so down Ashland through an icy wind to sit on a cushion for 40 minutes at the Ancient Dragon Zen Gate meditation hall. For many years I meditated sporadically and romanticized about someday attaining enlightenment, you know, bursting into painless admirable bliss forever, but now I just fucking meditate every day. The turning point in this increase in constancy was becoming a father and how that becoming and its accompanying stress prompted me to frequently assault myself with blows to the head. This was no way to live, I finally realized. I don’t punch myself in the head much anymore. In fact I can’t remember the last time I did it. I don’t particularly want to wake up in the dark once a week and ride through the cold and sit on a cushion with my legs aching. I don’t particularly want to sit on a cushion every night after my kids are in bed. But I do it. It keeps the head punches at bay, for one thing, but also the more I do it the more I clearly I see that I’m going to die, and that clarity brings panic and hopelessness and sadness. There’s no way out alive. And so I sit every night plus one morning a week after a long bike ride and sometimes on that cushion I feel everything drop away altogether and for a few seconds there is just life right now, and I have no complaints, no questions, no thoughts at all, and a feeling of gratitude wells up in me for this singular vanishing, this gift of life.

***

If you asked Brett Butler, a devout Christian, the point of life, he would have an answer that could be illustrated by this baseball card.

“I believe if Jesus Christ was a baseball player,” he once said, “he’d go in hard to break up the double play and then pick up the guy and say, ‘I love you.’”

I don’t share Brett Butler’s specific beliefs, but I think his message could be one I could adapt to an answer for my son that would be better than me trying to explain my affinity for staring at baseball cards and writing about baseball cards and writing about life and sitting on a cushion and staring at a wall:

The point is to find something you love and do it as well as you can and try to find love for everyone in the world, even those you might come into conflict with.

Brett Butler would have an even clearer answer to my son’s other question, about what happens when you die. In a 1996 article dealing Butler’s battle with cancer, he said, “I’m not afraid to die. I know if I die, I’m going to heaven.”

***

I know what happens next. Not in life, not after life is over. But I do know what happens next in the moment depicted on this baseball card. The photo on this 1990 baseball card shows a game between the Giants and the Padres in San Diego during the day. In the 1989 season there were only a handful of games that fit those parameters, and in only one of them was Brett Butler involved in a force play at second base. It was the third game of the season, on April 5. Butler drew a walk off Ed Whitson to open the third inning for the Giants. Robby Thompson hit a groundball to shortstop Garry Templeton. Templeton got the ball to Robbie Alomar to force Butler out at second. Alomar threw to first while falling to the ground. His throw was not in time to get Robby Thompson. Butler had succeeded in breaking up the double play. There’s no record of whether he then picked up Alomar and told him he loved him.

***

I don’t know what happens next. But I can tell you that tonight during my pre-bedtime conversation with my older son, he asked me about demons and devils and angels and hell and heaven, and somehow we ended up imagining Spongebob Squarepants getting kicked out of both hell and then heaven for annoying the residents of each place so much with his unwavering enthusiasm for life. The angels in particular couldn’t believe he was so fixated on there being a Crusty Crab for him to flip crabby patties at in Heaven, and when he kept wailing that the Crusty Crab was what gave him meaning they finally booted him out of the clouds and he landed with a thump back down in Mr. Crabs’ office, where the boss docked him for missing time at work.

“But, Mr. Crabs, I was dead!” Spongebob wailed.

“That’s no excuse, Spongebob!” roared Mr. Crabs.

Jack beamed at me as I simultaneously wrote, directed, and acted out this episode. He kept waiting with attention and wonder to see and hear what would happen next, and in the telling and in his listening and in our love I’m reborn.

“So I guess Spongebob was reincarnated,” Jack said. This is a concept that Jack has been drawn to lately.

“Hi, Squidward!” I chirped as Spongebob.

“That’s what happens,” Jack said.

“Oh, no! You again,” I wailed adenoidally as Squidward.

