Archive for the ‘San Francisco Giants’ Category

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Greg Minton

September 24, 2007
 

Yesterday I saw a guy on a bicycle get hit by a car. Squealing brakes, the metal-laced thump of car on bike and body, the clatter-thud of bike and body on pavement. The bicyclist bounded up to his feet and pogoed around in an extreme version of a toe-stub dance, rotating the shoulder that had taken the brunt of the hit from the pavement. This is always the first instinct. Nothing has changed. I’m OK. I’m OK.

I have spent all morning looking at this baseball card from my long gone youth. I spent parts of the past weekend, too, and even several sessions of varying lengths over the past year. My life is absurd. Again and again I have returned to this card, which appears to have been rendered by the general employment of the crude techniques of card doctoring usually reserved for uniform and cap. The whole world is doctored, from the strangely lifeless flesh to the impossibly white buck teeth to the lifeless taxonomy eyes to the hazy green and brown beyond. The days come and go. The blank canvas beneath it all, the silence, abides.

 
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Darrell Evans

July 25, 2007
 

Here we see a year passing like nothing in the life of Darrell Evans. In the earlier photo, at our left, Evans is apparently in San Francisco, wearing home whites and long sleeves, perhaps to combat the infamously raw temperatures at Candlestick. He seems pensive, maybe even slightly displeased. Maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates catcher, possibly Ed Ott, has just muttered something troubling through his mask to Evans. All hopes fade. All beauty crumbles. All roads lead to the boneyard. The second photo seems to be in Los Angeles, judging from Evans’ dark uniform and the backwards cap on the catcher. (It seems indeed to be a cap and not a helmet, which makes me think this is not the Dodgers’ regular catcher, Steve Yeager, though I am basing this assumption solely on the hazy recollection that Yeager was once nearly killed by a broken bat flying into his neck and responded by inventing the first neck guard, which I assume was accompanied in the newly sobered and extra cautious nephew of Chuck Yeager’s armor by a sturdy helmet. My gut feeling, without checking any rosters of the time, is that the catcher pictured here is Dodgers backup Rick Dempsey Johnny Oates, who I see in my mind’s eye catching with a turned-around cap and not a helmet and who as far as I know avoided getting brained by any balls to that soft cloth cap as well as any jagged bat shards to the neck but who instead eventually died before his time anyway, of cancer.) In this slightly more recent photo Evans trains his pensive, faintly perturbed gaze straight at the viewer. He has let another pitch go by. Maybe it has been called a strike. But maybe not. Maybe it has been called a ball and Darrell Evans is on the brink of yet another of his many featureless, unmemorable walks. Maybe he has grown weary of the routine of tossing his bat toward the dugout and loping down to first to stand there until Johnny Lemaster or Terry Whitfield pops out to end the inning. As for me, I am finally home after most of a month spent traveling. I am back in my life, the one that would be depicted on a card if trading cards showing people like me existed. I am working as a proofreader. Same as last year and the year before that and the year before that.

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Joe Strain

May 9, 2007
 

 
“Punk rock changed our lives.” – The Minutemen, “History Lesson, Part II

Here is a small, cheaply made cardboard flyer that the punk band Giant Prospects somehow managed to get into a few packs of Topps baseball cards in 1979. (Note characteristic typo—”GIANTS PROSPECTS”—at top.) From what I can deduce, the flyer was an ingenious (though perhaps misplaced) bit of guerilla-punk publicity intended to spread the word about the band’s would-be debut album, 1979, which for a myriad of reasons was never actually released.

That has to be the explanation for this baffling artifact. How else to explain the profound anonymity of the players? How else to explain the unsurpassed graininess of the photographs? How else to explain the eerie look of each of the pairs of eyes, which all seem as if they have been drawn onto the grainy photographs of the faces, or, worse, that the faces themselves are clammy rubber masks with eyeholes? How else, above all, to explain Joe Strain?

