Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yes, but what's it like now? I can hear you asking. This stroll down memory lane is of ever lessening interest to us. We want the present, the future! That's what you clamor for, you unruly mob. Well, I shan't go into too much detail about my life at home, but I feel I can divulge some things. To start, two heads are better than one, a proverb goes. Balderdash! These two heads, even if you were to rub them together in a vain attempt to get a spark, ain't figuring nothing out on that glowing, mocking screen.

And through the wall I hear the wails of misery and confounded confusion:

    Wait wait what's it saying now?
                                    You need your password!
              What is my password?
                                                                Try this...
                                                                Try this...
                                                                Try this...
                                  What happened?
  Bring it back...

Also, there's this. Years ago I had a car I loved. An Oldsmobile that made its way down the family - from my Grandfather to me - like a strong hereditary gene. My siblings and I passed it between us not unlike a prostitute passed between William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. That car, that painted lady of the road, was stolen from me in New Haven.

I then got a second car, this from my Dad, this one like a much lamented but equally potent recessive gene. This car would have been the bane of my life over the last year were it not for oh so many other banes. It died and it was resurrected. It broke and it was fixed. It stalled and it was started. All to the tune of a shitload of money.

And yet it remained, superficially, in good shape. After it rained it glistened and shone red and true. One needn't scrape deep below the surface to find flaws, but the surface was in tact and in that the car and I were one.

One thing: I always thought the car a bit serious looking. If this car had a mischievous dimple, a cheeky dint, I might be happier.

That wish answered because my father forgot my car was there, where it always is, as he backed out of the garage to get a haircut. I heard him yell as I was cleaning windows, but I assumed it meant more work for me and didn't respond immediately. I went to the deck railing as he pulled out of the driveway and saw what is now my car.

My father went to the barber and now my passenger door doesn't open. That's life at home.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Inspector Average in...The Trophy Case

Evaluation of subject's trophies found 27 September 2009:

Number of trophies: 7
Number of plaques: 3
Number of trophies/plaques for basketball: 5
Number of trophies/plaques for baseball: 2
Number of trophies/plaques for soccer: 1
Number of trophies/plaques for football: 1
Number of trophies/plaques for neighborhood Olympic competition: 1
Tallest trophy: 16"
Smallest trophy: 5 1/2"
Largest plaque: 4" x 6"
Smallest plaque: 3" x 3"
Average size of trophies: 10.4"
Number of trophies/plaques awarded for first place: 2
Number of trophies/plaques awarded for second place: 2
Number of trophies/plaques awarded for third place: 1
Number of trophies/plaques awarded for simply participating: 5
Number of trophies in faux gold: 6
Number of trophies in faux silver: 1

From this we can deduce that the years our subject participated in sports were 1983 to 1993. The number of trophies/plaques per year may broken down as follows:

1983 - 1
1984 - 0
1985 - 1
1986 - 0
1987 - 3
1988 - 0
1989 - 2
1990 - 0
1991 - 1
1992 - 0
1993 - 1
(* A basketball plaque goes undated, the details lost to that strumpet, history)

Those are the facts which we've discovered about our subject. Here is how we piece them together. Our subject's most athletic years were between 1987 and 1989, and we'll generously assume that 1988 was just an 'off year' as, indeed, all even years seemed to be in his short career. This would put our subject's most active years at around the 12 -14 year old mark. This spans the period between our subject's purchase of the Fat Boys cassette Crushin with their cover of "Wipe-Out" and Jimi Hendrix's Smash Hits, a must own by all high school freshman. Soon after purchasing the Hendrix album, we feel it is safe to say - and the trophy record reflects this - our subject abandoned his pursuit of athletic glory. Possibly in favor of the air guitar.

Our subject began his sporting career with soccer (1983), moved on to football (1985), with baseball (1987, 1989) and basketball (1987, 1989, 1991, 1993) overlapping. In this he follows a not unusual American trajectory. It is with basketball that he attained his only first place trophies, interestingly one of which came in 1993, his last year of competitive sports. We can assume, addled by back problems in his advanced age, ears ringing from what would by now be an enormous collection of classic rock music, lungs compromised by smoking, he played a surrogate role, nursing the talent of those younger and more nimble than he. We can assume, but we can't be sure.

