Archive for the ‘Seattle Mariners’ Category

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Glenn Abbott

November 20, 2007
 

 
There’s an actor that Glenn Abbott resembles, a guy who showed up periodically throughout my youth and adolescence on the fringes of Westerns and cop shows and the stray episode of the Incredible Hulk. I can’t remember any specific role, or even come up with a movie he was definitely in so as to seek him out on the Internet. He was never a leading man, never saved the day, never rode off into the sunset with the beautiful girl. If he ever had any time in the spotlight at all in anything it was a brief, shadow-tinged spotlight. Maybe he uttered a slightly ominous albeit forgettable line of dialogue. Maybe he got thrown into a pile of hay bails by a greened-up Lou Ferrigno. Whatever he did he’s gone now, as far as I know. But then again it wouldn’t surprise me if he showed up in something again. He was one of those guys who was never quite here and never quite not here either.

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Skip Jutze

September 16, 2007
 

We have been mathematically eliminated. We are playing out the string.

We will be let go. We will be exchanged for other nonentities, or for no one yet named, or left unprotected, or designated for assignment, or cut, or waived. It will happen sooner than we expect.

The seats behind us are empty. We take a swing through the empty air. We look to the empty sky.

Any records left behind will show us as unphenomenal, late to the game, rarely necessary, transient. 

Maybe we will have had our day in the sun. We will have hit the first grand slam home run in the history of an expansion team. We will have tagged out a man at home to complete a rare 6-4-3-2 triple play.

But in the end we will be unable to hold back elimination. We will grow a mustache. It will do as much as anything else, which is nothing. We will finish 38 games behind the team that hit into the triple play. We will then be called into an office.

“It is over,” we will be told. “You’ve been released.”

We will wait for a phone call to refute this claim. The phone will not ring.

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Bruce Bochte

July 27, 2007
 

A few days ago I was traveling south in a rental car on I-89 in Central Vermont, headed to Manchester, New Hampshire, for a flight home to Chicago. I had given myself extra time on the drive in case I felt like detouring down memory lane, and because I am always in the mood to detour down memory lane I exited the highway at Randolph so I could descend into the valley of East Randolph and stare at the house I’d grown up in. I’ve done this before, several times. I always pull over and sit there for a few minutes, listening to the engine tick and waiting for something significant to happen. Then I move on, feeling dumb and empty. Perhaps because I knew what was in store for me I added new complications to this latest detour, delaying it, first deciding to stop at the general store in town and then on my way to the general store deciding to take back roads that would take me by Buster Olney’s stepfather’s farm, where I once labored throwing haybails and also played whiffle ball and Stratomatic with the future nationally known czar of baseball insider info. I drove for what seemed like an inordinately long time down a narrow dirt road, thinking that I’d gone and gotten myself lost in the closest thing I have to a hometown.

But then the farm appeared. I drove by at about ten miles an hour. No one was in sight. I don’t know what I was hoping for. Maybe Buster lolling around the driveway in some sort of completely uncharacteristic moment of disengagement. In truth he always was and surely still is constantly and passionately occupied, but I guess I was hoping he’d be just sort of standing there, perfectly open for a surprise visit from a friend out of his past. We’d greet one another enthusiastically, ask about one another’s family, laugh about the good old days, and then eventually the conversation would get around to my favorite way of feeling like a piece of shit: my lack of success as a writer.

“Stop worrying, I’ll make some calls,” he’d say, staring at me meaningfully so as to let me know that within weeks I’d be cashing royalty checks, fending off voluptuous baseball card memoir groupies, and appearing on The Daily Show, Fresh Air, and Mike and The Mad Dog. “Now let’s go throw a few bails for old time’s sake and then play some Strat and eat chocolate chip cookies, old pal,” Buster would then say.

Anyway, a few minutes after rolling by the quiet farm I pulled in at the general store in East Randolph. Since this store was where I had bought the great majority of the baseball cards shown on this site, I planned to buy a new pack there and then tell you, dear reader, all about it. Also, a couple days earlier, Barbara, the long-time family friend who painted the picture of my old house shown on this site during the Mario Guerrero chronicles, told me that the store had recently been bought by a local married couple that included a girl from my grade that I remember very well. In fact she was the girl most often featured throughout my teenaged years in the 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind.

