Archive for the ‘San Francisco Giants’ Category

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Dave Rader

February 24, 2010

The Blue Jacket

(continued from Jim Bibby)

Three

It’s late February, the beginning of spring training, at least for pitchers and catchers. Everything is still to come. But sometimes it feels like everything has already gone. It’s almost always felt that way for me, the exception being the rare moments when I’m holding something strange and new and beautiful in my hands.

This Dave Rader card would have produced that sensation, back when I first held it in 1975. The close-up, intimate portrait of a man seemingly unaware that the camera is on him: it’s strikingly different from the occasional action shots and from the awkward, self-conscious wax figure portraits that were so common especially in that first year of my baseball card collecting. From the blurry backdrop, more likely some training compound trees than the stands of a major league park, it appears the figure in the extreme foreground must be at spring training, perhaps in the very early days of it, in late February, just pitchers and fellow catchers and him. Dave Rader is wondering about his place in it all, wondering if it’s all still to come or already gone. (As it turned out, he was just about in the middle of a decent ten-year career as a part-time catcher with an above average left-handed batting stroke.)

Many years earlier, in the 1950s, another young catcher in the Giants’ camp may have struck a similarly pensive pose, though no Topps photographer was around to document it. This catcher was a short, powerfully built young man from the Little Italy section of Manhattan, and his name was Larry. Larry didn’t end up lasting that long in pro ball, just a couple seasons in the Giants’ minor league system.

“Couldn’t hit,” he told me years later across the desk in the back of the liquor store. “If we really needed a baserunner I leaned into one and let it smack me in the arm.”

This was about four decades later, in the early 1990s, but it was still easy to imagine the now silver-haired Larry as a good-glove, no-bat catcher. He still had, as he crowded sixty, a squat, muscular build, featuring powerful shoulders and huge mitt-like hands. Every evening he came into the store to give his friend Morty shit and to usurp Morty’s seat behind the desk and drink a couple quarter pints of Smirnoff with Sprite, surveying the scene in front of him like a catcher perusing the field, sometimes barking out pointed, expletive-glutted commentary on the various occurrences at the store, sometimes just taking it all in quietly, as if wondering if it was all already gone. Whenever he came in I switched the store radio from Morty’s classical music to the oldies station. Once in a while a song from the fifties like Earth Angel or I Wonder Why or Why Do Fools Fall in Love would come on and Larry would smile and look up at the cracking paint on the ceiling and say, “Ah, Josh, this takes me back.”

I love to think of Larry drifting on the doo-wop harmonies back through the years. He may indeed have been a romantic at heart, like all the rest of us who ended up at that store, but by sheer force of will he managed to not let it influence the path he forged in his life. After his short foray into professional baseball came to an end, Larry quickly got on with his life in an unsentimental, undelayed way that surely made it difficult for him to understand the customary existential hemming and hawing by all the lazy romantic clerks who had come and gone at the store, including myself, all of us propped on a broom, waiting for our life to burst through the front door and shower us in kisses instead of going out and looking for it. On the contrary, when Larry had been a young man no longer connected to a childhood-inflected dream life, baseball, he promptly got an accountant’s degree and entered the business world. He became a very successful executive, eventually climbing high up the ladder in a worldwide tobacco conglomerate before being forced out in some kind of a political shakeup not long before I started working at the store.

Though he was still young enough to continue working, he had made more than enough money to stop, so he did. He spent his days as a man of leisure, in the summer rarely appearing in anything but tinted wire-rim glasses, a tank top, a gold necklace, shorts, flip-flops, and a tan that George Hamilton would have envied. He walked up and down 8th Street like its heaven-ordained ruler, slowly, his head at a slight upward tilt. He spent time at various stores, mostly hanging out for a while with the Greeks in the back of the florist shop down the block before moving on to the liquor store to bust Morty’s chops. Morty left for the day halfway through Larry’s “shift,” leaving Larry alone with me and whoever I was working with that evening. I was always sad to see him call it a night.