No, this is not a trio of baseball players. How could it be? This is a punk rock band. John “Johnny Tomorrow” Tamargo on drums. Greg Johnston on bass. Joe Strain on vocals and guitar.

The following excerpts from Dead on Arrival: The Oral History of Giant Prospects, the Greatest Punk Band No One Ever Heard Of shed some more light on the band, and on the card at the top of this page:

From pages 11–12 :

Tamargo: Yeah, I was working at a Jiffy Lube. I was a little older than the other guys, who knew each other from a community college typing class, I think. I’d played drums a few years before in a band in high school, but we fuckin’ sucked. All we did was play the same three Bachman Turner Overdrive songs over and over again to the girlfriends of the guitar player and lead singer. I ended up getting thrown out of that band for beating the shit out of the lead guy, I forget why. [Pause.] He was a dick. [Pause.] He had this long Robert Plant style hairdo and thought we were holding him back from selling out arenas. He ended up making a lot of money though, but not from music. Huh? Oh, uh, he started a business that rented out port-a-potties. [Long pause.] I actually ended up having to ask him for a job one time. I heard they needed a driver. What? No, nope, he didn’t hire me.

Johnston: Well, I was sick of taking the bus. What choice did I have? I had no car, no money to buy a car, and it was a 9-mile walk from my job at Hardee’s to my mom’s apartment, where I was staying. And it was at night, and a lot of the route was along a highway. Fuckin’ miserable. But I don’t know, I was just sick of the fucking bus, the monotony of it, mostly, pay your money, sit there staring out the window, do it all over again the next day and again and again until you’re dead. So one night I just decided, fuck it, I’m walking. Before I get to the highway I pass this Jiffy Lube that’s empty and all lit up and there’s this music coming out of it. This sound. I mean it was the sound I wanted to fuckin’ be. That’s how I met Johnny.

Tamargo: The funny thing is I mostly cranked AC/DC when it was slow. Maybe some Nugent. But I’d recently bought this new cassette because I liked the cover. I was like Bollocks? What the fuck is bollocks? I think it was “God Save the Queen” that was playing when Greg was walking by in his fuckin’ Arby’s suit. You know [imitating Johnny Rotten]: “No future, no future, no future for you. . . .”

From page 86:

Dave Peretz (friend/fan): Those early shows, in a way, those were the best. I mean, in a way they were the worst, too, because, I mean, objectively, or, like, musically, they sucked. Especially Joe, who could barely play three chords in the beginning. But that was enough. All of those shows ended with Joe injuring himself. That’s how he got his name, because he kept giving himself groin pulls and hamstring tears in the middle of the closer, “Worth Something.” Joe would start thrashing around while screaming the chorus, you know, “Throw me in the dump/wait a thousand years/maybe by then I’ll be worth something!” Over and over until everybody in the place was yelling “worth something” right along with Joe every time it came around, and Tamargo was smashing the shit out of the drums like they killed his mother, and Greg, Greg always had his face shining up at the ceiling during that song, all smiles, eyes closed, like a fucking blissed-out Hare Krishna. All of us jumping up and down, sweating our balls off, yelling “maybe by then I’ll be worth some-thing! Maybe by then I’ll be worth some-thing!” I still hear it in my head, man. Thirty years ago almost. I don’t believe it. [Long pause.] I honestly don’t believe it.

From page 131:

Tamargo: The baseball card thing came about because Joe got to be friends with this burnout who came to our shows, Smitty, that used to work at the card company. Huh? Yeah, Topps, I guess. He got fired because he’d get stoned every day out by a dumpster during his lunch break then go in and just, you know, make a mess of things. The cards would come out all crooked. [Laughs.] But he still knew people who worked there. I think he actually sold shrooms to one of them. So that was our window, I guess. I don’t know, Joe was the driving force on that one, like with most of our, uh, “professional musician” type shit.

