I see him almost everyday hanging out in front of the taco stand. He is an old man, probably around 70 years old with a funky sort of style. Today he is wearing gold crushed velvet pants and a fluorescent orange cowboy hat. When I first saw him I thought he was homeless, but his wardrobe is much too vast for that to be true. He defies authority and that is a beautiful thing.
“That Oakland ball-club has been kicking the Giants ass,” he said.
I was a little taken aback–I had never spoken to the man besides a “hey” or a slight nod of the head. I suppose he had seen me wearing the green and gold on numerous occasions. Apparently I wasn’t the only person that noticed small details.
“Sure has,” I said and gave him a smile.
Sure, the A’s still have a terrible record of 35-44; but we made the Giants look foolish in a 4 game series and I can take respite in that.
“Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air.”–Georges Bernanos
I had what can be called a perfect summer evening last night: I watched Star Wars on a 60 foot screen on top of a 6 story building with the stars twinkling brightly above while drinking a wicked batch of sauvignon blanc.
These are the kind of nights that summer is supposed to represent: everyone is dressed casually and comfortably as they enjoyed a night out with friends and family and no cares in the world at that moment. After the movie my acquaintance and I returned to her house for some champagne and a light snack of falafel balls. The great ball of fires close vicinity to the Earth couldn’t ruin this perfect evening and perhaps even enlightened it with its creamy layers of cosmic beauty.
We had small talk for a moment about science fiction novels before “the acquaintance” slides in a DVD of Easy Rider and comments, “Boy, your baseball team sure does stink this year; it must be difficult to find things to write about on that blog of yours.”
“I’m not hypersensitive to it. Perhaps I’ve even given up–which makes me enjoy watching the fiasco all the more. It’s not as if I’m pulling my hair out; there is a sense of calm in losing. Now I know how Cubs fans felt all those years.”
“I find that hard to believe,” she said as she softly tossed her cat off the couch. “Ughh, don’t ever buy anything that eats.”
“Besides, why would I care so deeply about a bunch of millionaires running around in pajamas when I can think about how insignificant my own life is relative to a world that is filled with injustice?”
“I think a lot of the experience of being an adult is: what am I even complaining about?”
“Exactly. So I can be positive and talk about how Danny Valencia and Khris Davis are absolutely raking this season. And Daniel Mengden is a pretty exciting rookie.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Neither do I,” I said as the opening credits to Easy Rider spread across the screen. I really do like Dennis Hopper in this movie I thought.
Say what you want about Mr. Jackson and his brash attitude and high strikeout rates, yet without my grandfathers’ fondness for the man I would have never found my love for the game of baseball and the Oakland Athletics.
This page before you would have never existed.
To me Reggie was ALWAYS a legend, and a mystifying one at that since he was retiring just as I was learning to love and appreciate the game. He was a Ruthian figure; and honored by someone who I loved– which made me open my eyes to try to figure out just what made this guy so special.
When my grandfather died I watched from a distance, sadly, as his children argued and bickered over his possessions. I decided then, because of their behavior, that I didn’t need an earthly remembrance of this man who was the biggest father-figure in my life. A couple of months later my grandmother came to me and handed me an autographed Reggie Jackson ball. I knew it well as it had once had the most prominent spot in the case where he kept his baseball memorabilia. It was the gem of the collection.
“I saved this for you,” she said. “grandpa would have wanted you to have it.”
I love when the baseball existentialists come together to sing their anthems of praise about the serene rhythms and mystic qualities of the game. It gives me a warm feeling. And as much as I love and adore the game, sometimes I feel as if these are all illusions because of a time and an innocence that I miss and cherish — and that I’ll never see again.
The California summer heat wave is about to begin; and long-time readers of this blog know that in the past I have complained about my own lack of air-conditioning because of the fact that I live in a 1940’s Los Angeles-style bungalow. My living room bakes my brain to the point of running out of curses and heat metaphors. Perspiration drips down my back as I stare at the wall like a lunatic in a daze.
