A short story ode to Mike Epstein

Epstein, in the locker room after winning the 1972 World Series, wearing his prized “Marshamallow Disco” t-shirt. (disco light effects added by the editor for comedic effect.)

It is a cold December night in 1972, and I am with Mike Epstein and his wife. We are exiting his cherry-red Ford Thunderbird and about to enter the Marshmallow Disco. The “Marshmallow” as it is called is in a dingy, industrial block of Manhattan. There are a group of homeless folks staring at us as we exit the car–a unwordly group with distorted faces that would make one either question their drug intake or the group’s relativity to the planet Earth. I feel safe as I am with a man who has a hulking presence and once kicked the shit out of Reggie Jackson in the locker room. Some would say that this dust-up has even overshadowed Mike’s baseball oeuvre. A drunk Puerto Rican woman approaches Mike and his wife shouts,
“Look, bimbo, he’s with me.”
The “bimbo” skulks off in a fit of hysterics and Mike growls,”Look, man, I don’t have time to hassle with that shit. I got my old lady with me.”
Mike steers his wife in the general direction of the VIP door. There are smokers gathered, sitting on high school cafeteria scratched iron chairs–their legs crossed, casting appraising glances every which way with primal, reptilian eyes. You can hear the O’ Jays and Sly and the Family Stone bumping inside. There is American dissolution in the parking lot as American decadence flails away in a cocaine-induced dopamine explosion inside. The alcohol turning once happy groups into an imminent decent of after-hours grotesque buffoonery. A woman grabs a man on the way inside.
“Every damn time we fuck I gotta listen to your bullshit after we’ve finished. Why don’t you let me enjoy my afterglow for a change?”

Jeff Jones and the 1981 Topps baseball card.

At present, I am particularly excited by “bad taste.” I have the deep feeling that there exists in the very essence of bad taste a power capable of creating those things situated far beyond what is traditionally termed “The Work of Art.” I wish to play with human feeling, with its “morbidity” in a cold and ferocious manner. —Yves Klein

The 1981 Topps baseball card isn’t a particularly exciting visual affair. The most prominent feature of the card front is the ball cap that’s at the bottom of the card. Player photos have a color outline that gives way to a thin white border with the Topps logo placed in a small baseball in the right corner. Of course, it’s just a baseball card. Most people see them as worthless pieces of cardboard for children. I always get a kick out of people who say, “well, where’s the art in that?” Despite the term “art” being static and self-appointed to each individual, I believe if you have an iota of intelligence and an active imagination, you can find art and emotion in almost ANYTHING.

“IKB 191”

Jeff Jones had a rather unremarkable career with the Oakland Athletics, playing 5 seasons and ending with a 9-9 record. There is nothing remarkable about this card from a baseball standpoint, (beside the fact that it’s an Athletic) but what really struck me was the marvelous blue background; reminding me of Yves Kleins’ painting “IKB 191.” (right) This color makes me feel a myriad of emotions:  the lapis lazuli  reminding me of my Catholic school upbringing (Mary’s robes were almost always painted this color because of the brilliance of it; the stone also was semi-precious making it a “must have” for artists of the Renaissance and Baroque period.)

Long ago, in fourth grade Catholic church, my pal David K. told me not to swallow the thin, wafer-like “Body of Christ,” but to keep it still in my mouth so we could satisfy our boyhood curiosity and inspect it. I eventually brought the specimen back to the pew only to drop the now mushy wafer on the ground because of haste and overall blood rushing to the brain nervousness. Some busy-body ratted me out, and the congregation was stopped as I was dragged to the front of the altar and berated by the priest in a back room. There was a closet full of priest robes and between thoughts of the robes looking like Batman’s closet and me getting my ass kicked by my parents, I was just simply embarrassed. Nothing was said to my parents in the end, and I came out of the situation relatively unscathed….. ah, the life of a day dreamer…and the thoughts keep crashing into the shore as one wave leads to another.

Thank you Jeff Jones 1981 Topps.

Jessica Canseco gives the 411 on Jose’s dong.

The following was taken from Jessica Canseco’s book, “Juicy: Confessions of a former baseball wife.”…we kissed for awhile and I relaxed a little, but then I looked down and saw his weiner. It didn’t look like any weiner I had seen before. It was big and uncircumcised, and I thought it was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. But as soon as it got hard all the skin pulled back and it looked pretty magnificent. I don’t remember much about the sex. We made love in the standard position. I’m from a farm in Middle America. We didn’t get a lot of Latinos with uncircumcised wieners there. I also thought about his testicles, but it seems Jose’s were unusually small. (editors note: this is called testicular atrophy and can be linked to steroid use)

A short story ode to Mickey Klutts.