I am hoping that this story doesn’t turn out to be one digression after another, never arriving at the titular blue jacket, but I can’t help it, and anyway digressions are sometimes the only way I can get to my love of the world and all the people I’ve known. I can’t tell it straight. It has to spool out of me, one memory catching and pulling loose and unfurling the next.

I spoke to my father yesterday. It was his 85th birthday. We talked about health issues. My wife and I (and even one of our cats) have been sick with an initially violent, puke-filled, and, for a couple days, completely debilitating stomach problem; my dad’s begun having more and more trouble seeing out of his left eye. We talked about the liquor store. He lived on 11th Street back then, less than a five-minute walk away. He stopped by from time to time, talking with me and everyone else there. Morty usually swaggered up to the front to make my dad laugh by telling him what an asshole I was. After I stopped working there Dad asked me periodically about the people there, including the philosophy teacher Dave, and Morty, and Larry.

I’d started out thinking I was going to write yet another in a long line of my young man’s blues with this story The Blue Jacket, and I still intend to circle around to that feeling of being 22 or 23 and not knowing if it’s all still to come or already gone. But today, as I start to come out of my pulverizing stomach issues and scratch my chin like pensive Dave Rader and have a look around at this life, I don’t feel like singing that kind of blues but another, more complicated, more bittersweet song.

“Those were good days,” I said yesterday to my father, who was in his home in North Carolina as I spoke to him from mine in Chicago.

“Having you stop by the store,” I said. “That was really a great thing.”

“Yes,” he said. “It was a wonderful time.” 

(to be continued)

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Dave Heaverlo

February 4, 2010

Heaverlo, normally a blithe spirit, who shaves his head and wears rubber noses, was disconsolate.

That sentence, which would make a great first line in a short story, perhaps one about a circus employee with suicidal ideations, was a part of the April 22, 1980, sports page of Washington’s Ellensberg Daily Record. Dave Heaverlo, a native of Ellensberg, dominated the sports page of his hometown paper that day, showing up not only in the recap of the Mariners game he had lost the night before (and which presumably caused the temporary moratorium on the brandishing of rubber noses) but also in a feature story titled “Dave Heaverlo: Glad to Be Out of Oakland” and in a large photograph in which his notoriously clean-shaven dome is being rubbed by an unidentified teammate.

When I was a kid, Dave Heaverlo definitely barged deeper into my consciousness than a journeyman reliever for distant second division teams otherwise might have, mostly due to his last name, which for reasons I can no longer fully access always made me laugh. “Heave” is kind of a funny word already. People heaved up their breakfast sometimes. Grizzled hurlers with spare-tire midriffs heaved easily sluggable meatballs toward the plate. And then you add the “her low” to heave, and, well, I don’t know. I guess you had to be there. My brother would probably understand. In other words, Dave Heaverlo is one of the select Cardboard Gods, an ineffable inside joke between me and my brother and possibly shared, though I can’t say this with any certainty, with other kids who found him in packs of cards and laughed.

I never knew he shaved his head, because he always wore a cap in cards, and I wasn’t observant enough to notice that, as in this 1977 card, the total absence of hair (besides eyebrows and the cop mustache) below the cap suggested that some information on the back of the card (“Nickname is ‘Kojak’”) was not there because Heaverlo enjoyed solving gritty New York City crimes while sucking on lollipops. 

Oh, how I want to pause for a while and talk about Telly Savalas. There was no better decade than the 1970s! When else in the history of humankind could such a man, with a pear-shaped body, sloping shoulders, and liver-spotted, child-frightening head, become a famed sex symbol? But there is no time. I’m already running late for work and want to say a couple more things about Heaverlo.

First, the shaved head. The 1970s were renowned in baseball history for various grooming innovations, most notably for the first appearances of mustaches on major league diamonds since before Ty Cobb started gashing guys’ shins with his sharpened cleats, and for the Afros that began bulging out from under caps, but in both of those cases baseball was trailing behind trends in the wider culture. When Heaverlo shaved off all his hair, no one else was really doing it, except Telly Savalas. Heaverlo deserves some credit for that, I think.

