Archive for the ‘Toronto Blue Jays’ Category

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Mike Willis

January 19, 2010

Mike Willis spent three seasons climbing the lower rungs of the Baltimore Orioles minor league system, and then he spent three more seasons stuck at the team’s Triple A affiliate in Rochester. He was a good minor league pitcher. The textual highlights on the back of this 1979 card point out that he notched a no-hitter during his first professional season, in 1972 at Bluefield, and that he led the International League in shutouts in 1974. His best season came the following year, when he went 14-8 with a 2.57 ERA for a Rochester squad that finished nearly 30 games above .500.

The success of that Rochester squad suggests the major reason for Mike Willis’ extended minor league limbo: the Orioles of that era were loaded with talent above, below, and beside him, especially in the pitching department. On the big club from 1974 through 1976, when the team finished second, first, and fourth in the A.L. in team ERA, the Orioles featured 20-game-winners Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Wayne Garland, and Mike Torrez as well as long-time star Dave McNally and 18-game-winner Ross Grimsley. All of those pitchers save for Palmer were on their way out with the Orioles, but unfortunately for Mike Willis the Orioles’ system was stocked with potential replacements. As he continued to win games in front of the Rochester faithful, he was passed over for promotion to the big club by three fellow (and younger) starting pitchers who would, with Palmer, form the core of a rejuvenated Orioles staff in the late 1970s and early 1980s: Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez, and Scott McGregor. Willis’ numbers at Rochester were good enough that you have to think that he began to wonder what those guys had that he didn’t have.

Perhaps doubt began to creep in. In 1976, for the first time in his professional career, his ERA edged above 4, though he still managed to win twice as many games as he lost (12-6). In November of that year, the Orioles left him unprotected for the Blue Jays/Mariners expansion draft. In this draft of guys that other teams could live without, Mike Willis went 55th, right before Puchy Delgado.

He lasted a handful of seasons with the Jays, splitting time between the majors and the minors. On the big club, he racked up three times as many losses as wins, which isn’t surprising given that the Blue Jays’ winning percentages during the Mike Willis Era were .335, 366, .327, .414, and .349. This 1979 card captures him in the midst of these years of constant defeat. His contorted face and body do not give off an aura of power or confidence (unlike, say, a similar moment in a Nolan Ryan card from a year later) but rather of great effort and limitations and a gnarled and irreducible cyst of hope. The world passes you by. The world lambasts your ineffective junk. You wind and twist and try again, your stuff thin smoke and fractured mirrors, magic and luck all but gone. You keep throwing. As long as they put a ball in your hand, you throw.

In 1982, Mike Willis, apparently no longer wanted by the Blue Jays, got work with the Oklahoma City 89ers, a Phillies affiliate. His ERA that season was an even 7.00, and the 89ers, a collection of fading veterans surrounding prospect Julio Franco, went 43-91. Astoundingly—considering the ERA and the help around him, or lack thereof—Mike Willis finished the season with a winning record of 7-6. This last morsel of luck proved to be of little use: It was over. As several of his former Rochester teammates were rolling to the 1983 World Series title in Baltimore, Mike Willis was beginning life out here with the rest of us, empty-handed.

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Steve Staggs

September 23, 2009

Steve Staggs 78

Not much going on in the way of a race for the pennant in 2009, save for a late surge by the Minnesota Twins that has narrowed the Detroit Tigers’ lead in the A.L. Central to 2.5 games. Barring the always possible total collapse by any of the other playoff frontrunners, the schedule for October is pretty much set, which leaves the drama of the last couple weeks of the season to individual races and the possible setting of seasonal records. In the National League, the likelihood of a Triple Crown by the best player in the game, Albert Pujols, seems remote considering Hanley Ramirez’ 22-point lead in the race for the batting title. Meanwhile, the player who should be as much as a shoo-in for MVP honors in the A.L. as Pujols is in the N.L., Joe Mauer (.373), seems to be in good position to surpass Bill Dickey and Mike Piazza’s shared mark for the highest batting average ever recorded by a catcher (.362).