At some point in his career, we know our subject used the strength shoes. We think it might have been 1989.

For us, the most interesting trophy is a third place trophy in what appears to be a neighborhood Olympic competition. The trophy is sturdy - it still bears a small green sticker that reads "fine marble base made in Italy." It is also, in our estimation, pointless. The only thing more shameful than holding on to a neighborhood trophy is the fact that it is for third place.

This leads us to our conclusion. We can, we think, situate our subject historically as occupying the years at the very beginning of the cult of self esteem. This era, still with us, renders everything in terms of accomplishment. Every individual must be seen as nothing short of a success, participation itself is a triumph, and the physical sign - trophies, grades, honors, places - is all. Without assessment - without figures, letters, numbers, rank - those who have grown up in this age are lost. By the gaps in his collection and the general shoddiness of the trophies themselves, we can assume he wasn't yet fully immersed in this culture. Of course, those gaps might be explained by him being a poor athlete. We, romantically, think that wasn't the case.

We do, however, conclude that our subject was a middling athlete, and his trophies, rather than standing as a testament to success, instead mark - in silver and gold - his mediocrity. Why he has saved these trophies is something that we can't speculate upon. We must admit the effect is ironic, and we think it unintended.

Also it is, we think, safe to assume that in his neighborhood Olympics where he garnered an 11" trophy for third place in the year of our Lord 1987, that there must - simply must - have been only three contestants.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Homer, Homer on the range...

Reading this -

"Odysseus, who would give anything for the mere sight of the smoke rising up from his own land..." -- Homer, The Odyssey

I'm reminded of this -

Translation From Du Bellay by GK Chesterton

Happy, who like Ulysses or that lord
Who raped the fleece, returning full and sage,
With usage and the world's wide reason stored,
With his own kin can wait the end of age.
When shall I see, when shall I see, God knows!
My dear little village smoke; or pass the door,
The old dear door of that unhappy house
That is to me a kingdom and much more?
Mightier to me the house my fathers made
Than your audacious heads, O Halls of Rome!
More than immortal marbles undecayed,
The thin sad slates that cover up my home;
More than your Tiber is my Loire to me,
Than Palatine my little Lyre there;
And more than all the winds of all the sea
The quiet kindness of the Angevin air.

Also, this I like:

"There, full of vermin, lay Argus the hound. But directly he became aware of Odysseus' presence, he wagged his tail and dropped his ears, though he lacked the strength now to come nearer to his master. Odysseus turned his eyes away, and, making sure Eumaeus did not notice, brushed away a tear....As for Argus, the black hand of Death descended on him the moment he caught sight of Odysseus - after twenty years."

I love that Odysseus's dog is named in The Odyssey! Though I would have edited the name from Argus to Bravo.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Here is a stuffed animal I had as a kid:

I don't know, he's alright. I do like St. Bernards.

Actually he's not that important to me.

But what I'm interested in is this, as we zoom in to the wooden cask around his neck:

Why did I change his name from Star to Bravo? Change of heart? Were there a lot of other stuffed animals that year named Star? And, couldn't I have come up with more interesting names? Come to think of it, why did I write his name at all? If anything, shouldn't I have written my name?

Well, it's a good thing we can all have a good laugh now about how stupid I was as a kid.

Question: Do you remember how many Sundays we ate in order to collect those little helmets at Baskin Robbins all those years ago?

Answer: Sixteen.

Extra credit: What team is this?

I seriously have no idea.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Question: How many baseball players in the history of the sport both pitched *and* sang the National Anthem before the games?

Answer: One.

Roy Lee Jackson.

File under "Close But No Cigar" cross referenced with "Unfortunately Revealing"

You remember when people used to put pins on their jackets? I hardly remember doing it, but I must have, because I found a little envelope of pretty well worn pins in my closet. Herewith the collection of pins that I had and, presumably, wore on some sort of jacket that was assuredly neither leather nor denim. Corderoy, perhaps.

