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(Author’s note: This article was originally published on my personal (and now-defunct) website on May 26, 2011, which astute readers will fail to recognize as four days before my inaugural post at NotGraphs. It received, and I wish I were making this up, 7 pageviews. So despite the fact that this is, in fact, technically recycled material, and that one C. Cistulli has already long ago in private conversation inferred that I am an immoral cad for even suggesting to plagiarize my own published work, I am doing so. I am doing so because these are desperate times, 1565 Malta times, the edge of reason where survival, not etiquette and adorable moral codes, apply. Cry Rick Reilly if you must. Cry GamerGate. I will embrace all the necessary daggers in order to provide you, dear readers, with the maximum entertainment value that this dying vehicle can perform.)
With that said, please enjoy the box score of a wiffleball game played by children at my elementary school (as of May 26, 2011), in the minds of said children.
Fig 1 (left): this morning’s wiffleball game, as imagined by pure-hearted children. Fig. 2 (right): this morning’s wiffleball game, as actually transpired under the baleful light of cold, heartless truth.
I keep score at baseball games. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I desperately need some concrete evidence of my own existence, some flimsy bond of participation between myself as unnecessary spectator and the game I love. Maybe it’s because people always ask me why I keep score, and I want to think of a simple and witty response, the same way that someday I’ll come up with a good way to answer the question “How are you?” and I’ll be set for life. Maybe it’s because keeping score is a minute, insular form of expression, a method of translating baseball into verse, always individual, always unique; like sheet music unplayed. Maybe. Regardless, I keep score at baseball games.
On August 30, 2014, I attended a game at Safeco Field between Seattle and Washington. The Nationals won 3-1; it wasn’t a very good game. Here, posted for your brief diversion, is my scorecard from that game (click to embiggen):
The hour is late. The party is winding down: the lutist is tired, the half-empty champagne glasses that litter the end tables are flat. In some distant water closet, a man is weakly vomiting. The guests are indolently drunken, somnambulant, gassy. Still, we lift our eyes and murmur a prayer for one last feast day, commemorating the sleeping giant, the man who lived: Jeff Heath.
Life: Heath was born a Canadian in 1915 and grew up in Seattle, where he played baseball. Signed by the Indigenous Peoples of Cleveland, he enjoyed a fourteen-year career of checkered brilliance, accumulating a higher OPS+ (137) than games per season (112). He was prone to both injury and holdout, bickered and fought with his teammates and managers, led the league twice in triples and was given away by three teams. A week before the 1948 World Series against his hated Indians, Heath broke his ankle sliding into Roy Campanella and his career quickly ended at the age of 34. Afterward he returned to Seattle to sponsor the Bar-S hot dog company, broadcast Seattle Rainiers games on the radio, and do celebrity things. Then, he died.
The Ironic Jersey Omnibus, facing impossible odds, continues its trek through the heartland of America, reaching the city of St. Louis. There it encounters a problem: the Cardinals.
Being an American League fan from the West Coast, I’d never really given the Redbirds much thought: they’re a natural phenomenon, something that just happens sometimes, like droughts or school budget cuts or music award shows. And this may have been easier if I’d cranked these out faster than four a year, and got through the Cards before last year’s playoffs. But then the Cardinal Way happened, and like it or not we can never really look at the Greatest Fans on Earth the same way again, no matter how much we’d like to.
Even without that uncomfortable moniker, we have to admit that the trouble with the Cardinals is that they’re simply not very funny. They win a lot, and they draw well, and they develop talent with methodical precision, all admirable traits. But if the Cardinals are all about winning, if there’s no subtext or commiseration, can a jersey ever be ironic at all? Why wear anything but a Matt Holliday, and announce one’s anonymous presence on the perpetual motion machine that is the Cardinal bandwagon?
I turned to Dan Moore, Internet Cardinal Authority, for help. He agreed that the well of gallows humor from the last downturn (fifteen years ago!) is running dry, the mid-nineties era when the team was playing in an old stadium on withered Astroturf for a broke owner. Sure, you could wear a 1993 Gregg Jefferies jersey, but otherwise there’s so little surviving and to have survived. And with the insularity of the St. Louis fandom and the Cardinal Way urging an unspoken unilateralism, it’s difficult to find ways to wink. (Note: there is no Eckstein to be found here. We do not indulge in cliché.)
With that in mind, here are my best efforts at jersey irony:
The other evening, I stood under the eaves of my house in the rain, holding a plastic spatula in one hand and my phone in the other, watching the water pool on my deck. The Mariners were losing their fifth straight game. We had just signed the paperwork to refinance our mortgage. Thirty years left on this house, I thought to myself, watching rain hiss on the grill cover as our pre-shaped hamburger patties tanned themselves inside. Thirty years. Fifteen more times I have to stain this deck, if we last.