“Baseball is a universe as large as life itself, and therefore all things in life, whether good or bad, whether tragic or comic, fall within its domain.” –Paul Auster

I am in the far-flung recesses of my mind, probably contemplating throw-away culture or how the scope of time is too vast for humans to comprehend when I stumble upon the fly strewn corpse of a baby raccoon. My eyes immediately shift too a rather large, honey sweet black woman in stained sweatpants; a mother, and she is giving her child a tongue lashing for being a malcontent. She has a beautiful smile and a confident demeanor, she transcended simple tackiness and wore it well.

“The world needs structure! Without structure there would be chaos!”

Why was this profound? Is baseball chaos, structure or both? I’ve heard arguments for both the former and latter but I can’t seem to argue the contrary– and how did this short walk turn into mental digressions and glorious abstractions? Do I need to see a pharmacologist to ease this mental psycho-babble?

I suddenly trip on the curb, my modus-operandi quickly shifting from faux-philosopher into incoherent boob. The mother chuckles.  “You need to look where you’re going kemo sabe, it’s not good to look like a klutz.” I appreciated her simple candor, and she had no idea how profoundly I connected with her simplistic berating of a young ankle-biter. I made sense of the fog for a moment–I was a “klutz.”

 

 

Some thoughts about the game.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan… The only Church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the Church of Baseball.” —Annie Savoy in the film “Bull Durham.”

Those who’ve paid any attention perceive that taste, values, ideas, style and behavior are dispensable criteria of class. Donald Trump is an instructive specimen in this regard. Overall, class structure is one hell of a thing. It defines who we are from the cars we drive, the television shows we watch, the clothes we wear, the neighborhoods we live in, even the food we eat. I thought nothing about these things as a child, hell, who does? You wake from a slumber, go to school, come home, eat some macaroni and cheese, play baseball until the sun goes down, and then repeat…ad infinitum. ( you can throw a few ass whippings in there for good measure; i was a rebellious spirit)

And like every other red-blooded American boy, I idolized baseball players, never questioning the ethics or morals of my heroes. How could they be so “bad?” I knew nothing about drug use, (Darryl Strawberry, Josh Hamilton) D.U.I.’S, ( Miguel Cabrera, Coco Crisp, Adam Kennedy) wife-beating, ( Milton Bradley, Alberto Callaspo, Brett Myers) tax evasion ( Darryl Strawberry, Pete Rose) or even murder ( Julio Machado, Ugueth Urbina) These things were done by OTHER people who weren’t associated with me and my family, and never the twain shall meet. I learned quite quickly through the buying and trading of baseball cards about the true nature of the human condition. (of which my parents weren’t exempt) These little pieces of cardboard had taught me deceit, unfair business practices, price manipulation, collusion, restraint of trade, extortions, pay- offs, bribes, plagiarism, and false hype. Soon thereafter, as I entered my early teens I started to understand privilege, advantage and wealth as the Yankees had started to define it in ways that were bigger than the world of baseball: my life consisted of old, out of style clothes, pot pies for dinner and late night parental arguments over bills.

I would like to thank baseball for teaching me these valuable lessons. The beautiful game is rich with juxtapositions and historical aspects that go beyond stats, OBP’s, WHIPS, and World Series titles. It is a game that teaches you to slow down, as it can be played in the mind as well as on the field. It is a game of anticipation, a game that erupts in a sudden explosion of action, then slows down again, giving us time to savor what we have seen, and to give us time to think about what we are going to see. It shows you that you are not perfect, and that you don’t have to be. It also teaches you to enjoy your lot in life whether you be a HOF er or a .220 hitter. It teaches you that no matter how much you think you know, you should always learn MORE. It teaches you to love and cherish something that was loved and cherished by a father or grandfather, and that you love and cherish in return.  I have long since stopped putting these guys on a gold pedestal, and it has enriched my life in ways no home run ball, autograph, or season ticket could ever match.

Mark McGwire and heshers from the past.

Now that we know the baseball card craze of the 80’s/90’s was a facade with no chance of anyone (besides the industry itself) making profit, we can laugh at the 100’s of dollars wasted, sleepless nights and tell our stories of woe.

There are many people out there who still think their collections are worth something, yet these bumbling dolts don’t understand supply and demand, and no doubt don’t understand much of anything else either. I recently bought a Mark McGwire 1987 Donruss “rated rookie” for 3 dollars. This is almost unheard of for a guy who once held the single season home run record, and is 10th all time. I felt no nostalgia, and with a “meh” I threw it in a box.