This situation is not incongruous to the happy-go-lucky children that I see on the television–enjoying summer, running around frantically with friends , drinking Kool Aid and tumbling down water slides while staring at girls in bikinis. I drink a dozen ice-cold Coronas (no where near Wade Boggs’ record of 64 beers on one flight) before sleep and intoxication throws me into a dream state of delirium. I dream of a distinguished-looking woman opening her mouth slowly to reveal something white on her tongue.
This Freudian heat wave intermingling with the Oakland A’s current status as basement dwellers has made the beginning of summer seem like Dante’s Inferno; specifically the first circle: limbo.
The team has terrible starting pitching, terrible defense, and with Josh Reddick and Khris Davis sidelined by injuries–a terrible lineup. That is the furthest you can be for a recipe of success. Chris Coghlan was such a stinker that he was traded back to the Cubs. Jesse Hahn couldn’t retire a little leaguer. Yonder Alonso couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Billy Butler smells worse than a shipping crate filled with skunks having a farting contest.
Around 1993-1995 I completely lost interest in baseball. Being in my early 20’s my childhood interests waned, as they tend to do, and in my delusional mind my new interests were a bit more sophisticated and engaging. My interests in music were blossoming into a near obsession as I joined a garage band; and I was also delving into the literary and modern art worlds–doing my duty as a young person trying to “figure it all out.” As much as I loved to scan the box scores, I just didn’t have time anymore with my band-mates, job, and girlfriend needing my immediate and rapt attention.
F. Scott Fitzgerald thought that one of his pals had invested too much time writing about baseball. “A boys game,” Fitzgerald said, “with no more possibilities in it than a boy could master, a game bounded by walls which kept out novelty or danger, change or adventure.”
I couldn’t stomach Fitzgerald’s stuffy writing and disagreed vehemently with this statement. (I valued Descartes opinions much more, and wasn’t his vocation to think about thinking?…the absolute essence of the game) So after reading the classics : Genet, Hemingway, Hesse, Volmann, Fante, Auster, I decided one day through a haze of smoke that baseball was indeed a cerebral sport more suited to a literary rather than pictorial culture and returned to it for the ’96 season. The A’s were still the same pile of dung that i had flushed 3 years earlier finishing 3rd in the West with a 78-84 record, but the game was interesting to me again, even fun.
This was to be Mark McGwire’s last full year with the “Elephants” (his trade the next year was devastating and truly the end of my childhood) and he finished with 52 homers. This was also Jason Giambi’s first full year and he finished with a pathetic (for that time) 20 round-trippers. I attribute this to youth and the lack of steroids–a reputation that would turn out to haunt both players. Terry Steinbach was typically solid behind the dish; and a fan favorite with a funny name, Geronimo Berroa was coming into his own. There was also a curious player, Ernie Young, who hit 19 homers that season, never to hit more than 5 in any other season in his career.
As I enjoyed another season of watching my lovable losers, I had decided that baseball not only doesn’t acknowledge the passage of time, it ignores it. Then began my post-adolescent and lifelong obsession with the game that has taken over my daily existence with mind-boggling statistics and an even stranger anomalistic visual affair. I find that the more I know about this game, the less I know about this game. It keeps unfolding in ways I could never imagine.
On January 26, 2010, Ben Sheets agreed to a one year, $10 million with an additional $2 million in incentives, contract with the Oakland Athletics. “Ok,” I thought, “he was hurt last year and this is his comeback.” I knew Ben was injury prone as he had just undergone Tommy John surgery the year before and sat out the entire 2009 season to rehab. It seemed at the time a high risk/reward signing, but I put it out of my mind because of the fact that I had other things to do. You see, it was my day off and I was supposed to meet a nice young lady for some beers and some games of pool at one of those newly opened, posh “gastropubs”. The date goes fine, we drink some nice brews, play some pool and I nod my head at all the crucial moments. Everything is going great until we step out on the back patio to smoke a joint… and then it hits me. Didn’t I see this guy pitch in the minor leagues?
I can hear the readers screaming, “this guy is having a great time with this woman and he’s thinking about a fucking baseball player!” Well yes, I was, and even worse…I was thinking about the ex-girlfriend that had accompanied me to a baseball game. This is date suicide, I know, but bear with me–all of the thoughts below were fully compartmentalized within two minutes or so. (and it’s not as if it’s an epic, Homer-like story) That’s only about 3-4 head nods and a couple “mmm hmmm’s.”
