You should read "Cardboard Gods"

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Cardboard Gods cover.jpgI’m only about two months late in getting a review out for this book, but (a) there are so many baseball books that come out at the beginning of the season that it may have gotten lost in the shuffle; and (b) better late than never.  Especially in this case, because it’s a book you don’t want to miss.

The book is Cardboard Gods: an All-American Tale Told through Baseball Cards. The author is Josh Wilker, who operates the Cardboard Gods blog that I’ve been reading for several years (and you should be too).

Like the blog, Cardboard Gods is essentially a memoir. Unlike your usual memoir, however, Wilker does not allow his personal life to stand alone, thereby creating that awkward moment that accompanies almost all non-celebrity memoirs in which you wonder why you’re reading about the author in the first place. No, this has a hook: baseball cards. 1970s baseball cards to be precise, the titular Cardboard Gods with which the young Josh Wilker was obsessed as a child and which now help him organize and make sense of his memories and experiences.

As a hook — or a gimmick if you want to be crass about it — it’s a highly effective one, especially for any reader who ever sorted commons or has even a passing familiarity with 1970s baseball.  Which, if you’re reading this blog, you probably do.

For example, I may not be able to personally relate with Wilker’s unconventional upbringing (he was raised for a time in a three-parent quasi-hippie commune of a house), but I know the story about Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, and Wilker’s use of both Kekich’s card and their story provides a nice frame of reference to the times and helps me understand just how a baseball-obsessed kid might choose to process the situation.

The same goes for death (Lyman Bostock’s card and story provide a poignant touchstone), pop culture (a past his sell-date Mark Fydrich defines the ephemeral) and the brotherhood bond (The Reuschel’s infamous 1977 “Baseball Brothers” card).  Sometimes the connections are obvious — Jim Rice launches Wilker into a contemplation of celebrity — but the more obscure cards frame the more interesting and insightful chapters. Jose Morales as the gateway to a lesson on what it means to feel useless? It works, baby.

But let’s be clear about something: the baseball card hook is not the alpha and omega of Cardboard Gods‘ value.  They’re a way in, to be sure, but that’s really all they are.  Once you get in to each chapter, you’re met with keen insight into what it means to be young, to be confused, to have dreams, to have passions, to have fears, to face failure and to persevere.  And not to persevere in some phony rah-rah fashion like you so often see in these sorts of books. No one beats cancer in this book, no one loses 100 pounds and no one runs a marathon in this thing.  It’s just about living and understanding life like we all do, although not always in as reflective a way as Wilker describes it here.

I don’t write about a lot of books here and I recommend even fewer. But I recommend this one because it gets the balance right. There’s baseball here, no doubt, but the baseball isn’t everything. It’s merely something that adds flavor and understanding to life, much in the way our own experiences and memories add flavor to baseball.

If you have the means, seek out Cardboard Gods immediately, if not sooner.  You’ll be glad you did.

Ron Darling rips Mets trainers after yet another player goes down with an injury

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Last night starter Robert Gsellman became the latest Mets player to go down with an injury when he strained his hamstring while running out a ground ball. He’s certain to go on the disabled list, making him the sixth Mets starter to go down this year. He’ll join Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Juan Lagares, Neil Walker, Matt Harvey, David Wright, Jeurys Familia and many, many other Mets on the DL.

Mets broadcaster Ron Darling is fed up with it. Last night, after Gsellman went down, he went off on the Mets trainers, who he believes to be enabling all of this:

“[These] trainers, get them in a room with some of the old trainers and people that took care of baseball players and how to keep them healthy. And get them in a room and try to tap into their knowledge on how you train baseball players — not weightlifters, not six-pack wearers — baseball players. They’re doing a disservice to their million-dollar athletes that they’re paying. It’s a joke to watch this happen each and every night.”

Here’s video of his rant:

Darling is certainly tapping into a frustration a lot of Mets fans feel. For years the Mets injury issues have vexed the fanbase, less so for the sheer number of them — other teams have had more DL trips for their players — than for the manner in which they were handled and/or discussed by the team. They’ve often been loathe to use the disabled list even when it makes sense to and have, at times, run guys out to play despite there being serious red flags which would counsel most teams from doing so.

But is he right about why the players are getting injured? It’s a commonly held bit of conventional wisdom that players using weight training and being muscular makes them more brittle, but I’m unaware of any science that backs that up (if you have some, please pass it along, I’d genuinely be interested in reading it). Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t, but Darling seems so certain about it.

He could be right. But I also suspect that Darling may be falling prey to some back-in-my-dayism that retired players often exhibit. Are players getting injured more or are they merely being diagnosed better? Are they getting more seriously injured, or are they just taken out of action more quickly rather than be left to play through injuries like so many old timers have claimed they had to back in the 50s, 60s and 70s? Fireballers used to try to hang on as junkballers after suffering elbow injuries that today would send a guy to surgery. There was a much greater tolerance for lumbering slow dudes who might take it easy with a bad hammy as opposed to getting shut down now.

None of which is to say that Darling is wrong, necessarily. Like I said, maybe there is something to the idea that weight training and musculature makes a player more brittle. But I am always loathe to nod along with an old player who says the science and medicine surrounding sports has regressed compared to where it was back in his day. It may be true, but it’s counterintuitive given how science and medicine usually work. And when you offer a counterintuitive take like that, I think you need more evidence than your frustration at an injury occurring in front of you in real time.

Bryce Harper is pretty clearly messing with people

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Not too long ago some rumors popped up about Bryce Harper wanting to sign with the Cubs when he hits free agency following the 2018 season. Such rumors are sort of silly this far out — and they almost always tend to be non-predictive of where the player eventually goes — but they tend to get folks excited or concerned, depending on who they root for.

With the Cubs in town to face the Nationals, Harper was asked about those rumors again. He wisely dismissed them, saying he had no idea where that stuff comes from. Which is what someone in his position should say.

Not that he’s not going to have some fun with it. Check out his Instagram post with friend Kris Bryant. Specifically, check out the hashtag:

#Back2BackOneDay is, of course, an implication that he’d be hitting behind Bryant in the same batting order.

Harper is no idiot. He’s not going to use social media, in the middle of a season, two seasons before he could even potentially play elsewhere, to send genuine signals about wanting to leave the Nationals and join the Cubs. He’s just messing with the rumormongers. As he TOTALLY SHOULD by the way, because rumormongers deserve to be messed with.

Not that the rumormongers won’t take this a genuine evidence of his intent. The rumormongers aren’t big on subtle humor.