The following piece was written by Josh Wilker and originally appeared over at his site Cardboard Gods on June 25, 2010.
Two nights ago, I punched a bag of pretzel nuggets. I needed to punch something but the thing I really wanted to punch, an air conditioning control box, would have broken if I’d punched it, and then I would have had to explain to my wife and then the landlord that I had punched and broken an electronic device, and then I would have had to pay for its costly repair. It was a very hot, humid evening, and I just wanted to turn on the air conditioning, but this device, my nemesis, is extremely complicated. You can’t just turn on the air conditioning but have to program it to turn on; however, all the options for programming make no sense to me: wake, return, sleep. Return? Which one gets the thing to turn on? I could not figure it out and eventually resorted to pushing all the buttons randomly in hopes that I’d luck into turning it on, but that didn’t work, so I stalked around the apartment sweating and hurling obscenities until I came upon the bag of pretzel nuggets sitting on the counter and I punched the shit out of it.
Goddamn bag, fuck you!
And oh, it knew it had been punched. Many of the nuggets inside the bag were instantly pulverized into dust upon impact with the human TNT encased in my right fist, and the structural integrity of the entire bag was also ruptured significantly, so much so that I had, while tidying up the mess from the incident, heart still pounding from battle, to move the surviving pretzel nuggets into a Tupperware container. Even the surviving pretzel nuggets felt my wrath. They were traumatized crumbling versions of their former selves. I know this because yesterday evening when I got home from work I ate a few of the pretzel nuggets out of my cupped hand and my wife chastised me for scattering pretzel crumbs all over the floor. I hadn’t told her that I’d punched a bag of pretzel nuggets. She wouldn’t necessarily get a thrilling charge out of imagining her 42-year-old husband stomping around our apartment assaulting snacks. But the point is this: don’t fuck with me, pretzels.
The point is this: I have been trying and failing all week to write something about this 1974 Ross Grimsley TRADED card. I had six pages of really shitty material even before getting into it about the pretzel nuggets, which, in case you were wondering if you missed something, do indeed have nothing whatsoever to do with the 1974 Ross Grimsley TRADED card except maybe that I bought both of them, one item a few days ago and the other thirty-six years ago.
The point is this: I started buying packs of baseball cards when I was six. It was near the end of the summer of 1974. A high percentage of those first cards I ever obtained were from this disquieting 1974 TRADED cards series, those first packs rife with these indelible testaments to transience and rejection. Maybe Topps slapped together the cards late in their production cycle that year. This makes some sense—the cards depicted relatively late-breaking events from the previous year. Or maybe the gods were trying to tell me something. It was, after all, a summer of trades. You could say that I had been traded from New Jersey to Vermont, or that my New Jersey friends had been traded for Vermont strangers, but the biggest transaction involved my dad. He had been with the club from before I’d joined via the family’s expansion draft in 1968, but just before the move to Vermont he’d been traded elsewhere. There was no TRADED card explaining the trade.
The point is this: During this week’s failed attempt to use words for some clear purpose, I read a fair amount about Ross Grimsley. He was known as Scuz and Crazy Eyes. He believed a witch helped him win games. He refrained from bathing while on winning streaks. He is shown here just before he was allowed, upon being freed from the constrictive, conservative Reds, to grow a mustache and let his hair bloom into a big greasy bush in which, some argued, he secreted ball-altering substances. The back of the card has a fake newspaper story from a fake newspaper, “The Baseball News”:
GRIMSLEY TRADED TO ORIOLES
“The Baltimore Orioles, shopping for another starting pitcher, today obtained Ross Grimsley . . .,” the story begins. It then notes some highlights from Grimsley’s time with the Reds and mentions that he’d be joining two other lefties in the Orioles’ rotation. If things were going a little smoother inside my mind or soul or whatever, maybe I could find a way to connect Ross Grimsley’s interesting story (related entertainingly in a good recent post by crack baseball historian Bruce Markusen) to my own life. I don’t know, it has been one of those weeks when things don’t really come together. I have gone to my job and come back from my job. My interaction with other humans has been minimal. I have a portable satellite radio with ear bud headphones. I jam the buds into my ears as I am walking out the door and take them out when I get to my cubicle, then several hours later I shut off my computer and leave my cubicle and shove the buds back into my ear and don’t take them out until I get home. Were birds singing? Did anyone call my name? I don’t know.
The point is this: I can picture a 1974 TRADED card for my father. I can see the headline on the back:
DAD TRADED TO NEW YORK
“New York added another solitary today,” the story would begin. The image on the front of his card would feature some doctoring, as all the traded cards did. Of course, my dad did not wear a baseball cap, then or ever, so it’s unclear what could be doctored in or out. Maybe a pair of large headphones, which he began to use extensively as soon as he moved into his studio apartment in Manhattan. He listened to Bach. He shut himself off from the sounds of the present to envision patterns of perfection beyond time.
I shut myself off from the sounds of the present but am mostly just looking for distraction. I listen mostly to chatter, Howard Stern or sports talk. Sometimes I mix in some music, too. Yesterday on the way home from work to my wife and my terrorized Tupperware container of pretzel nuggets I listened to some “classic alternative” music from the 1980s and thought about myself from that time and my friends from that time and the feelings from that time, which seemed in retrospect, backed by the poufy-haired British music in my ears, to mostly amount to a sort of swelling romantic melancholy. I started missing the way I was sad in the 1980s. It was somehow larger and more heroic than the measly lowgrade glumness I often slog around in these days. Plus I was thinner. Such is the way of the world. We get older and softer and weaker and fade. There are no TRADED cards marking the changes. There are no stats to analyze. There aren’t even any words.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Wilker is the author of Benchwarmer: A Sports-Obsessed Memoir of Fatherhood, Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards and writes about his life and childhood baseball cards at cardboardgods.net.
The Hall of Very Good™ Class of 2016 is presented by Out of the Park Developments, the creators of the wildly popular baseball simulation game Out of the Park Baseball. Out of the Park Developments has made a generous donation to The Hall.