The most appropriate pin for a jacket and one that would almost make you think I did this right. A Duran Duran pin, an INXS pin, maybe something like the Union Jack? I wish that were the case. Keep scrolling - it gets worse and much, much weirder.

Yes, a typical rejoinder from me in Middle School was - "Duran Duran's alright, but what do you guys think of Leave it to Beaver?! Hilarious, right? [pause] Guys? Where are you going? Guys?

Because pre-pubescent anger needs to find an outlet somewhere. Mine found an outlet in sheer hatred of the rain.

This was probably the pin that I got after the Leave it to Beaver fiasco.

An Olympic pin is cool...but Archery? Seriously? In the '84 Olympics, Carl Lewis broke tons of records and I was glued to the track and field events. Why did I have a pin for archery, surely the least popular of all the summer games?

Sweet. Ontario. I remember lots of kids had the Saskatchewan pin, but I was pretty much the envy of my class with the Ontario pin.

The good old panic button. Press if you wore all of the above on the same jacket.

Now here's the interesting bit - these pins, though an eclectic grouping, are not an unreliable reflection of me. I really don't like the rain. Hatred might be too strong a word, but a heart with an X through it is not too strong a symbol. Though I don't do archery, I am into other odd, some would say effete, games. I fucking loved Leave it to Beaver! I think the zoo pin was from the Bronx Zoo. Though I hate zoos, as an insight into a sense of humor I think it's not wrong - textual, ironic, mildly teasing. As far as Ontario goes, well, not only do I like Canada, but I love Geography. The only one that doesn't fit is Duran Duran. I just never liked them.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bryn Smith and Theories of Facial Hair

The Dave Krieg Starting Line Up figure reminds me that there was a time when athletes were bearded. Remember Dan Fouts? He looked like Marty Stouffer. As I've been flipping through old baseball cards, I'm confronted by a fashion sense very different from today. It's not that athletes are uniquely clean shaven today (though I think more professional baseball players are clean shaven today than were in, say 1984), but that the style has changed so. If you look at the top five homerun leaders in both leagues in 2009, it's a mixed bag. Jason Bay is as fresh faced as a daisy, but Ryan Howard, for example:

Or Adrian Gonzalez:

Amongst those who do elect to go with a bit of shrubbery, a more sculpted appearance is in favor, and this generally seems to be much more in common now than 25 odd years ago. Hair now is left on the chin, or there's a thin outline of a beard, or - distressingly - there's a goatee.

Compare your stars of today to your homerun leaders in 1983, both of whom look like they spent the previous night in a ditch:

But let's be clear; even in my card collection, bearded players are a minority. Though it's tempting to draw a trend between -

Glen Hubbard:

Jeff Burroughs:

Marc Hill:

Luis Aguayo:

and Jeff Reardon:

- one must admit that even then, in the the early to mid '80s, these players stood out with their full beards. Mustaches, on the other hand, seemed to be more common. Look at these future stars of the Yankees in 1982:

Mustached to a man and not a future star amongst them.


I decided to dive a bit deeper into this facial hair trend aided by my card collection. Could I put my finger on an end of mustache culture? Could I find the last bearded ball player and pronounce the end of history?

Not wanting to do too much work, I decided to use as my control group the Donruss series of Diamond Kings. Remember these?

They were cards of 26-30 players, apparently picked by Donruss, to be painted by the artist Dick Perez. They leaned towards awarding long standing excellence, though that doesn't explain Gorman Thomas. But let's look at them with our particular agenda. In 1982, the first year of DKs, 11 of the 26 players profiled had facial hair. Now there was only one beard, which was worn by Dave Parker. But things got a bit more revealing when I broke it down further - sixteen of the Diamond Kings from '82 were white ball players, five of whom had mustaches. Nine Diamond Kings were black players, and six of them had mustaches (including the sole beard). And the one Latino player was mustached.

