brewers baseball and things

stuck under the watchtower

16 Comments

Cecil Cooper was a thief. He stole Rod Carew’s batting stance and so did I for a little while anyway, but I eventually found my own style or it found me. It didn’t help. I never hit .388 in the major leagues. I also stole from the Old Testament.

gonzaga

fatdaddysports

Gonzaga Hall was situated inside the St. Aloysius Church at 92nd and Greenfield on Milwaukee’s West Side. The cramped room hosted baseball card shows every six or eight weeks. There were dealers from all over the Midwest and no room to walk. That’s where I learned about body odor and booze. Middle aged men with wild, greasy hair sipping brandy from coffee cups at 10 in the morning. They quickly became my heroes. How sweet it would be to say screw the bus every school day and continue sorting through stacks of baseball cards.

I never had any dreams; never wanted to be a baseball player, fireman, or writer. I never scribbled in a journal or lifted weights. I still don’t. The only difference now is that I have to work from 8-4, Monday to Friday, but nothing else has really changed. It’s baseball, work, eating, and tv.

My maiden voyage as a thief involved 1972 Topps cards. I was browsing through a stack subdivided inside a giant wood filing case. It was one of hundreds of Gonzaga Hall dealers and their cases. They were busy answering questions, talking about the auction scheduled later in the day, sipping from their booze fused coffee when I sort of slipped a few cards into my pocket.

I had never attended Al Capone summer camp, but apparently had some DNA thief gene lingering in my cells; maybe some Bugsy Siegel. We all probably have a little. And so I did an intelligent thing. I loitered at the scene of the crime-the best place to be and no one suspected anything. In reality, no one gave a rat’s ass about me, but I was a self-absorbed little 10-year old prick who believed he was the center of the universe.

vintagecardprices

vintagecardprices

I had never read Huck Finn either. I hated reading, had no attention span and preferred watching baseball and tv sitcoms, but apparently had some DNA trickery gene lingering in my cell as well; faking my own death and what not. I asked the dealer about the 1972 set, threw in a few impressive comments about the In Action cards and earned a business card with the dealer’s address and a dear little boy smile from the baseball card dealer.

I walked tall to the bus stop, took whatever number East towards Lake Michigan. We passed County Stadium. I walked along 35th avenue, stopped in a thrift store and the lady encouraged me to buy a kid’s book about Harry Houdini so I did for 50 cents. I walked East some more along National Avenue into  the Mexican neighborhood and up to the base of the Allen Bradley Clock.

milwaukeeattractions

milwaukeeattractions

The clock is what did me in. It was big and had The four freaking sides. I think it’s the biggest in the world. The hands scared me and guilt crawled all over me real sudden too. It was a Sunday afternoon. The 8th commandment-Thou shalt not steal was following me around.

There were no friends to play with and forget about it. There was school tomorrow. I was screwed. So I did what I had to do. I wrote the guy a letter explaining what I had done in careful language…”forgot to pay for some cards last Sunday at Gonzaga Hall.” I sent money and the cards and felt a great deal lighter like I was walking around in a new pair of basketball shoes.

A few weeks later I got a  manilla envelope in the mail. The guy was grateful over my honesty and included a Milwaukee Brewer’s Police Set and Chicago Cub’s set with some other sponsor. He also threw in a few 1972 Topps card. I think one of them was Ken Holtzman.

I learned nothing from this, except that I would never be a good thief. I had other chances, but always turned them down. The memory always lingered or the guilt did. Other kids followed the 11th commandment instead. Thou shalt not get caught. They were good at what they did and that was that.

The 8th commandment made more and more sense to me as kids started stealing other people’s identities; copying their clothing styles, musical interests, ways of speech…digging in other people’s wells.

I had my own life to live; own death to die and that was enough.

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Author: Steve Myers

I grew up in Milwaukee and have been a Milwaukee Brewers baseball fan for as long as I can remember.