It’s 1999. I had been wanting to go to a California League game for quite a while. Stockton, Ca. was the closest city to where I was living so it was the logical choice. The Stockton Ports were an (A) team for the Milwaukee Brewers, and I had a little rooting interest for the “Brew Crew;” I thought they were a scrappy, fun bunch. My girlfriend and I hop on the freeway and drive an half an hour south of Sacramento to the murderous, unemployed shit-heap known as Stockton.
Billy Hebert Field was in a sketchy neighborhood in the middle of a park. It was a bit old and had metal bleachers down the third/first base lines. The ballpark had opened in 1953, yet supposedly the land that was/is the field has been used for baseball since the late 19th century, and as legend says, the exact location where the poem “Casey at the bat” had taken place. We grab our beers and peanuts and sit on the third base line. The crowd is sparse, yet I’m enjoying myself.
Minor league games tend to have wacky promotions, yet this one was right out of the Bill Veeck hand book. The PA announcer tells the crowd that so and so from the opposing team would be the game’s “beer batter.” This meant that every time the batter in question struck out beer would be half off for 10 minutes. On the mound for the Ports that day was their newly signed “bonus baby,” Ben Sheets. Sheets proceeded to strike out the “beer batter” 4 times; and since there was barely a crowd, I would slowly walk to the concession stand and get a few beers for half off. The first few times were novelty, and then as the innings went by and the suds kicked in it became a sort of a right of passage and celebration of this young man’s talent. I was “three SHEETS to the wind” by the end of the game.
Times have changed. The Ports moved into a new, modern ballpark in 2005, leaving Billy Hebert unattended. They are now an affiliate of the Oakland A’s. Ben Sheets retired in 2012. He couldn’t shake off the injury bug that had hampered his career. I don’t speak to either woman anymore in this story. We had great times, yet that rolling stone keeps on moving. This isn’t a special story….it’s just another baseball fan’s testament, and a story that will all too soon fade away.
In my opinion the writer is to be seen as a psychedelic trip of sorts: a creator of convincing illusions and bringing forth skeptical truths. There are no illusions here, however, only skeptical truths. “Super rookie” Sean Manaea was absolutely ravaged by the Red Sox last night. Mookie Betts led off with a homer and then Hanley Ramirez hit a bomb over the Green Monster among the menagerie of hits. Manaea skulked off the field after giving up 8 runs in 2.2 innings and at this point in his career doesn’t look ML ready. The A’s starting pitching as an undivided assemblage smells worse than diarrhea on a tin roof during a southern heat wave–and now I’m not sure if the team is going to be a summer respite from the dull and anxious day-to-day that most people call their existence as sentient beings.
I can only take solace in the Zen proverb, “Let go or be dragged.” I stop what I am doing , take a deep breath and ask myself, “What, in this moment, am I demanding?” There is still lots of baseball to be played…it’s only May for chrissake. All this is tumbling through my head as I am walking my dog in the largely Asian neighborhood I live in. Men take walks in the morning wearing suits and old ladies do seemingly useless calisthenics in the park. There are lots of windmills akin to a third base coach waving home a runner while walking backwards and synchronated hand claps. These sort of things drive my dog crazy and he barks at the gray-hairs incessantly while chasing squirrels and crows. I enjoy these morning walks, as does he, and he doesn’t let me forget it as he stares and paws at my face at exactly 7:00 each morning until we hit the pavement. What does all this mean? What am I trying to say?
It’s only May for chrissake.
Bartolo “Big Sexy” Colon went yard Saturday night becoming the oldest player in ML history to hit his first home run at age 42. This feat was of a particular interest to me as he is one of 4 players in the league that are older than yours truly. (Alex Rodriguez was born the day after.) I also have an affinity for El Bart because of his superb dos seasons in a Oakland uniform including an All Star nod at age 40. These affinities moved to the physical realm as well when Bartolo made us all feel proud that he could be successful on the field despite his “physical limitations” and humorously strange haircuts. I, like many other fans, found it hard to believe that the man could weigh 265 pounds eating a strict Dominican diet of rice, beans and tubers. No, it was decided that Colon was also imbibing on American junk food.