And at the other end of the spectrum from budding All-Time greats Pujols and Mauer chasing down the accomplishments of legendary figures from baseball’s past, there is Brent Lillibridge attempting to free himself from the clutches of the ghosts of obscurity and impotence on the following list:

1. Steve Staggs, 1978 Oakland A’s 97
2. Mike Fischlin, 1978 Houston Astros 95
3. Eddie Lake, 1941 St. Louis Cardinals 92
4. Brent Lillibridge, 2009 White Sox 90
5. Lou Camilli, 1971 Cleveland Indians 89

The numbers at the right of the list refer to the players’ plate appearances in the listed season, and inclusion on the list rests solely upon the persisting inability throughout the season to push a single teammate across home plate via a base hit, walk, hit-by-pitch, fielder’s choice groundout, sacrifice bunt, or sacrifice fly (thanks to Joe Stillwell of STATS for passing the list along to me). Lillibridge’s latest chance to alter the zero under “RBI” in his season totals came several days ago, on Friday, when he pinch-hit late in an 11-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals. He struck out looking. The effort, or lack thereof, nudged him past Lou Camilli and into fourth place on the all-time list of RBI-less guys.

Lillibridge at least has the memory of driving in a run in a major league game, something that the player he just passed did not have at the time of his record-threatening season in 1971 (which actually did set the American League mark at the time). In 1969 and 1970, Camilli had preceded his 1971 haplessness with 15 and 17 plate appearances, respectively, without an RBI. In 1972, in his 151st career plate appearance, he finally broke through by grounding into a forceout of Ray Fosse at second base in such a dynamic, powerful way that the runner at third, Alex Johnson, was able to lumber across the plate for a run. Camilli added two more RBI to his career record before passing from the major league veil.

Eddie Lake, whom Lillibridge seems to have a decent chance of surpassing, was, like all the others on the list, primarily an infielder, but perhaps because he was not only an infielder but an infielder in the middle of the century named Eddie, he seems to have escaped the defining fecklessness of the list. If you were an infielder in the middle of the century named Eddie, you by law had to make yourself useful by drawing a prodigious number of walks. A few seasons after Eddie Lake’s 1941 campaign without an RBI, he fell in line with serial-walking, infielding contemporaries Eddie Yost, Eddie Stanky, and Eddie Joost and recorded three straight seasons of over 100 bases on balls.

While Lillibridge seems unlikely to follow in Eddie Lake’s jogging-toward-first footsteps, he could do worse than Mike Fischlin, who after having a start to his career that was almost as unproductive as Lou Camilli’s (he knocked in a run in his 126th career plate appearance) kicked around for several more seasons (he lasted ten years in all) as a utility infielder.

All things considered, the one player Brent Lillibridge most wants to avoid mimicking is the player pictured at the top of this post, Steve Staggs, who in his 1978 card seems to not only have some preternatural awareness of the season to come, but of the darkness beyond that dusk. After failing to drive in a run throughout 1978, Steve Staggs’ major league career ceased.

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

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Doug Ault

December 19, 2008
 
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Middle row, fifth from the right. I think that’s Doug Ault. It’s the only trace I have of him in my collection besides his name on the back of this card. It’s one of the few names with a blank box next to it. As the summer of 1978 went on and all the other boxes on the back of this card started to fill, I must have begun dwelling on Doug Ault’s name and the empty box next to it.

***

Four years ago this Monday, Doug Ault left a note for his wife in their kitchen. It’s the kind of note you never want to find.

“Look in my car. Doug.”

***

If my brother didn’t have doubles of a Doug Ault card that I could try to trade for, then the only other method I could employ to try to fill in the box next to Doug Ault’s name was to wish for him, to believe that he existed even though I couldn’t see him, to believe he somehow knew he was needed, to believe he was somehow being pulled in the direction of that need, to the middle of nowhere where I was.

***

Doug Ault was the first Toronto Blue Jay to homer, doing so in the first inning of the team’s inaugural game. Two innings later, he hit the second home run in franchise history. What must it have felt like to connect that second time? Ault had played a few homerless games in the major leagues the year before, with the Texas Rangers, but they’d left him unprotected for the expansion draft. After his Opening Day barrage, he would hit only fifteen more home runs in his career and be out of the majors by 1980.

But forget what came before and what followed.

Doug Ault is rounding the bases, a member of a team that had not even existed the year before, that had come into existence wanting him, naming his name in the expansion draft, and he’d hit two home runs in his first two at-bats. His whole body must have been buzzing as he rounded first, then second, then third, as he reveled in the roar, as he stomped on the plate. Here I am, motherfuckers! Doug Ault! Home!