16 thoughts on “stuck under the watchtower

  1. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but were you by any chance raised a Catholic? I was, so I think I recognize your DNA. I share some of it myself.
    Speaking of the guys who had booze in their coffee in the a.m., one of the earliest memories of adulthood that sticks with me was walking by this bar in our neighborhood around 11:00 in the morning on a bright, sunny day (the door of the bar was wide open), and I remember glancing in as I walked past, and seeing several guys sitting there in the dark of the bar, drinking as smoking. In a way, I was horrified. In another, I was envious. I just couldn’t figure out where these guys had come from, and how they got to where they were now. Looking back, I now know that many of these guys had fought in WWII, or Korea, and carried a lot around inside them that wasn’t popular to share at the time (one of them was my father’s step-dad.)

    • I was raised a jew. It tends to creep into my writing, but Milwaukee is mostly bars and Catholics and so were my friends..same guilt i think. I got intot the jewish thing, but also looked elsewhere including catholic fraternity at the rail and that dark den of men drinking and smoking that you describe. It was a parish and a prayer and a way of life in there and ya know what? good place to be. it still feels that way. Milwaukee has a fish fry friday bar and grill tradition, been going on for years. the jews integrated it into a friday fish fry shabat…mostly wine and whiskey, but beer is kosher too. beer is everywhere in Milwaukee; just like the commercials say. I guess we’re all down and out with war heroes wearing the crown. Care for a game of darts?

    • Hey Bill, I was just thinking about something you said about Jefferson burdick….about you relating to him and wondering about your life going that way if youhadn’t a met your wife.

      Maybe, that’s the same envy and horror you experienced with seeing drunks. That loneliness can be a curse, but at the same time, it has its perks.

  2. Jeez, Steve, I really enjoyed that. A really nice story and it was a pleasure to read it. Nice moral, too.

    The 1972 Topps cards were among the most hideous ever, if not THE most hideous, in my opinion. When I first opened up a pack, though, at age 11 in 1972, I thought that they were “real cool”! Of course, now they just look tacky. But back then, it was, like, psych-de-lic, Mon!

    I mainly collected baseball cards for three years—- 1970, 1971, and 1972. After that, I guess I lost interest or whatever.

    Out of those three years cards, I think that the 1970 cards were the nicest, and the 1971 cards weren’t bad.

    Speaking of the 1970 baseball cards, and speaking of stealing baseball cards, the first baseball card (and, I think, the only one) that I ever stole was a 1970 Jim Kaat card. I was nine at the time, summer of 1970. Jeez. Seems like yesterday. Camp Baumann in Freeport, N.Y. Sitting at some picnic tables, and there were lots of other kids around with baseball cards. Suddenly, someone I knew dropped a baseball card, and I immediately recognized it as a Jim Kaat card. (He was with the Twins at the time.) I didn’t get up from my picnic table bench, but just stretched my leg as long as I could and skidded the card along the dirt with my foot so that nobody would notice. Then, when I realized that nobody was looking, I picked up the card with my hand, kicked off my sneaker (Keds, of course), and put the card into my sneaker, then put my foot back in.

    I forgot it was there for a long time, maybe a few weeks. One day I noticed something in my sneaker that I had forgotten about. It was this soggy piece of paper. I took it out, and it was the Jim Kaat card, but now it was all moldy and wrinkled. Jim Kaat’s face was virtually unidentifiable. It smelled like my foot, which means it didn’t smell too good. It was so moldy and wrinkled, it was barely recognizable, but I put it in the shoe box that held my other cards, just the same. I had it for years, along with my other cards. I don’t have any of my baseball cards anymore. Too bad.

    Anyway, this was the card, but it’s not moldy or cruddy or smelly or wrinkled.

    By the way, I never read Huckleberry Finn, either, and haven’t to this day, nor have I read ANY Mark Twain books. Although I STARTED to read Tom Sawyer when I was twelve, but I hardly got past the Page 20 or so.

