Steve Sax and the high school reject

“Sweet is the memory of past troubles.” –Cicero

Sax had 1,949 career knocks, 6 of which came in an Athletics jersey.

My high school career was less than stellar, quite different from Kevin Arnold’s 1970’s middle-class neurosis in The Wonder Years; and it was often a confusing and awkward time for me as it is for any young person who doesn’t follow the rules of engagement. My school was located in one of the poorer neighborhoods so the styles and sophistication of the students echoed that. This was the life equivalent of tasteless, waxy American cheese.

There were minimal cliques in this school–the wannabe gang bangers, (and the real ones) the jocks, the hair-metal kids, the cholas and the cheerleaders. I managed to scrounge up 2 friends, one was a metal head who I had known since elementary school, and the other a punk rock reject that would wear a Dead Kennedys shirt everyday, carry a skateboard everywhere and never let anyone inside his house. In retrospect, there was nothing special about my teenage apathy. Everyone was dealing with the same emotions and questions, but with different parents, cultures, agendas and economic status. There was also a beautiful naivete concerning school shootings: we simply could never conceive of it happening–there was a better chance of aliens populating the earth or Elvis rising from the dead. I was also suffering from a strangulating boredom which I thought was to be my position in life…I was 16 and waiting for it to begin.

Baseball player Steve Sax was sort of a local legend in our little burg as he had attended the only and very same high school that I was attending. During P.E. (my favorite subject, besides lunch) I would stare at Sax’s school records on an amateurish hand-painted board above dented, graffitied, rusted lockers while fights broke out, coaches screamed and evacuations from the putrid sulfur smell of stink bombs were coalescing around me. He owned every single record. I couldn’t fathom that a titan on a baseball card had actually walked these same sweat sock-scented hallways from hell and dominated the very same pock-marked, weed infested ball field that I had played on as a Freshman just one year earlier. He probably thought he was hot shit and had all kinds of bell-bottom clad, Farrah Fawcett- haircut-fashioned girls throwing themselves at him; no doubt changing one letter in his last name as to give him a more studly and epically legendary nickname as his other conquests snickered knowingly with a hint of underlying jealousy.

Sax had a pretty solid career and even won a World Series with the Dodgers until he caught a case of the “yips,” which is a psychological malfunction of the routine play. In this case it was the across the body lob to the first baseman from the second base position. A fairly easy play unless pondered to the point of oblivion. This local hero and World Series winner was fallible and I could relate. I had acquired a case of the life yips at the age of 15 and couldn’t even have a routine conversation without stumbling through it. Girls were impossible as I took navel-gazing to the point of nonexistence. I would contemplate every single nonsensical conversation or see sideways glances as a character assassination. This sort of thought was an unhealthy E-4, something that was scratched on Sax’s scorecard more times than he would’ve liked.

We were worlds apart in every conceivable valuable attribute–with him having all the admirable ones, an enviable cross to bear; but we shared the same thoughts, fears and insecurities that all humans struggle with at one time or another, and with that, the inability to be shielded from the cruel elements that possesses us all.

I’ve got the spirit of Milton Bradley running through me, and baseball sucks right now

This is “Tar Man” from “The Return of the Living Dead,” the greatest zombie movie of all time. You can thank me later.

In lieu of baseball, I’ve been watching a lot of movies; and you’d be surprised by how many flicks there are about nuns possessed by the devil, nazi zombies, and undead sharks. There is even a film, I kid you not, titled “Killer Sofa,” with the protagonist being a piece of furniture with a mean streak. MLB should take note, especially in modern day, about how many diversions are available to a slack-jawed couch potato like me. I’m a hardcore baseball fan in the average age range of your typical MLB consumer and even I don’t care if baseball comes back in 2020. Something is very wrong here. They say Rob Manfred is a lawyer but does that title still have any meaning after the frontal lobotomy?

***

The Red Sox recently released a statement confirming that some of their deplorable fan base uses racial slurs, which was a great first step in race relations, but doesn’t racism begin at home? The Sox didn’t sign their first black free agent until 1992 (!) and still to this day have NEVER had a black manager. If your fans are a “reflection of larger systemic issues that as an organization we need to address,” than why don’t you start with yourselves and whatever dumb ass policies that you adhered to before June of 2020? My guess is that they were too busy stealing signs to even give a shit…the whole “storied franchise” can burn in hell with now deceased, noted philanthropist (but only if you’re white) and former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey for all I care.