***

Why did I wish for cards I didn’t have when I was a kid? Why do I hold on so tightly even now, thirty years later, to the cards that I do have?

I don’t really know. But I know there are good moments, moments of connection, moments of feeling at home in this world. I also know there are moments that aren’t even moments but empty boxes next to your name. The emptiness within the borders of that box is bottomless. You feel your name being pulled toward it. You feel like you don’t have the strength to fight the pull.

If you have something, anything, to hold on to, hold on.

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Alan Ashby

December 17, 2008
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I was born into losing. This may seem like a particularly glum and self-pitying thing to say, but facts are facts: I was the younger sibling of an athletically able boy who would always be older, bigger, and stronger than me. This may not have had such an impact on my sporting won-loss record had my family remained throughout my childhood in kid-glutted suburban New Jersey, where I was born, but just as I was getting old enough to be able to perform sports-related tasks, such as throwing and catching a ball, my family moved to rural Vermont, where the great majority of the time the only game in town was the one that pitted me against an older, bigger, stronger boy.

***

During the Cardboard Gods era, i.e., the heavy card-collecting years of my childhood, i.e., 1975–1980, the 100-loss plateau was surpassed nine times. The Tigers, Expos, Braves, and A’s all had a season during that span in which they suffered over 100 losses; the Seattle Mariners had two such seasons; and the team of the player featured here, the Toronto Blue Jays, lost over 100 games not once, not twice, but thrice. And they weren’t even in existence for the first two years of the era.

***

Perhaps because I was born into losing, I spent a lot of time fostering fantasies of victory. I was willing and able to do this on my own, but I loved when my brother joined me, either as we rooted for the same team to win or as we bounded around our big side-yard pretending to be key members of the same winning team. Our baseball team was the Boston Red Sox, but when the weather started getting cold and the trees turned skeletal we shifted our attention to football. The only channel we got reception for that showed football was CBS, which featured the Dallas Cowboys nearly every week. They usually won. After those wins, we’d go out into the cold fading day and for a little while pretend to be Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson connecting for touchdown after touchdown.

***

A look at the Toronto Blue Jays’ 1977 roster might lead one to believe that the team’s executives decided to field a team of players that just happened to fall to them, like a collection of damaged drifters who all end up in the same run-down coastal outpost, drinking tequila shots at tables for one and nervously keeping an eye on the door. But in fact the team was built with a conscious plan and not by mere apathetic passivity. The plan may well have had a long-term element to it, especially considering that within a decade of their birth the Blue Jays would be contending for division titles, a development their fellow 1977 expansionists, the Mariners, fell far short of attaining. But whether there was a long-term element to the plan or not, the existence of trades made by the team in its early moments shows that the franchise was not merely naming players when forced to by the expansion draft but was seeking out players on other rosters and actively devising ways to bring those players onto their own roster. It seems, through this lens, that the Blue Jays decided that if they were going to have any structural integrity at all they would have to make sure to have able catchers, those players often referred to as “backbones” of teams. The first trade they ever made, for a player to be named later, was to acquire veteran catcher Phil Roof. The first trade they ever made where they actually had someone on hand to offer in return came about a week later in an Expansion Day trade of Al Fitzmorris for Doug Howard (who would never play a game for the Blue Jays) and Alan Ashby. Ashby would serve as the team’s first regular catcher, the first backbone, the first rock upon which the tower of the franchise would be built.

***

Ashby became an official member of the team just as it was starting to get cold, in November, the time of year that found my brother and me pretending to be Staubach and Pearson. My brother always eventually grew bored with that shared side-yard fantasy. He either quit to go climb deep into one of his science fiction books or decided it was time we played against one another. Our one-on-one matches went the same way in every sport we played, but they were stripped to their grimmest essence in the wake of the Staubach-to-Pearson fantasies. I’d punt the ball to my brother and he’d Robert-Newhouse through me for a touchdown, then he’d punt the ball to me and I’d have it for a few seconds before he grabbed me, ripped the ball from my hands, tossed me aside like a candy bar wrapper, and ran for another touchdown under the cold gray sky.