“That’s what happens, I know it,” Jack said. “We come back.”

h1

Gary Lavelle

July 22, 2019

Gary Lavelle

Gary Lavelle’s best moment occurred in New York City less than a week after the 1977 blackout that left that city without power for 25 hours. In the standard public conception, that blackout featured looting and arson, if not an overall sense of society on the brink of collapse, but I didn’t experience any of that. I was telling my sons about it a few days ago. I was driving them to a place in Chicago that sold New York style pizza slices that they liked.

“All the lights went out everywhere.”

“Didn’t you bump into things?” my older son asked.

“Maybe we had some candles,” I said. I actually couldn’t remember what we did inside my father’s studio apartment for light, but as soon as I proposed this theory I saw my father’s desk, stacks of papers and books and classical music cassettes on it, and now, in my mind, there was a candle at the edge of it, casting a flickering light through the tiny apartment as the sounds of a city in darkness floated up to us from the streets below.

***

My desk has a stack of books and a stack of baseball cards. Gary Lavelle has been at the top of the stack for a while. I hoped and still hope that at some point I will be able to move seamlessly from the writing of one book to the next, but my writing life has and probably always will be defined by long, solitary stretches that go on for years and years. Maybe in those silences something is gathering, maybe it isn’t. Maybe I have something to say about Gary Lavelle, maybe I don’t. The days go by, the nights, the weeks. His tinted glasses, his sideburns, his shadow on the artificial turf. I come to the desk again and again. My father did the same, although not with baseball cards but with thick books on sociology. He leaned on his elbows every night and read. All those words that went into his brain—where are they?

***

One of the books stacked on my table is a 1961 autobiography of Harpo Marx, Harpo Speaks. I’m probably reading it to try to stay connected to my father. When he was a boy in the 1930s, growing up poor and Jewish in New York, as the Marx Brothers had a generation before him, he had watched all their movies in the theater when they’d first come out. I imagine him sitting there in the darkness, laughing, happy.

I told my boys a story from the book, about how Harpo had been continually thrown out his first-story first grade classroom window by two Irish classmates. (One day he got tossed out and decided to never come back, ending his formal education.) My boys were fascinated by that story and wanted to know more, so I showed them some Marx Brothers clips. The clips were, of course, created close to a century ago, back when my own father was the age of my sons. I laughed. My boys laughed. I imagined my father with us, laughing too.

***

Gary Lavelle had made the 1977 all-star team on the strength of a sub-2.00 ERA, and the National League manager, Sparky Anderson, whose “Captain Hook” nickname attested to his status as an early advocate of bullpen specialists, tabbed him as the first pitcher in from the bullpen after starter Don Sutton handled the first three innings. Sutton had been excellent, blanking the American League on one hit and one walk, but Lavelle was just as good, if not better, adding two more zeros to the scoreboard on one hit and no walks. He struck out two Hall of Famers, Carl Yastrzemski and Reggie Jackson, and bested two other Hall of Famers, George Brett and Carlton Fisk, while racking up his swift six outs. It’s not a performance you ever hear about when legendary all-star game feats come up, but in those few minutes that Lavelle was on the mound at Yankee stadium under the blazing electric lights, he mowed down some of the best baseball players who ever walked the earth.

***

“What about in the streets?” my older son asked me.

“I guess it wasn’t totally dark. There were cars with headlights. People had flashlights.”

I actually didn’t remember walking with my brother and father through the streets with a flashlight, but I remember walking up six flights of stairs in a pitch black stairwell to my father’s apartment, and I remember the three of us holding hands as we did so. I’m not sure if this—or anything—is literally accurate, but it’s emotionally accurate. What I remember about the blackout is being brought closer to my older brother, who was often trying to get some separation from me, and closer to my father, who had stopped living with us a few years earlier. So I always imagine us holding hands as we rose through the darkness. Forgive me if I told this story before. It’s one of the best moments of my life, even if it may not be altogether true.

h1

Chris Arnold

March 29, 2012

Satori

One

“Satori comes upon a man unawares, when he feels that he has exhausted his whole being.” – D.T. Suzuki

I’m exhausted. I’m pretty unaware, too. I’ve been banging into the sharp corners of things, tripping over things, walking out the front door without necessary things. Fucking things! Can we just abolish all things and live in a world of pure idea and sensation? What I mean to say is, can’t I just return to bed for a little while and fall back asleep, where there are no things? No? No, it seems the world is made of things, and life requires repeated departures from sweet unconsciousness to the tangled entrapments of things. So I wonder what things I will smash into and trip over and forget today. Yesterday I forgot my bicycle helmet. I didn’t use a bicycle helmet when I was a kid, but now that I’m riding every morning and night up and down a potholed city avenue crowded with swerving eyeless buses I do, and I felt strange as I started out riding yesterday without one and without realizing that I was without one. Something was different. A breeze massaged my hair, a sensation from childhood, and the vague sense that something was off ferried the feeling of implacable nostalgia into implacable dread.

