Archive for the ‘Loose in the Shoebox’ Category

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Tim Krauss

March 1, 2016

Tim Krauss

This card from 1986 feels different than a major league card, flimsier, promotional, disposable. The player’s name is spelled differently on the front than it is on the back (“Krausse”), and on the back instead of the somehow comforting stack of years that you see on a major leaguer’s card there’s just one line of statistics, from the player’s previous season, which occurred with another team from a different organization, in another league, in another city, in another country. The numbers from that year, 1985, are without promise—3 homers, 2 steals, a .244 average. Above them are some other numbers for height, weight, and birth date that further fill in the portrait of a slight, plodding, light-hitting Triple A infielder who’ll turn 28 before the year is done.

But what gets me the most is the stray comma after the birthday info: 9-09-57,

The comma seems to be from the same disordered reality as the figures in the photo on the front of the card. The photo’s ostensible subject strikes a polite pose and smiles, but the slippage in focus of his gaze away from the camera loosens any possible ability of the figure to center the presentation. You aren’t drawn to any one thing in this world, and so you bounce from thing to thing randomly, from the necklace of the infielder to the blotchy sky to the other figures scattered around, all seeming to look with slackened boredom at various unremarkable occurrences.

I listened to a lecture on the drive to work today by a Buddhist teacher named Gil Fronsdal. He talked about how it’s important to pay attention to your body, to really feel moment by moment what you’re doing. There’s a part in my drive when I pull into the left-hand turn lane on Touhy to make a left on Elmhurst. I’m always in a long line of cars for this turn. It was at this point in the lecture when Fronsdal talked about what a waste of time it is to wait. When you are standing there, just feel yourself standing. Pay attention to the moment. Meditate. Breathe. Don’t cast yourself forward in time or strain against the expectations you brought into the moment, the disappointments those expectations bring.

There’s a huge billboard above the lights for that turn for a “gentleman’s club.” It advertises that it’s “full liquor” and “full contact” and that the “dancers work free.” I’m not sure what any of this means except for the liquor part, which I suppose means you can get hammered on any type of liquor you want. I guess you can grope the woman who work there at will and you don’t have to lure them toward you by waving money in the air. I’ve gone to strip clubs two or three times in my life, back when I was the age Tim Krauss is here, and there did seem to be customs around money and contact. On the billboard there was a large photo of a woman’s face. Her head was tipped back and her mouth was hanging open. Her eyelids were almost shut. She looked as if she’d been drugged. The other billboards on this strip of road sell other consumables and services, cheeseburgers, lawyers, liquidation.

The green arrow came on and it was my turn to go. The lecture ended and Fronsdal asked for questions. After some loud feedback a man in the audience ignored the request for questions and made a faintly but flintily challenging statement about how it seemed easy to follow the precepts of mindfulness when things were going OK, but when the body started breaking down or other life crises occurred it got a lot harder. Fronsdal said—he didn’t use these words, but this was the gist—that everyone would be wise to train the mind for when things inevitably start to suck. You’ll never be able to do it if you wait until the end.

And things will start to suck. You’ll lose whatever intermittent ability you might have had to turn on the inside fastball. And that will just be the first of it. All day at work I felt like I had been dropped from a height. I was woozy, weakened. This is closer to the norm than the exception. I never really feel that great anymore, physically, and yet I’m always waiting to somehow become 27 again going on 26, or 25, or 24, on one of those days back then when every muscle felt good and like the next card I drew was going to feel solid in my hand, not some discordant fortune of meaningless punctuation, anchorless desire.

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Glen Bockhorn

February 25, 2016

Days up and down they come
Like rain on a conga drum
Forget most, remember some
But don’t turn none away.
–Townes Van Zandt, “To Live’s to Fly”

I’d never turn a baseball card away, but days are a different story. Take today. I didn’t want to be anything that I am. An employee, a father, a friend, a husband, a son, a writer, a scooper of cat shit, a registered voter, an operator of an automobile, a chewer and swallower of food, a speaker of words, a breather of air. I’m not saying I wanted to not exist. I’m of a mind with my father on that.

“I can’t understand why anyone would want to die,” he said. This was yesterday. I’d called to wish him a happy birthday. He’s now 91.

“I want to live,” he said.

“Me too,” I said.

“I can’t hear you very well,” Dad said. We talked for a little while, mostly him talking and me listening. He told me about how he thought he might not ever again be able to walk up the steep hill outside my parents’ house and about an article on Bernie Sanders’ chances and about how humans will have to live through very dark times before a necessary revolution can occur that could save humanity from complete environmental destruction.

“I worry about the future for my boys,” I said, trying to chime in agreeably. It was true, generally, but not really true on a daily basis. On a daily basis, as a father of two intense, unstoppable boys under five, I usually don’t have the energy to look beyond the borders of each pressurized, exhausting moment.

“Well, my hearing aid must not be working so well,” my dad said.

That was yesterday, and today a ferocious wind was blowing all day and the sky was drained of light and I thought a lot about how old I was—not as old as my dad but older than I ever imagined myself being—and this wasn’t so much something that caused me to worry about death but to grow weary of life, of all the gray days. Here I am, closing in on 50, and I’m the same fleshy sack of limitations I’ve always been. I’m never going to make the major leagues. I’m not talking here about any kind of material success but about something else. Early in life you believe that one day you’ll bloom into some perfected version of yourself.

***

I’d never turn a baseball card away, which is why Glen Bockhorn is in my collection. I don’t even remember exactly when he entered the collection, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I would refuse him.

He was a member of the 1986 Buffalo Bisons. It was the last of his eight seasons in pro ball. He was 29, and it must have begun to occur to him that he wasn’t going to make the majors. He’d hit decently throughout his career, thumping over a hundred home runs in professional baseball, and he’d done whatever he could to make himself useful, playing every position on the field except pitcher. None of this would ever lead him to the big leagues.

But Glen Bockhorn is enjoying the moment. Why wouldn’t he be?

“Hey, Glen,” someone with a camera has just said.

Glen Bockhorn turns toward the voice. He’s got a bat in his hands, a shirt with his name on the back. Who couldn’t imagine that everything is still to come?

“We’re going to put you on a baseball card,” the cameraman says, “so get ready.”

