Recently, Topps released a set of baseball cards reproduced by various artists with their creative interpretations of iconic pieces of cardboard that were cherished throughout the years. I was given the Mark McGwire “1987 rookie card” by a friend and it gave me pause and seemed to be a head-scratcher. My opinion was that it was in the tradition of outsider art, or underground contemporary, which usually has the look as if an 8 year old or someone with a mental deficiency had created it: which is sometimes the case. It can be seen as aesthetically “bad” to most people, but to be fair, in some cases has multiple and sometimes disturbing meanings below the surface. The current appreciation and fervor around “outsider art” seemingly stems from an exhaustion with slick commercialism of much of the mainstream contemporary art world: a sort of anti-capitalism rebelliousness that found an audience and became what it rebelled against in the first place. Read: these guys and gals found a niche and are cashing in on the artistic equivalent of a skateboard or an energy drink. It simply exists to reaffirm commerce.
The creator in question, Keith Shore, an artist with formal and academic training, gained a modicum of buzz in the art world for creating the labels on a Danish beer bottle. That is a fine medium and I’m sure it was appreciated by many college kids with nothing to do on a Saturday night with a head full of ganja and the attention span of a gnat, but I wasn’t sure if the baseball card was the right medium for Shore’s “amateurish” style as this attempt at re-creating the most iconic piece of cardboard of my childhood failed miserably. Mind you, all of the above can be endlessly discussed, debated, dissected and put through the wringer to the point of jumping off a bridge to end the conversation. Besides,the point of this essay wasn’t to undermine the validity or definition of the “outsider” term itself, (I don’t have the time or interest) it was to confirm just how uninteresting and uninspired I found the ersatz art work to be. Ironically enough, the baseball card itself, once a worthless object created to entice children to buy bubble gum, could be seen through certain eyes as a form of pop art with a dash of unapologetic crass commercialism sprinkled in.
What a hypocrite.
1.) Jim Johnson –This one doesn’t surprise me as it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind. I disagreed with the signing from the very beginning because A) I don’t believe in giving closers big money B) despite having 50 saves in Baltimore the year before, (hands down the most overrated statistic in sports) he still managed to blow 9 games…a horrible percentage. C) He just looked like a creep.
I was spot-on as the fans quickly grew tired of pitches that had zero movement and blown saves in bunches. Eventually he was run out-of-town until signing with Detroit who grew tired of him as well and sent him to AAA Toledo to waste away in the city known for unemployment and the smell of shit in the air…a fitting ending to the season for Johnson and perhaps an omen.
2.) Daric Barton — This guy never had a nickname, yet as far as I was concerned it should have been “The Cockroach.” (He was deemed “Churro Vendor” by this blog because readers thought that it would be a better suited job.) Barton was acquired in the trade with St. Louis for Mark Mulder (Dan Haren was also acquired in the trade supplying 43 wins and an All Star appearance, so the trade worked out pretty well overall.) and was slated to be the Athletics first baseman for years to come. The only problem was that he couldn’t hit a lick, but for some reason stuck around for EIGHT seasons, being shuttled back and forth to Sacramento (AAA) so much that he sort of became their unofficial mascot. The cherry on top of the shit-heap was when he was put on waivers twice in one week and not one team claimed him.
3.) Brian Fuentes/Bob Geren — Yet another closer that didn’t live up to his deemed position. His goofy face, big ears and screwy delivery added to the fire when the blown saves started to add up. Things got so bad that my mother, a neophyte baseball fan, would storm out of the room whenever he came into the game. A reader of this blog summed it up perfectly when she sent this response: I hate Brian Fuentes with a passion. He is a horrible closer. He blew 4 saves in eight days when he was with the Rockies. I cried a little when I had found out we picked him up in 2011. My dad kept trying to say he was good, and he was briefly, but I just told him to wait. It quickly turned into “OH (f-bomb)! Fuentes is coming in. There goes the game.” The only saving grace was when he criticized then manager Bob Geren’s (probably the least liked manager in Oakland history and an ex-Yankee, so who really gives a darn!) “unorthodox managing”, handling of pitchers and “zero communication.” Then ex-closer Huston Street piped in saying of Geren that “he is the least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports.” Ol’ Bob was let go after the 2011 season leading to the signing of another Bob (Melvin) and Fuentes’ career was over soon there-after.
Arthur Rhodes (yet another stinky closer.)
Luis Polonia (not sure about this one as he was busted for raping a woman as a Yankee. Perhaps the reader hated dripping jheri curl mullets.)