***

It’s recently come to my attention that some of the “gatekeepers” of baseball writing don’t take kindly to my presence in the grandiose and accolade-laden world of baseball blogging. (insert heavy eye roll here) I’m apparently a pariah among these very same anachronistic baseball writers who learned their trade either by replicating newspaper hacks or idealistic, fluffy poets who want to lovingly reminisce about the “good old days” (ok, Boomer) and never saw the game from a critical perspective. These same writers, who I assume to be literary experts, are compelled to criticize but still can’t pull their eyes away from lil ol’ me. In the end it’s just a pissing contest in which I never wanted to be involved. I started this project for simple enjoyment and to connect with fans of a singular baseball team, not to compare and contrast book deals, MLB connections and dick size. (which I would win anyway because most of you are old, shriveled up fart bags.)

***

–Support black owned businesses always, and not just during June 2020.

–Read black authors always, and not just nonfiction books about racism.

–Oh my gosh, please just wear a dang mask.

I’m crushing a few “man sodas” and watching the MLB draft

California high school POY.

I think it’s time to decompress, if only for a moment. The unfortunate and dynamic happenings of the past week has left anyone with an iota of compassion emotionally distressed and even questioning their own integrity and place in the social/political spectrum. But I digress– it’s time to embrace escapism and take a mental diversion by watching and then talking about the most brainless activity known to man…the MLB draft. In the past (pre-internet) this activity was relegated to a blurb in the local newspaper, but now must be scrutinized to the point of exhaustion on any self-respecting (don’t get any ideas about this particular one) baseball site. I’ve got the beers cooling and I’m already 4 deep. It’s high time I act like a professional journalist and do an impromptu review of the least hyped of the professional sports drafts. Let’s do this.

There is nothing more entertaining than watching a stiff Rob Manfred stand at a podium and announce a draft pick with the driest, most mundane zombie-like voice that any human can comprehend. Is there an elemental soul in there? The jury is still out if he’s a man, robot or a left-over from the cast of Night of the Living Dead. This is the type of show you’d want to watch if you actually hated sex because there is absolutely nothing on this earth that can turn off a woman more than Harold Reynolds talking about “statistical trajectory” or “cost/benefit analysis.” These guys are actually frothing at the mouth and full of hyperbole about guys that may never even sniff the majors but you’d think every single one of them was the next Mike Trout. It’s turned into an all out pissing contest. I’m 7 beers deep at this point. (hiccup)

It’s pick 26 and the Oakland ball club takes an 18 year old high school kid out of Turlock, a tiny valley town in California that is known for farming, meth busts and the Hell’s Angels that the locals have christened, “TurdLock.” This is a confusing pick because the A’s have made it a habit to take college players: at least during the Billy Beane era. Alas, this is the David Forst era. Tyler Soderstrom is a big kid with a big left-handed bat that probably will switch positions from catcher as he wasn’t even the best defensive catcher on his high school team. The most compelling aspect is that Soderstrom was voted the best high school player in California, a state traditionally deep in baseball talent. The sky’s the limit for this kid. He may be the next Terry Steinbach, may have a fledgling career in the minors, or may be packaged in a trade for a rent-a-player to help in a late season Wild Card run that has yet to be contemplated. Good luck young man, welcome to Oakland and good night. (hiccup)

Goodbye Sacramento

A nice, quiet place for a drink.

“One of the most endearing things about baseball history is that it’s so packed with bullshit.” –John Thorn, MLB official historian

Joe Marty’s is a small-ish little bar and grill stuffed to the gills with baseball memorabilia located on a hobo-strewn, dusty section of Broadway in Sacramento, California. It isn’t uncommon to see a few meth needles lying around; the old Chinese ladies with shopping carts and straw hats are oblivious to the nefarious items as they go about their business of poking stray cans from garbage bins in filth infested alleys. This street was the hip place to be at one time, high school kids would cruise in low riders up and down the street trying to hook up with a hot girl or guy, but that was 40-some odd years ago.

There used to be a P.C.L. ballpark a few blocks away, but a wayward cigarette caught fire with a peanut and, poof, up it went in a ball of flames in 1948: a metaphor for a city that can, like a petulant child, never seem to take care of the nice things that it gets. Today, a Target store sits where the ballpark used to be, with the bodies of the forefathers of the city neatly tucked away in the earth for over 150 years in the cemetery across the street.

I was at Joe’s for Game 7 when the Cubbies finally kicked the billy goat in the face and won their first World Series in over 100 years– not the first American institution to be seemingly forever mired in a curse, as this seems to be the lot in life for the rich just much as the poor in a heartless, money-hungry mechanism such as ours. Erstwhile, they say every dog has their day, and I had a shit-eating grin on my face as the swarms of Cubs fans jumped around me in transcendent jubilation: as someone who enjoys seeing a rarity such as pure and unadulterated glee, I was also enjoying it historically as something more rare than Haley’s Comet or a sober Irishman. I felt that I was a kindred spirit to the ghosts that had suffered with this team and were no doubt sleeping more peacefully even though their lives had been long forgotten. I drunkenly kissed an Indians fan clad in Chief Wahoo amid the fracas although she was too young too know Albert Belle and didn’t seem too be broken up about the game. Do you think she was from Cleveland?

