Baseball Toaster Cardboard Gods
Monthly archives: July 2007


Mike Cuellar
2007-07-31 09:04
by Josh Wilker

When I was boy, I thought Mike Cuellar’s last name was pronounced KEW-ler. It's actually pronounced KWAY-ar, I think. But the point is, I sort of miss Mike "KEW-ler" Cuellar. I think of him as a separate entity from the actual Mike "KWAY-ar" Cuellar, but though the latter lives on (in both actuality and in the record books), the former lives on nowhere except in the large graveyard in my mind set aside for mistakes and misperceptions. The mispronounced Mike Cuellar was both more mysterious and closer to me than his successor, and his departure was part of a general trend in life toward distance and the dwindling of mystery.

Other baseball card names I mangled included Miguel Dilone (I pronounced it mi-GWELL di-LOAN), Rogelio Moret (Rah-JEE-leo ma-RETT), and Diego Segui (DAY-go seh-GWEE). I wasn't so clear on Bruce Bochte, either. Was it BOCK-tee or BOTCH-tee? I didn’t know. Even one of the few names I knew beyond doubt how to pronounce aloud, and that I had in fact shouted until my throat was raw with thousands of others in his presence, became strange and complicated on his baseball card: Yastrzemski. And to this day I’m unclear on Sid Monge. Is it Monj? Mong? Mon-jay? Monjy? Mon-hay? Mongy? Mon-gay? Though I worry that some day some preposterous situation will arise that will require me to correctly pronounce Sid Monge, my confusion over which of the above options is correct strikes me as a rare surviving species from the world of my childhood. So if you know how to pronounce Sid Monge, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

Bruce Bochte
2007-07-27 12:48
by Josh Wilker

A few days ago I was traveling south in a rental car on I-89 in Central Vermont, headed to Manchester, New Hampshire, for a flight home to Chicago. I had given myself extra time on the drive in case I felt like detouring down memory lane, and because I am always in the mood to detour down memory lane I exited the highway at Randolph so I could descend into the valley of East Randolph and stare at the house I’d grown up in. I’ve done this before, several times. I always pull over and sit there for a few minutes, listening to the engine tick and waiting for something significant to happen. Then I move on, feeling dumb and empty. Perhaps because I knew what was in store for me I added new complications to this latest detour, delaying it, first deciding to stop at the general store in town and then on my way to the general store deciding to take back roads that would take me by Buster Olney’s stepfather’s farm, where I once labored throwing haybails and also played whiffle ball and Stratomatic with the future nationally known czar of baseball insider info. I drove for what seemed like an inordinately long time down a narrow dirt road, thinking that I’d gone and gotten myself lost in the closest thing I have to a hometown.

But then the farm appeared. I drove by at about ten miles an hour. No one was in sight. I don't know what I was hoping for. Maybe Buster lolling around the driveway in some sort of completely uncharacteristic moment of disengagement. In truth he always was and surely still is constantly and passionately occupied, but I guess I was hoping he'd be just sort of standing there, perfectly open for a surprise visit from a friend out of his past. We’d greet one another enthusiastically, ask about one another’s family, laugh about the good old days, and then eventually the conversation would get around to my favorite way of feeling like a piece of shit: my lack of success as a writer.

"Stop worrying, I'll make some calls," he'd say, staring at me meaningfully so as to let me know that within weeks I'd be cashing royalty checks, fending off voluptuous baseball card memoir groupies, and appearing on The Daily Show, Fresh Air, and Mike and The Mad Dog. "Now let's go throw a few bails for old time's sake and then play some Strat and eat chocolate chip cookies, old pal," Buster would then say.

Anyway, a few minutes after rolling by the quiet farm I pulled in at the general store in East Randolph. Since this store was where I had bought the great majority of the baseball cards shown on this site, I planned to buy a new pack there and then tell you, dear reader, all about it. Also, a couple days earlier, Barbara, the long-time family friend who painted the picture of my old house shown on this site during the Mario Guerrero chronicles, told me that the store had recently been bought by a local married couple that included a girl from my grade that I remember very well. In fact she was the girl most often featured throughout my teenaged years in the 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind.