Johnston: The baseball uniforms were Joe’s idea. He was reading a bunch of these anarchist pamphlets that this weird older woman kept feeding him. She was tall and bony and had a really pale face which she made even paler with powder or something. She kind of looked like a puppet. Tell you the truth it kind of gives me the creeps to think about her. Anyway, Joe got on this whole kick about uniforms. He was like, “From the moment you take your first step you are in a uniform. If it’s not Cub Scouts it’s little league. It’s fascism!” Me and Johnny laughed at him a little. I mean, we both played little league and it didn’t make us want to go sign up with the Nazis. But he was always going off on some insane tangent or other, not that I didn’t agree with him most of the time, actually. Anyway us being in uniforms helped the first few of the cards slip past quality control or whatever at Topps, I guess.

From pages 247–248 :

Eddie Toth (manager): That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Or one of the two questions, which are each really the same question. My opinion is the answer to one is the answer to the other. Find Joe Strain and you find the tapes from the recording session. They’re in the same place, guaranteed. Dead or alive, who knows, but same place for sure.

Johnston: Yeah, well, Eddie and Joe never really saw eye to eye. Joe always suspected Eddie was, you know, the fuckin’ man or something. “The Oppressor.” I was always like, come on, man, Eddie’s just some fat fuck who owns a bankrupt record store. He’s not the head of the friggin’ world bank. But anyway, yeah, maybe Eddie’s right. I mean, the tapes went missing just a few days before Joe disappeared. [Pause.] So much for Giant Prospects.

Tamargo: Last time I saw Joe for sure was the day before he flaked out. He was acting weird, but he was always acting weird. You know, jittery. Never stopped moving, never really looked you in the eye. But the weirdest thing about that one time was that he did get quiet and still for a second and he did look me in the eye. He said. Heh. You know what he said? He said, “John, you oughta be more careful when you drive. You go too fast.” [Pause.] Hm? Oh, well, you know how things are when you start to be an old man like me. Yeah, I mean there’s been a couple times when I thought I saw him out of the corner of my eye kind of thing. But that’s just probably my messed-up mind. I mean, Joe Strain? Joe Strain was barely possible in this world even way back when. How’s there going to be a Joe Strain now? [Long pause.] But I guess you never know.

 
Postscript: There seems to be no video or audio evidence of the band described above. In lieu of that, below are a few links to footage of some of the bands that helped bring Giant Prospects to life, at least for a short while:

Iggy and the Stooges, 1970

Richard Hell interview 

The Ramones, January 1975 

The Sex Pistols, August 1976

The Clash, late ’70s

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Bobby Murcer

February 12, 2007

I was working a full-time job last year when I decided to cut back on my hours. I wanted to spend more time on my writing. Since then I have tried unsuccessfully to sell a novel that I spent the last several years writing (and not writing). I have tried to find an agent for the book by utilizing a small list of personal connections. So far the agents I have contacted have said thanks but no thanks. I am now going to send it out to 20 people whose names I will pick out of listings in a book I bought at a Barnes and Noble. The way I feel about the novel right now, it seems as if I’m about to send 20 people a manilla envelope full of dried rabbit turds. It is a slow jerky trip to nowhere, my supposed book. It is a pretentious and flimsy shield against life and death. But what the fuck, I might as well go take a trip to the post office and send out 20 copies of my novel to a bunch of assholes who I will surely come to bitterly hate soon enough. It will get me out of the house at least.

Meanwhile, as I lose money on a weekly basis by not working full time the only writing I have been able to do has been about these fucking baseball cards I grew up with. And lately I have only barely been able to do that. Some people build houses or feed the hungry. I spend days on end trying to say something meaningful about Toby Harrah. Who the fuck cares?

Yesterday when my wife was done studying for her grad school classes in social work we went to a bar for some dinner and we started talking about how we have to move out of our shitty apartment when the lease is up. There aren’t any apartments out there anymore. Everything is now condos that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and are the size of a van. Maybe we can find some shithole to rent for a lot of money. Cross your fingers! We will have to find something. I started thinking about going back full-time to my job. It’s not a bad job. I’ve certainly had worse. But the thought of going back while still a failure as a writer made me want to take the glass of beer in my hand and smash it into my forehead. (Employer: this is a completely fictional first-person narrative. Its author is excited about the prospect of expanding his role in the organization.) Our food came. We ate it and talked and drank our beers. My wife calmed me down a little. Eventually my urge to smash a glass of beer against my forehead lessened slightly.