Bockhorn

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Rich Camarillo

January 29, 2016

Rich Camarillo

Even in a 46 to 10 thrashing there is hope. It doesn’t seem that way in retrospect, but as you’re living through it—and this goes for life too—you’ll constantly be buoyed by possibilities, even as they transform more and more into preposterous myths.

For example, the Patriots took a lead in Super Bowl XX, and after they relinquished it a few minutes into the game they clung to a tie for a few minutes more, and then when the lead was given up it was only by a margin of another field goal. With the first quarter almost complete, the Patriots were down just 6 to 3.

It was my first day of college, and I was out of my mind on throat-shredding hits of potent marijuana from my new friend Tom’s chest-high Graphics bong by that point, so I can’t tell you exactly how much I believed the Patriots could scratch out an improbable win, but knowing my general approach to life—which despite all my complaining is actually pretty hopeful—I’m sure I still believed such a win could happen.

I do remember believing in Steve Grogan. The swashbuckling Grogan—whose specialty in my memory was faking handoffs and then bootlegging for big yardage before either being demolished by angered defenders or, occasionally, scooting all the way in for thrilling touchdowns—had been the Patriots quarterback for as long as I’d been a fan of the Patriots, but by the time of Super Bowl XX he was backing up the functional uninteresting football bureaucrat Tony Eason. I had envisioned before the game that the Patriots would fall behind and that the old pro would then enter the fray to lead a stirring comeback. I got teary-eyed even imagining it, such was my love for stories of stirring old-guy comebacks.

So judging from when Grogan entered the game. I still had hope in a Patriots’ victory even after the Bears had upped their lead to 20 to 3 and, furthermore, had shown ample evidence that the Patriots moving the ball even inches forward would be hard to do. Tony Eason’s last series underscored this perfectly, even suggesting that keeping from moving backwards would be a tall order:

James run left, no gain (Dent).

Collins sweep right, loss of 2 (Marshall).

Eason sacked, loss of 11 (Wilson).

And for a moment, there really was some hope. The Patriots recovered a fumble and Steve Grogan ambled onto the field and, after getting his first pass batted down, completed two passes in a row, for eight and six yards, respectively, achieving a New England first down, which in the context of the game at that point was something like me now, at age forty-seven, dunking on Bill Russell in his prime. The legendary Bears defense quickly shut down any further progress on that drive, and then the Bears scored a field goal on the next possession, upping the lead to 23 to 3.

Grogan completed another 8-yarder to set up another first down on his team’s next possession, and then came a sack, a penalty against the Patriots, and another sack to set up a third and 33. The notion of a third down with 33 yards needed to make a first down pretty much sums up the feel of that Super Bowl in retrospect, but as it unfolded I’m sure I took heart in Grogan’s next play, a 24-yard pass completion, even if it didn’t really do any good.

I probably took even more heart in the following play, a 62-yard punt from the fellow shown at the top of this page, Rich Camarillo. As it turned out, the punt set a new Super Bowl record. More crucially, it pinned the Bears down at their own 4-yard-line. Just stop them now, I prayed, or whatever it is you do when you are hoping life works out despite your current status as a pot-addled seventeen-year-old boob starting college halfway through the year on a mountain in Vermont, just stop them now, and Grogan is within bootlegging distance from the end zone, and after that maybe the team gets on a roll and the Bears start to get tight, etc. This was an incredibly short-lived series of thoughts, as I was reminded of today while perusing the play-by-play:

Camarillo 62 punt downed at Chicago 4-yard-line.

McMahon 60 pass to Gault deep right (Marion).

Soon after that historic-punt nullifier, the Bears punched it in for another touchdown, and it was 30 to 3, the kind of score that has an insurmountable steepness to it. Hope settled down inside me, losing itself in the more generalized tangle of inebriation and confusion. Those were some aimless days.

Sometimes I miss them. But for the most part I guess I have to admit that I’m now in a stage of my life where every day I’m consciously flooded with thoughts of gratitude. I’ve got two kids, four and a half and one and a half, and every day they make me think of Bill Murray’s line about having kids from Lost in Translation:

Your life, as you know it . . . is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk . . . and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.

Even with that in mind, or perhaps especially with that in mind, I still believe life is more or less like being on the short end of a 46 to 10 thrashing. I’m not trying to be gloomy, but how else could it be otherwise when the deal is that you suffer (everyone agrees on this—Jesus, Buddha, etc.) and then it’s over (and what happens after that point isn’t the subject of this essay)? This is not to say that life is not without hope or delight or not to be clung to with deep gratitude. The problem isn’t finding things to be grateful for but finding a way to voice that gratitude. This is why I took some time today to thank Rich Camarillo, record-setting punter, one-rung-helmet aficionado, beacon of hope in the face of the relentless sacking that is life.

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Rolf Benirschke

January 21, 2016

Rolf Benirschke

Three things about this card that I love:

The single bar on his helmet. You still saw these when I was a kid. I think Billy Kilmer, the Washington quarterback, was the last non-kicker to wear one. When he was gone it was just the kickers who wore them. What was the point of them? I guess I love things that are pointless and gone.

The rain gear. Can it even be called a coat? I remember these too from my childhood, slightly modified garbage bags draped over the shoulders of kickers and quarterbacks, giving them a brooding, melancholy air as they stood there on the sidelines, waiting. Really the air that they gave off was of impending defeat. You don’t imagine a player flinging one off to charge onto the field for a winning play but instead to watch time run out, powerlessly, and then to move with a slight, lurching limp out of sight.  I don’t know what this says about the things I love.

The name of the player. Kickers all seemed to be from some far off land in my childhood, such completely separate entities from their hulking teammates that it seemed almost a requirement that they speak a different language and hew to odd, Old World customs. This was not the case with Rolf Benirschke, who was born in America, but I don’t think I knew that. I lumped him with all the other guys named Garo and Efren and Fuad and figured he sat aloof in the locker room at halftime eating pickled herring and reading Kierkegaard.

He almost perished in 1978, did Benirschke, but Raiders’ All-Pro Lester Hayes apparently saved his life by tackling him with such customary savagery that it caused the kicker’s ribs to shatter. He was rushed to the hospital where it was discovered that, unrelated to the hit from “the Molester,” Benirchke’s colon was in an advanced state of distress due to Crohn’s Disease. Benirschke nearly died despite the lucky medical intervention, losing 57 pounds to drop down to 123 pounds, perhaps attaining the status of the NFL player closest in weight to nothing since the days of Walter “Sneeze” Achiu. He regained his health and went on to set all kinds of Chargers’ records for scoring and, just after his football career came to an end, briefly hosted Wheel of Fortune. Vanna White turned the letters for him.