***

Alan Ashby went on to play for seventeen years in the major leagues, most of those seasons as the on-field shepherd of the often-dominating Houston Astros pitching staffs of the early 1980s. But he never caught more games or logged more at-bats than in that first long season with the Blue Jays. As mentioned earlier, the catcher is often thought of as the backbone of a team, but the catcher is also a team’s most intimate witness. The catcher can see all the other players on the field at all times, and unlike the three outfielders who also have a comprehensive view the catcher is involved in every play at close range. All season long Alan Ashby had the best view of the daily pummeling the team was sustaining, run after run stomping down on the plate in front of him as he held his mask in his hand, doing nothing because there was nothing to do. The photo shown in the 1978 card at the top of this page shows this witness to monumental failure looking a little guarded, a little sad. An aura of powerlessness emanates from his bunched shoulders and placid, introspective features. But there must be in this photo evidence of a tenacious will, too. A full ten years after presiding over the 107-loss season, a 35-year-old Ashby recorded career highs in home runs, RBI, batting average, and just about every other offensive category. Everyone’s born into losing. Can you bear witness to the losing and continue to show up, year after year?

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

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Balor Moore

November 17, 2008
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“People ask me if I would go back to the game if I was offered a position, and I don’t think that I would, because I wouldn’t want the insecurity.” – Balor Moore, “No Moore regrets for first Montreal pick”

I.
Balor Moore is shown here throwing a pitch that clearly has very little chance of reaching the mitt of his catcher. I wonder if the catcher’s body language is similar to that of the figure partially visible at the left border of the photograph. This must be the third baseman, and from the look of it he has no intention of readying himself for a positive conclusion to Balor Moore’s attempt. As Balor Moore pitches, the third baseman seems prepared only to amble a few steps to his right to cover the bag once the ball is stung on a line deep into an outfield gap, or better yet prepared to not move at all except to turn his head and watch the soundly hit ball arc high above everyone’s head before disappearing into the left field stands.

You could argue, as I have tried to argue to myself, that the third baseman’s hopeless slackness is due to this not being a photo of an official pitch at all but simply a picture snapped of Balor Moore as he is tossing the ball to the umpire in exchange for a new ball. I believe this argument fails on the grounds of two bits of evidence: the bulging muscles in Moore’s right forearm and the intense, albeit somewhat battered, look of concentration on Moore’s face. These elements suggest that despite the overall impression that no power whatsoever is being generated by Balor Moore, that the pitch by Balor Moore will loop toward the plate as big and soft as a multicolored beach ball, that Balor Moore may in the next second have to duck to save his own life, Balor Moore is trying as hard as he possibly can.

II.
Balor Moore once possessed a gift about as rare as any that these brief lucky lives of ours can contain. He was a high school legend, his left arm a bazooka, his teenage bat-gripping opponents little more than trembling props in a prodigy’s tour de force. In 1969, the brand new Montreal Expos sought to build the future of their franchise on his shoulders by making him their first-ever number one draft pick. Just two months after that draft, according to a cartoon on the back of this card, the 18-year-old Moore pitched a no-hitter for an Expos’ minor league affiliate in West Palm Beach. The following year he was in the majors, the second-youngest player in the league after Cesar Cedeno. He was raw that year, and appeared in only six games, but after spending 1971 in the military, Moore seemed to attain the security of being a legitimate major leaguer that had been preordained by the sizzling life in his pitches. He posted a 3.47 ERA and struck out 161 batters in just 148 innings. The following year produced similarly promising signs that he was warming up for a long and successful stay in the major leagues, as he finished tenth in the league in hits per nine innings and second in the league, behind only Tom Seaver, in strikeouts per nine innings.

III.
His body betrayed him the following year with a string of injuries that ultimately led to elbow surgery. He appeared in just eight games in 1974, and then was out of the major leagues altogether for the following two seasons. He managed to get into seven games for the California Angels in 1977, his meager contributions part of the tearful element of the Angels’ lament in those years: Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin’. It must have been difficult to be a faceless addition to the two days of cryin’ for a guy who not that long before that appeared destined for the kind of power-pitching success of his two dominant Angel teammates. In 1978 he moved on to the Blue Jays, perhaps the only player in history to debut for the two Canadian major league expansion teams in their second years of existence. (He also bridged the Bob Bailey-Bob Bailor continuum as sturdily as anyone ever has, considering his first name and his status as teammates of both of the similarly-named early members of the Canadian expansion teams [Bailey the second acquisition of the Expos, after Don Bosch, Bailor the second pick in the 1976 expansion draft, after the Mariners took Ruppert Jones, who went 0 for 6 against Balor Moore, but I digress], but I digress, but what else is there to do but spiral from digression to digression [happily, I might add] when considering the entropic career of Balor Moore [and thank the gods for Balor Moore, for in his meandering insignificance there is the gateless gate to the interconnectedness of all]?)