***

The baseball season has begun, I guess. Way over in Japan. I didn’t pay much attention. I used to think I would someday not only pay attention to everything but master attention. Relatedly, I used to think I might, if I could muster the guts, end up in Japan, in a Zen monastery, my head shaved, my legs pretzeled beneath me, my spine straight, my mind no mind. Big mind. It never came to pass; if anything my unhelmeted mind keeps shrinking. This I suppose would fall under the category of a failure to live up to the dreams of my younger days. Is “dreams” the right word? Convictions, maybe, or perhaps arrogances. There is something arrogant about being seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, no skills, virginal and drug-addled and buried in adherence to beat generation yowling, believing that enlightenment, that is to say complete and unsurpassed understanding of the universe, is not only possible but near at hand. One more acid trip, a few more mornings of meditating in front of a cheap K-Mart candle burning on top of the cover for Bob Marley’s album “Uprising,” maybe a trip to Japan, and boom. Perfect connection. Satori.

***

This card from 1977 is the last Topps offering to feature Chris Arnold’s blandly handsome visage and includes the entirety of his major league exploits. He hit one home run his first season, 1971, one home run in 1972, one home run in 1973, one home run in 1974, then zero home runs in 1975 and zero home runs in 1976. It’s meditative somehow, like a mantra—one, one, one, one—that centers one’s thoughts until eventually all thought falls away to nothing. The card clutters the purity of this dissolving into zero with some text at the bottom circling back around to Chris Arnold’s earlier days in pro ball, before the majors, when in the Arizona Instructional League he “set all-time loop record for most Triples with 12.” That was back in 1970. In 1977 he returned to the minors, and in 1978 he joined that early wave of American journeymen who fought their encroaching disappearance from professional baseball by going far, far away, to Japan.

***

I was unaware of the obscure migration eastward of players at the borders of the majors that occurred during my childhood. It was only in my years of ridiculous conviction that I began to think about Japan. In my weathered copy of Dharma Bums, I read about Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder (or, rather, their stand-ins, Ray Smith and Japhy Ryder) looking east together. Those two went in different directions afterward. Kerouac became a suburban wine-addled recluse, withdrawing from the world, souring, bloating, while Snyder actually went east, to Japan, to be a monk in a Zen monastery for a while before returning and resuming his passionate attachment in words and deeds to this continent. Kerouac died young, while Snyder is still alive, one of the last beats standing, I guess, though I suppose—his genuine affection for Kerouac notwithstanding—he’d chafe at being considered a beat, or as any one thing. He was and is a lot of things, environmentalist, activist, family man, Zen monk, lumberjack, beat, what have you. I’m getting off track here. I was going to talk about baseball in Japan, or about my own enlightenment, or something. Who remembers? As Kerouac once put it, channeling his western dissolution through his eastern fascinations:

Well here I am,
2 PM –
What day is it?

***

Those four home runs Chris Arnold hit, one per year, they must stand out in his mind, little bursts of perfect connection. The superstars with bushels of homers every year, surely some of their glories blur into one another. Not so with Chris Arnold. His first home run came in his very first major league start and was struck off the most unusual, unpredictable pitch in baseball history, the knuckleball, thrown by the master of the mystical offering, Phil Niekro, a future Hall of Famer. His second home run was not as momentous, perhaps, as it was hit off journeyman Ron Schueler in a loss, but then again it was his second home run, proving the first was not a fluke. Then Chris Arnold really got cooking. His third home run was a grand slam pinch-hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth that keyed an incredible comeback from a 7-1 deficit. His final home run also came in a win and was hit off another Hall of Famer, Steve Carlton. For good measure, later in the season Chris Arnold also stole his lone major league base off the battery of Steve Carlton and Gold Glove perennial Bob Boone. Consider the sweet lucky life of Chris Arnold, and of us all. We stumble into things, lose our grip on other things, go to Japan or don’t go to Japan, whichever would be more indicative of life’s tendency to expel us from our dreams, and yet once in a great while we connect in such a way that there is no feeling whatsoever, the bat meeting the ball just right, no mind, big mind, and we round the bases, tracing an imperfect oval with our route, a woozy zero, our misshapen bliss.