Anyway, today I got up and for fucking six hours I have been trying and failing to write about Bobby Murcer. I tried writing about the odd picture on this card, an opposing player taking up more of the picture than Murcer. I played a couple hands of solitaire, you know, to “loosen up.” I wandered around on the Internet and discovered that this photo must have been taken during the second game of a doubleheader on July 18, 1976, because that is the only time Joe Ferguson caught for the St. Louis Cardinals in a road game against the San Franscisco Giants. I also found out that on that very same day, at the 1976 Summer Olympics, Nadia Comaneci’s performance on the uneven bars garnered the very first perfect 10 ever awarded. I tried to write about perfection but the writing was atrocious. I took a break and ate a sandwich. Halfway through the sandwich I took a digital photo of our cats, who were lying together in a cute way on the couch. While finishing up the sandwich I bit my tongue pretty badly and stomped around for a few moments feeling sorry for myself. I went to the bathroom and stuck my tongue out at my reflection. My tongue was bleeding a little. Why me? Then I went back to the computer and tried again to write about Bobby Murcer, who seems to strike most people as a very nice man. I got nowhere.

Anyway, here’s the deal: Bobby Murcer is currently receiving chemotherapy after having a malignant tumor removed from his brain. He found out about the tumor this past Christmas Eve after going to the hospital for a bad headache. He is hoping to be in the broadcast booth by opening day. I’m rooting for him. I don’t know what else to say. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in his shoes. I’m sure I would be cowering. Bobby Murcer seems to be facing the facts bravely.

So here I am, several hours after the cold day began, still with nothing of any shape. Another unpaid day down the tubes. Everyone always says to not waste your life. Don’t waste your life! You never know when it could all end! That type of shit. A headache could be a tumor. Live each day to the fullest! What the fuck does that mean? I don’t know how not to waste my life. Anyway I’m calling it quits on this Bobby Murcer entry. I already deleted pages of shitty writing on Bobby Murcer and I am tempted to do it again but instead I’m going to say here I am in all my ugliness. Maybe that’s better than hiding, maybe it’s just as useless. Probably what I should have done is just wish Bobby Murcer well. If it’s not too late that’s what I want to do. I am rooting for him. I don’t know how to do much but I do know how to do that, to root for somebody. Kick some ass, Bobby Murcer. This strange Joe-Ferguson-clogged 1977 card aside, the Bobby Murcer cards of my childhood always seemed to be festooned with the exciting “N.L. ALL STAR” insignia. For that reason I always have and always will think of Bobby Murcer as a star.

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John D’Acquisto

December 11, 2006

From my remote vantage point as a daydreaming child collecting cards in Central Vermont, the San Francisco Giants of the mid-to-late 1970s were something more than a baseball team. They were also something less than a baseball team, in that they never seemed even remotely involved in the battle between the Reds and the Dodgers (and even, eventually, the Astros) for the N.L. West title. This lack of prominence lent them an air of mystery (if mystery can be sort of drab). They were like an old, obscure, slow-paced black-and-white television drama that comes on during a long rain delay between star-studded teams wrestling for a division crown. Disappointed by the rainout and by the plodding, gray replacement program, you switch around the dial for a while but then come back because beneath the tedious dialogue and uninspired staging and nondescript casting there is something weird going on that you can’t put your finger on, something that’s probably going to seep under your skin and cause you to end up staring at the ceiling at 3:00 in the morning.

Metaphors aside, I never actually saw the Giants on television. Even in the all-star game their presence was so meager that their yearly lone representative was no more noticeable than the half-second blip in the corner of the screen made by a white-shirted extra fleeing ruin in a disaster film. They were not so much a team to me as a state of being, or somehow a lack of a state of being. More specifically, they seemed to be comprised of guys who were not quite whole. They were all somewhat insubstantial guys who were also other somewhat insubstantial guys.