IV.
Anyway, Moore set his career-high in games pitched in his first season with the Blue Jays, but the team’s reliance on him was more a testament to their general ineptitude than any return to promise by Moore. They had no Tanana or Ryan. All they had was day after day after day of cryin’.

V.
The back of this card tries to put a happy face on the coming irrevocable doom of Balor Moore’s career. Is there anything more unshakably cheerful than the back of card text on a baseball card? The statistics and even the picture might hint at sheer desolation, but the text will always seek out the one thing that escaped the leveling storm of failure:

  • Threw Complete Game Victory as Blue Jays won their first game ever in Metropolitan Stadium in 5-1 Toronto Triumph, 7-26-78
  • Had 1.69 ERA vs. Twins in 1978.
  •  

     

You’ll notice that the second of the two nice things the Topps writer could think to say about Balor Moore overlaps the first nice thing. In fact, Balor Moore only pitched twice against the 73-89 Twins in 1978, and he lost the game not mentioned in the first point. The undertone of desperation becomes even more apparent in the text when the reader notices that the year mentioned in both bullet points is the year before the most recent season on the card, implying that nothing at all positive, not even one good game against a mediocre team, occurred in 1979.

VI.
But 1979 probably seemed like a golden age compared to 1980, in which Moore posted his highest ERA yet, not counting his brief callup in 1969. Before the season was over, he was released, ending his major league career. I wonder if in some ways, deep down, the release was a relief. The previous decade had been spent worrying that the rapid and mysterious erosion from within of his rare, glowing, almost supernatural gift would cause him to be cast out of the only adult life he’d ever known. When it finally happened, for good, maybe Balor Moore was glad to be able to move on, to start trying to find more solid ground to stand upon than the fault-riddled earth of a major league pitching mound.

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John Scott

June 30, 2008
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Exactly one week before his eighteenth birthday, John Scott was selected by the San Diego Padres with the second pick of the 1970 amateur free agent draft. Only one unsigned player in the world, Chris Chambliss, was deemed more promising at that moment. I wonder what it felt like to be John Scott at seventeen, failure a stranger.

It took him four years to make it to the majors, and then only as a late-season callup who got into just 14 games. In 15 at-bats, he hit .067. The next season he got into more games, 25, but had even fewer at-bats, just 9, all outs. He didn’t make an appearance in the major leagues in 1976, but just after the World Series the Padres, abandoning hope that he’d ever deliver on his prodigious promise, sold him along with Dave Hilton and Dave Roberts to a team that didn’t even quite exist yet. The expansion draft that would stock the roster of that team had yet to occur, and only Phil Roof, who had been acquired the day before, preceded the erstwhile Padres trio as members of the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, you could make a case that John Scott was the very first Toronto Blue Jay, as he batted lead-off in their first ever regular season game, April 7, 1977, against the Chicago White Sox. This first-ever Toronto Blue Jays at-bat ended in a strikeout. Scott went 1 for 5 in that game, a fairly accurate preview of a season in which he logged 233 at-bats and hit .240 with 2 home runs and a .266 on base percentage. And that was it for John Scott and the majors.

At some point during his lone extended chance to prove that he could cut it as a major leaguer, this photograph was taken of John Scott staring directly at his bat.

Why have you abandoned me? Where have you gone? I’m begging you. I’m ordering you. I’m begging you. I’m ordering you. I’ll turn you into ash. I’ll build you a shrine. I love you. Don’t leave me. I hate you. Don’t leave me.

Failure is never a stranger for long.