What a day I had, is all I really wanted to tell you. It was like any other day, which means I worried about dying, marveled at the beauty, hilarity, and exasperating qualities of my two boys, four and a half and one and a half, felt guilty about not staying in close enough touch with other loved ones, worked pretty hard at my job, and got involved in an email thread with some friends in which the discussion focused on what rock star deaths have affected us the most over our lives but then evolved into an argument about the precise level to which the Eagles (the band, not the football team) suck. Near the end of the day I bought some gum from a vending machine. It had gotten hard from sitting in the machine a long time, a little like the gum that used to come with these cards.

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Pork Chop Pough

August 30, 2013

Exif_JPEG_422660 days until my next book comes out.

I have a lot of work still to do before my next book comes out. That’s why it’s 660 days from coming out and not about 365 days fewer than that, as was originally planned. Earlier this summer I officially missed the original deadline for turning in the manuscript of my book.

“Maybe I can still get everything together soon,” I said to my editor. My mental state was a little bit like that of the Henry Hill character in the latter stages of Goodfellas. Helicopters were following me. Still, I did not yet quite see that everything was falling apart.

“It sounds like you’re not that close,” he said. “Why don’t we just take our time?”

Is this exactly what he said? Probably not. But something like that. He was the reasonable person in the conversation, and I was the desperate one.

Writing a book in desperation doesn’t work so well with me. I have a lot of shredded notebooks dating back over the years to prove this. It’s better if I approach the writing playfully. The book I’m working on has grown only when I’ve been able to do this, and then whenever I try to force it forward, it stalls. It goes silent. I go silent. I start counting the days, as if I’m in prison.

It’s no way to go through life. Better to take notice of the here and now.

So here on the first day of my official countdown of the days, and before I turn to my manuscript, and as a way to try to turn to my manuscript in a playful mood, is Pork Chop Pough, who never quite made it to majors. He played in the minors for a long time. Near the end of his career he was a big part of an ESPN article on the Nashua Pride. He is asked in the article why he continues to chase a dream that appears to have expired.

“I still love the game,” he says.

In the background of the photo is my son dropping baseball cards into my guitar. The picture is a few months old. He used to do this more. My guitar was always full of baseball cards. He hasn’t done it much since. It was a little annoying to always be shaking baseball cards out of my guitar, but someday I’ll miss it, I’m sure. I’ll miss making a pork chop for him and cutting it into small pieces, like I did yesterday evening. He was out in the back of our building, playing with his grandma, my mother-in-law. He didn’t eat any of the pork chop chunks. He was too interested in wandering over to parked cars and touching the tires so that his hands turned black with tire grime. All he had on was a diaper and some sandals. He smeared his hands on his stomach.

“Good god, you’re growing up in a parking lot,” I said. I still had the plate of chopped-up pork chops in my hands.

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The Last Airbender

June 2, 2012

I have always walked a lot, and though my life has changed considerably since my son was born last year I still walk a lot, now with him strapped to my chest. I wish I could say I spend the entirety of each walk marveling down at him, and though there is always at least a little marveling, the truth is I continue for the most part to spend my walks now as I have spent them for some time: scrutinizing one glimpse of trash after another in hopes that one of these pieces of trash is actually a baseball card. As I wrote recently in an essay for Chicago Side, I’ve found a few baseball cards lying in the street over the years, but I haven’t found any in quite a while, and the actual ratio of pieces of trash scrutinized to pieces of trash that turned out to be baseball cards is so infinitesimally small as to be statistically nonexistent, similar in that regard to the ratio of planets in the universe versus the planets that support human life. So far there’s been just one and we’re on it, ruining it I guess, what with all the littering and Happy Meals. I found this card some time ago and since it was a card, albeit not a baseball card, I picked it up and brought it home. I suppose it came in a Happy Meal or something, if they still have Happy Meals. Happy Meals sprung up after I was done with childhood, so I don’t recall ever getting one. Anyway, this movie looks fucking stupid. I vaguely remember it coming out but I can’t say when. Sometime in the vague slab of years that occurred and continues to occur after the more delineated progress of time in childhood. The character featured here can bend all four elements, according to the back of the card. I can’t bend elements. But I can break wind. Ha ha ha ha ha! Right? Oh, man. Where was I? Oh yeah, walking, looking. I wish I had spent my writing time this morning working on a prize-winning short story, but this is my one life, an absurd blue miracle: walking, looking, cardboard, fart jokes.

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1976 wrapper

January 12, 2012

Here’s a little prayer to a wrapper. There was a moment a long time ago when this wrapper was fastened around a stack of brand new cards and a rectangular shard of gum. The cards were unknown. They could be any cards. Most likely the moment of possibilities was sped past, the wrapper torn open at the first touch.

Here’s a little prayer to the idea of slowing down, of waiting and listening and wondering. Days are marked inconsequentially with short bursts of shared babble. Most of this babble makes no impact before dissolving in thin air. Other babble has a narcotic hook that catches and tears at the attention momentarily. My mind is full of babble. The days go by.

Here’s a little prayer to the life behind all the babble. Here’s a little prayer to the hope that a wrapper torn open long ago might somehow enclose itself once again around a world of possibilities.