 

I don’t really care if baseball comes back in 2020

He came out of nowhere!

These are paradoxical times that would make George Orwell sit up in his grave and vomit from exhaustion. A man, George Floyd, was murdered by police officers and a city is burning. Donald Trump, meanwhile, only seems upset by the fact that he is being censored by a social media app that took away his platform to blather daily with diabolical malicious intent. I really don’t give a shit if baseball comes back in 2020 at this point in time by virtue of the lying, cheating and money bickering that doesn’t seem inclusive to politics or an average earth dweller’s daily social life.

***

Greedy BILLIONAIRES (and specifically Oakland A’s owner John Fisher) are refusing to take care of their investments in the minor leagues, most of whom were living hand to mouth. There is an almost schizophrenic pathology in this country that must be addressed before grown men with sticks try to hit a ball and pat each other on the ass. And do we (I’m assuming my readers are vastly working class) really care if the rich get richer as we chase our own tails? Are we not just a clump of self-satisfied, fog shrouded, entitled little shits who cling to technology and the almighty dollar as we regress to the primordial ooze of ethics as a species? You can only take so much before you throw up your hands and say, “enough!” I’ve heard that age deepens all feelings, and I can’t argue with that statement as I have never been more sickened by the actions of this country’s citizens and politicians (left and right) in all of my days.

***

It’s all about the small things in life and I could only cherish the moment, albeit for mere minutes, as I found a can of Lysol on the shelf at my local drug store. I am officially voting this single, arbitrary can as MVP of the Oakland A’s in 2020: may he forever live in the heart and minds of fans as one of the greatest to ever wear the green and gold.

Rickey poses for Playgirl

The GOAT.

It’s 104 degrees outside as I’m typing this, and it seems like an irrefutable idea to sit around the air conditioner and watch a few horror films meant for the garbage heap while drinking copious amounts of iced tea. I’m still not comfortable being in large groups of virus puppets, and shame on the people that decided to congregate in large groups Memorial Day Weekend. Ezra Pound was quoted as saying,”Stupidity carried beyond a certain point becomes a public menace.” and he was absolutely correct on that account in more ways than one. The major component in this logic can only be seen as self-serving and uncaring; so don’t expect compassion if you are one of the revelers who just happens to acquire a healthy (or unhealthy. yuck yuck.) case of The ‘Rona. As you can probably tell from the former sentence, I am seemingly a huge proponent of retribution, and you wouldn’t be wrong. More than likely, as life is always unfair in this way, one of the “party animals” will probably give it to someone who dies while their own case remains dormant. I still have to repress the inclination to punch someone in the face who stands right next to me in the grocery store while blathering on their phone with spittle flying everywhere but, hey, nobody’s perfect.

***

At any rate…the internet wormhole strikes again! I stumbled across a photo of a barely clad Rickey Henderson for Playgirl in July 1984, and I thought, “Gee, that was an interesting year in pop culture.” I was in elementary school and I absolutely adored Michael Jackson. The biggest topic on the playground was: would you bang Madonna? and what Garbage Pail Kids would you trade? Of course, we were all virgins and wouldn’t know what to do with our peckers even if Madonna was a pedophile who was attracted to small town Catholic school knuckleheads who carried aluminum lunchboxes with Luke Skywalker emblazoned on the lid. I stared at the photo of Rickey for a minute and his powerful legs seemed to stand out in the photo for, oh, about 1,406 reasons. The photo was meant for a different gender (or not?) and maybe even a different race (or not?) but it still resonated from a baseball standpoint. Is this what happens when there is no baseball? Are you relegated to watching games on MLB.TV from 2019, playing fantasy games on your phone and staring at photos of Rickey Henderson’s legs?

I think I need to get outside. (with 6 feet of social distancing, of course)

Observations and stuff

Rickey’s stance?

Recently, a friend and I were walking to the corner store on a bright-sunny-day-beer-trip, lazily immersing ourselves in conversation about Glenn Danzig‘s new album of Elvis covers. My opinion was that I found the album to be trite, self-serious with no irony, and it ultimately garnered a shrug and a yawn; but even more hilarious and interesting was the almost universal frothing at the mouth by the gate-keeping reviewers who saw it as rock and roll anathema and a retrograde head-scratcher. Besides, couldn’t I just listen to Elvis himself? Is there any reason why I shouldn’t? Danzig, in all his glorious, visual hilariousness could never surpass a fat Elvis doing a rhinestone studded, scuzzy Las Vegas, word-slurring, pill popping rendition of “In the Ghetto.” There is, alas, only one “King,” and Mr. Danzig is just the former lead singer of a band whose t-shirts have been relegated to the scrapheap of clueless millennial teenage rebellion. This album only exists to create more landfill.