This 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind opened around the time I got the 1980 Bruce Bochte card shown above. I was 12 years old and in 8th grade and as I believe I’ve mentioned before I had recently discovered that the girls around me were bulging through their clothes in hauntingly interesting ways. My god, how I clung to box scores and the Sunday batting averages in those days, clung as I never had before and never would again. I specifically remember clinging to Bruce Bochte, to his name that is, which had in previous years not been among the league leaders in the batting average list printed in the Sunday paper, but now suddenly here he was, an exciting new arrival in the land of Carew and Brett. Though in later years he would recede into a haze that would have me confusing him with Bruce Bochy (who I in turn confused with Bob Brenly, who was nominally entangled with Bruce Berenyi), at the dawn of my troubling, painful puberty Bruce Bochte rang like a bell through the fog, trying to guide me back home, and I in turn tried to walk toward the sound as best I could but more and more just ended up ducking into the aforementioned 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind, where the future owner of the general store in the closest thing I have to a hometown was always shedding her tight 8th grade gym clothes and running toward me with voracious enthusiasm.  

Anyway, I pulled into the parking lot of the general store, mumbled a hello to three younger guys sitting on the bench on the porch (in truth the word I uttered was a stiff, fakely folksy, flatlanderish “howdy”), and walked inside, prepared to confront my past crashing in on me from various angles. There was a pale gnomish lady in her fifties at the register and three other females behind a deli counter in back. I lurched up and down the aisles conspicuously, stealing glances back at the deli counter. I saw two skinny teenagers and a woman who looked to be in her forties. Maybe the latter woman was the girl I’d known, though in that moment I was convinced she wasn’t. She seemed far too old. Far too unhot. She was smiling though, and seemed happy, which aligned with what I recall of the good-natured girl I’d sort of known, or at least had chronically leered at. At any rate I didn’t talk to anyone in the store except for a brief and anonymous back and forth with the employee at the register, on my way out.

“Can I help you find something?” she asked.

“Do you sell baseball cards?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

You know the phrase "It's all water under the bridge"? Last night at a restaurant a friend had intended to say that but instead got the words mixed up and said "It’s all bridge under the water." It's my favorite new phrase. It seems to me to be a much more accurate portrayal of the past than the phrase she’d intended to say. The past is not water safely below you and you're not standing on some firm bridge. No, you're adrift. And if there ever was something that carried you across the water it's now crumbled and broken, sunken, stripped of utility and purpose, and if you want any part of it you better break out the scuba gear, because it’s all in sludgy chunks at the bottom of the river. But even if you dive down and locate it, what are you going to do with it? East Randolph, Buster Olney, my old house, the sunny girl at the center of my teenaged masturbation fantasies, even Bruce Bochte: It’s all bridge under the water. If you're trying to cross over, you better find some other way. You better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone.