The following year, 20 of the 26 Diamond Kings were white and eight of them had mustaches. There were 6 black DKs, all of whom had mustaches (and in Hal McCrae's case, a full beard).

I went through the DKs series methodically until 1996, its final year, and broke things down year by year, facial hair by facial hair:

click to enlarge

Here is the same data, done in percentages:

click to enlarge

As you can see, there is a drop in the numbers of white ball players who have facial hair, while the percentages of black and latino ball players sporting facial hair remain pretty steady. And with this I began to reframe the questions I was asking. Perhaps when we talk of the decline in facial hair (as we often do), we are talking about its decline amongst white players. As one sees from the data, black and latino athletes have had a more consistent approach to facial hair, during this time period at least. This is not to say the styles didn't change from '82 to '96, as they certainly did - Ken Griffey Jr. seems to have single handedly ushered in a golden era of the pencil mustache - but the attitude did not seem to change as dramatically as amongst their white counterparts. If we are going to pick a year to mark the beginning of the end of the substantially facial haired white athlete, I think we must pick 1990 and the last bearded Diamond King, Bryn Smith.

But what of this? We are still 13 years deep in history and I just don't have the baseball cards to bring the research up to date. But this little microhistory might help me - and you - as we watch the game and perhaps stroke our own beards, or, maybe, that of a loved one.

But there's more! I have two theories to try out on you all, I mustn't forget this. The first has to do with the Diamond Kings series itself. We all know there is nothing more deceptive than what is in black and white. Or, as Marilynne Robinson put it (I think), facts are what need to be explained. So let us look at the man behind the Diamond Kings, Dick Perez, as he sits at his desk:

A ha! He, himself, is hirsute! Is it possible Mr. Perez focused on stars with facial hair, or elected to paint them with facial hair that might have been trimmed during the season, because of his own bias? This needs to be investigated. Indeed, we need more on how these Diamond Kings were chosen.

Secondly, do you think it's possible that a time came, perhaps around 1990, but as likely before, when white ball players looked around at their bearded brethren - the Glen Hubbards, the Jeff Burroughses - and they thought, you know, if I don't want to be forgotten, if I don't want to be swept into the ashcan of history, I should shave. Because baseball history is probably not going to be written by the Bryn Smiths.

File Under there's hope for us yet

Herewith, some rather unflattering baseball cards:

The amazing thing about Sherman Corbett is that he was 26 when this photo was taken - he looks at least twice that. If I didn't know any better, I would guess that this was a card from a fantasy camp.

For the old White Sox uniform (what collars!), this card gets high marks. Trout, however, gets low marks for never giving me my Yes album back and for selling me a dime bag of oregano.

That ain't water in that Ranger cup. Remember that time Grubb held our legs as we did keg stands? Well, he's free tonight if you are.

The angular, Lincolnian face coupled with a perm. I don't know. I just don't see him running after anything.

When the music's over, turn out the lights

So what's the what's the what's the scenario?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Pyznarski Affair

How about more with sports memorabilia? When I was young I was an avid baseball card collector. My first real year of collecting was 1983, and I petered out somewhere around 1989 with the first year of Upper Deck and the Ken Griffey Jr rookie card ruckus (for what it's worth, I got 4 Griffey Jr rookie cards in packs. One I gave to my brother - or traded - I can't remember which, but the circumstances were somewhat dubious; a second I sold freshman year of high school - to a kid who would become my best friend - for a pittance of its Beckett value; two I still have safely tucked away). But one of the highlights of collecting as a kid was attending card shows and trying to find deals.

There were no deals to be had, of course, but one year I developed a flawed strategy in which I thought I could increase my overall gains by playing some dark horses. I decided I would do this by buying up rookie cards of some of the less heralded prospects. And there were a lot of them. Go back and check your Rated Rookies - I'm talking here of the Paul Coleman's, the Julio Machado's, the Kelly Mann's. You've never heard of any of these players, I'm sure (Machado's career ended with murder charges in Venezuela, Mann's ended in an accusation of petty theft), but they sat side by side with the likes of Gary Sheffield, John Olerud, and John Smoltz. These Rated Rookies, Future Stars, No 1 Draft Picks, though unproven, were tapped by the card companies as sure bets and therefore automatically went for a higher price than, say, your common veteran utility infielder. And these cards were worth holding on to in case a player's career did take off as the rookie card was usually the most valuable.