This 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind opened around the time I got the 1980 Bruce Bochte card shown above. I was 12 years old and in 8th grade and as I believe I’ve mentioned before I had recently discovered that the girls around me were bulging through their clothes in hauntingly interesting ways. My god, how I clung to box scores and the Sunday batting averages in those days, clung as I never had before and never would again. I specifically remember clinging to Bruce Bochte, to his name that is, which had in previous years not been among the league leaders in the batting average list printed in the Sunday paper, but now suddenly here he was, an exciting new arrival in the land of Carew and Brett. Though in later years he would recede into a haze that would have me confusing him with Bruce Bochy (who I in turn confused with Bob Brenly, who was nominally entangled with Bruce Berenyi), at the dawn of my troubling, painful puberty Bruce Bochte rang like a bell through the fog, trying to guide me back home, and I in turn tried to walk toward the sound as best I could but more and more just ended up ducking into the aforementioned 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind, where the future owner of the general store in the closest thing I have to a hometown was always shedding her tight 8th grade gym clothes and running toward me with voracious enthusiasm.  

Anyway, I pulled into the parking lot of the general store, mumbled a hello to three younger guys sitting on the bench on the porch (in truth the word I uttered was a stiff, fakely folksy, flatlanderish “howdy”), and walked inside, prepared to confront my past crashing in on me from various angles. There was a pale gnomish lady in her fifties at the register and three other females behind a deli counter in back. I lurched up and down the aisles conspicuously, stealing glances back at the deli counter. I saw two skinny teenagers and a woman who looked to be in her forties. Maybe the latter woman was the girl I’d known, though in that moment I was convinced she wasn’t. She seemed far too old. Far too unhot. She was smiling though, and seemed happy, which aligned with what I recall of the good-natured girl I’d sort of known, or at least had chronically leered at. At any rate I didn’t talk to anyone in the store except for a brief and anonymous back and forth with the employee at the register, on my way out.

“Can I help you find something?” she asked.

“Do you sell baseball cards?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

You know the phrase “It’s all water under the bridge”? Last night at a restaurant a friend had intended to say that but instead got the words mixed up and said “It’s all bridge under the water.” It’s my favorite new phrase. It seems to me to be a much more accurate portrayal of the past than the phrase she’d intended to say. The past is not water safely below you and you’re not standing on some firm bridge. No, you’re adrift. And if there ever was something that carried you across the water it’s now crumbled and broken, sunken, stripped of utility and purpose, and if you want any part of it you better break out the scuba gear, because it’s all in sludgy chunks at the bottom of the river. But even if you dive down and locate it, what are you going to do with it? East Randolph, Buster Olney, my old house, the sunny girl at the center of my teenaged masturbation fantasies, even Bruce Bochte: It’s all bridge under the water. If you’re trying to cross over, you better find some other way. You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.

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Kurt Bevacqua (Continued)

March 28, 2007

Prayer for Expansion, Part 2

Kurt Bevacqua seems in this 1977 Seattle Mariners card as if he has been wandering around with mounting confusion on the same blurry, ethereal plain seen in the background of Pete Broberg’s 1977 Seattle Mariners card.

It makes me wonder about the birth of the Seattle Mariners, who had yet to play a game at the time the two cards came out. Maybe the beginning of that franchise was not a series of bargain-bin purchases and expansion draft signings but instead a kind of ambiguous baseball afterlife. Maybe what we’re seeing in the 1977 cards of Kurt Bevacqua and Pete Broberg are not fake Elysian Fields created by the rushed doctoring job of a Topps artist, but instead some kind of miraculous photograph of the netherworld where baseball journeymen go when they pass beyond the veil separating the Big Leagues from the Great Beyond.