……and then I remembered

I was 12 years old (still a few years away from my first “kegger,” which was with a guy named Kevin Ballard who wore a Metallica shirt everyday. He only broke up the monotony on occasion with a Anthrax t shirt, who I personally thought sucked the bag.) The McGwire card was one of THE hottest properties for a young boy in Northern California, and people wouldn’t trade it for ANYTHING. Eventually, through hours of wheeling and dealing, I had acquired a few of these by the time Jr. High came rolling around. One day in wood shop, a very large, greasy, hispanic rocker type named Billy (who turned out to be a great hitter, but I wouldn’t know that until high school freshman try-outs) offered to trade me a cassette for ONE single, thin cardboard McGwire. I jumped at the chance! I had a large stack of them and welcomed the opportunity to talk to someone “cool” who would take the time and effort out of their exciting heavy metal life to make a tape for a nerd like me. ( I was a freckle faced, Opie looking kid who wouldn’t grow into my 6’2 frame until my sophomore year in high school.) Billy brought me the tape the next day and with a nod says,

“You needed to listen to Slayer.”

I waited with anticipation for school to let out and then popped that fucker into my Kmart cassette player. Best trade I ever made and changed my life forever. Thanks, dude.

The Baseball Gods have a message, and they have a sense of humor.

And as I crossed the Sacramento River towards the stadium, perhaps the baseball gods had a message for me with their semi-divine detachment?

I’ve been to 100’s of baseball games in my life, but perhaps the “miraculous strangeness of life” came into play recently as I recently attended a minor league AAA game between the Sacramento River Cats and the Reno Aces. (both teams are affiliated with a N.L. team, I am unpledged to any N.L. team except the Dodgers.)

It was Sunday; there there were hordes of annoying children and even more annoying non-baseball fans out for a sun drenched day–unable to simply figure out the Dewey Decimal system and standing around awkwardly with blank stares, metaphorically taking us back to the primeval seas as protozoa. Kudos to the drunk guy yelling “down in front!” to the yuppies, completely unaware that they had breached the unwritten baseball rule of finding your seat quickly and getting your ass out of the way.

Game facts: there was a grand slam. An event I can’t remember ever seeing live. I had also never come close to a foul ball, instantly disappointed as I dropped one, (bare and one-handed) that had such an unexpected force that my right hand was bee-stung for a few minutes afterward. I had to watch an old guy from the post-war generation two seats in front of me take a picture with my ball. That said, I still cringe when I see a grown man try to catch a ball and recoil like a coward at the last moment. I had just tidied myself with a 12 dollar beer in the 5th when the game was stopped because of a small snake on the infield. This is something I have never seen and perhaps will never see again.

Baseball season represents an infinite cloud of future potentialities, and as I walked in my door and flipped on the tube the Cubs and Yankees were playing an eventual 18 inning affair that broke the ML record for strikeouts in a game. This game has been played professionally since 1876.

Eat a dick, indeed.

 

 

Former pitcher Brian Kingman reviews “Fastball John.”

83f_516_dacquistoReviewed by Brian Kingman

Fastball John is an Amazing Book!

You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that
it was the other way around all the time ~Jim Bouton

Perhaps the best description of life as a professional baseball player from a players perspective since
Ball Four. John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan have done a wonderful job of bringing the remarkable events of John’s career to life. A career in professional baseball is a journey, and the path to the major leagues is a precarious one. Obstacles abound. Temptations from all seven of the deadly sins surround you. Only a few of those who are chosen will make it as far a the major leagues.

John’s remarkable story is about his transition from the joyful innocence of high school baseball, to the business of professional baseball, and his return to life as a civilian. Professional baseball is more than just a game–it is a cut throat business. For John it was more than just a career, it was a way of life.

John’s stories are captivating, because they are real life experiences. His involvement in a mafia run restaurant, the fight with Bob Gibson on an elevator after beating him on the mound, betrayal by one of his best friends: The “Count” John Montefusco, and his legal problems after baseball are riveting.

John’s story is fascinating. Fastball John is well written and an entertaining read!fast

Bear vs Shark. Shark gets eaten.

cub-vs-sharkI don’t have the affection towards Jeff “Shark” Samardjiza that I do for other former Athletics–he simply wasn’t in a Oakland uniform long enough for me to care, netting only 5 wins for the Green and Gold. Besides, once you slip on the pajamas with San Francisco stitched on the chest all bets are off. Affection can burn away as quickly as a love affair in a cheap Tijuana hotel room after coitus, an early morning coke hangover and a head full of regrets. I slop mustard on my hotdog and wash it down seconds later with carbonated, gut-wrenching goodness.
This is game 2 of the NLDS.

