Anymore baseball is less a sport than a symbol of spring, summer, and early fall to me. Baseball's return is the return life, of the sun, of days when I can wake up with something to look forward to. The older I get, the more the winter wears on my body and saps my soul. When spring returns I practically celebrate like a Russian peasant overjoyed when the ice cracks and the rasputitsa comes. To tide me over, and for your consideration, are some pieces of baseball ephemera.
Jim Kaat's 1983 Fleer Baseball Card
I love the ramshackle nature of 1983 Fleer cards. The background color is like the walls of a secretarial pool, and the Helvetica lettering makes it seem doubly institutional. I imagine if they had baseball cards in Soviet Russia, this is what they would look like. I love cards like this, when the photographer is snapping a photo of Jim Kaat while he's doing an interview, not even bothering to have him pose.
Reggie Jackson's Scrapbook
I was a weird kid, which meant that I learned an awful lot about sports events of the past by checking out recently outdated sports books from the library. One of my favorite was Reggie Jackson's Scrapbook, published after his 1977 season, when he ended the World Series by hitting three homers on three straight pitches for the Yankees. By the time I picked it up, he was a slightly over the hill slugger with the Angels. It was full of great photos, including a breakdown of the famous game 6.
Gary Matthews' 1979 Topps Card
You can see why they called him "Sarge."
Ron Luciano's Books
Luciano was a colorful umpire in the American League in the 1970s who went on to be a broadcaster and author in the 1980s. I devoured his books, fascinated by how the game looked from the ump's perspective. For a little while in middle school, I seriously thought that becoming a major league umpire would be my life's calling. I would get to see all the games I wanted, get paid for it, and have a lot of time off. When I got the news that he had committed suicide, I was profoundly upset.
Tim Flannery's 1988 Fleer Baseball Card
Seasons in Hell by Mike Shropshire
I just read this book, inspired by its inclusion on a top baseball books list by Dan Epstein, who's no slouch as a baseball writer himself. In it a beat reporter for the Texas Rangers of the mid-1970s describes a particularly crummy team and what it was like when the anything goes culture of the 1960s finally hit the more staid world of baseball. Shropshire has a great voice reminiscent of Hunter S Thompson, and would recommend the book to any fans of baseball or the good doctor. It also happens to contain the definitive account of the Ten Cent Beer Night fiasco in Cleveland in 1974.
Wally Moon's 1959 Topps Baseball Cards
Ten Cent Beer Night
The "aw, fuck it" brand of rebellion in the 1970s was on display in Cleveland one fateful night, the same year that Nixon retired. Part of me believes they're somehow connected.