h1

Ed Halicki

April 28, 2011

This dinged-up Ed Halicki card from 1976 seems to be a relic of a relative nobody. The photo on the front is a stiff, uninteresting posed shot, the actual human somehow less lifelike than the similar but decidedly jauntier pitcher icon in the lower left corner. On the back of the card, a 10 and 21 lifetime won-loss record is listed, as are a scattering of minor league stops. The number of the card in the set is 423, confirming that Ed Halicki is not one of the chosen few to have his card number end in a zero or two zeros. Most of all, there is no mention made of the no-hitter Ed Halicki notched the previous year. There would have been plenty of space to allude to this most glorious of single-game feats, given the meager space demands of Ed Halicki’s relatively short tenure in pro ball to that point, but the 1976 card set’s style of space-filling was to include a cartoon featuring general baseball info that had no relation to the player on the card. This particular card relayed the yawn-inducing news that Dick Wakefield was “baseball’s first ‘bonus baby.’” (The cartoon is of a player with a bat over one shoulder and on the other shoulder a big sack with a dollar sign on it.) The 1976 use of random cartoons contributed to a general indistinct flatness in the cards that year, a year, now that I think about it, that has always seemed sort of flat and overcast to me, like the 1976 cards. That year the cards were still my primary way of following baseball, though my brother’s new subscription to Sports Illustrated had begun to bring more of the daily world of the game into my life. He’d started getting the magazine the year before, but I didn’t read every word of the magazine until later, and so I missed the report of Ed Halicki’s no-hitter, which was heralded not in an article all its own but instead confined to a weekly major league wrapup and within that wrapup to a clause at the end of a sentence about something else in the middle of a paragraph that began with this apparently more urgent news: “San Francisco leads the majors in snuff users (14), permanents (eight) and, now that Catchers Dave Rader and Mike Sadek have come clean, in Telly Savalas-type skullheads (three, Dave Heaverlo being the other).” So I missed that there was greatness in this Ed Halicki card. It was the card among all past and future Ed Halicki cards that should have been most aglow with the recent no-hitter, and yet I likely did not give it a second glance. I must have handled it some, however. The upper left corner seems to have fared the worst during this object’s almost completely unnoticed passage through time. The card is also a bit off-center, the right bordering thicker than the bordering along the left-hand side. There are faint scratch marks across the face of the card, as if it has scraped up against an abrasive surface. The most visible scratch bisects Ed Halicki’s cap on a slightly bent diagonal. Ed Halicki, despite this neglect, went on after the no-hitter to do pretty well for a little while, winning 14 games in 1977 posting a career-best 2.85 ERA in 1978 to help the Giants contend improbably for the NL West crown. He finished up his career two seasons later, with the Angels, his lifetime won-loss record halting at 55-66. Of the 29 no-hitters thrown in the 1970s era of permanents and Telly Savalas, Ed Halicki would be the no-hit author of the decade to finish his career with the fewest lifetime wins. In a way, considering the relative anonymity of the rest of his career, his no-hitter should have stood out more than any other that occurred during the 1970s, and now I wish I’d known about it at the time. I would have loved this card.

h1

Chris Speier in the All-Time Franchise All-Stars

November 2, 2010

When a team breaks through and wins a championship after decades of trying and failing, the decades of trying and failing are transformed into one long season, a championship season that just took a little longer than most. The roster of the 2010 World Series Champions already seemed unusually voluminous throughout the playoffs, a product of the team’s reliance on all its parts, and now, with last night’s title-clinching win over the Rangers, it includes every last Giant ever to pass through San Francisco.