The statistics on the backs of both Kurt Bevacqua’s and Pete Broberg’s cards seem to support this idea. In the 1976 season, both of them struggled for playing time on a last-place Milwaukee Brewers club. Broberg went 1 and 7 with a 4.99 ERA, and Bevacqua hit .143 in 7—yes, 7—at bats. Both were in their late 20s, no longer able to be identified as prospects. As he rode the pine and watched his teammates rack up 95 losses, it must have at some point occurred to Bevacqua (if not to Broberg, who, judging from the photo in his ’77 card, seems capable of blithely ignoring any and all negative portents) that he may not be long for the world he’d come to know. I imagine Kurt Bevacqua thinking to himself, If I can’t cut it in Milwaukee, where the hell else can I possibly go? I imagine a feeling of doom beginning to infiltrate the ever-wider spaces between at bats. I imagine a hazy feeling beginning to prevail, things that once seemed inarguably solid starting to become incorporeal.

“What pitch he get you with, Bevacqua?”

I imagine a teammate asking this. Bevacqua has just gotten a rare at-bat, and it has ended in a strikeout.

“My bat,” Bevacqua replies in a near-whisper, but he swallows the rest of his thought. He understands it’s too strange:

My bat is turning to fog.

“Your bat,” says the teammate. “What about your bat?”

But before Bevacqua can answer, the world he has known dissolves altogether. No more teammates, no more dugout, no more fans, no more game.

He is wandering around the blurry, ethereal expanse captured in this card.

It looks a little like the lifeless, bulldozed plain of a landfill. It also looks a little like a dormant spring training complex stripped of its baseball accessories. No batting cages, no pitching machines, no stands, no bases.

No players. There’s no one else around.

Kurt Bevacqua gradually becomes aware as he wanders that he is still wearing a baseball uniform, but it’s not the same one he’d been wearing before, and in fact is unlike any uniform he has ever worn or even seen. There is an M on his cap, just as there had been on his last cap, but it clearly does not stand for Milwaukee. In fact, the M seems to be in the shape of a pitchfork, an alarming realization considering the connotations of pitchfork iconography in afterlife scenarios.

“Oh no,” Bevacqua mutters aloud.

But the physical conditions don’t seem particularly infernal. He’d rather not be alone, and he’d rather everything not be kind of blurry, but he’s not being burned alive, or flayed, or mangled. In fact, the climate is preternaturally mild, as if the blue above his head is not the sky but the painted ceiling of a brand new air-conditioned dome.

“Could be worse, I guess,” Bevacqua murmurs, and he even relaxes a little and entertains the hope that the blurriness of the landscape is merely the world of his wildest dreams slowly coming into focus. Maybe it’s like one of those newfangled Polaroid instant camera pictures, he thinks. Blurry at first but then as you look at it everything slowly, magically appears.

But at the moment he thinks this, a figure emerges from the murky horizon, walking toward Bevacqua. He’s another man in a baseball uniform. As this figure draws nearer, Bevacqua understands that he is wearing a uniform similar but not identical to his own. Then he realizes that he recognizes the man in the uniform. His heart sinks. No way this is paradise. Bevacqua’s expression becomes like the one seen in his 1977 card: Confusion feeding into something verging on anger.

“Broberg,” he says, pained. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Hey, man, I know you,” Pete Broberg coos with lidded-eyed calm. His face is the placid mask seen in his 1977 card. “You’re, uh, hm. Yeah. Ha! I definitely know you.”

“Where the hell are we?” Bevacqua says, exasperated. What a friggin’ idiot, he thinks.

“Don’t worry about it, friend,” Broberg purrs. “I mean, relax, you know? You’ll live longer.”

Bevacqua fights back an urge to punch his former Brewer teammate in his unflappably contented Ivy League face. Live longer? This seems a potentially ridiculous thing to say in the current circumstances.

“I don’t know,” says the angry-faced Bevacqua, “I don’t like this bullshit. I mean, our uniforms. They don’t even match.”

Broberg gazes at Bevacqua, then lazily looks down at his uniform, comparing. Broberg’s uniform has a lighter shade of blue, and his neckline lacks the gold piping seen in Bevacqua’s. Broberg removes his own cap and sees that the outer prongs on the M on his cap seem to splay out more than the straight prongs on Bevacqua’s cap. Broberg shrugs.

