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.

New Marlins owners are going to dump David Samson, keep the home run sculpture

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The Miami Herald reports that the future Miami Marlins owners, Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter, have informed Major League Baseball that they do not intend to retain current team president David Samson. Derek Jeter will replace him as the person in charge of baseball and business operations.

Samson has been a polarizing figure in Miami and has been seen as Jeff Loria’s front-facing presence in many ways. He led the effort for the team to get its new stadium, which led to political scandal and outrage in Miami (not that he didn’t get his stadium). In 2014, he appeared on “Survivor.” He did not survive.

What will survive, however, is the famous home run sculpture in the outfield at Marlins Park. You’ll recall some reports earlier this week that Sherman and Jeter were thinking about removing it. If so, they’ll have a lot of hurdles to jump, because yesterday the Miami-Dade County government reminded them that it was paid for by its Art in Public Places program, it is thus owned by the county and that it cannot be moved without prior approval from the county.

I know a lot of people hate that thing, but it has grown on me over the years. Not for its own aesthetic sake as much for its uniqueness and whimsy, which are two things that are in extraordinarily short supply across the Major League Baseball landscape. Like a lot of new and different bits of art and architecture over the course of history, I suspect its initial loathing will increasingly come to be replaced by respect and even pride. Especially if the Marlins ever make another World Series run, in which case everything associated with the club will be elevated in the eyes of fans.

On this score, Sherman and Jeter will thank Miami-Dade for saving themselves from themselves one day.

Jon Lester to miss one or two starts

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Jon Lester had a terrible outing yesterday, allowing nine runs — seven earned — and leaving the game before he could complete two innings.Lester entered the afternoon with a 3.99 ERA. He exited with a 4.37 ERA. Later the Cubs said that Lester was suffering from left lat tightness.

The Cubs are now saying that Lester will miss 1-2 starts. They are sending him to see Dr. Stephen Gryzlo for a more in-depth exam, and it’s possible Gryzlo will determine the injury is more serious, but at the moment the assessment seems cautiously optimistic.

Mike Montgomery will fill in for Lester for the time being.