So with congratulations to the Giants and all their fans, and a special nod to Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, who has entertained me for years as a screaming-himself-hoarse loose cannon sports radio host (and who is a rabid Giants fan and Chris Speier idolizer from childhood), I thought I’d try to name some of the bygone guys coming along for the ride when the 2010 Giants parade through their city as champs. Here’s my stab at coming up with an all-time franchise all-star team for the San Francisco Giants, off the top of my head (it’s more fun that way), and with some notes and one prefatory remark in celebration of this year’s amazing collection of odds and ends: not a single player from the team that finally won it all could make the franchise’s all-time all-star starting nine.

C: Dick Dietz. The current Giants catcher, Buster Posey, is a spectacular talent, but it doesn’t seem fair to me to place him on the all-time franchise all-stars after just one season. Dietz had a relatively short career but packed it full of productive offensive seasons. He drew a ton of walks and had decent power.

1B: Willie McCovey. An easy call, though it bumps another all-time Giant great, Will Clark, to the bench.

2B: Jeff Kent

SS: Chris Speier. The back of the card at the top of this page testifies to Speier’s one-time and long forgotten status as an elite player in the game: “Chris has been on the past 3 N.L. All-Star Squads.” Speier was a good fielder and, at that time (possibly the low point in baseball history in terms of the hitting abilities of shortstops), among the best offensive threats at his position. He would never make another all-star squad, but he’d go on to have enough good seasons for his next team, the Expos, that a certain blogger would argue for his inclusion on the Expos’ all-time franchise all-star team, too.

3B: Matt Williams

LF: Barry Bonds

CF: Willie Mays

RF: Bobby Bonds

SP: Juan Marichal

RP: Rod Beck

Human victory cigar: Johnnie LeMaster. This category in the All-Time Franchise All-Stars feature was formerly known as the “wild card”; I’ve renamed it in honor of the Giants’ triumph, in that this slot is really reserved for the guy not named above whom you’d most like to see riding in the victory parade. How can you not want to see the player once known as Johnny Disaster bathed in the light of redemption?

h1

Bruce Miller

March 31, 2010

Bruce was a pretty big name in the 1970s. Bruce Jenner, Bruce Banner, Bruce Lee, Bruce Springsteen. There was even a kid in my elementary school named Bruce who, I am convinced, was the best kickball player of all time. Using a left foot clad in farm-roughened shitkickers, he could pummel the red ball over everyone and into the corn field bordering the school’s property. The ball made a different kind of sound when he kicked it. Deeper. Toom. A sound that tattooed the air.

According to the back of this card, the player featured here was not officially a Bruce, as his given name was Charles Bruce Miller. He played professional baseball for seven seasons. In three of them, he played only in the minors; in three others, including his last, he split time between the majors and the minors. In just one season, he was a major leaguer from start to finish, free of the harried life of someone who is neither here nor there. He is on the grinning brink of that season in this 1975 card. That year, he would share third base with Steve Ontiveros and also play a little second base and shortstop. A usefully versatile guy to have around, though not exactly an offensive weapon (a .239 average with 1 home run, few walks, and no stolen bases). In the offseason, the Giants traded a young lefty, Pete Falcone, to the Cardinals for regular third baseman Ken Reitz, and a re-marginalized, 29-year-old Bruce Miller spent most of the 1976 season back down in the bushes, managing to log only 25 at-bats with the Giants during a month-long span in late summer. His last chance came on August 28, when he was inserted for Charlie Williams as a pinch-hitter in the third inning of a game against the Pirates. Williams had entered the game in the first inning after starter John D’Acquisto had surrendered three hits and three walks to the first seven Pittsburgh batters (his one recorded out was a fly ball deep enough to drive a run home). Williams wasn’t quite as bad as D’Acquisto had been, but he wasn’t Bruce Sutter at the 1978 all-star game either (to name another prominent 1970s Bruce). By the time Bruce Miller got his last turn at bat, the Giants were already down 7-0. Bruce Miller struck out.