Nick Swisher (was sort of a lovable hick/douchbag until he got Yankee-itis and then began thinking he was a much better player than he really was.)
Jon Lester (more Yo hangovers)
Jeremy Giambi (strip clubs, drunkenness, a scolding by Brad Pitt in the locker room and the prancing “non-slide.”)
Bobby Crosby (a high pick that couldn’t do much of anything after his rookie year and even had his dad criticize Billy Beane in the media.)
Buddy Groom (dumb name, psycho looking face, and one of the worst LOOGY’s of all time.)
I could only laugh when I received these autographs in the mail on the same day…It was uncanny. Both players “played” DH for the Athletics towards the end of their career and both struck out A LOT. These guys struck out so much that both led the league three times. It was enough to make an old school tyrant like Ty Cobb, who preached contact and speed, turn over in his grave. Yet both players also had amazing power and could hit the ball a country mile.
Cust bounced around from team to team and played in the minor leagues for 10 years before getting his shot. He was acquired from the Padres for cash as the A’s needed a DH due to an injury to Mike Piazza. (another horrible position player.) Cust quickly endeared himself to A’s fans by hitting 6 home runs in his first 7 games. “John Joseph” was an effective DH, and had a nice ending to his career from 2007-2010 for the Athletics. You can see why Billy Beane liked the guy from a statistical standpoint as he walked a lot and had a high OBP. This was a very strange dichotomy, and Cust will go down as one of the more unique players in MLB history. (Adam Dunn was another who led the league in both categories, and was also a Oakland DH this season…conspiracy theories anyone?)
Dave “King Kong” Kingman needs no introduction to most baseball fans. He hit 442 tape measure jobs and gave a rat in a box to a female reporter. Kingman wasn’t known for his sunny disposition and had a personality former Mets teammate John Stearns compared to a tree trunk, complaining that “when you talk to him all he does is grunt.” “Dave Kingman was like a cavity that made your whole mouth sore,” said another former teammate Bill Caudill. Ol’ Dave constantly quarreled with reporters and even dumped ice water on one. Another reporter said he was “an unquestionable slugging talent with a puzzling psyche marked ‘fragile.'” Kingman regularly insisted he was misquoted, and he began appearing regularly in the Chicago Tribune as the nominal author of a ghost-written column. Mike Royko, then writing for the rival Chicago Sun-Times, parodied Kingman’s column with a series using the byline “Dave Dingdong.” (A bit of Royko’s parody column…Hi, I’m Dave Dingdong and you’re not. I really don’t have to introduce someone as well known as me. But for those who have been living in a cave, I’m the tall, dark, handsome left fielder who hits those towering homers. I’d be a standout anywhere, but especially in Wrigley Field, because most of my teammates are nothings. . . . You might wonder why I’ve broken my legendary silence. Well, I’m a frank and honest person. And to be frnk and honest, I’ll do anything for a buck, even break my legendary silence. And if you wonder why I’ve been silent for so long, it’s because basically I’m a shallow, self-centered person who has few ideas and nothing to say.Sometimes they boo when I drop a fly ball. Why should dropping a ball be a big deal? Or sometimes they’ll boo when I throw the ball, and that’s really unbelievable. A few weeks ago in Houston, I made a really fantastic throw. It went over the third baseman’s head. Our pitcher was backing him up, and it went over his head too. Then it sailed all the way into the dugout and went up the player’s ramp. Now, how many people do you know that can throw a ball that far? Even the sportswriters said they never saw a throw like that before. But then they criticized me for it – for doing something they never saw before. No wonder I can’t stand sportswriters. They don’t appreciate originality.) Kingman eventually quarreled with his own ghostwriter. Kingman may have wasted his talent and by all accounts he was a jerk, but you didn’t buy a beer when he was due up. Even on the downside he was worth the price of admission. He was entertaining as hell, that’s for sure, even if it was somewhat in the entertaining-the-way-a-car-wreck-is-entertaining fashion.
With a career total of 442 home runs, Kingman was the first person with over 400 home runs not to make the Hall of Fame
I had no idea Dock Ellis played for the Athletics. Of course, it was before my time; and I’m sure a lot of other nerds didn’t know as well since Doc only spent two forgettable months with the Oakland club in 1977, posting a 1-5 record with a 9.69 ERA. Legend has it that it was his job to jot down the pitching charts in those pre-computer, pre-Steve Jobs days. (It was probably before Jobs had even gotten laid; he was 22.) Doc didn’t think too highly of this position and subsequently burned the charts in the locker room. He was eventually traded to Texas that same season.