I wonder if his iconoclastic tendencies hurt his career. In the edition of the Ellensberg paper quoted above, it is reported that in the spring Heaverlo “wouldn’t let his hair grow out until [A’s owner Charlie] Finley traded him.” The 1970s came full cycle in that situation, as it was Finley who played a huge part in the hair explosion earlier in the decade, when he encouraged players to grow facial hair (first doing it to coax a bearded, attention-seeking Reggie Jackson into losing the beard, then backing the encouragement with monetary rewards when the mustaches proved to be good for publicity). Heaverlo’s bald-man-alone stance did get him out of Oakland, but in the following season, according to another Heaverlo-heavy edition of the Ellensberg Daily Record, he was having trouble finding a team to employ him. This seems odd given Heaverlo’s decent stats and reputation for being able to pitch often and tirelessly. Maybe his head-shaving ways had gotten him a reputation as a troublemaker. I don’t know. But it seems odd to me that a guy who could still get outs had to struggle to find work. He did make a few appearances that season, with Oakland, of all teams, so maybe there wasn’t any attempt to steer clear of him. But his ERA in ’81 was below 2, and after that season he was restricted to the minors for a couple years and then out of organized ball altogether. I don’t know why, but it seems that major league teams, or big businesses in general, don’t really like the wearers of rubber noses. And now I’m a little disconsolate, too, and late for work besides, me and my conventional hair and humorless nose.

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John Montefusco

March 23, 2009

john-montefusco-811

One of the most interesting things I’ve ever come upon while roaming around the Internet is the long chain of comments following a post at Jaybird’s Jottings entitled “Where Have You Gone, John Montefusco.” Despite the title, the post does not really center on the player shown here in his 1981 Topps card, but it does offer some brief information about Montefusco’s ups and downs after baseball at the conclusion of a positive review of a book called Giants: Where Have You Gone. The post was published on May 22, 2005. It was over a month before anyone commented on it. That first comment probably cost its author about three seconds to complete, as evidenced by its brevity and by the level of analysis shown by the concluding phrase: “What a loser!”

More silence followed, but then two full months later another commenter finally chimed in. By this point, over three months after the original post was made, it seems likely that most anyone visiting the post had gotten there the same way I had, by doing a search on the name “John Montefusco.” With the second commenter’s offering, the communal story that would begin to unfold in the comments moved closer to the subject. Where the first commenter fired a volley from afar at John Montefusco, the second commenter, Joe Settipane, sought to establish a closeness to John Montefusco. They had, Settipane explained, been neighbors, though Settipane didn’t realize the identity of his neighbor until Montefusco had moved out. There is an immediacy to the comment: Settipane has just found out that day, from the movers clearing out Montefusco’s house, that the man who had until recently lived right beside him was a charismatic former all-star of some renown.

Settipane’s comment is not inherently negative—he concludes with the wish that he could have gotten to know Montefusco—but his musings on the reason Montefusco had to vacate his home seems to have combined with the “What a loser” comment to, eventually, draw out the comment that would begin to make the chain of comments into a living, breathing, many-voiced creature all its own. But before that third comment there was more silence, nearly a half a year of it. Finally, the author of the third comment must have done an Internet search on a name that meant as much as any name in the world to her, come upon the Jaybird’s Jottings post and the two comments, and posted the following message:

I am John Montefusco’s daughter and I think that all of you should get lives of your own. I cannont [sic] believe you people have the audacity to talk about a man and a family that you have never met and know nothing about. It is because of people like yourselves that our family has suffered more than we ever needed to. Yes, my parents got divorced, like millions do, no one needs to know the details, or slander anyone of my parents names for it. Get lives of your own, and stay out of ours!!!

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Marc Hill

November 26, 2008
 Untitled 
I.
Marc Hill, according to a particularly entertaining entry on BR Bullpen, was a two-sport high school superstar in Missouri. This is no surprise to me; save for one or two oddball late bloomers, every player I’ve droned on about on on this site must have been a god in his hometown long before he was ever a Cardboard God. I vividly remember the most celebrated high school athlete in the little town in Vermont where I grew up, Ron Schubach, our all-state basketball star, a quick, smooth guard with a Chachi haircut and an unstoppable pull-up jump shot. I still think of him as the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. I know that objectively this can’t be true, but to me he possessed the most magic. It must have been the same for all of these players enshrined in these cards. Odd as it may seem while gazing at this photo of a mouth-breather with an uncomplicated frat-boy glint in his eye, Marc Hill must have had that Schubachian mythic glow before he ever became a benchwarming journeyman known as “Booter.”