“Details, my friend, mere details,” he says. He puts his cap back on his head. He yawns.

Bevacqua, already sick of being around the guy he figures he might have to spend eternity with, glares out at the mushy horizon.

“I think we’re in a horseshit operation,” he grumbles.

But as he says this another figure appears off in the distance. Then another. Soon a couple dozen figures are meandering half-dazed from every direction toward Broberg and Bevacqua, all wearing slightly different uniforms, everyone with a uniquely crooked pitchfork M on their head, everyone in white with lighter and darker shades of blue. Bevacqua recognizes some as fellow marginals. Others he doesn’t know. Nobody says anything.

Then, like the distant crashing of waves or the wide lonesome susurrus of wind through trees, there is the sound of cheering, far off. The baseball players don’t have any idea that the cheers are emanating from opening day at a place called the Kingdome. But they all understand they should move toward the sound.

And so they do, together, a new kind of team.

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Pete Broberg

March 23, 2007

I.

“This is not a photograph – no
(This is not a photograph)
And these are not the Elysian Fields
(This is not a photograph)”

–Mission of Burma

And if that’s not enough jagged postmodern abnegation for you, this is not a Seattle Mariner, either. Pete Broberg was drafted by the Mariners with the 35th pick of the 1976 expansion draft, but he was traded to the Cubs for a player to be named later before the Mariners had played (and lost) their first game.

Moreover, at the time this mysterious portrait of Pete Broberg in cheesy Elysium emerged, the Seattle Mariners did not quite fully exist. For example, they did not yet have caps, or even an official cap design. The pitchfork represented here on the crown of the fake cap painted onto Pete Broberg’s head, perhaps the product of an overworked Topps artist’s interpretation of some hurried instructions delivered over the phone by an overworked Seattle Mariners official, is not a bad rendering, especially when compared to other Topps-doctored cap insignias, such as the loopy “NY” on Rudy May’s 1975 card, but it is decidedly smaller than the actual logo that appeared on the Mariners caps when they officially began their existence.

The undersized insignia contributes to the overall impression of unreality, an impression strengthened further by the background, a glue-huffer’s foggy hallucination of paradise. Another even stronger element in the creation of the card’s ersatz bliss, ironically the one part of the picture that seems the most likely to have originated as a photographic representation of reality, is Pete Broberg’s face.

This face, which seems more a part of an oil portrait made to look like a photograph than a part of a photograph, represents the most placid, careless expression I’ve yet come across in my investigations of the Cardboard Gods.

By far.

It’s as if Pete Broberg has left behind all the complications of life. Or perhaps has never been the least bit acquainted with such complications.

II.

“I thought we had another Bob Feller. But he’s a hardhead.”
–pitching coach Sid Hudson on Pete Broberg

Pete Broberg is 27 years old in this picture, and his past to this point has been a series of gleaming futures that never came to pass.

He’d been 18 years old in 1968, which was for most young men in America a bad time to be 18: U.S. troop deployment and casualties in Vietnam had reached their highest levels, and you could expect a letter in the mail at any time, demanding that you come join the carnage.

But Pete Broberg was special, the best high school pitcher in the nation. He was chosen by the Oakland A’s with the second pick in the first round of the 1968 amateur draft (Tim Foli was taken first). As the A’s had just moved from Kansas City that off-season, Pete Broberg had the distinction of being the first pick ever taken by the Oakland A’s. While others his age with fewer options were on their way to Vietnam, Broberg was being offered a $175,000 signing bonus by A’s owner Charlie Finley. Broberg turned him down and instead enrolled in Dartmouth College. (One of the ways of avoiding the military draft back then was to go hide out in college for a while. I don’t know if this figured into Broberg’s decision. In an article on the Oakland A’s website the only clue Broberg offers on his turning down of the $175,000 was that he didn’t feel ready yet for the big leagues.)