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Carl Crawford

April 8, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Tampa Bay Rays

I intended to finish these oblique predictions by Opening Day, but my persistent failure to ably navigate the technological complexity of the modern world kicked that intention in the nuts a while ago, dropping it to the sidewalk in some pain, and so this project drags on into the first days of the 2011 season, carrying with it, inevitably, an unavoidable sense on my part of how the season is actually proceeding. When, before the season started, I first blindly pulled this shiny 2008 Carl Crawford card from a “miscellaneous” rubber-band packet in my shoebox that includes puny clumps of Diamondbacks, Rockies, Marlins, Nationals (who I keep separated from my Expos), and Devil Rays/Rays, I figured that to write about the card and about the poor bereft Rays I’d have to wrestle a partial muzzle onto my own insufferable smugness as a Red Sox fan on the brink of Without A Single Doubt What Will Be The Most Dominant Season In Red Sox History, this vision of omnipotence most concentrated in thoughts of the new left fielder, surely (so the vision went) the greatest combination of speed, competitiveness, and extra-base-smashing batsmanship to rip a gaping swath through the major leagues since Ty Cobb. On the morning of Opening Day, I predicted to my fellow Red Sox fan friend Matt that the first inning of this season of can’t-miss glory for the Red Sox would be highlighted by a sizzling Carl Crawford RBI triple. That night, I ended my periodic day-long back and forth with Matt by saying “Ah god damn it.” The Red Sox lost the next game, too, and the next and the next and the next and the next and now stand 0-6, and Carl Crawford is batting .174 with 1 run scored and no extra-base hits. Carl Crawford’s former team isn’t doing any better. They’re 0-6, too, the only other major league team besides the Red Sox without a win. The Rays’ pitching has been better than that of the generally run-hemorrhaging Red Sox’ staff, but the Rays can’t score. Two aging former Red Sox stars, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, are at the epicenter of the ineptitude, sporting batting averages, respectively, of .053 and .059. One has to wonder if Damon and Ramirez are nearing the end, and also if the brief golden age of the Rays, forced to scavenge for fading sluggers to prop up their offense, really did vanish into thin air with the exit of the greatest player in their short history. This latter musing is roughly the gist of the prediction I’d originally intended to suggest by way of this card, but now that the season has begun with a long skein of losing for both the team Carl Crawford left and the team Carl Crawford joined, I don’t know what to say beyond the general prediction that everybody is in motion and everybody will decline and everybody can and most likely will fall more or less short.

***

How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part of 23 of 30: Read Russel Banks’ 1985 novel Continental Drift, which features a New Englander in a severe downward spiral toward rock bottom in Florida; though the book is not at all a baseball novel, it features one of the greatest “baseball cameo” scenes in literary history when the novel’s unraveling protagonist, a lifelong Red Sox fan, has an awkward and fleetingly holy chance encounter in a bait shop with Florida resident Ted Williams.

***

2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins; Atlanta Braves; Cincinnati Reds; Oakland A’s; Seattle Mariners; Chicago Cubs; Baltimore Orioles; [California] Angels; Texas Rangers; Boston Red Sox; San Diego Padres

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Mike Kingery

March 6, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Colorado Rockies

Mike Kingery toiled in the minor leagues for six and a half years before he got called up by the Kansas City Royals midway through the 1986 season. The Royals traded him to the Mariners, and in 1987 Mike Kingery played his first season of professional baseball entirely outside the minor leagues. The outfielder would log 10 seasons in the majors, and most players who manage to stick around that long don’t have to bother with the minor leagues after their earliest years, but after 1987 Kingery kept getting sent back down to the bushes, splitting time between there and the majors in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992. In 1993, at the age of 32, he spent the entire season in Omaha, the Triple A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, whom Kingery had circled back around to after stints in San Francisco and Oakland. He hit .263 for Omaha with a .325 on-base percentage and a .411 slugging percentage. It was the last of his 13 seasons in the minor leagues, and if you had to guess what happened next based only on Kingery’s lifetime minor league stats, you’d have to assume that it was the last of his seasons in professional baseball anywhere. Instead, he hooked on with the Colorado Rockies and, in 1994, the year just before this card came out, Mike Kingery suddenly was able to hit practically everything thrown to him. He started showing signs that he was locked in during limited plate appearances in April, became more or less a regular in May and saw his numbers start to tail off, but then he caught fire in June and stayed blistering hot the rest of the summer. On August 11, 1994, Kingery was batting .349, behind only Tony Gwynn and Jeff Bagwell in the National League batting title race.

In this 1995 card that spotlights the outfielder’s career year, some anxiety seems to be ingrained in Mike Kingery’s face. He’s digging for an extra base, clearly, and he carries with him in this effort all his many years of experience as a journeyman clinging to the edges of major league rosters. You get thrown out trying to dig for an extra base and maybe you get a “nice hustle” from the manager, and then again maybe you get a bus ticket back to Tacoma. There’s not a lot of margin for error. There’s no way to know whether Kingery made it safely to the base he was trying for in the photo on the front of the card, but if his stunning 1994 effort could be thought of as being encapsulated by the electric moment of tenuous gain on the front of his 1995 card, then it can be said that he would never arrive at the base he was trying for, not officially, anyway. Hands would be thrown in the air, time called, and everyone on the field who had been running and whirling and throwing would suddenly slacken, looking around confused. This was, of course, the season that never really occurred, or occurred in truncated form, like an apparent triple in which time was called and the game was ended while the runner was rounding second and digging for third. It was a season that ceased with a labor disagreement, no playoffs, no World Series, the usual end punctuation for the season not an exclamation point but a question mark. The question mark attached itself to the season itself and to everyone and everything in it. Some of the individual uses of this traveling question mark are more well-known than others. Would the Montreal Expos have won the World Series and maybe then never left Montreal? Would Matt Williams have broken the single-season home run record? Would Tony Gwynn have hit .400? I doubt many people have wondered about Mike Kingery’s career year, but because it came during 1994 it has a question mark clinging to it, too, just like everything else that occurred that year.

Applying the enigmatic doubt-flecked career apex caught on this card to the fortunes of the 2011 Colorado Rockies, I’ll say that the Rockies will sail most of the way through the season on a wondrous roll, and then, in August, it will be as if a plug is pulled, all the electricity of the hot streak instantly gone. Digging for third, they will be thrown out.

***

How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 7 of 30: take some baseball instruction from Mike Kingery   

***

2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks

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Eric Byrnes

March 5, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Arizona Diamondbacks

I went for a run this morning. It was still kind of dark out, and it was windy and drizzling. I usually run with my Sirius-XM radio pouring the Howard Stern show into my ears, but lately I’ve been running with no babble or music (I’m trying, in general, to pay a little more attention to my life as it’s flying by; ironically, I may also have been influenced in this new way of running by Howard Stern, who practices and preaches not listening to anything while running). This morning I noticed, of all things, a small brown rabbit darting up the opposite sidewalk. A few minutes and blocks later, I saw another rabbit bolting and then freezing to a quick-breathing halt on the crushed brown grass outside an apartment complex. I didn’t know there were rabbits living in Chicago. I wonder what their life is like. They seem pretty frightened all the time. When I was a kid, I had a pet rabbit for a little while, a soft white one. He was constantly terrified, it seemed, and I didn’t feel anything for him but pity and didn’t do a very good job of keeping his cage clean. Luckily for him, he got out of his cage one day and never came back, hopefully going on to live a life of carrot-eating and wisecracking and eluding large-headed hunters with speech impediments, but more likely getting crushed by a gravel truck or macerated by coyotes. I still feel guilty for failing my rabbit. Compounding my guilt: I don’t even remember his name. I can tell you all sorts of things about the inert baseball cards I collected as a kid, but I can’t tell you the name of my rabbit.

