Many thanks to The Hardball Times for running this latest piece, “You Don’t Know Bull,” which takes a closer look at the origins of “the real” Bull Durham–from Crash Davis on back to one largely unknown predecessor in the early minor leagues.
One critique of the pervading Jackie Robinson legacy narrative goes something like this: most fans and admirers already know about Jackie Robinson the symbolic hero and virtual saint, but we are sorely at a loss for historical accounts of Jackie Robinson the man, the conflicted, or even (gasp) the fallible. After 42 was released in 2013, much remains the same—at least in terms of onscreen portraits. However, books like Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (1983) and Arnold Rampersad’s Jackie Robinson: A Biography (1997), among others, thankfully lend some dimensions and shades of complexity to a tale otherwise typically told in terms of contrasts as stark as the very racial divides that Robinson helped bridge.
However, this isn’t a book review. And in any case, there’s something else that conveys with utter realism the very ephemeral humanity of our most renowned historic figures: the curious photographic and painterly images of such popular idols printed crisp and bright at first, before they inevitably morph with age on whatever moldy or brittle scraps of cardboard. . . .
In as much, the first time I laid eyes on this topographic spectacle of crags and rifts, a veritable ravine running prominently down the ravaged geographic center, I thought I’d found the one. Surely, this must be the poorest of all specimens of 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1. . . .
Not long after, though, I discovered this poor Jackie: complete with some anonymous soul’s tortured math homework scratched out and hovering ethereally in lead-penciled glory over Robinson’s right shoulder—whereupon I knew that there could be no better paradigm for a poor 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1. . . .
Thus I close with an ill-advised and downright silly, sentimental quote (what my former 18th Century English literature professor might term bathetic). Still the words feel oddly apt. To (mis)appropriate from those gaudy pop icons of moussed hair, leather, keyboard synths, and moogs:
The noise electric never stops
And all you need is what you got
And there’s a place for everyone
Under heartbeat city’s golden sun
—The Cars, “Heartbeat City”
At this point in the conversation history relevant to Roger Maris, there’s probably not a whole lot to add. Suffice to say that likewise little elaboration is needed to explain the understated significance of numerical cataloging for the Roger Maris base card issued by Topps following his watershed season of 1961. Or perhaps that decision was neither understatement nor thinly veiled bias–but rather a relative, resounding declaration by those at the helm of cardboard culture. Indeed the entire 1962 Topps set with its unpretentious yet salient background & borders styled in imitation wood grain like sliced cross sections of an ash wood bat seems to be the pronouncement of an era (or at least a season) orientated towards hitter, slugger, launcher of orbs. No, there’s little else to add but nostalgic hyperbole such as this. . . . Then again, a couple of pertinent artifacts might still amuse.
- Take a look at this curious specimen from an online auction listing titled “1962 Topps #1 Roger Maris PSA Authentic.” Consider that last term for a moment. This is not some outmoded printing format for PSA authentication slips. The designation of “Authentic” continues to appear on select PSA graded cards. Nevertheless, I remain dubious. (And the seller’s 0 reputation standing does not instill feelings of confidence, at least not the positive kind; however, it may well suggest the sense of, say, confidence scam.) Moreover, that any numbered grading system is absent from the PSA authentication slip suggests something else may be amiss. At the risk of delving into minutia’s minutia, here it is in short: PSA grading standards state that this designation indicates possible tampering (cutting or otherwise), and that “the ‘Authentic’ label means that the item, in our opinion, is real but nothing more.” In other words, this isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement—especially when it comes to condition. But I’m not an expert in these matters. For all I know the card encased here in its clear, plastic coffin is completely legitimate. . . . Still, I’m tempted to file this under F for Fake.
- As contrast, in terms of both condition and quality of character, allow me to present another copy of the same card. Authentication or no, this other 1962 Topps Roger Maris #1 definitely has my stamp of approval—if only for the sake of utter oddity. To add to its eccentricity: the affixed stamp doesn’t even appear to be a picture of Maris but of another, historically lesser known though vaguely familiar player (possibly a fellow Yankee teammate, though I can’t be certain because the paper peels away precisely where the team emblem would appear on his cap).
Given a choice, of course I’d take the weather-wracked, defaced Roger Maris card, sans flashy slab and authentication. It simply feels more real to me.
This Eddie Murray collection found in an online auction listing stands in a category all of it’s own. Look how obsessively meticulously this “Steady Eddie” stash has been laid out as a feast for nostalgia-glazed eyes. Sure, there’s the canvas of circa ’70s elderly shag carpet. Look past that—or just a millimeter above its dingy surface. Cherish the dulled but still apparent shimmer to the miniature discs (call them pogs, call them coins) accompanying whatever 7-Eleven jumbo slurpee. Regard an almost artful novelty to the can of RC Cola. Or learn trivia from some 1979 Topps wax comics, such as the fact that Eddie Murray “led the Orioles in ’78 with 85 runs and 95 RBI’s.” Any one of these should very well appeal to the restless seeker of schlock, that curator of oddball gems. Taken together, it’s pure bliss—a Murray-magic carpet ride!
*Image provided with permission of Ebay auction seller.
Sick’s Stadium, after 1969
the ballpark yawns rain
soaked lawns glazed with minor love-
sick woes at major costs
Many thanks to The Hardball Times for publishing this piece!
The year poor Pipgras lost his pinstripes
blues bitter—they bruise
with darling buds today go
*Visit the George Pipgras Wikipedia entry here.