II.
Mythic glow aside, Marc Hill is surely recalled fondly by more than a few fans. He was a member of the most treasured San Francisco Giants team of the post-Mays, pre-Will-the-Thrill era, the 1978 squad that unexpectedly contended for the division crown. Hill was actually a starter that year, and the next as well, before being sent to the Chicago White Sox. He played for several years for the White Sox, a backup to Carlton Fisk, and was apparently known as a clubhouse joker. He must be more than one fan’s Shlabotnik.

III.
A couple years ago a friend of mine went back to the town we’d grown up in and played in an informal reunion pickup basketball game for anyone who played on the school team and was a member of any of the classes between 1980 and 1984, especially the Schubach-led 1981 team, which made it to the state finals. My teeth started to hurt with longing when I heard about this, in part because I immediately felt excluded, being from the class of 1985, the worst basketball class in the history of the school; in part because one of my favorite things in my life was playing pickup basketball with guys from my town, especially if the pickup game included the older guys from the state finals team; in part because I will apparently always harbor fantasies of righting all wrongs by getting one more chance against those guys and somehow dominating them instead of being a barely noticeable figure at the edges of their games; and in part because I have always wondered what became of Schubach. There was a time, during his legendary high school career, that I thought he could somehow make it to the pros, even though he was a 5’10” white guy from a state that had never (and still hasn’t) sent so much as even one end-of-bench player to the NBA. In fact he barely played at his Division II college, quitting in his first year because, so the town legend has it, “the coach was a dick,” and that was that. My friend described the reunion game as a bit of a letdown, a sparsely attended kid-riddled affair with all the intensity of a backyard beer-in-one-hand badminton match. As he described it I could envision Schubach out there among men in knee braces and giggling children: he’s moving slow, the sublime inimitable rhythm of his stutter-step dribble dulled, his hair no longer feathered, maybe no longer even there. I almost asked my friend to give me a report on the state of Schubach’s game to confirm this vision, but I decided I didn’t want to know. 

IV.
Turns out that even guys like Marc Hill, who change before our eyes from hometown legends to comic figures we fans can festoon with our failings, make inscrutable, mysterious gods. At times their messages are like off-kilter punchlines; other times they’re like wind through the trees. Ambiguous, jarring, haunting, inscrutable. We’re on our own in this quick holy life. Consider the last three mentions of the Shlabotnik named Marc Hill in that ongoing book of stark aphoristic scripture known as Transactions:

May 27, 1986: Released by the Chicago White Sox.
October 2, 1986: Signed as a Free Agent with the Chicago White Sox.
October 8, 1986: Released by the Chicago White Sox.

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Bill North

November 14, 2008
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I.
It must have seemed like it was going to be a blooping basehit, beyond the reach of infielder and outfielder alike. Dick Allen, in the midst of the last of his many MVP-caliber seasons, had been running from second base on the play, and from what I’ve read Dick Allen was not just a one-dimensional mangler of pitches but an intelligent player who knew the whole game well. He must have sized up the fluttering wounded quail off the bat of White Sox teammate Brian Downing and been convinced that it would touch down safely in the outfield grass. He must have set his mind on roaring across home plate with the tying run.

Is there anything more exciting than speed? As the ball arced down toward the outfield grass, Oakland A’s centerfielder Billy North suddenly appeared like a flash of heat lightning. This is how I imagine it happened. One moment no one is there and an eyeblink later Billy North is a green and yellow bolt catching the ball off his white shoetops. His momentum carries him forward, toward the second base bag, and I imagine that he thought about making the throw to the infielder waiting there to double off Dick Allen. Maybe North even cocked his arm to throw. But then North must have seen that Dick Allen had no chance to beat the centerfielder to the bag. (A sign of Allen’s lack of fleetness came later in the game, when he was pinch run for by Tony Muser, who stole all of 14 bases in his nine-year career.) Billy North hung onto the ball and kept running. With speed like that, speed so transcendent it must have felt exactly like joy, why stop? The outfielder transformed himself into an infielder and stomped on the bag, ending the inning and preserving the lead with what has to be one of the more unusual unassisted double plays ever recorded.