    Glen

    • hey Glen….gotta love the 1970’s…I just ate way too many processed pancakes and then looked at my clothes and nothing matches. I definitely have no artisitc taste and maybe that’s why I still love the 1972 topps. The cheesy factor gets me every time. I’m not a big fan of great photography or art or cutting edge graphics and all that; probably because I don’t understand it or can’rt appreciate it yet.

      The 1972 Roberto clemente card of him tossing the ball up in the air with what looks like a sad face always stays with me especially since his plane went down new years eve later that same year. There was the 73 clemente, but that 72 topps image got stuck in head.

      then there was the Killibrew card with his bat lookign bigger than life..i love that picture. Killibrew was born in Idaho. ain’t too many of those in baseball. and my favorite of all is the cooper-fisk rookie card Hollywood sqaures style or in the 72 case…trios. coooop.

      Most were poses and most looked to be from spring training. You’re right real tacky and not as psychedelic as 1975, but still all colorful and what not, but i never minded poses especially since the set also had the in action cards…that Marichal card is still my picasso. that a human being can get a leg that high while pitching still amazes me, but don’t try that at home.

      Bummer about your cards being somewhere else. I still trade through the mail. Bill Miller sent my some nice Brewers cards a few months ago. I’m trying to get every Brewers card for Topps and that would include the Pilots one year and out. We coulda traded if you had your cards.

      I’ll probably never get them all, but it keeps the candle burning, but then again, I’m not missing that many. A trip to upstate new York and a card show and I should be able to do it, but I refuse to do the EBay thing, much preferring to trade. Anarchy baseball card collectors Unite!

      • the 1971 topps with the black borders were probably my favorite of the three years you collected…they are still impossible to keep in perfect condition and that was a good thing. who wants perfect cards? the worse condition usually meant the more likely those cards will be put into circulation and into different hands.

        i found more messed up 1971 cards in mystery boxes i bought at auctions than any other cards from that time. those are cards with a wear and tear history.

        better like that then dead behind some thick plastic card holder display majeeegeee and one owner. I don’t like those things. i like my cards like your koosman card, but maybe not as cruddy, but just as wrinkled and still easy to identify for us surviving fans

  3. You mean Jim Kaat, not Koosman

    Glen

    • mayb not….my southpaw freudian slip may have been a reminder of another great in action card from that set….i don’t remember being in awe when i first saw it in the late 1970.s sometime, but now it says so much about left handed pitchers. One look at this and it all comes flashing back into view….babe ruth, Warren spahn, from books and old videos and of course teddy higuera and whoever your favorite lefty was.

    • and for you and Bill especially. You guys can probably taste Shea stadium from that card. i think that’s Shea. It’s gotta be Shea.

      • Yeah. Koosman was my favorite lefty, I guess. Also Ray Sadecki, who pitched for the Mets for a while, and, of course, Tug McGraw.

        And, yes, that picture was taken at Shea. But if you look carefully at the background, a lot of the National League players’ cards were taken at Shea back then, including the posed pictures. If you look in the background, you often realize that it’s Shea Stadium. Of course, I’d recognize Shea. It was like my second home. But I still always thought that it was cool to recognize Shea Stadium in the background when I looked at a baseball card.

        Glen

      • Koosman was a lucky guess on my part or maybe you’ve said he was your fav before. Sadecki’s kinda rare to have as a favorite since most fans get seduced by the all mighty K.

      • i looked at a bunch of the cards and didn’t see any at Shea????? The majority appeared to be taken in Florida at spring training. I’ll do some more investigation.

  4. Great story! I would love to trade cards in the mail Steve…if you e mail me your address I’ll send you a stack of Brewers in trade for a stack of A’s.
    cococrispafro@gmail.com

  5. Steve, this is actually one of the best pieces of writing I have read in a long time.

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