We may all have a more mobile relationship to age than to other perspectives or subject positions … because we are all aging at any one moment. Bartolo’s rookie year with Cleveland was in 1997: I was a young man, 22 years old and living in my first ramshackle apartment with my girlfriend at the time. It was a second story, one bedroom tenement behind a raucous gay bar. Many times I was awoken at the witching hour to make sure that people urinating and fist-fighting in the alley weren’t breaking in to her car. (a black Dodge Challenger!) We worked at a coffee shop and liked to collect records and vintage furniture. We were naive and world-weary at the same time–and here I sit 19 years later with the conviction that life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of flukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose…equivalent to a Bartolo Colon home run.
Each life is irreducible to anything other than itself. Which is to say: lives make no sense. Thank you Bartolo for the echoes of the past and congratulations on a record that makes little sense and may never be broken.
We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ’cause
We’re all gonna die
And when we do
What’s it all for
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door
–Prince “Let’s get crazy”
It was truly a sad day when Prince died last week. In an era of cookie cutter, soul-less music he stood out as a mega-talented musician with magical song writing ability. Like every other human being I saw his death as a chance to reminisce about a moment, long forgotten, in my own life. The memories came rushing through, synapses released, and suddenly I remembered the first time I had seen a Prince video–it was in 1984 and I was nine years old and playing with a few cousins at my grandparents house. All of the sudden “When Doves Cry” came on the television and it was as if the world had stopped and my tiny brain was shattered. I had never seen anyone so ethereal and androgynous. He was calling the world “cold” and criticizing his parents as fallible human beings. I was instantly infatuated and intrigued by this new possibility of undermining expectations. Prince was something different, something refreshing in an era of faux reggae, (The Police) misogynist “cock rock,” and Phil Collins-esque waiting room music. A friend once told me that the movie “Purple Rain” scared the shit out of him when he was a small child. That is pure genius as far as I’m concerned. R.I.P. Purple One.
The A’s sweep of the Yankees last week was beautiful but the moment was a bit sweeter because of the fact that the Bronx Bomber’s telecasters had the pretension to call the Athletics a AAA team. I thought it particularly funny because of the fact that the Yankees lineup isn’t all that impressive and quite a few couldn’t even start over the regular players in Oakland. New Yorkers have been delusional about the Yankees for quite some time and seeing them as contenders this season is a bit laughable in its tedium. They drank the proverbial Kool-Aid. Most people root for laundry but Yankees fans root for dissipated ghosts. Chris Coghlan hit a two run jack in the 8th inning in game 3 giving the A’s a 6-3 lead and all but insuring an A’s sweep. The cameras then panned to a kid about 8 years old crying in the stands. I am not one to enjoy seeing kids cry but this bratty Millennial (or whatever the hell kids are called these days) was crying because his delusions were being destroyed. Seemed fitting for a Yankees fan…here’s to hoping they have many terrible seasons ahead and the fans keep crying because of their own self-imposed importance.
CCA: On page 209 of Nancy Finley’s new book “Finley Ball,” she writes that manager Billy Martin started dating Jill, who he eventually married. (She also was called “the devil” by his children from another marriage by refusing to give them any memorabilia and selling it all after Martin’s death.) Is it true that she was dating a player who asked you “how do you complain to the manager who is hitting on your girlfriend?” Are you comfortable naming this player?