And now all things fall away from me almost as soon as they enter my consciousness. My first instinct when looking at this card, and the reason why I started this post with a complete digression from forecasting the 2011 baseball season, is that I have nothing to say about it or the Arizona Diamondbacks at all. The card is shiny and slick, professionally rendered, soulless. If it did not feature Eric Byrnes, I would have no connection to it at all, and if Eric Byrnes had not done a couple of things over the years to make my wife laugh, repeatedly, each time the incidents were replayed getting the same laugh out of her, her laughter among my favorite things in the world, I wouldn’t have a connection to Eric Byrnes, either. But I guess I do have a connection to Eric Byrnes. I just showed this card to my wife as she was putting something into the filing cabinet next to my writing desk.

 “Recognize the guy?”

“No.” (The silver lettering of his name would be difficult to read from where she was standing.)

“Eric Byrnes?” I said.

My wife started smiling.

“The guy that slid into first?”

She was referring to the moment when the Rockies won the 2007 pennant. The focus of the moment is Todd Helton making the catch for the out at first, exulting, then centering the Rockies’ scrum, but my wife has always loved how the runner, Eric Byrnes, after his fruitless and somewhat asinine headfirst slide, remains prone for a long moment face-down in the dirt, adding a sulkingly toddler-like accent to the otherwise standard issue victory moment. Years earlier, she’d gotten the same kick out of a similar toddler moment from Byrnes, when he gave Jason Varitek a shove during a weird homeplate play in the 2003 playoffs. Anybody remember this play? Varitek was tagging Byrnes out, I think, but the disoriented Byrnes thought that he’d already been called out and that Varitek was messing with him, but the key to the humor of the play was in the harmless, petulant nature of Byrnes’ shove, the kind of thing you might see in a playground sandbox when two three-year-olds have a dispute about a shared toy.

What all this says about the fate of the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks is a little beyond me, but I guess if I have to trust in the images that come to me while holding a baseball card and pondering the featured team’s immediate future I guess I’d have to say that the Diamondbacks’ season will be a little like the short, frightened life of a rabbit, but that maybe at the end there will be some moments that, on reflection, stand out for one reason or another, a laugh here or there, and in these slick, disappearing days you can’t ask for a whole lot more than that.

***

How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 6 of 30: take a little break from all the baseball and read Jennifer Egan‘s A Visit from the Goon Squad. This novel, my favorite work of fiction to have come out in the last couple of years, indeed has nothing whatsoever to do with baseball, but it does explore memory and the passage of time, two things that I’m often wondering about while I’m thinking about baseball (or about anything).   

***

2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates

***

Finally, here’s a video with Eric Byrnes and some laughter in it. After being released from the Mariners last year, Byrnes joined a slow-pitch softball team with his buddies. This is his first home run in his new laughing life beyond the bigs:

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Don Mossi

June 15, 2010

The concept of the muse suggests that artistic inspiration is a soaring rendezvous with some sort of personification of perfection. I’d guess that more often art struggles to its feet as a messy, necessary reply to either the grueling sameness of everyday life or to jarring, terrible deviations from that sameness. Somehow, when encountered in cardboard form, Don Mossi embodied both of these crucibles, a man whose haunting mien threw the children who gazed upon it out of the dream of a flawless baseball heaven and back into their imperfect everyday solitudes, where they would be troubled forever after by Mossi, that bringer of the news that life will not be beautiful.

The first to wrestle this specific burden of knowledge into art were Brendan Boyd and Fred Harris, who used their gifts for figurative language and hypothetical riffs to sing of Don Mossi. In their seminal 1973 work, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubblegum Book, Mossi is discussed in terms of his bullpen partnership with fellow Cleveland relief ace Ray Narleski, as if even years after his retirement the world was not quite ready to look upon Don Mossi alone: 

[Narleski and Mossi] always reminded me of two small-town undertakers who, having found the world at large a particularly cold and hardhearted place to do business in, have banded together in a desperate and distrustful partnership for the purposes of mutual self-preservation. Narleski with his sly little-boy grin and the darting, fishy eyes of the small-time criminal handles the customer relations, and Mossi with his loving-cup ears and the dark hulking presence of one newly dead or resurrected does all the dirty work. (p. 64)

 

The card used to illustrate the passage features Mossi looking particularly sepulchral in a Tigers uniform. Many years later, cartoonist Daniel Clowes recreated the card in his Eightball comic along with a caption that seemed to give voice to the most common reaction of having an image of Mossi in mind.

The most well-known rendering of Don Mossi, which includes the notion that Don Mossi was “the complete, five-tool ugly player,” comes from Bill James’ short article on the subject in his Historical Abstract, but while the “five-tool ugly” passage is hilarious, I prefer some earlier sentences in James’ piece, when he simply peers directly into the face of Mossi and describes what he sees:

Mossi’s ears looked as if they had been borrowed from a much larger species, and reattached without proper supervision. His nose was crooked, his eyes were in the wrong place, and though he was skinny he had no neck to speak of, just a series of chins that melted into his chest. An Adam’s apple poked out of the third chin, and there was always a stubble of beard because you can’t shave a face like that. He looked like Gary Gaetti escaping from Devil’s Island. (p. 245)

 

There’s just something about that face. It stays with you. It makes you want to do something. There’s no way around it: it inspires. Mike Shannon, in his book Tales from the Dugout, relates how the image of Don Mossi’s face on a baseball card led to new life and new connections, a cult of Mossi arising around a wild Cincinnati party thrown every year on his birthday and climaxing in a phone call to the man himself.

Out of all the cultural growth spawned by Don Mossi, the party related by Mike Shannon is the most touching, in that, as the co-creator of the party, Tom Jackson, relates, the party “started out mocking Mossi, but as it went on year after year he became a hero, sort of a folk hero. We found out he is a very decent guy, a real dedicated family man.”