Must have felt pretty good to be Billy North that day.

II.
The A’s won their third straight World Series title that year, 1974. They won another division title the following year, but in 1976 the ranks of their championship-caliber players began to thin. The organization seemed to decide to counter the beginnings of an erosion of talent by employing an offensive strategy very much resembling sheer desperation.

In short, they tried to steal everything they could possibly steal.

They tried to steal early in games, in the middle of games, and late in games. They had bid adieu the previous year to the two-year experiment of using sprinter Herb Washington as a Designated Pinch Runner, but in his wake they now employed two Herbly reserves, Larry Lintz and Matt Alexander, who played in a combined 129 games and had only 31 at bats between them (Alexander had 30 of them and produced the duo’s lone hit); the two pinch runners combined to steal 51 bases. Their personal stolen base totals (Lintz: 31; Alexander: 20) were topped by several teammates, including Phil Garner with 35, Claudell Washington with 37, Don Baylor (!) with 52, Bert Campaneris with 54, and team leader Billy North with 75. In all, the team, which even featured Sal Bando swiping 20 bags (more than his stolen base totals in his previous five seasons combined), stole 341 bases, the most by any post-deadball-era team.

The question is, did it work? Did it allow the A’s to stave off their eventual crushing demise? Well, they didn’t win their division for the first time in six seasons, but they certainly did a lot better than they would the next season, when the bottom really dropped out. But did all the stealing lead to more wins?

My thinking is that maybe it did (but maybe it didn’t). First of all, the A’s had what I think is a decent success rate on steals that year, given the fact that to steal all those bases they must have had the green light all the time, even against pitchers and catchers who were very difficult to steal against, and given the fact that they certainly weren’t ever going to take someone by surprise with their running game. For the season, they stole bases at a 73.5% clip. I believe experts in the analysis of baseball stats have come to the conclusion that a 75% stolen base success rate or better will help a team’s offense, while anything less will hinder it. But since the A’s were only slightly below that mark, I figure they could get a pass in this regard.

More tellingly, the A’s scored quite a few more runs that year than they would have been expected to, given their on-base and slugging percentages. I did a couple of calculations using the Runs Created formulas, and it seems they should have been expected to score 620 or 621 runs. They scored 686. It stands to reason that all the stolen bases helped them get those extra 65 or 66 runs.

How much were those extra runs worth? If they had scored only 621 runs, they would have been expected, using Bill James’ Pythagorean Expectation, to win 83 or 84 games. They won 87. However, if you feed their actual runs scored and runs allowed into the Pythagorean Expectation, it turns out they should have won 91 games, which would have put them a game ahead of the division-winning Kansas City Royals. I don’t know why they performed below their expected win total, but is it possible that they lost a handful of close games in late innings because at the end of those games they had exhausted themselves with all the running?

III.
Billy North was the last of the championship A’s to flee the team’s late-’70s implosion. His 1978 trade to the Dodgers allowed him yet another campaign with a pennant-winning club, and then the next year he moved back to the Bay Area, where he joined former A’s teammate Vida Blue (the second-to-last in the exodus of A’s stars) on the Giants. The Giants were coming off their best season in years, one of those improbable near-success stories that fans of a team will cling to as if it were a brilliant ephemeral detour from the usual predictable down-sloping narrative of their lives. Hopes for 1979 must have been high, and the acquisition of champion speedster Billy North perhaps seemed as if it would be the one thing to push them over the top.