Bruce Lee was dead by then (in fact he had died a couple weeks before Bruce Miller’s major league debut, in 1973). Bruce Banner would continue to be the alter ego of the Hulk in Marvel Comics, but when the character moved to television in the first year of Bruce Miller’s life beyond pro ball, the scientist who turned into a muscular green Ferrigno twice every episode (at twenty after and ten of) was named David Banner, the name Bruce gone without a trace. Bruce Jenner’s time at the pinnacle of American cultural life had come and gone, too, his soaring, feathered-hair 1976 Olympic win in the decathlon the kind of thing that cannot help but make all subsequent existence into an increasingly absurd, plastic-surgery-enhanced aftermath. Bruce Springsteen and Bruce Sutter kept churning out anthems and fanning Juan Samuel for a while, respectively, but their efforts weren’t really enough to keep alive the feeling that the name Bruce was somehow more magical than other names.

I don’t know what happened to the kickballing Bruce of my elementary school. He wasn’t interested in any of the official team sports offered in junior high and high school. He wasn’t a good student. He certainly wasn’t someone who would have gone on to be among the ironic twenty-something urban types who in the 1990s began “playing” “kickball” in “leagues.” I wasn’t one of those people, either, but only because I was lazy and wary of getting involved with others. I passed these kickball games from time to time, populated by people my age who seemed to all be from my species of the pale, stooped, spindly, and bespectacled. It looked like they were having “fun,” and maybe even bordering on having actual fun, i.e., without the air quotes, i.e., the kind of fun I didn’t really allow myself to have. I probably could have joined in, but somehow I felt compelled to be loyal to some sadness within: We had all grown up in the Age of Bruce, but the Age of Bruce was long gone.

h1

Charlie Williams

March 8, 2010

The American Dream is to find home. This dream shaded a 1972 trade featuring Charlie Williams. Charlie Williams was not the focus of the dream, however, and so ended up actually being taken from his home and moved elsewhere. This is the problem of the modern world, I guess, or one of them: the dream of home, always elusive and often invasive or worse (ask an Indian, if you can find one, how he or she feels about the American dream of finding a home), ends up making everyone more or less rootless and adrift.

The trade I’m talking about is the one that sent an aging Willie Mays from San Francisco back to New York, the city where he had begun his incredible major league career. The Mets sent Charlie Williams west to facilitate this homecoming, not balking at the fact that Charlie Williams had an even stronger tie to the Mets’ home than Mays ever could: the young pitcher was then and remains (according to Brian Joura) the only player in Mets history to hail from the very ground the Mets stood on: Flushing, NY. [Update: as pointed out in the comments below, Ed Glynn was another Flushing native who played for the Mets.]

The back of this 1977 card confirms the plumbing-evocative neighborhood name as Charlie Williams’ point of origin, and also relates that the pitcher decided after the 1972 transaction to try to make his new home in Foster City, California. Right around the time of his arrival, events in Foster City inspired an article in the San Francisco Examiner that went on to gain some renown entitled “Mouse Packs: Kids on a Crime Spree.” I haven’t seen this article, but its reputation is of a sensational report on rampant youth vandalism in a recently formed community that had been planned out with the highest aspirations.

A few years ago, a student looking to gather information for a project on the trouble in Foster City posted a question on an internet site hoping to get memories from any Foster City residents from that time. The responses almost all professed surprise that there had been any trouble at all. To them, Foster City was and is just fine. One responder did hint at some trouble out beyond the margins of the vision of the American Dream. It’s interesting to note that in this commenter’s description, the opposite of trouble in Foster City is a world saturated with baseball and with players, or one player in particular (a player who will forever pull Charlie Williams at least slightly into the limelight), who decades later can serve as a potent symbol of home, if not the whole idea of home altogether. Everyone wants to find home. For some of us, home means this game, these cards. Anyway, here’s the take of the commenter, “Joe2,” on the two versions of Foster City, one within the safety of the baseball field, and one beyond that safety:

I remember the “Mouse Packs” clearly. I was 13, it was summer of 1973 and it was baseball season. We played in a big field that used to be behind the fire station. We were good kids, we played in the parks, went swmming/sailing in the lagoon, joined a father & son group called “indian guides” and rode our bikes to Safeway to buy baseball cards. I still have my Willie Mays in action cards. There were a couple of bad influence kids arround, and I know they were going arround pulling hood ornaments off cars. They pulled the BWM crome plates off with screw drivers. I remember Dad told me about the Mouse Packs story, and I thought it was about these kids . . .