Three years later, he was the best amateur baseball player in America, bar none, and he did feel he was ready for the majors. This time he was taken first overall in the amateur draft, the last first round draft choice ever taken by the Washington Senators. Broberg signed with the Senators with the stipulation that he never have to spend a moment in the minor leagues. Two weeks after being drafted, he pitched in the majors against the Boston Red Sox. He struck out 7 and allowed two runs in a 6-inning no decision. Most who saw him in his early days were impressed by his talent, as touched on in this Baseball Fever discussion thread.

But the talent, which seemed to surface in glimpses (including the day Broberg was the pitcher of record in the first-ever win by the Texas Rangers), never translated to any kind of sustained major league success: In his entire career, he never once finished the year with a winning record. By the expansion draft of 1976 everyone had long ago ceased waiting around for Pete Broberg to blossom into the next Bob Feller.

But in this 1977 picture Pete Broberg doesn’t seem to give a shit that his early promise has gone unfulfilled. That year he racked up another lousy year with the Cubs, then brought his career full circle, in a raggedy ass way, by going 10 and 12 for the A’s, the team that had tried to throw $175,000 at him right out of high school 10 years before. The Dodgers signed him as a free agent the following year but told him he’d have to go to triple-A or be released.

In the aforementioned article from the Oakland A’s website, Pete Broberg recounts the choice in a way that seems to fit his expression in this card:

“I went home,” Broberg said. “They still had to pay me, and the Dodgers paid my way through law school.”

This sounds like the words of a guy who just doesn’t care that much about baseball. But in keeping with the theme that everything connected with this card is not what it seems, Pete Broberg later put his law career on hold in 1989 to play for a pittance while pitching for the West Palm Beach Tropics of the short-lived Senior Baseball League, an act that had to have been, after all those years serenely reclining in the fake Elysian Fields of well-paid apathy, an achy-muscled labor of love.

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Mike Parrott

December 19, 2006

I don’t know how things stand now, but in the late 1970s the corrective eyeware industry had not really mastered the operational aspects of eyeglasses that, theoretically at least, got darker in the sunlight and lighter indoors. There was this one kid in my grade, Craig, who had tinted aviator glasses very similar to the ones partially masking Mike Parrott’s apprehensive expression, and Craig’s glasses were never tinted enough outside or untinted enough inside. I sort of hated Craig because both he and I had curly hair and glasses and braces and played small forward on our constantly defeated junior high basketball team. I hated my curly hair and glasses and braces and losing and hated Craig because I guess I needed in some way to put all that self-hatred onto somebody else, especially a someone who didn’t seem to mind all the things that seemed like curses to me. In fact, I am pretty sure he permed his fucking hair to make it curlier, and somehow the fact that his glasses were tinted, that they featured this new, attention-grabbing technology, made his glasses the same as the perm, an embrace of his cursed status as a four-eyed brillo-head. By the time we were in tenth grade and putting in our fourth straight season of getting our brains beaten in on the basketball court, Craig’s refusal to realize that he was cursed had resulted in him even having a girlfriend that he seemed likely to be having sex with, which was something like the Apollo Space Program to my Caveman Banging Rocks Together And Thinking About The Moon. But even so, in my mind Craig was still the douchebag with the stupid tinted glasses. He had to be.

Anyway, Mike Parrott seems here to be on the brink of a humiliating discovery, his eyes fixed on the horizon as if an airplane skywriter is spelling out the last letters of a message that Mike Parrott’s wife has run away with some other Mariner that Mike Parrott has always fervently believed to be a douchebag. In the season to come, Mike Parrott will valiantly battle the creeping self-doubt apparent in this picture, going 14-12 with a respectable 3.77 ERA. He will even begin the following year with a win, but then he will lose every single other game that year, 16 games in a row, to finish 1-16. I don’t know if Mike Parrott’s tinted glasses contributed to the monumental losing streak, but one has to wonder why a guy whose home games were in the roofed Kingdome would be drawn to glasses that were always a little too dark when the wearer of them was inside.

