(This post originally appeared on The Classical.)
One: Donnie Moore
Lately I keep finding myself in the midst of a routine motion gone strange. What am I doing? How did I get here? In these moments, I imagine I look like Donnie Moore as captured by his 1987 card. You’re doing something you’ve done all your life and suddenly it seems without purpose. You don’t even remember what you were doing or why.
Donnie Moore was an all-star pitcher with a long major league career, but he’s best known for surrendering a late lead in what would have been a pennant-clinching game in the 1986 American League Championship Series and for being so haunted by the failure that he ended his life. This latter point is a garish reduction of the complex reality of Donnie Moore’s life and death, and of the complex causes of suicide. Reductions tend to happen around sports. Playing sports, following sports as a fan, using sports as a way to tell understandable stories about ourselves: All of these things are ways of reducing and managing complexity.
For some years now, I have dealt with a certain mounting sense of powerlessness in the face of the complexity of life by immersing myself in old baseball cards and in information about the players on these cards. At some point in this immersion, I learned of a fly ball that never came down. I was writing about Joe “Tarzan” Wallis, who hit the fly ball in question during a minor league game in Key West, Florida. Several future major leaguers were on hand, including Bruce Sutter, Garry Templeton, and Tito Landrum. The pitcher who surrendered the fly ball was Lon Kruger, then in his one season of professional baseball, now the coach of the University of Oklahoma men’s basketball team. Kruger’s opponent, the game’s eventual winning pitcher, was Donnie Moore.
The right fielder, second baseman, and center fielder all ran toward where they thought the fly ball would come down. Upon each man losing sight of the ball, all ducked, covering their heads. They tried to follow the play from their cringes, and then came out of their cringes. No one saw the ball land. No one could find the ball. Joe Wallis hesitantly rounded the bases. The umpire upheld the notion that Wallis had hit a home run.
The identity of this umpire, the presiding authority on the mysterious disappearance, has been lost. But I found a box score for the game on page 33 of an August 7, 1974, edition of the St. Petersburg Times. Wallis’ name is written as “Wallace” in the box score, and in the short recap of the game, Donnie Moore’s name is written as “Donny” Moore. The mystery fly is not mentioned.
On the cover of that newspaper, the news is about pressure mounting for the presiding authority of the nation to resign and about this figure’s continuing defiance. But in two days, the president would buckle to the mounting evidence of criminal activity arrayed against him. I feel like I remember that day Nixon quit, remember seeing a newspaper headline, but all my memories are suspect.
What are the effects of seeing things of seemingly unimpeachable solidity disappear? It must shake your confidence in the world on some subterranean, tectonic level. There’s no presiding authority, no evidence of a thread from one moment to the next.
(to be continued)