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

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Tony Solaita and Craig Kusick

April 20, 2008
 

It’s Sunday and I haven’t written in long enough that I’m starting to worry if I’m done so the thing to do is go straight into the silence and start thrashing. This is what I would tell someone I cared about if they were in the same predicament: just write and let it flow and don’t worry if it comes out stupid, for you as everyone is are full at all times with the immensity of the universe, etc, etc, and all that remains is the practice of opening to it so open to it with sincerity and love and in the name of Jack Kerouac and his tenets of spontaneous prose just go. OK. So. The men pictured here. The two men pictured here are done. I mean they played no major league baseball the season these cards came out or ever after. Also, they have both passed away, Kusick at the age of 59 and just months after his wife died and Solaita even younger, shot to death in his native American Somoa. They had somewhat similar careers, both playing sparingly for a few years in the early 1970s before becoming semi-regulars in 1974. Solaita was a left-handed batter who had trouble hitting lefties, and Kusick was a right-handed batter who had trouble hitting righties. Neither was ever a full-time player, but for a few years they were productive part-timers. They both came to the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of July 1979. The Blue Jays were well on their way to their third 100-loss season in their three years of existence. In fact, they would end up losing more games in 1979 than in either of the previous two seasons, which must have made it seem that they would never get any better, that they would languish forever in the basement. Kusick and Solaita did little to contribute either way. Maybe this was the plan all along, just bide time while the young guys slowly mature. The Blue Jays did get better eventually, becoming a good young team throughout the 1980s and then a championship team in the early 1990s. Maybe in 1979 they just needed bodies, and it didn’t matter if you were half a ballplayer or a whole ballplayer. Together, Kusick and Solaita made a whole ballplayer. On their own, they were aging, limited, slow, flawed. They were backup designated hitters. They sat behind two other aging slow sluggers, Rico Carty and John Mayberry. But I have not written for days. This bothers me. The less I write the more I wonder if I’ll never write again. I can’t think of anything to say and also have everything to say. I wasted my day yesterday and I worry that I’m wasting my life. How long can I last? I just read Pete Maravich’s biography and he died when he was my age, 40. John Marzano, who I remember as a hero in the only bench-clearing brawl I’ve ever witnessed in person, died a couple days ago, not much older than me. He had a heart attack and fell down the stairs. Back in 1991, my brother and I made a trip up to Boston just to see the Red Sox, and Clemens was pitching, and he got taken deep a couple times early and took out his frustration on the next batter, John Shelby, drilling him. Shelby rushed the mound, bat in hand. Who knows what he would have done with the bat? Had Marzano not gotten one of his rare starts at catcher that day we might have found out, and maybe Roger Clemens would be living in a 24-hour care facility, his brain sluggered, John Shelby buried in some prison somewhere. But Marzano tackled Shelby from behind just feet from Clemens. The picture in the Boston Globe the next day brought tears to my eyes for some reason. It was all there—Shelby, the bat, Clemens, Marzano heroically taking Shelby down. The hero! I have this need for heroes, I guess. As I’ve made abundantly clear, repetitively clear, probably, my first hero was my brother. My favorite times playing in the yard with him were when we pretended to be a team together. He’d throw the passes and I’d catch them, or vice versa. Touchdown! But this was boring to him. Music was the same way. I listened to what he listened to, for the most part, always lagging a little behind and then at times inhabiting the just-abandoned step of his path with an intensity that outstripped his own, making it my own only by means of skewed worship. This is bullshit! Why can’t I be coherent? The thing is in 1979, the year Kusick and Solaita became one whole ballplayer between them on one of the worst major league baseball teams in history, disco was dead. We had listened to disco together, my brother and me, together. We owned the Saturday Night Fever record jointly, as I recall. Also we once had a dispute over who would get to buy Leif Garret’s single “I Was Made For Dancin’.” But by 1979 my brother had moved on to Rock with a capital R. His blue three-ring notebook was covered with Rock names. That summer we went to New York City to visit our dad, as we always did, and the highlight of the visit for my brother was a Ted Nugent show at Madison Square Garden. Somehow he convinced our dad to take us to the concert. I didn’t know any Ted Nugent. I went along. It was terrifying. There were these older guys sitting in the seats behind ours, and they were resting their booted feet on our seats. They moved their legs slowly, reluctantly. One of them wore a cowboy hat and dark shades. I felt very awkward and scared and out of my element. There were disco sucks signs. There was one sign that two guys carried around that said “Disco Is Dead But