We passed the “Rickey Henderson” statue that I noticed that someone had (lovingly?) bestowed a mask, no doubt an attempt at humor or perhaps a micro-aggressive reminder to Trump fans (and every cro-magnon attempting to adopt the modern human sleeve without internal logic) that surely no amount of patriotism or amendments can stop a virus or even death. These are surreal and almost hilarious times and I couldn’t help but suppressing a snicker as I put on my own mask before entering the store, per new regulation, to an absurdity that can only be seen as the “new normal.” I seemingly can only wonder and perhaps dream of a world without The ‘Rona and maybe even Glenn Danzig for good measure since wondering and dreaming seems to be the only pastime that makes sense these days besides drinking and hand washing.

 

An exhausting review of a single piece of cardboard

huh?

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.

The ‘Rona gives you time to think and reminisce

Ernie “Big Ern” Young

Around 1993-1995 I completely lost interest in baseball. Being in my early 20’s my childhood interests waned and became retrograde, as they tend to do, and in my delusional mind my new interests were a bit more sophisticated and engaging. My interests in music and punk rock in general were blossoming into a near obsession as I decided to join 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” with a speculating, cynical and sometimes critical mind.  And 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 a tiny smattering of the classics: Genet, Hemingway, Hesse, Volmann, Didion, 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. It was a catharsis that I hadn’t seen before.

***

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.

Bill McNulty and the Summer of Flying ‘Taters

“Baseball is an orderly universe, and that appeals to people who see disorder in the universe.” –Bill James

Got his only knock off Nolan Ryan

Breezy night. Moths fluttered and slammed against a lonely streetlight in the massive, darkened parking lot next to an antiquated football stadium. Earlier in the evening I had attended a photo exhibition/art show which was a prelude to the sanctity of the parking lot to smoke a joint with my friend, Bret. We had been invited by an ex-girlfriend with emotional wreckage and psychological traumas  from places I would never go; or care to. Life is always a shifting cast it seems, and here she was again, always cold and ever-present with a sexually ambiguous haircut. We gobbled up the free food and drinks eagerly. It all had the veneer of a high school graduation with proud parents hovering, shouting, drinking cheap wine and making congratulatory post- show dinner plans. These are the nights that crawl by at a snail’s pace. This being a community college, far from academia, there was the obvious “mystic chatter,” theatrical hand motions, and desperate attempts at narrative. Taking a break from this thing was imperative.

***

“Thanks for dragging me out of there. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
“No problem and no shit.”
“I suppose no man is impervious to the charms of a beautiful woman, despite their…fallbacks.”
“No judgement here, my friend,” said Bret as he spit out of a tiny bit of wayward reefer.
“This is Hughes Stadium, right? Didn’t the Sacramento Solons play here?”
“Yeah, 1974. They converted it into a baseball stadium and it was sort of a joke. I used to come here a lot with my dad…yeah, I’m old you sonnuvabitch.”
“You’re practically an antique,” I said jokingly. “Your only goal in life should be to outlive the national mortality rate.”
“Some guy hit a bunch of homers that year, over 50 I believe.”

***

When I’m stoned I tend to get bleary eyed, staring at everything but nothing, and here I was entering the wormhole and researching this mystic “50 homer guy.” Turns out his name was Bill McNulty and in 1974 he had an impressive 55 ‘taters, although most of them were “cheapies” because of the converted football stadium and the 233 foot left field line: perfect for a right-handed pull hitter. This wasn’t a “band box,” it was by my estimation a toddler’s crib. McNulty was also born in Sacramento, as I was, and writer Joan Didion before us. Interestingly enough, there was a also a stint in Hollywood as he had a bit part in a movie, 1985’s No Big Deal, starring Kevin Dillon, (Matt’s little brother) as typical of his brother in a “tough-guy with a heart of gold who got a bad rap” roll, playing a troublesome teen getting out of juvie and dealing with an alcoholic mother while trying desperately to get his shit together.

****

Mr. McNulty had exactly ONE major league hit: It was for the Oakland Athletics and it was off of some guy named Nolan Ryan, a soft single in which none other than Reggie Jackson was thrown out at the plate. And just like that, another ball-player is ripped from the “blanket of obscurity” and breezes into the catacombs of my mind as legend. There are so many beautiful things surrounding us if only we would take the time to look around every once in awhile.