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.