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Larry Milbourne: Part 3 of 4

November 6, 2006
 

(continued from here)

Here is Larry Milbourne with a big wad of tobacco in his left cheek. Larry Milbourne had the first game-winning hit in Seattle Mariners history, doubling home pinch-runner Jose Baez in the bottom of the ninth of the team’s second game ever.

This career highlight found an oddly discordant, bittersweet echo several years later when Milbourne’s career as an itinerant switch-hitting utility infielder came to a close. In the last game of the 1984 season, the aging Milbourne, called on to pinch hit with no outs in the 7th inning of a game the Mariners were losing 4–2, came through just as he had when he’d been younger, lacing a double to centerfield.

Unfortunately, the pinch-runner this time, Darnell Coles, was gunned down at home on the play. Having pinch-hit for the catcher, Milbourne must have known as he stood out there at 2nd base that this was it for him for the year. No taking the field the next inning, no more at-bats later in the game. But I wonder if it occurred to him, loitering with one foot up on the bag between pitches, Spike Owen and Jack Perconte his only hope for prolonging his present moment of baseball life (which is like having a sheet of notebook paper and a mesh tank-top as your only hope against stopping a bullet), that this might be it for good. Not only for the inning, not only for the game, not only for the season, but forever.

My guess is probably not. Though he never did play in another game, the date of an item from the transaction section of Larry Milbourne’s page on baseball-reference.com–“August 2, 1985: Released by the Seattle Mariners.”–suggests that at the end of 1984 Milbourne probably still had hopes of living a while longer in the blue sky realm of the Cardboard Gods.

I guess it’s hard to know when you’re doomed. In the spring of 1985, as a new season was getting underway, Milbourne probably still thought he’d get the call one more time. Likewise, during that very same spring, I was thinking I still had a chance to avoid expulsion going into that judicial hearing I mentioned a couple days ago in extremely loose conjunction with Gordy Pladson. I even thought I had a chance after listening politely to the red-faced math teacher’s enraged litany of my transgressions. But it was directly before the hearing that it would have really behooved me to realize I was doomed, so as to open myself up to the possibilities that such a realization would have created.

My character witness/stoner friend Matt and I arrived early to the judicial and were standing outside the building in the dark, I guess waiting for the weasel-faced faculty member who had caught me smoking bong hits to finish giving his testimony, and this hulking pock-faced Middle Eastern student, Basheer, whose nickname was Bashit, shambled out of the shadows. I remember thinking that it was a strange time for a student to be walking around. Probably it was “study hours,” where you’re either supposed to be quietly studying in your room or quietly studying at the library, with no movement from one to the other allowed.

It was not unheard of, of course, to break these rules (in fact it was during study hours that the bong session leading to my bust had occurred), but it was customary to accompany any rule-breaking with a tense, giggly, whispering, hunted sense that rules were being broken, that risks were being taken. If I and not Basheer had been the one to emerge out of the shadows, for example, I would have been moving quickly, shiftily, my eyes darting around and nervous snickering leaking from my clenched teeth like steam from a cracked radiator. But the big foreigner had an air of complete nonchalance as he walked halfway past us and then, noticing with mild pleasure that there were others out and about, sauntered over to us.

“What the fuck are you two shitheads doing here?” he bellowed. He had an accent that made “the” and “shitheads” sound like “thee” and “sheetheads.” I probably cringed, rabbit-like, at the volume of his voice. He pulled out and lit a cigarette (another rule broken) as I gravely murmured to him what was going on, that I was about to go into a hearing that would decide my future. He took a long drag, eyeing me, before finally replying.

“Listen to me,” he said, his voice still booming. “You must fucking do as I say. You must go in there. You must go in there and tell them. ” He took another long drag, his eyes boring into mine.

As I waited to hear more, a nervous prep-school snicker escaped me.

“Tell them what?” I finally asked.

He exhaled slowly and flicked his cigarette butt off into the darkness. He knew Spike Owen and Jack Perconte were not going to keep the inning alive. He knew 1985 wasn’t my year. He drew closer.

“You must go in there,” he said quietly. “And you must tell them.

“To suck. Your fucking. Dick.”

 

(to be continued)