It didn’t. The Giants returned to their familiar Padre-haunted irrelevancy near the bottom of the National League West standings. It wasn’t Billy North’s fault, however. After a subpar 1978 season he bounced back with his customary good leadoff man numbers, posting a .386 on-base percentage, a team-high 87 runs, and more stolen bases, 54, than any San Francisco Giant has ever had. In fact, this last element of his 1979 season made him the single-season record-holder for the teams on both sides of the bay (other players had stolen more in a season when the franchises were located in other cities). Though this record still stands for the San Francisco Giants, North was soon wiped off the top of the Oakland A’s record book by Rickey Henderson. Perhaps this began the slow erosion of Billy North in the collective memory of baseball fans. When one now thinks of stolen bases and the Oakland A’s, there’s not much room for anyone but Rickey.

IV.
So if Billy North is disappearing, then there’s no hope at all for Bill North. Apparently, judging from the signature on the card at the top of the page, this is what the player pictured began to prefer to be called. But if you type “Bill North” into Google you will not see a link to his page on baseball-reference.com come up. And not having a page on baseball-reference.com is kind of like not existing, in terms of major league baseball. To baseball fans, there is only Billy North. I can see why this is. Billy North just sounds more dashing and mythic, the hero of a tall tale, the symbolic embodiment of youth, the possessor of an unusual, thrilling gift. If Bill North had been in centerfield that day in 1974 when Dick Allen decided to try to score, the ball would have thudded off the grass for a game-tying single. Bill North would have played it on a bounce, like a normal mortal. Bill North would have tossed it back into the infield. Bill North would have returned to his position for a continuation of normal baseball.

Lucky for us all, when the ball started diving toward its seemingly predestined landing spot in the grass, Billy North appeared.

******

Bonus trivia question: Seven players stole more bases than Billy North in the 1970s. Can you best-of-seven the question by naming four of those seven? No Feldmaning; i.e., no peeking at Internet or other sources for the answer (the term, which should be in wider circulation, is based on Feldman, a minor character in a Daniel Clowes comic).

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Johnnie LeMaster

July 31, 2008
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Below are a couple sketches of the obscurely infamous alter ego of the slight, scraggly, plainly obvious baseball imposter pictured here, from the classic but extremely difficult-to-find book I have excerpted from before here on Cardboard Gods, Dead on Arrival: The Oral History of Giant Prospects, the Greatest Punk Band No One Ever Heard Of:

From page 134-5:

Greg Johnston [bass]: Yeah, I guess because of that whole fake baseball card flyer thing, we started seeing people in ripped-up baseball shirts at our shows. It was right around when The Warriors came out, so maybe that helped add a kind of violent edge to it. You’d see these sketchy speed freak characters in their old little league jerseys and eyeblack, just itching to break a pool cue over somebody’s head.

John Tamargo [aka Johnny Tomorrow, drums]: Joe [Strain, legendary frontman of Giant Prospects] hated those baseball fucks. He was starting to crack around then anyway, but that whole thing didn’t help. He’d stop songs in the middle to scream at them.

Ned Alvin (club owner): It got ugly. He stopped right in the middle of the set and started lecturing them. He thought they were violent fascists. I don’t know about the fascist part but they were pretty violent—they’d pretty much cleared the floor of anyone not willing to have their head caved in by one of the souvenir mini bats they held in their fists as they flailed around to the music. Anyway, Strain kept calling them stormtroopers. They didn’t get the reference. I clearly remember one of them screaming back, “Fuck Star Wars!”

Johnston: Finally one of them walks toward the stage, toward Joe. This skinny unshaven derelict in a jersey just like the ones we posed in for the flyer. He’s staring at Joe so insanely that Joe stops haranguing them and stares back. It’s a showdown! The guy grabs a bottle off a table. Joe grabs a bottle from the edge of the little stage and steps down. These two skinny nutjobs just stare at each other, both of them smiling, then finally the guy smacks the bottle against his own head, not breaking it. Joe does the same to his head. They both look kind of woozy but they do it again, whack! Whack! They’re trying to break the thing but they’re [laughs] they’re fucking complete weaklings! Even with all the speed coursing through them! Eventually the bouncer breaks it up, everyone in the place looking like they don’t know whether to laugh or puke. Weirdest fight I’ve ever seen. Anyway, that was how Joe Strain met Johnny Disaster.     