Darrell Evans
2007-07-25 10:48
by Josh Wilker

Here we see a year passing like nothing in the life of Darrell Evans. In the earlier photo, at our left, Evans is apparently in San Francisco, wearing home whites and long sleeves, perhaps to combat the infamously raw temperatures at Candlestick. He seems pensive, maybe even slightly displeased. Maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates catcher, possibly Ed Ott, has just muttered something troubling through his mask to Evans. All hopes fade. All beauty crumbles. All roads lead to the boneyard. The second photo seems to be in Los Angeles, judging from Evans' dark uniform and the backwards cap on the catcher. (It seems indeed to be a cap and not a helmet, which makes me think this is not the Dodgers' regular catcher, Steve Yeager, though I am basing this assumption solely on the hazy recollection that Yeager was once nearly killed by a broken bat flying into his neck and responded by inventing the first neck guard, which I assume was accompanied in the newly sobered and extra cautious nephew of Chuck Yeager's armor by a sturdy helmet. My gut feeling, without checking any rosters of the time, is that the catcher pictured here is Dodgers backup Rick Dempsey Johnny Oates, who I see in my mind's eye catching with a turned-around cap and not a helmet and who as far as I know avoided getting brained by any balls to that soft cloth cap as well as any jagged bat shards to the neck but who instead eventually died before his time anyway, of cancer.) In this slightly more recent photo Evans trains his pensive, faintly perturbed gaze straight at the viewer. He has let another pitch go by. Maybe it has been called a strike. But maybe not. Maybe it has been called a ball and Darrell Evans is on the brink of yet another of his many featureless, unmemorable walks. Maybe he has grown weary of the routine of tossing his bat toward the dugout and loping down to first to stand there until Johnny Lemaster or Terry Whitfield pops out to end the inning. As for me, I am finally home after most of a month spent traveling. I am back in my life, the one that would be depicted on a card if trading cards showing people like me existed. I am working as a proofreader. Same as last year and the year before that and the year before that.

Mike Torrez
2007-07-18 19:41
by Josh Wilker

Is Mike Torrez looming? Is that what you're telling me, universe? I go to Holland with my team on cruise control, enjoying a lead as big as any they've had since, well, since 1978, when the man pictured here was in his first season for the Red Sox. And I return home to find them sputtering and flailing. Minutes ago (yes, it's a first on Cardboard Gods--a real-world, real-time update) the Red Sox lost another to the Kansas City Royals. Meanwhile, the Yankees have a comfortable late-inning lead. Where is this all going?

Does anybody know anything about narrative therapy? I know next to nothing, but once a guy explained to me that it was based on the idea that we can change the stories of perpetual failure that we tell ourselves. Something like that. There's more than just collapses, one bad thing giving way to the next, causing it, a snowball effect of doubt. Pesky holding the ball, Torrez serving up the homer to Dent, Stanley uncorking the wild pitch, Mookie Wilson pulling a grounder toward first. There's more than all that. There are other possibilities. There is Millar drawing a walk, then Dave Roberts stealing second, then Mueller grounding one past a sprawling, finally human Rivera, Dave Roberts flying home to tie the score. There are stories that go that way and keep going: We're alive!

So even though I just got back from one trip I'm off on another, but this one's a mission: I'm going to Vermont then on to Fenway for Saturday's game. I hope to furnish a full report when I get back, and I hope it to be free of Torrez-ian gloom.

Dave Roberts
2007-07-17 14:05
by Josh Wilker

Here is the third best of the four major leaguers named Dave Roberts, but the only Dave Roberts he rates higher than was the first Dave Roberts, so a case could be made that this man here is the least of all the Dave Robertses. There was also a guy named Dave Roberts who went to high school with some friends of mine and lurked years later on the fringes of our weekend descents into drunkenness at the International Bar on 7th Street and 1st Avenue in Manhattan. He seemed to show up out of nowhere late in the night and seemed edgy and slightly unhinged. For a while he was spotted all over the city, taking his place among other alcohol-related spectres such as The Guy Who Materialized Out of the Mists of Shea and The Pittsburgh Steelers Guy and The Raiders of the Lost Arc Guy. Where have they all gone? Where have I gone, for that matter? 

Most recently I have gone to Holland for two weeks, and today because of a nasty trip-ending cold I'm deep in a jet lag/Nyquil haze. Maybe I'll tell some Holland stories soon, but then again I usually can only write about things so far in the past as to be almost completely gone. I wish I could say more about this Dave Roberts, too, but I'm too foggy. But anyway here he is in a Blue Jays uniform. He was among the first players ever acquired by the Blue Jays, but he never played for them. They picked him up and then returned him from whence he came (the Padres). I wonder if they'd been expecting a different Dave Roberts.