Unless you’ve been on the moon the past few years or so, Dock recently received minor fame for pitching a no-hitter while on LSD for the Pirates in 1970, (I wont bore you with the details) reminding me of my own experimentation as a young man. I grew up in California; land of the hippie dress, recycled bottles, veganism, the breathtaking sea view, the rich yuppie asshole and the meth epidemic. It was almost a right of passage to smoke a bowl out of your “righteous” hand-blown glass pipe and listen to the fucking Eagles, man. I had a friend who took a couple of doses one cheery night. He tried to fight my neighbors, who he had never met, and then laid down to enjoy the musical stylings of Santana for the next 8 hours….nonstop.
Do I have my doubts about Ellis’ claim? Perhaps. But then again this is definitely THE most fucked up sport; (besides cricket) the sport where players can get mind-fucked and get their tiny capitalistic self esteem shattered within mere moments. Perhaps ol’ Dock was cruising on tolerance, muscle memory and racial strife. These motherfuckers were CRUISING on “greenies” half the time anyway, and the world was “changing”. (which begs the question…did the hippies “save” physics?)
What I found is that the counterculture owes many of its ideals, and particularly its understanding of how media shapes people, to a generation earlier that really came to life during World War II. In the ’60s psychedelic counterculture boomed. People surrounded themselves with psychedelic media – videos, art, installations – thinking that it would turn them into a different kind of person, perhaps make them more personally satisfied and psychologically fulfilled. Culturally and ideologically, much of this came from the previous decades and was not a spontaneous counter-cultural emergence, but now it had a more visual representation. Isn’t this everything to a homo sapien? And does this absolutely validate Neitzsche’s “God is dead?” or was it just visual representation of “God’s” majesty? Was “She” on Ellis’ side on that fateful day of June 12, 1970, guiding his no doubt methamphetamine laced arm to victory? Who knows? Who cares? This is that point in time when you nut up….you chose a team, a wife, a house, whether or not to kill yourself, maybe a job…and your fundamental questions eventually come up with their own self satisfied conclusions. Alas, this is just some random dumb shit baseball blog. I don’t have answers. All I have are questions and a fake baseball card. Happy Memorial Day… R.I.P. Wendell James Crosby
I’ve got my cheap bottle of vodka, walking down Crenshaw Blvd. behind an older mexican gentleman who absolutely REEKS of marijuana when it hits me right in the forehead: a wave of emotions and forgotten times, thoughts, and practices. I was smack dab in the middle of high school again. You see, my friends and I were always skipping school to skateboard, smoke weed, go to the movies, hit on girls, etc. and we would always stop in this dingy liquor store next to the Greyhound station to buy this certain brand of cheap vodka. (If you absolutely need to know, the brand is Taaka; which is surprisingly distilled in Frankfort, Kentucky, and even more surprising is their slogan, “mixes easy…just add people.”) Now before you get your panties in a bunch, remember that I eventually went to college and am a normal, tax-paying citizen with a girlfriend etc. who just happened to grow up in the 90’s when kids acting like derelicts was somewhat common and fun.
In the typical American fashion, these past-times have turned into big business; as every counter-culture movement is eventually commodified and eventually cynicism and complacency overwhelms your constantly dying brain tissue. (If you are a lucky reader, you were a baby boomer who didn’t have to do shit (not even a college education) except be born in the right era, and you can hang on to the fact that you are “important” despite the fact that you are most definitely a victim of your own glorification of your era, and didn’t actually contribute ANYTHING to the human race except that you are a horrible person with your head up your ass with nothing to offer ANYONE except for jumbles about the, “good old days” as your parents had told you before you decided to become a faux hippy 10 years after it had died as a movement completely.) The generation after saw these actions and acted accordingly. (each generation likes to act as if their “dereliction” was “innocent” compared to the generation after. As I grew up in the 90’s, enough time has passed to claim that innocence) My parents fit well into the dereliction of the era and did a bunch of coke, danced, and has children out of wedlock. I am a product of the “hippy era, ” yet an afterthought. A “test tube baby” of the “rock and roll/capitalism” era before anyone (or very few) knew how to cash in.
The 90’s was known as the “grunge generation” and a particular friend of mine was keen on listening to a band from Seattle called Willard. I thought they sounded like Nirvana, was mildly impressed, even thought some of their songs were better than the so-called “grunge gods.” (who am I fooling?…. all that shit was boring, isolated and well, not punk rock…although some may vehemently disagree) No sooner do I get home when I see this baseball card lying on the floor. Jerry fucking Willard. I smoke a bowl, put on this absolute piece of shit, stained cassette tape a friend had given me that I hadn’t considered for over 15 years. I smile.