Welcome to Week Four of Short Relief, which like baseball itself provides comfort in its mindless, myopic precision. As the season approaches and Valuable Baseball Information grows in importance, a polite reminder: you will find little of it here. What you will find are essays that treat baseball as a funhouse mirror to the human condition, and treat the twin acts of writing and reading as a replication of the diversion and merriment that baseball itself affords. As always, we hope you enjoy.
Baseball Talk and Sendaway Dreams
By: Holly Wendt
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of summer days reading from a box of comic books my grandmother kept, relics from my younger aunts and uncles, who were teenagers in the seventies and early eighties. The bulk were Archie titles, some Peanuts and Garfield paperbacks, and in them, the same things happened, over and over: Archie remained torn between Betty and Veronica, Chuck Brown did not inspire greatness in his baseball team, Odie got kicked off the table.
Between the tinted panels of Riverdale drama stood mail-away advertisements of all kinds: sea monkeys (never tempted me), wall-hangings (too expensive for my adolescent income of nothing), groovy pendants (I pined). For $2.95, plus shipping and handling, I could choose five different things to dangle from necklace or keychain. The decade and change of difference was just enough to make the price a real deal. My parents denied my pleas on the grounds that said items were junk I didn’t need, but never on the grounds of business viability. No one ever told me that surely such offers would no longer be honored. Back then, I believed in the permanence of print, its binding agreement that things stay the same.
In 1989, Topps released its Baseball Talk Collection, a one-season-only flop of a series. Somewhat bigger than regular baseball cards, each cardboard rectangle also includes what amounts to a tiny plastic record stuck to the back and containing a few minutes of commentary on or an interview with the card’s subject. The Baseball Talk Collection comprised 164 cards to be played on the official SportsTalk player. The player in my house, a blue plastic brick requiring four AA batteries and unearthed with eight cards, no longer works. When switched on, it sounds a single abortive tck, but the card sits dumb under its plastic shield.
The silenced voice withholds from me a narrative of the “Greatest World Series Game Ever Played,” as the card dubs Game 6 of the 1975 series between the Reds and Red Sox, as well as Superstar Henry Aaron’s fight for recognition. But the internet excels at preservation, and of course there is a complete Baseball Talk playlist, housed on YouTube. These staticky stories are not lost. What else was not lost was the three-by-five order form that came inside the card packet. One side of the sheet utters a stern directive on the importance of cleanliness: Dust and Dirt May cause Your Soundcard to Skip or Repeat and a number to call with concerns or to order by phone. On the glossy paper’s reverse, a neat grid to indicate how many packets of cards, rates for shipping, handling, and tax, and a place for credit card information.
With a broken player and a digital archive, there’s nothing new for me to discover or obtain, but out of curiosity, I called the 1-800 number on the form, hoping for some nostalgic recording or a redirection to some new Topps gimmick.
The number will not get you more SportsTalk Soundcards, nor technical assistance with the playback device now scattered in parts across the desk. But it will offer you someone to talk to, provided you have your credit card number ready.
Baseball Talk: Editor’s Postscript
By: Patrick Dubuque
After editing Holly’s piece (changing one comma into a period), I checked the corner of my garage and discovered that I own exactly one Baseball Talk card: #103, Carney Lansford. I don’t know why; I have no personal connection to it, do not own the audio device. I probably found it at a thrift store, thought “wow, that’s a pretty big 1989 Topps card,” and because apparently that is enough, bought it for ten cents and put it in a box in my garage.
Never once did it occur to me that Carney Lansford’s voice was locked into this object, sealed away from the world like a time capsule at the height of the man’s powers. Like the magazines and comics Holly invokes, the thoughts of baseball players are meant to be temporal, disposable; the idea that someone would even attempt to salvage these fleeting thoughts, document the ahistorical, feels impossible to me.
I (and you, by reading this) suddenly have this opportunity to connect to Carney Lansford. But even though I embed this video for purposes of context, I cannot bring myself to click play. I cannot listen.
Why is this? What is wrong with me? Carney Lansford is, admittedly, the most boring baseball player I can imagine. I have assigned him the caricature of a muttering, droopy-mustached cowboy, a man too lazy to even make his reticence into profundity. It is entirely unfair, and just as easy to dispel, with a single click. And yet even immersed in the silence of 6:00 AM, I’m not willing to let Lansford take the stand in his own defense.
Is this just an example of the growing indolence within my own heart, a sign of the calcification that comes with age? Or do I want to keep that mystery, allow that universe in which third baseman Carney Lansford as life-altering philosopher, rather than click play and remove all doubt? Or is two minutes of ballplayer interview, regardless of context, too much to bear?
These questions, unanswerable, are too much for me; it is now 6:15 AM and I am old and tired. I’ll let the man continue to judge me in photograph form, silently, from a box back in the corner of my garage.