There were some bad apples, but we were good kids.

 

***

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot, as I am prone to do, about Kelly Leak, specifically the particularly iconic version of Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, and I have even gone so far as to begin trying to imagine Kelly’s life away from the baseball field.

This past weekend, I finally watched the 1979 film Over the Edge (which has come up several times in conversation on this site) while wondering about what might have happened to the star of the Bad News Bears after his heroics in the Astrodome (note: while asking “Where have you gone, Kelly Leak?” I do not and never will recognize the existence of the execrable, useless third Bears movie, The Bad News Bears Go To Japan). Put another way, as the 1970s came to a close, was there a place in America for Kelly Leak?

For a possible answer, I turned to Over the Edge, which focused on a community built on the core American Dream idea of perfect safety and harmony, of home, far from the dangers of the city.

Over the Edge was originally supposed to be set in Charlie Williams’ adopted home of Foster City, California, as it had been inspired by the aforementioned San Francisco Examiner article on the “mouse packs.” Because of some restrictions in the child labor laws in California, the production moved to a planned community in Colorado with significant similarities to Foster City, according to the filmmakers, most importantly the element that gave the film a haunting visual look that corresponded to and enhanced the central theme of alienation: building after building of eerily sterile and lifeless architecture, a dream of perfection that had forgotten to include a beating heart.

The community, called “New Granada” in the film, was intended to be the perfect home, a place of security and harmony and prosperity. But the community in Over the Edge is not well: the adolescent teens of the town are not given anything to do or anywhere to go. They have been left out of the plan for perfect American prosperity. What is there to do but wander around, smoke pot, drink, maybe break shit?

It is not too difficult to imagine Kelly Leak among these kids, especially the imagined, implied, offscreen Kelly Leak, who reminded every boy raptly worshipping his every move in the Bears movies of his own town’s cool, tough kids, who wandered around and smoked pot and drank and broke shit.

In the Bears films, Kelly is a loner, but that is only in the context of the boys on the team and their childish pursuits. In the first Bears movie, before he has joined the team, Kelly initially rebuffs Amanda’s attempts to get him on the team, telling her that the Bears (presumably because they still care about baseball enough to pull on their little yellow-trimmed uniforms and happily prance onto the field) are “fags”; early in Over the Edge there is a prominent piece of graffiti on the school that reads “jocks are fags.” Kelly Leak and the kids in Over the Edge seem to speak the same language and seem to be oriented in similar ways toward the world. It’s not that much of a stretch to think they might, once Kelly and his rapidly aging body are finally barred from pounding the pitches of small children, fall together some night at a darkened playground and share hits from a skull-headed bowl before going down to the highway overpass to throw lit M-80s at cars.

The scene of greatest exhilaration in Over the Edge is when the two main characters, Carl (Michael Kramer) and Richie (Matt Dillon, in his film debut) make a getaway from a cop in a vehicle Richie has swiped from his mother. Though the moment of freedom is brief and much more realistically rendered than the ultimate scene of male adolescent fantasy in Breaking Training when Kelly and his teammates start out toward Houston in a stolen customized van, I saw a key correspondence between the two scenes. Though presented in completely different ways, in both scenes there is joy. It’s the joy of believing that the world, after a whole life of wanting, is finally at the command of those who have seized the wheel.

Unlike the irresistible fantasy of Breaking Training, the scene of escape in Over the Edge lasts for just a few moments and ends grimly. Events in the movie escalate from there, and the action climaxes with a scene of a wildly destructive spree by the kids that reminded me acutely of Disco Demolition Night, which just happened to have occurred the same year that Over the Edge came out. It’s pretty much the same thing: Longhaired white kids getting high and setting things on fire and rampaging: rebellion, yes, but impotent, useless. Next stop for America: the candy-colored teen films of John Hughes, the reactionary reign of Ronald Reagan, and, by virtue of beefed-up security at ballparks, no more longhaired mobs going wild across the fields of the American Dream.

And Kelly Leak was nowhere to be seen.