This deck is like a baseball team, I thought to myself, because I was stupid and tired and hungry. I replace a couple of boards each year, each time one snaps under someone’s foot at a party. But it’s still the same deck. It’s always the same damn deck.
Yesterday, with the playoffs in the balance, the Mariners defeated the Angels, 4-1. Yesterday they were eliminated from the Wild Card. Today I am free.
Despite spending the entire 1976 season in the minors, a 39 year-old Diego Segui received a 1977 Topps card wearing a gigantic fake batting helmet. That helmet, and Diego Segui, are not the subject of this article.
On the back of Diego Segui’s 1977 Topps baseball card is a cartoon drawing of a man holding a ball on the ground and a hat on his head. Both seem perfectly stationary without help, but the man is happy, so let’s not judge. The caption: “John Hatfield threw a ball 133 yards 1 foot 7.5 inches, 9-15-1872.”
He did this, although it was in October, rather than September. It’s not the record, nor was it in 1977 when Diego Segui was having giant fake batting helmets painted on his head. It doesn’t matter. You do not know what to do with this information. 133 yards 1 foot 7.5 inches seems like a long way to throw a baseball. It seems like a long enough way to jog. But how long is it, compared to how far Yoenis Cespedes could throw? Compared to Johnny Damon? You’ll never know. Everyone who broke the record hurt their arm soon afterward. They stopped trying.
We do know that John Hatfield won $25 in a baseball-throwing contest. We do not know what he did with the money. We do not know where he slept that night, whether he was alone, whether he cried about anything, whether he spent the money on booze and licorice, or whether licorice existed then. We do not know which places he wished he could have gone, how much his hands hurt, what his last words were. We know that he is dead. We know that every person he ever met, any object he created, every accomplishment he earned, every idea and joy that he ever had in his life are gone, now, shuttled from neural synapses to the corner of a hard drive in a dark server room and forgotten.
Except one afternoon, a dozen seconds of one afternoon, where he threw a baseball 133 yards 1 foot 7.5 inches. Except that, the back of Diego Segui’s 1977 Topps card, and this.
We all have our reasons for mourning the inevitable heat death of NotGraphs. Not the least of these (for the present author) is the opportunity it affords to buy random bags of baseball cards in thrift stores, write third-rate witticisms about them, and somehow be reimbursed in some twisted, neo-Bolshevik parody of capitalism. One could make the case that this, not the newspaper, is the real tragedy of the modern media revolution. But we must continue on. Join me. There will be time to mourn when the work is done.
One of Ken’s favorite activities, according to his 1990 Topps card, is bicycle riding. I can imagine this. I can imagine Ken on a windless day, his face utterly placid, bicycling impossibly slowly into an empty horizon.
One of the problems with life in modern America is how difficult it is to know that you’re winning at it. In simpler times, it was enough to out-earn and out-consume our neighbors; now, most of us haven’t even met our neighbors. The horrors of the sepia-toned and antiseptic-scented nursing home has tarnished the allure of the long life. Fame, earned or purchased, is wasted on the lazy and disrespectful millenials, who seem to think their own lives are more important. Book clubs are out of vogue.
In such a world, it’s easy to become lost, to wonder why we bother to exist at all. We want to scatter our possessions and live out a Dave Eggers novel in the jungles of northwestern Brazil, or to donate our lives to some anonymous and probably corrupt charity organization. But instead, we have saved ourselves as a people by creating our own small hurdles to overcome. In search of tension to instill some vigor in our clichéd, meandering life stories, we have developed a fifth form of literary conflict: man versus food.
Thus I found myself in the concession line of Safeco Field under the turbulent skies of an early autumn. I must do this, I thought to myself, as two boys in front of me asked for a refill for their collectible bottomless plastic soda cup without receipt. I must do it for myself, and I must do it for everyone.
I think it’s wonderful that the San Francisco Giants have made the first successful protest in the past 28 years of baseball. Too long have we been chained to the pedantic, tiresome facts that pile up over the course of each baseball game. The external world is overrated anyway, what with its unreliable sensory data, its lack of free will, and the suspiciously lifelike behavior of the actors that populate our personal dramas. It’s time to make our own rules.
So as long as sophistry reigns supreme, and we can alter the outcome of games by talking about them very cleverly, I’d like to nominate a few contests of the near and distant past that I officially protest.
June 2, 2010: Cleveland @ Detroit
This seems like a good place to start. Armando Galarraga threw a perfect game. We don’t need The Man’s approval to tell us what’s true and what isn’t.
October 22, 1975: Cincinnati @ Boston (World Series Game 7)
I really couldn’t care less who won a World Series between two championship-rich franchises in a year that predates my birth and the birth of my baseball team of choice. But I do love the image of Fisk waving it fair, because I am a human being capable of feeling emotions, and thus I find it kind of selfish of the Reds to ruin it by winning the next game. Also, it eliminates 25 years of New England self-pity, so bonus!