It was at one of these card shows, I don't remember where, exactly, but it must have been at a Courtyard Marriott because they all were, that I decided to try out this strategy of seeking out these Rated Rookies rather than waiting for them to come to me. My eleven year self made his way down one of the many aisles with a pocketful of lawn mowing money, oversized glasses, mesh Padres cap askew, looking not only for rarities of my favorite players - Tony Gywnn and Will Clark - but for that rookie with a certain something. At a table staffed by a heavy set man with a mustache, I looked long and hard at the year's offerings of future stars in all shapes and sizes. Soon I was drawn to one in particular. It was definitely the Padres uniform that caught my eye, but more - it was the ease with which he held the bat, the confidence in his eyes. I settled on my star and pointed.

"How much?" I ask.

The man blows about an inch of dust off the card at the tip of my finger.

"Hey," he yells to a beefy twin. "How much for the Pyznarski?"

We pause as this second giant lumbers over.

"Pyznarski, eh?" He looks at me. "He's a dollar."

As I reach for my money, he slips in as an aside "he'll be a good player" sealing what was already a done deal.

I clear my throat.

"I'll take five," I muster.

Four fleshy eyebrows, two sets of them, rise, but not a word is spoken, for this - this is the magic hour. I hand over five dollars and get my five precious Pyznarskis. We all smile, each certain he's come out ahead.

Not surprisingly, these two fatties ripped me off good. Not only did they overcharge me at the time, but Pyznarski was a bust. I never heard of him again, and I dare say I never thought of him again. That is until recently when I discovered this in an old book of baseball cards:

Three of the five, mint condition, staring hopefully up at me. The other two lost or traded, these triplets stand as a testament to the folly of youth.

But more than that...what about Pyznarski? What became of him? From Baseball Reference I get this tidbit - "Pyznarski was named 1986 The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year and was also named Pacific Coast League MVP. Pyznarski got a September call-up, and made his ML debut on September 14, at the age of 26. His 42 at bats would prove to be his only at bats in the majors." Wikipedia further fills out the mystery: "He grew up on the South side of Chicago, attending Marist High School. Pyznarski led Marist to the IHSA Class AA State Championship in 1978. After a stellar high school career, he went on to attend Eastern Illinois. He set several offensive records at EIU. After a brilliant career in the minors, highlighted by The Sporting News & Topps 1986 Minor League Player of the Year Award, Pyznarski enjoyed a brief stint in the majors. Pyznarski now is an assistant coach at Marist and is raising his daughter Mandy who is a junior at Marist." One rarely thinks of these figures enshrined on cards - the very epitome of making it - as not making it, but I guess they often don't. And I was glad to hear he was coaching.

This was my only conscious attempt to buy baseball cards as an investment and I suspect that this market value philosophy of collecting is what helped to kill baseball cards. This attempt to anticipate success and hoard rare cards guided the kids I knew who collected, as we pored over our monthly Beckett's like the stock pages. Card companies took advantage of this, card sellers took advantage of it, and kids went right along with it. It doesn't mean it wasn't fun, and that we didn't follow our favorite players, but the industry began to expand and became much more complicated. Still, I rather think that if Pyznarski had had a longer career, I would have followed him along with Will the Thrill and Tony Gwynn. And these rookies would be worth a mint, I tell ya.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Figures from My Youth

Finding this in my old bedroom at my parents' house makes sense to me:

Do you recognize that batter? This will help -

Awfully svelte for Tony Gwynn, you're probably thinking and I'd be the first to agree. Regardless, he was always my favorite player and I collected his baseball cards -

- so finding his Starting Line Up figure in my closet wasn't a surprise.

This, however, was:

Does he look familiar to you? And no, it's not Billy Mays. Perhaps this will help.