Mossi was a good pitcher, too, which often seems to get overlooked when he’s mentioned (he’s been mentioned before on this very site, in an early post I did on Andy Etchebarren, and I neglected to mention Mossi’s pitching prowess, instead going for the cheap shot of calling him “the Babe Ruth of ugly”). Bill James, always on the money with this sort of thing, does call Mossi “pretty darned good,” but the praise is like a quick glimpse of the back of a card soon forgotten amid all the hours of staring queasily and with strangely tenacious fixation at the front of the card.

I for one have been staring at the front of the 1966 Don Mossi card at the top of this page for days, ever since it was very kindly given to me by a fellow baseball card fanatic named Bruce at my book-signing in San Diego this past Saturday. (Bruce does not shy away from the face of Don Mossi but, perhaps like some sort of medieval penitent believing that subjecting oneself to horrors daily might bring one closer to a holy life, has made the collecting of Don Mossi cards the center of his continuing forays into baseball card collecting.) The 1966 card is Mossi’s last, and it is Bruce’s favorite. I can’t remember Bruce’s exact thoughts on why it was his favorite, but I think part of it had to do with him being in baseball nowhere with the Kansas City A’s. He had, in his earlier years, been a member of good and, in 1954, his first year, even great teams, and now here he was, on the brink of oblivion with a team that would soon cease to exist in its current form. The theme of imminent dissolution extends to his features, which all seem to be straining to escape the general parameters of what it means to be a part of a face. Only the context of a baseball card would fix the mass in the background as the blurred image of a stadium; taken on its own, the mass seems much more like a polluted cresting wave. In moments, Don Mossi will be no more, the cubist collage that is his face swept away in a grimy riptide.

Enough, no more. Turn the card over. Go back to the beginning. To things that can be measured and understood. In 1954, Don Mossi helped win a pennant. He went 6 and 1 with a 1.94 ERA. Just above the stats for that first season of Don Mossi’s major league career is some text, including this sentence: “The vet reliever retired 27 straight batters in 8 relief appearances in 1954.”

That’s right. In his own way, and quietly, and long ago, and in lumpy fits and starts, Don Mossi set down an entire nine innings worth of batters in a row. Don Mossi was perfect.

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Honus and Hanley

May 12, 2010

I’m hitting the road this morning, bound for the east coast, so I won’t be doing any posts for the next week and a half. My first stop will be a reading at Joseph Beth Booksellers in Honus Wagner’s baseball homeland of Pittsburgh. Before I go, I wanted to quickly finish up the story I started yetserday about my trip onto the field at Wrigley.

After I got down to the field, I waited around for a while, taking a seat in a folding chair in the photographer’s section. I watched some Marlins in the cage hit rope after rope into the outfield.

Here I am, I thought. Inches away.

It was terrifying, actually, being that close to the action and thinking that in a few minutes I’d be on live TV. Eventually, the Marlins’ pregame broadcaster, Craig Minervini, appeared and chatted me up for a few seconds before rushing off to continue his preparations. He was a friendly motormouth, and within seconds somehow communicated that he loved baseball cards, loved Strat-O-Matic, and loved the same Cheryl Tiegs fishnet bathing suit photo that ruled my fantasy life in the late 1970s.

A few more minutes passed, and I watched Craig race through the first segments of his pregame show. Everybody was so blasé all around me. The guys behind the TV cameras, the photographers next to me, setting up, the giant-haunched baseball players sauntering around on the green grass like vaguely immortal minotours. This happened every day for all of them. Brad Stevens, the boy genius who coached Butler to the NCAA finals, threw out the first pitch. I was the only one in my vicinity of bored pros who clapped for him. Finally Craig waved me over, and I sat in a folding chair so close to him that if I were any closer I’d be behind him, and for a few minutes Craig carried me along on a tidal wave of polished cheerful banter. I don’t remember much. I think I called Joe Wallis a hippie. Then it was over. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Craig thanked me for coming on and wished me luck on the book, then he rushed off. I asked the sound guy, a genial, slightly bedraggled young man named Pogo, what happens next.

“Where do I go?” I said.

“Hm, man, I don’t know,” he said, scratching his head.

At that exact ambiguous moment the PA system asked everyone to stand, which when translated to people already standing on the field means “everybody freeze.” A moment of silence for Ernie Harwell and Robin Roberts was held. The Marlins, knowing the drill, had emptied their dugout and were standing in a line, facing the flag.

I was the last guy in this line. All the players standing with their caps over their hearts, and then me, disheveled and bug-eyed, holding a copy of my book like I’d somehow daydreamed so severely through a usual Josh Wilker day that I’d ended up mistaking the Florida Marlins for a library checkout line. I hadn’t recognized most of the Marlins, but I certainly recognized the player directly in front of me, an arm’s length away.

The moment of silence ended, and then a guitarist and saxophone player performed the national anthem. I was loving America and feeling weird, standing at awkward attention right behind Hanley Ramirez, one of the five or ten best baseball players on the globe.

***

Please have fun with the archives on this site while I’m gone, or better yet, curl up with a nice book!

Also, I’ve got a guest post up at my old writing friend Dory’s blog, In This Light, that wonders if all good things begin by goofing around. And there should be interviews with me going up at soon at Bronx Banter and This Week In New York.

Welp, as my friend Bill used to say, see in the future or see you in the pasture. Or maybe I’ll see you at a reading. Please check out the book tour page for details, and note that the start time for the May 13 reading in Manhattan has moved from 7:00 to 7:30.  Here’s a flyer for the event:

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1970-Most Valuable Players

December 22, 2009

The most popular movie of 1970 was Airport, a star-studded disaster film, and the biopic Patton was the most honored film at the Oscars, but to me the most interesting movies that came out that year, in terms of understanding the time, are Woodstock, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Joe. The first movie, Woodstock, is the most well-known, a concert film that presented the hippie subculture for public consumption. The Age of Aquarius was also near the center of the Peter Boyle vehicle Joe, which follows the story of a reactionary proto-Archie Bunker blue collar worker who turns into a hunter of hippies. As for Beneath the Planet of the Apes: it was about a horrific world in its last thrashing moments before complete annihilation. A disturbing toxic landfill of a movie, Beneath fell well short of the critical and popular success of its predecessor, Planet of the Apes, but somehow with its disfigured mutants and atomic terror and narrative disorientation it manages to offer an acute portrait of the spiraling uneasiness of that first year of the decade, which saw the breakup of the Beatles, the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and the Kent State Massacre. In 1970, the world felt a little shaky to everyone.