REVISITING 1980 – BILLY MARTIN’S DOG HOUSE & SOAP OPERA
“Billy first laid eyes on Jill Guiver in 1980 before a game against the California Angels. She had a camera on her shoulder. Though she didn’t work for any organization, she was telling everyone she was a free-lance photographer. At one time she had dated one of the Yankee players, Reggie Jackson. According to ball players who knew her at the time, her photography was her way to get to meet them. The way she looked, an introduction was all she needed. She liked to wear tight-fitting clothes and short shorts. She was very sexy. Jill asked Billy if she could take his picture. Billy asked her if he could take her for a drink after the game. They began dating, which threw a scare into at least four of Billy’s players who were also seeing her. These players feared that she would reveal to Billy that they were also going with her and that Billy would take it out on them. They were praying that Billy’s relationship with Jill Guiver would soon end, that she was only a phase, in part because they feared Billy’s wrath and also because as long as Billy was with her, they couldn’t be.” ~ Wild, High and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin
BK:I don’t know if it was the day Billy met Jill, but it had to be close to it. All the players had noticed an attractive woman with a camera near our dugout during batting practice. Billy spent an abnormally long amount of time in the clubhouse during the game that day. This was extremely rare. Billy was always watching the game from the dugout. I wasn’t pitching on this day and happened to be in the clubhouse when I saw Billy emerge from the manager’s office with Jill. Most of the players had noticed Billy’s unusually long absence from the dugout,and a few knew that Billy was interested in the “girl with the camera”. I don’t think any of them knew he was alone with her in the manager’s office during the game.
Well I don’t know about four players on our team dating her, but I had heard of one that was. During the game I mentioned to him that I had seen Jill in Billy’s office. His response was “How do you complain to the manager who is hitting on your girlfriend?” Maybe he was just wondering what those other guys mentioned in Wild High & Tight were going to do about it?
CCA: There was also an instance mentioned in the same book where Martin tells you to walk a guy and the guy reaches out and slaps a single on pitch that was meant to be ball and Martin apparently charged out of the dugout screaming, “you motherfucker…I told you to walk him!”
BK:There were actually two games where Billy really surprised me with the way he handled things. The first one is the one you asked about, where Billy came out of the dugout yelling at me. It was against the Cleveland Indians. The second game was about two months later against the Toronto Blue Jays. Both are described below:
THIS IS THE HORSESHIT MOTHERFUCKER GAME AGAINST THE INDIANS (MAY 7, 1980)
On May 7, 1980 I pitched a game against the Cleveland Indians in Oakland. It was a day game and there were maybe 5,000 fans in attendance. I didn’t give up a hit until the 5th inning, but in the 6th I gave up two hits and when Mike Hargrove came to the plate, Billy Martin came to the mound.Billy told me to throw Hargrove four straight pitches high and away. “Maybe we can get him to pop up”. The first two pitches were shoulder-high and a foot outside. The next pitch was a little higher, but maybe only 9 or 10 inches off the plate. Hargrove managed get a hit and Billy came out of the dugout screaming obscenities (“You horse shit motherfucker”) at me. With such a small crowd his voice carried, and could be heard throughout the stadium.
My catcher Jim Essian couldn’t believe that we didn’t just walk Hargrove. Which is the same thing Hargrove told our first baseman.
It turns out Hargrove knew that Billy had told me to throw him high fastballs up and away. He said he had seen it before several times when Billy was his manager in Texas.
THE STUPID PITCHER GAME: JULY 21,1980
In the game above, against the Indians, Billy had called me a horseshit motherfucker. In this game, about two months later, I apparently had progressed enough to just being called stupid, which some may see as an upgrade from horseshit motherfucker.
Toronto Blue Jays 1 Oakland Athletics 0
Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Brian Kingman, L (5-10) 9 9 1 1 2 8 1 3.41
Billy was a great manager. He knew the game, and all of its nuances, inside out. If he had a weakness as a manager it was in how he treated players. He was especially hard on pitchers, especially LOSING pitchers. The last straw for me was in a game he insisted I throw a fastball to a hitter (Alvis Woods) who hit a home run. I threw a complete game and lost 1-0. When the reporters came up to me after the game, they told me that Billy said I was a stupid pitcher because I threw a fastball hitter a fastball behind in the count. My reply to the reporters was: ‘How stupid can I be if Billy is the one who called the pitch? The next day the headline in the sports section was:
KINGMAN RIPS MARTIN
Well, that might not have been the best thing for my career. The old proverb “The truth shall set you free, suddenly turned into “It may be the truth, but the truth shall make Billy mad” I had no idea that would be the headline! I realize that reporters have to make a living, and headlines sell papers, but after this happened, I knew Billy hated me. He was a very small man in that way – holding grudges, always looking for revenge for things real and imagined.