In the bullpen, lefthander Gary Lucas was also lefthander Gary Lavelle. In the outfield, Gary Maddox was also Gary Matthews, and then when Gary Maddox was traded to the Phillies, leaving the blurring haze of San Francisco to become a distinct personality, Gary Thomassen and Gary Alexander drifted in to fill, or rather to expand, the Garying San Francisco void. I confused Mike Ivie with Mike Lum (and also to a lesser extent Mike Vail), confused Steve Barr with Doug Bair, confused Dave Rader with Doug Rader, confused Mike Sadek with Ray Sadecki, and for reasons that I cannot explain thought of Von Joshua as the fourth Alou brother. In the coming years the fog of the mid-to-late ’70s Giants would also come to encompass blurrings of identities across the years, Bob Knepper merging into Bob Kipper, Tim Foli merging into Tom Foley, Ed Halicki merging into Mike Bielecki who then merged into Bob Milacki.

At the very center of the mystery was the man pictured here. I really can’t make many unequivocal statements about the shape-shifting mist of my childhood, but I do at least know that John D’Acquisto was John Montefusco, at least until he was traded to the Cardinals for Butch Metzger, who I then began confusing with Roger Metzger.

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Vic Harris

November 10, 2006

The first time I ever got drunk was in the very same dugout I’d staggered back to in a mob of my teammates at the tail end of the happiest moment of my childhood. It was three years later, the first spring I’d spent without playing baseball–without eating, drinking, and breathing baseball, without wearing the green cap of my little league team to bed and waking up thinking about baseball–since I’d been old enough for little league. In fact, it was my first spring without baseball since even before I’d entered little league, baseball becoming the center of my life when we’d moved to Vermont in 1974 and my brother had started little league and we’d both started collecting cards such as this one of the apparently good-natured baseball temp worker Vic Harris.

After four years of little league I’d played Babe Ruth league for a year and a half. The first year I rode the bench and once in a while during blowouts batted against what suddenly seemed to be grown men throwing a hundred miles an hour when they weren’t terrifying me with curveballs that hurtled toward my head before dropping harmlessly over the plate. After a while I just started bailing out of the batter’s box as soon as the pitch was thrown, even if it ended up being a soft, fluttering changeup two feet outside, tossed by the chuckling Larry-Bird-mustached fifteen-year-old on the mound who was wasting a pitch solely to highlight my abject cowardice.

The second year wasn’t much better, my only decent day at the plate during the entire season coming against the co-ed team of a Central Vermont town so infested by aging hippies and their sexually ambiguous offspring that we couldn’t tell which soft-tossing longhairs were the boys and which were the girls. Our coach that year was a minister of some sort of small, vaguely cultish church that he’d founded after becoming ordained through the mail. He had also been my coach my last two years of little league (his son Steve was on both teams), but since little league the church had grown into an entity capable of having constant small, vaguely cultish crises that demanded the coach’s immediate attention. In his absence we were “led” by a loud, easily distracted member of his congregation who had a huge black mountain-man beard and wore a railroad engineer’s cap, overalls, and mud-caked shitkickers to our games. He seemed to know very little about baseball.

I guess one of the things I liked about playing organized baseball was that it was organized. In a world of 1970s-colored uncertainty and blurred borders–the nucleus of which was the three-year experiment in open marriage by my parents and the guy who basically became my second father, Tom, which gave way to a prolonged period where my dad no longer lived with us but was still for reasons unknown to me married to my mom–I suppose I found solace in the fact that games started at a certain time on certain days and lasted a certain amount of innings, barring rain, snow, darkness, or ties, and that everything that happened during the game was theoretically marked down in a scorecard to become part of the comfortingly concrete world of statistics. In my second year of Babe Ruth this illusion of organization disintegrated, practices either cancelled or sparsely attended, games featuring several guys on my team dressed in jeans or even corduroys instead of baseball uniform pants, the bearded guy not only not marking anything down in a scorecard but most often not even sitting on the bench as we came undone in a shambling tornado of errors and strikeouts, instead in the parking lot working on one problem or another with his ancient piece-of-shit truck, which always seemed in danger of coughing up its last lung and leaving us stranded at the site of awful, unrelenting away-game losses. I don’t remember quitting halfway through the season but somehow I did. I guess somewhere during that last spring of baseball I had purchased that nonrefundable entropic realization that in life it’s frighteningly easy to just not show up.