In 1970 I was still a few years away from balancing uncertainty and nightmares with a worship of baseball players, but if I had been old enough I would have taken comfort in the rocklike solidity of Boog Powell and Johnny Bench. I did take solace in both of those individuals anyway by the mid-1970s, when I started buying cards, in part because a bit of their history came to me in this card celebrating their 1970 MVP awards. They had been around for a while by the time I came along, and this felt good. There was gravity in their names. Boog. Bench. They made the world seem sturdy, durable.

Years later, when I was a young man, I watched Beneath the Planet of the Apes for the first time, on video, then stepped out onto the seventeenth story balcony of the apartment where I’d watched the movie and felt a powerful wave of vertigo. The movie, which ends with the white light of atomic bombs, had tapped into some deep insecurities I’d always had about the essential flimsiness of life, and the balcony seemed small and unsafe, though in truth at that moment I would have felt unsafe anywhere.

The moment of panic abated but never fully disappeared, not really. When I was a kid I had an inherent belief that the world was well-made and ably steered by adults who knew what they were doing. Now that I’m an adult I know all too well the potential for mistakes in everything.

It extends everywhere, even to the world of greatest solidity, my baseball cards. Take this card for the 1970 MVPs. Did they even deserve the MVP awards? In the American League, Powell had very good year, but it was decidedly less productive offensively than that of Carl Yastrzemski, and Yaz even stole some bases that year and aided his team by being flexible and splitting his estimable fielding skills between left field and first base as the team needed. Over in the National League, Bench finished behind Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez in slugging percentage and was not among the top ten in on-base percentage. (Bench was arguably the greatest fielding catcher who ever lived, which coupled with his significant offensive production lends legitimacy to his award, but the stat-heads among us might think that his glovework and leadership did not entirely make up for a tenth-place league finish in adjusted OPS.)

Anyway, my unease in the world, my adultness, even my vague understanding of “adjusted OPS,” has its repercussions. I’m a tentative, cautious cipher. Sometimes in the morning I say something to myself that’s vaguely related to a prayer. I wonder if something unusual and amazing will happen during the day. It feels as if it never does. Each day for me is sealed shut somehow. Within the confines of it I have my pleasures, and even once in a while experience something like joy, but is there ever the sense of shattering newness?

I think I used to be closer to a kind of life that would let in the strange light I seem to be lacking. When you’re younger, you stumble into adventures. The truth is, I don’t want adventures. I don’t want to have to rescue someone from a building or invite an unshowered wino to sleep on my couch. I barely even want to have a conversation with anyone. I like my bubble. Leave me alone.

But still, there’s that wondering about newness. It’s partly a request for it and partly a request that it stays away. The train I ride travels along the highway for a while, and yesterday it came to a station stop right next a woman crying inside a car stopped on the shoulder beside the passing lane, the front of the car caved in. I don’t want that kind of newness. But it’s coming. One way or another, it’s coming. This bubble will burst.

I first started writing about this card a couple months ago, believe it or not, after hearing Boog Powell mentioned during a radio broadcast of the Phillies’ pennant-clinching win over the Dodgers. Chase Utley, the Phillies second baseman, had tied with Boog Powell for the record of consecutive playoff games in which he had gotten on base. Utley then got on base in the first game of the World Series and now has the record all to himself, which means we’ll all have less of a chance of hearing the name Boog Powell as we go about our daily rounds.

I for one was glad to hear the name. I always have been, ever since I first read it on a baseball card, the newness of it sending a thrill through my body, a message that new things are OK, that everything will be OK, that the world yet to come will be—ah, you know what? I probably didn’t think any of those things, not really. I’m just trying to reach for something literary and elevated before trudging off through the snow to a train that I hope doesn’t derail. But it’s true: the name Boog did once comfort and thrill me. Still does, just a little. Boog.

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James Stewart

November 19, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first Bad News Bears movie, but I believe that in both The Bad News Bears and The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, Kelly Leak first appears on screen while operating a motorcycle. That’s how I remember it anyway, though I can’t be certain that there’s not an earlier scene in the first one in which he displays some evidence of immense baseball skills—I think he unleashes a Dwight Evans-caliber throw from beyond the outfield—and in that instance he’s not on a motorcycle, or maybe it’s the same scene and he dismounts the bike to make the throw. (Guess I need to watch that flick again.)

(But speaking of that throwing arm: why is this arm never considered for use on the pitcher’s mound? In both films, the team’s primary on-field crisis centers on a glaring lack of pitching depth, the face of this crisis being the horrifically inept efforts of lob-balling mopup man and nap aficionado Rudi Stein. What, it never occurred to anyone to ask Kelly to burn a few in there? Any kid who ever spent a moment playing little league could tell that Kelly belonged to the species of little leaguers who were just bigger and stronger than everyone else, and those kids always pitched, and threw hard, and either struck you out or hit you in the knee and made you cry as you limped to first because it hurt so much.)

Anyway, the point is, Kelly Leak, the coolest of all charismatic brooding loner heroes, announces early on, by being astride a motorcycle, that he comes directly from the heart of the rebellious, questing version of the American Dream. Brando in The Wild One. Hopper and Fonda in Easy Rider. Even, in decidedly tamed form, the Fonz in Happy Days.

Kelly, with his flat expression and apparent outsider status, showed himself to be among those older heroes of youthful adventurousness and alienation, but to that he added an element that expanded the range of the motorcycle rebel icon: he could do stunts. The stunts furthermore showed both that he was an athlete of almost mystical powers and that he had a daring disregard for his own safety. In this way he merged a bit of the flash and spectacle of real-life 1970s motorcycle icon Evel Knievel with counterculture cool, and he also foretold a growing trend in youth sports and in the greater culture: the rise of “extreme” action sports.

Which brings us to today’s card, which I found on the sidewalk a few months ago as I was hoofing it up Western Avenue to catch the Blue Line train. It appears to have come as an insert in a Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine. I doubt it somehow slipped from the grasp of a loving collector of Motocross Rider cards, because, for one thing, I doubt there are very many devoted collectors of any kind of cards anymore, and for another, any kid interested in Motocross Riders is probably more likely to want to actually do sports than to be a spectator and collector and dreamer of sports.