Rock Is Rolling.” The band came out. It was deafeningly loud. It was painfully loud. I couldn’t fathom how loud it was. Worse, each loud sound pained me in a way I can’t quite explain but that had to do with my father. I knew he was suffering immensely. Also, I don’t know, I didn’t… I’ve never really figured out why it pained me so much. We went into the bathroom, my dad and I, while the show was still going on. The bathroom was completely empty. I told him I was sorry. He didn’t hear me. I repeated myself a couple more times. He finally nodded as if he’d heard me, but I think now that he was just sick of trying to decipher my mumblings. He had cotton stuffed into his ears through the whole concert anyway. But why was I apologizing? I mean, I was really mortified by the whole thing. I really did feel sorry. But why was I so guilty about his presence at the concert? I hadn’t even been the driving force on the thing anyway. I was just going along with my brother. It was torture, the whole thing. I remember a couple things about the show. I remember one longhaired young dude of Rock turning to another in front of us and giving an appreciative, “these guys are not bad at all” nod. This only really made sense afterward, when we found out the details of what exactly we were seeing. I remember that the one scrap of lyrics that I could pull out of the general painful noise was “sin city.” The singer kept repeating those words, sin city. And at the end, or near the end, the shorts-wearing guitarist got up on the singer’s shoulders and they waded out into the crowd, the guitarist soloing. As soon as they finished their set my dad stood and marched us out of the Garden. No one else seemed to be heading for the exits; in fact, some people seemed to still be straggling in. I remember crossing the mostly empty avenue and asking my brother, my voice sounding weird and small after all the shrieking decibels, “So which one was Ted Nugent?” I didn’t know Ted Nugent very well, but I recalled from one of my brother’s album covers that he carried a guitar and also seemed to be singing, or at least screaming, into a microphone. The act we had just seen, which we assumed was Ted Nugent, had a singer who did not play guitar and a guitarist who didn’t sing. I think my brother and I exchanged a couple thoughts along these lines and then fell silent. The next day we went to Crazy Eddy’s on Sixth Avenue and thumbed through records by AC/DC. I guess we didn’t really understand how concerts worked, because for some reason we were holding out hope that we hadn’t missed the very act we had been trying to see even as we understood, I guess probably by looking at our tickets, that there was an additional act somehow involved with the concert. Anyway our foolishness didn’t become official until I located the song “Sin City” on one of AC/DC’s albums. Of course, pictures of the shorts-wearing guitarist were all over their albums too. We were the stupidest motherfuckers in the history of the planet. My brother ended up writing an essay about the concert for an English class that fall. He didn’t let on that we hadn’t seen Ted Nugent, not to his friends and not in the essay. He got a lot of praise for the level of detail in the early parts of the paper and was criticized for his vague description of the Ted Nugent part of the paper. As for me, I never really did get into Ted Nugent beyond buying a cassette by him that included Wango Tango and Terminus Eldorado. But within a year or so I had become a huge AC/DC fan. They got big right around then anyway, Highway to Hell’s big success giving way to Back in Black’s monstrous status as one of the biggest, greatest albums in all of the history of capital R Rock, but I think part of my interest in them was due to seeing them in concert, not because the concert had been enjoyable but because it had been huge and frightening and painful, and by learning all their music by heart I mastered that chaos, brought it inside myself, made it my own. Interestingly enough, my brother never really got into AC/DC as much. His music tastes changed, shifting toward new wave and punk, and while I followed him into that I did so taking AC/DC along. AC/DC was mine alone. I was 11 that year, 1979, and in a way I was done. Tony Solaita and Craig Kusick were done that year and so was I, done with grade school, done with childhood. Puberty followed, AC/DC the perfect soundtrack. It was dim-witted, the music, and straightforward, pulsating, angry, explosive. Uncertainty and shame and guilt and fear all dissolved in the span of one of their 4-minute three-cord stomps. Angus Young, the shorts-wearing guitarist, became a new hero, the schoolboy gone wrong, expelled for bad behavior, unrepentant. On the cover of Highway to Hell the band looked like cavemen. The two-guitar attack was the best part of the music, the older brother Malcolm Young laying down the riff and sticking with it unwaveringly like a starving Neanderthal bashing a rock on ice, Angus following the riff until a crack formed and then stealing though the crack to a wilder wider life with his incendiary solos. God they were good. God they were idiots. My two favorite bands when I started getting hardons and learning new forms of loneliness were AC/DC and the Ramones, bands of brotherly impassioned idiocy and stomp, riffs to burn your brain clean. The seventies were done. I was done. Touchdowns in the yard with my brother were done. I was half of a whole. And disco was done. And Rock was rolling.