CCA:Nancy also talks a bit about how you were going to get married but Billy Martin was dead set against it. You lost 9 in a row after the marriage. What was going on there?
Was it a psychological issue? Rebellion?
BK:The short answer is that It wasn’t a rebellion. It was just the cumulative effect of a very toxic situation. The combination of poor run support combined with a manager who unless you were winning, was one of the hardest managers to pitch for. Instead of looking forward to my next start, I began to dread it. For the long answer read on:
The games above preceded my 9 game losing streak. Before the losing streak my record was 7-11 and my ERA was 3.41. I easily could have been 11-7, except for the fact that I was getting less than 3 runs a game in offensive support.
The 2.50 runs per game the A’s scored in my 20 losses are deceptive because 11 of the 50 runs scored were in one game.
If you take out those 11 runs and that one game, I got a whopping 2.05 runs per game in my other 19 losses. If I had been 11-7 with a 3.41 ERA I believe I Billy would have found someone else to pick on. Everyone is happy when they are winning. Losing was like a small piece of death for Billy,and I was losing at an alarming rate.
In order to get married I was going to have to miss a game. I told Art Fowler about my plans and he said “You’d better ask Billy, he usually doesn’t like guys getting married during the season because it’s a distraction” I told Art that I would ask Billy, but I was thinking there could be no bigger distraction for me than Billy. My first goal when I stepped on the mound was to win the game. My second goal, unfortunately had become to avoid incurring Billy’s wrath.
Billy “granted” me permission to miss a game and get married. When I returned I threw 3 straight complete games, but lost all three by the scores of 3 -2, 4 -3 & 4 -2. I pitched well in those games. I think my era was around 3.5, yet my record now stood at 7-14. The main reason I was losing once again was a lack of offensive support. One of the most devastating factors to a pitchers won-loss record is a lack of offensive support. It the difference between winning 5-4 instead of losing 3-2.
“As for Kingman’s run support, it was literally historically bad. I’ve gone through the game logs at retrosheet & figured out the run support (adjusted for park & league)for 1096 different seasons in which a pitcher started at least 25 games. Kingman’s 1980 is the 13th worst of that bunch. His run support was only 68% of league average when adjusted for park & league.”
I read this about 10-12 years ago on line. It was written by a blogger called Dag Nabbit. It was from one of those baseball Sabermetric sites that are often a challenge to read, but he did a good job of translating my misery and explaining it numerically. I have always want to thank Dag Nabbit, so maybe he will read this. I am positive that very, very few fans, or even players pay attention to a pitcher’s long term lack of offensive support, and even fewer appreciate how utterly devastating it can be.
In the remaining six games of my losing streak, I pitched less effectively than I had up to that point in the season. There is no doubt that the psychological burden of losing was becoming more and more of a factor. Constant, long term losing erodes confidence, which is crucial to success in all sports.The lethal combination of poor offensive support and playing for a manager who hated to lose perhaps more than any manager in baseball history took it’s toll on me. There was an increasingly pervasive sense of futility that you think you can overcome by being mentally tough, and to a certain degree you can. However it is still a burden, an additional obstacle, for which the only remedy is to win. It felt like I was the only one losing, since all the other starters were winning. After losing nine consecutive games my record stood at 7-20.
“Brian Kingman was a pitcher who was very frustrating to Billy because Billy could see he was probably the most talented of the five of us as far as stuff went. Brian was a very intellectual guy. If Brian and Billy had a problem, it was because Brian would not talk to Billy about things that bothered him or about personal things” ~Matt Keough Wild, High and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin
If you look at the history of 20 game losers you’ll see that virtually all of them were on teams that lost at least 90 games, and quite often 100 games or more. On those teams with 20 game losers almost all the starters have losing records.They say misery loves company, well I was all alone in 1980. In fact the last time a pitcher lost 20 games on a winning team was in 1922. His name
was Dolf Luque. Ironically I was a winning pitcher in 1979 (8-7) with a team that lost 108 games.