In addition to being a spectator and collector and dreamer of sports, I always liked to play sports, too, but despite being a loner (or maybe in part because I was a loner who otherwise didn’t have much of a social life outside of sports) I preferred team sports. The only solitary sport I participated in was cross-country skiing, which I liked more than downhill skiing in large part because of my inherent cautiousness. I never could have been like Kelly Leak or the “Supercross” champion shown here, James Stewart. Once, the Kelly Leak of my grade, Mike Heyder, came over to my house with his minibike, and I was too terrified of it to even try going ten feet across the soft grass of our side yard. Another brush with “action sports” came when I begged and pleaded for a birthday gift of “The Shark,” a yellow plastic skateboard in the Sears catalogue, but when I got it, after the surging thrill of holding the mysterious object in my hands and listening to the ball-bearing whir of the red rubber wheels as I spun them, I was barely able to stand on the thing for fear of flying off of it and shattering my skull.

(Ironically, years later, after a childhood and young adulthood of assiduously avoiding physical risks, I’d fly off a cliff while ten seconds into my first attempt at mountain biking, but that’s a whole other long story that also relates tangentially to Kelly Leak et al.)

They made a remake of The Bad News Bears a few years ago, which I saw with my friend Pete, but I’ll be damned if I can remember a single thing about it beyond a sense that it was not awful and that it was utterly unnecessary. Also, I recall that it was set in the present day, which makes the involvement of a Kelly Leak character highly improbable. These days, if Kelly Leak got the urge to participate in organized sports, he could apply his talent and daring to any number of “extreme” pursuits. He could be Tony Hawk (who, I believe, loved baseball but quit it to devote himself to riding structural cousins of The Shark). He could be James Stewart, Motocross Rider. He could be the Kelly Leak that existed before the beginning of the first Bad News Bears movie, never venturing inside the confines of the little league field.

I guess more athletic options for kids can’t be a bad thing, but in light of the above discussion it saddens me nonetheless. How can baseball survive the loss of Kelly Leak?

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1979 Stolen Base Leaders

November 3, 2009

Stolen Base Leaders 1979

I wonder if Willie Wilson will pop some champagne during game six of the World Series tomorrow night when floundering Phillies slugger Ryan Howard inevitably flails at his next third strike like a drowsy man trying to kill a bumblebee with a sledgehammer. For twenty-nine years, Wilson has held the World Series record for strikeouts, with twelve, a record that Howard tied last night, in one fewer game than it took Wilson to amass his ignominious dozen. Howard’s record-tying failure came just moments after another World Series record was tied, the incredible, Pat-Riley-haired, oddly robotic Chase Utley matching Reggie Jackson’s exalted mark of five home runs in a single series. The adjacent placement of Utley and Howard in the Phillies batting order has to give a huge edge to Howard in the race to see which Phillie is able to set a World Series benchmark. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Chase Utley sees a pitch within several acres of the strike zone, what with the tall pile of swing-and-miss looming behind him in the batter’s box.

Of course, Howard is no slouch, and there’s always the possibility that he’ll snap out of it. I am hoping that he does, and not only because I’m rooting for the Phillies. I have always had a soft spot for guys who go into huge, sad-faced slumps in the World Series with everyone watching. Baseball is a game of slumps and streaks, and everyone goes through them, but in the heightened atmosphere of the World Series these slumps summon the sullen gravity of tragedy, forever defining the poor mortal who has lucklessly stumbled into them. The first time I remember having a sharpened awareness of one of these slumps was in 1980, with Willie Wilson, who kept feebly waving at pitches all the way up until the final out, when his feckless lunge at a Tug McGraw offering sparked the first World Series celebration in Phillies history.

Though in some ways Wilson will forever be frozen in that moment of futility, the truth is that he could never be frozen anywhere. The man is not known primarily for striking out but for his almost superhuman speed. Wilson, forever the fastest man in the baseball universe inside my skull, if not in the baseball universe itself, used that speed to keep running long after the 1980 series, playing for several more seasons, including a 1985 campaign that ended with Wilson performing well during the Royals seven-game victory over the Cardinals. He played for almost two decades in all, was a good hitter and a great fielder, and stole more bases than all but a few men in baseball history.

Also, you could argue that he was the greatest hitter of triples the world has ever seen.

First of all, he led the league in triples four times, more than anyone besides all-time triples king Sam Crawford, who also led the league four times. Also, the only player who ranks higher than Wilson on the career triples list who played as late as the 1970s was Roberto Clemente, and Clemente had 166 triples in 10212 plate appearances while Wilson had 147 triples in 8317 plate appearances. (If Wilson had kept up his rate of tripling and had gotten Clemente’s amount of plate appearances, he would have hit 180 triples.) Besides Clemente and the long-lasting line-drive smasher Stan Musial, all of the other players ahead of Wilson on the career triples list were done playing well before the color line was broken, and most of the massive triples-amassers did their damage in the years before the Ruthian era of the longball ensued.

Why was there so much tripling going on back in the spike-gashing days of Cobb and Speaker? I understand why the dead ball reduced the number of homers, but I don’t quite get why it increased the number of triples. But whatever the reason, it was a lot easier to hit a triple when Honus Wagner ruled the earth than it was in the Age of Steve Balboni. A quick glance through my baseball encyclopedia shows that the teams Crawford played on hit on average (very roughly speaking) about 80 triples a year. Wilson’s Kansas City teams—despite playing in a relatively large stadium with Astroturf, i.e., a good place for triples—generally hit half or, at most, three-quarters as many triples per year as Crawford’s teams. In 1985, for example, the Royals hit 49 triples. Willie Wilson hit 21 of them! By comparison, when Wilson’s namesake, Owen “Chief” Wilson, set the single-season record for triples in 1912, with 36, his Pirates team hit 126 triples. My math skills and handle on logic are laughable at best, but it seems to me that had Willie Wilson been on that Pirates team and carried the same proportional triples load that he did with the ’85 Royals, he would have finished the 1912 season with 6,847 triples. Well, maybe not, but I believe that had he played in the Era of the Triple he would now hold both the single-season and the career mark for triples, rather than just his soon-to-be-relinquished record for fanning in the World Series.

(And Omar Moreno was no slouch either.)