From page 137:

Eddie Toth (band manager): Errors. That’s how I would characterize the Johnny Disaster era of Giant Prospects. Things probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway. When Greg Johnston left the band [to take a job as a sous chef] he did so because he was the first to see that the ship was sinking. But Johnny Disaster didn’t exactly help slow that process. He just could not play bass. I mean, his whole thing was that he was bad at everything, that he was a failure. I’m sure that’s why Joe paired up with him. Joe was always going on and on about the “Redemption of Failing,” even before he met Johnny Disaster. Sometimes I wondered if Joe Strain had created Johnny Disaster. You know, like Frankenstein. His perfectly awful creation. Anyway, it made the shows into a comedy of errors. Make that a tragedy of errors.

Tamargo: Thing I remember about Johnny Disaster is he had the word “BOO” tattooed on his chest in big block letters. He’d show it off when people started throwing things at the stage because we sucked so bad.  

From page 238:

Johnston: Whatever happened to Johnny Disaster? Funny you ask. I ran into him not too long ago in an airport. I didn’t recognize him, but I guess he recognized me. He said he was on his way to San Francisco to take part in some Giants’ reunion. He’d completely lost it and thought that he’d actually been a baseball player! I was looking at this crazy glint in his eyes as he was telling me all the great teammates he’d had and I was wondering to myself, “How the hell did this guy get through security?” It has made me a little nervous about riding on airplanes, actually.

(Love versus Hate update: Johnnie LeMaster’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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Jack Clark

April 15, 2008
 

Jack Clark, the last of a series of talented young outfielders that passed through the Giants outfield in the 1970s in the wake of Willie Mays, is shown here as a young wax figure with a face bearing an eerie similarity to the Wicked Witch of the West. Before Clark, the Giants had been unable to win in the post-Mays era despite the burgeoning talents of Bobby Bonds, Ken Henderson, George Foster, Garry Maddox, Gary Matthews, and Dave Kingman. With Clark, they still couldn’t break through and win the division, and eventually they gave up and traded him to the Cardinals for David Green, Gary Rajsich, Dave LaPoint, and Jose Uribe. While these four nondescript professionals did little to dissipate the Giants’ long post-Mays fog, Clark promptly led the Cardinals to two National League pennants in three years, his ability to hit for power in cavernous Busch Stadium earning him a reputation as one of the most fearsome sluggers in the league.

He cashed in on this reputation by signing a lucrative free agent deal with the Yankees before the 1988 season. He hit 27 home runs and drew 113 walks for New York that year, but the Yankees, perhaps unwisely choosing to focus on his .242 batting average instead of his power and .381 on-base percentage, shuttled him to San Diego along with Pat Clements for the unimpressive package of Lance McCullers, Jimmy Jones, and Stan Jefferson. 

A couple years later, after continuing his usual late-career pattern of walking a lot, hitting for power, and missing significant chunks of the season due to injury, Jack Clark came to the Red Sox. He was 35 years old by this time and ready to settle into a role in which he could throw away his fielders gloves and laze around on the bench between at-bats. The Red Sox were coming off a season in which they won the division despite lacking a premier power hitter, and Clark’s arrival sparked skyrocketing preseason hopes. He had been injured a lot of late, sure, but this season (so went the thinking) was going to be different, and by staying healthy all year and having the Green Monster as an ally he’d surely blast 40 home runs and amass 140 RBI as the Red Sox rode his broad shoulders all the way to a long-awaited World Series win.

That kind of desperate, ridiculous hope was part of the culture of Red Sox fandom back then. I know I bought into it. I thought Jack Clark was going to be The Man.

It didn’t work out that way. It never does. I should know. At that time I was in my early twenties and I applied this kind of straining, suffocating hope to every facet of my life. Every sentence I wrote was going to be the one that sprung open the gates of some as yet undiscovered genius. Every woman who so much as inadvertently brushed against me on the subway or accidentally glanced my way while standing at the bar and ordering drinks was going to be the one to banish my solitude and grace some new redeemed life with undying love. It had a way, this constant grasping for miracles, of saturating the world with disappointment.

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(Love versus Hate update: Jack Clark’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)