Samardjiza, long and lanky with long flowing hair akin to a 1980’s Sunset Strip hair metal band, the archetype of a “tall drink of water,” sauntered with that loose and easy gait toward
the bump with mythic and ghostly dimensions whispering through the ballpark–1908— and this former Notre Dame football star was standing in the way of mental and historical catharsis for Cubs faithful. Their celestial recognizance hanging in the balance of a 5 ounce sphere with a Catholic boy twirling it; their fathers and grandfathers never getting to see what they are hoping to see in the near future: a homo-erotic dogpile on the mound (say that once again without innuendo) and a lifting of the gold trophy.
Their collective vision crystallized after 6 months and 2, 106 games. Babe Ruth and his “called shot” be damned.

Samardjiza’s line: 2 innings, 4 runs, 6 hits, 1K, 1 BB…a clunker, a stinker, a garbage pile. Ex Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee used to say that sex robbed you of your stamina: “If you let a woman drain away your life’s essence you’ll never be able to go nine.” Does this mean Samardjiza had spent too much time in a Tijuana whorehouse? or was it simply that he couldn’t getting his breaking stuff over?

Top 4th: Baseball giveth and baseball taketh away. Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks has to leave the game with forearm stiffness after an Angel Pagan (this is the best example of a dichotomy in the baseball universe. Both names butting heads against each other with the former in a perpetual battle for the souls of the denizens of earth and the latter practicing polytheism and prancing around the forest in their birthday suits.) line drive nails him. Travis Wood, the reliever, proceeds to hit a home run in the bottom half of the inning. Baseball giveth again. The rest of the game is filled with a menagerie of relievers shutting down the Giants dreadful lineup, shots of Bill Murray chuckling and partying with fellow fans, and Bob Costas struggling for a heart-felt metaphor. He even mentioned beloved (well, excepting Pete Rose) commissioner Bart Giamatti’s “elegant” poetry at one point.

Final: Cubs 5 Giants 2. Cubs bullpen saves the day. Cubs lead the series 2-0 and hoping to exact revenge for the 1989 NLCS. Bob Saget prays to Bumgarner. bob-saget

Turn out the lights…the party’s over.

turn-out-the-lights

This is what last place feels like.

I absolutely loathe doing these sort of things–analyzations and grades are usually the penchant of a scout or a small town newspaper hack with a deadline. Let us take a cursory
examination on the dog end of a wasted season; one where the fans’ patience was tested, and “Brad Pitt’s” alter-ego was seen, though not necessarily exposed, as a no-nonsense charlatan rather than wizened guru. It is with queasy optimism that I bring you…

Marcus Semien: The seed of talent has become a full flower. Unburdened by his fears with the leather (thanks to Ron Washington) he has flourished with the bat.
He has become the best slugging SS in Oakland history behind Miguel Tejada and a favorite of this blog. Addison Russell who? B+

Stephen Vogt: The revolution has remained underground. “Vogter” is the most underrated catcher in the league, and is the absolute heart, soul and entrails of this team.
The most beloved catcher in Oakland since Terry Steinbach; he is the Crash Davis for the young pitchers on this team, giving them advice and “howling at the moon” on occasion. Cerebral influence is a necessity that doesn’t show up on the back of a baseball card–an absolute gamer, and if you don’t harken that term with any baseball
relevance than you probably shouldn’t be reading this. B-

Ryon Healy: Healy grew up in Encino, Ca. most famously noted in the movie Encino Man, an early 90’s flick which follows the exploits of 2 high school nerds and
the caveman that they dig up in the protagonist’s backyard. Showing flashes of brilliance, he will mature into one of the better hitters in the lineup until being traded to the Yankees
or the Dodgers. B+

Khris Davis: He hit the most taters in Oakland (40) since Jason Giambi and has the power of about 20 drunk Jeremy Giambis jumbled together. A necessity and brilliant front office move yet ultimately an A.L. player because of his weak arm and average defensive ability. A-

Danny Valencia: His career has been as confusing as a yin and yang tramp stamp. He has been on 6 different teams in the past 5 seasons, and has shown great ability and power one day while flailing at junk and looking court jester the next. There was the strange move to right field although he was a more than adequate third baseman. There was the “infamous” scuffle with country-bumpkin degenerate Billy Butler over, cryptically, cleats or some such nonsense which lead to the media claiming he was going
to be released. It never happened. Valencia’s career up to this point begs the question of a famous Buddhist koan: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” C

Yonder Alonso: Led the team with 32 doubles, played great defensively, yet only batted .255 with minimal power. He is as solid as a brick wall yet as quiet and unassuming as that brainy girl who would always sit in the back of the class that you didn’t realize was attractive until your Senior year. He’s like your son-in-law: get used to him because he’s gonna be here for a while. C+