Anyway, one night during my first spring without baseball, I ended up drinking from a two-liter jug of rum-spiked coke with a couple of friends in the little league dugout where I’d spent my first and only moments as a Home Run King. The brief, inexplicable triumph of that day seemed farther away to me when I was fifteen than it does to me now. Shocked by the smallness of the field, and particularly by the closeness of the outfield fence, I ached with the knowledge that I could never go back, that I couldn’t somehow transport my fifteen-year-old body and fifteen-year-old brain, which were both proving useless in their current milieu, into the past to rule a simpler, easier twelve-year-old world.

The ache dissolved into the feelings of my very first drunk, which began to announce itself as a slow motion floatiness while I was running with my friends from the dugout toward an older kid’s truck in the parking lot. We ended up riding around shitfaced and laughing and talking about girls’ tits for the rest of the night in the covered back of the truck, the bumps in the road seeming to lift me up into the air like I was an astronaut in zero gravity. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt.

Yesterday, after writing about the happiest day of my childhood, I went to work and spent most of the day verifying that the written script for the audio directions of an online educational test matched the actual audio directions word for word. I found a handful of discrepancies–a word missing here, a sentence repeated there–and noted them with a date and my initials in an Excel spreadsheet. When I got home I drank a couple beers and watched some TV. This morning on my way to doing the same thing all over again I noticed some text on the back of this Vic Harris card that reads, among other things, “Vic is most comfortable at second base.” As you can see by the “OF” (signifying “outfielder”) in the upper right-hand corner of the card, the San Francisco Giants did not seem to care about providing Vic Harris with his maximum comfort. If I had a baseball card I guess the front-of-card identifier would read “PR” (for proofreader) while the back-of-the-card text would report that “Josh is most comfortable droning on at great length about the past and then going on long aimless walks.” I doubt I would be able to muster the same good-natured albeit weary expression that Vic Harris is displaying. Having a job, for most of us anyway, means having your life split into two sides of a baseball card, hints of our deeper wishes on the back.

The first kid I knew who had a job was one of the friends I got drunk with that night at the little league dugout. He was a quiet, good-natured Vic Harris type, and for that and for another reason that I’ll get to in a second I’m going to call him Vic instead of his real name. Vic was not only the first kid I knew who had a job but also the first kid I knew who seemed to have his life split into a front side and back side, and the job seemed to have something to do with the split. He was a shy, soft-spoken, skinny kid who loved to draw and paint. I’d met him two years earlier while working on my one and only school play. I had a small role as Dr. Furbalow, a blowhard psychiatrist brought in by a family to talk to their daughter, who had been claiming to be friends with a Martian, and Vic had been cast as the sweet, wide-eyed, friendly Martian. Vic lived with his mother in a small apartment near the high school, his father nowhere around. He had a watch that he loved: when you pressed a button, it played “Hey Jude.” And he had a job at a small advertising company in town run by a man named Fred Hill. Years after it would have done Vic any good, Fred Hill was imprisoned on charges (if memory serves) of child molestation and chi
ld pornography. He got boys to have sex with one another and filmed it.

The night I discovered drunkenness, I asked Vic what he did at his job. The booze was making us spill all sorts of secrets all over the back of the truck, but to this question Vic grew even more reticent than he usually was.

“Oh, you know. I sweep up and stuff,” was all he would say.

We kept drinking and watching the road unspool behind us and floating up into the air with the bumps.