It will only help somewhat, considering that Starting Line Up didn't even bother to spell his surname correctly. That mysterious figure - figurine, even - is Dave Krieg, former quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks who, according to his Starting Line Up card, "probably has the most obscure college background of any quarterback since Johnny Unitas. Krieg graduated from little Milton College [no, unfortunately not Little Milton College...] in Wisconsin, a school that no longer exists."

I like his beard, though!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

File under Feckless

I don't suppose any of my readers remember the strength shoe? A white sneaker with a little platform under each toe, it was to be worn during work outs and supposedly would improve your verticle leap by 4 to 8 inches. Here's the original, found in the depths of my parents' basement:

It might sound silly, but that promise was just too good for someone slapping the backboard on lay ups and yearning to grab the rim. So I plunked down $80 or so on a pair of these miracle workers (or I got them for Christmas, I can't recall) and as a thirteen year old began to strictly follow what can only be remembered as a series of demeaning exercises up and down my driveway, out on my street, and at the gym. You can see the sorts of things I did for the dream of dunking below. I almost think that this whole strength shoe operation was developed solely to get suburban kids the country over to hop, skip, and jump around like the fools that they were.

And hop, skip, and jump we did, following our exercise cards. If you look at the middle row here, all you need are jazz hands and this is a Fred Astaire number:

There was an awful lot of leaping that was done, which I shouldn't have been surprised at, all things considered, but I was:

As to the bottom row here, I'm not sure if the Charleston was what you were supposed to be doing, but if the guy in the illustration did it, I did it.

I ultimately don't know if the strength shoe increased my jumping ability - I lost interest in playing basketball soon after this, and my vertical leap somehow became less important to me. I can tell you what it did *not* increase, however - my friend quotient. Prancing around on what appear to the untrained eye to be little pogo shoes doesn't really help you out socially as you go into your freshman year of high school.

The end result, though, is I do think I became a better dancer.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"TV has screwed up millions of people with their little rounded-off stories. Because that is not the way life is. Life is fits and starts, mostly fits. Life doesn't have to stop with failure. Not only do you not have to jump in the creek, you can even take pleasure in the general fecklessness of life, as I do, a doctor without patients sailing paper P-51s at a martin house. I am a failed but not unhappy doctor."
--Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome

Friday, September 11, 2009

Let Us Now Praise The Stage Fright Blog...

I don't think there is a blog quite as successful as the blog Stage Fright. In a world wide web over saturated with blogs promising updated news, the latest insight, the most recent images, and populated by self promoting, snarky, competitive, armchair opinion makers as authors, Stage Fright is refreshing. It delivers what it promises. The blog name refers, of course, to that paralysis one feels before one is thrust into the spotlight, a paralysis, by the way, sorely lacking in the blogosphere (who amongst you shuns the limelight, especially under the cloak of anonymity?). And the blog itself is a witness to its eponymous condition - two aborted posts, each deeply unsatisfying from a traditional point of view. There are no updates, nor is there any reason to check back in on this blog ever again. It seems to have been abandoned. Yet it is deeply satisying psychologically and artistically. It stands as a reminder of a kind of failure, an inability to overcome a condition, and of, perhaps, an unwillingness to make good on an opportunity afforded. It is, in a way, the road more often traveled which, in our current cult of individuality, originality, entrepreneurship, etc, makes all the difference.

So to Stage Fright I say, simply, thank you.

I will try to procure an interview with the person behind Stage Fright, and also, as a new GuardtheGuardians feature (always innovative, we are), will interview some other of your favorite internet celebrities. The first to agree has been my co-blogger, the mysterious Colonel Knowledge. 530 souls have viewed his profile, but who really knows what makes him tick? I'm excited to announce that Hidden Junk's Greg Condon has also agreed to be interviewed. Future interviews will hopefully include Jazione, a man whose interests know no bounds, or, in some cases, age limits. Perhaps some of the ArtDecade Team will agree to be interviewed. So do check back.

If anyone else has interview ideas, email me at sheridandupre@hotmail.com. Confidentiality guaranteed.