I didn’t have Mel Parnell on my mind when I woke up Thursday morning, but there I was, around 11 AM with two hours to kill and the sports card hall of fame around the corner on Decarie Blvd.
The bubble gum machines were no longer in the entrance corridor. There was only one guy there, same guy the last time I was there. He’s at least 55, maybe 60. He probably attends night school, working on his sports card junky degree.
I’m never looking for anything, but that doesn’t piss off the owner. He places the one box of assorted baseball cards on the glass counter and asks me to not mix them up. This is Montreal hockey town. Baseball is a dirty word. There are 3×5 cards in the box separating the sports and seasons. The baseball is mostly O-Pee-Chee which is not related to Tai Chi Pee – the act of camouflage disguise trickery when one desperately needs to urinate and does not want to be bothered by the cops. He stands face to face with a tree or bush and pretends to be performing Tai Chi martial art exercise ritual while simultaneously taking a pee and no one bothers him.
The cards were from 6 or 7 different baseball seasons. The name that really grabbed me was Harvey Kuenn and not as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. This was Harvey the player on the Tigers and the card was all creased and wrinkled and smudged, just the way i like my cards to be. Screams of stuck in spokes ghosts. I started thinking how much I would love to have a Harvey Kuenn card hanging around my apartment, keep me and the spiders company. It was from the mid 1950’s too. I put it in my “maybe” pile and continued looking. I put a Mel Parnell in there too because his name rhymes and because my dad watched him pitch at Fenway. But I passed on both because their pictures were poses.
Then the O-Pee-Chee cards started. I guess the only difference between Topps and O-Pee-Chee is the same difference between a Canadian and USA Snickers Bar….the French. Doesn’t matter if you buy that Snickers Chocolate Bar in White Horse Yukon or Iqaliut, Nunavut. The ingredients will be listed in both French and English because dammit, every one deserves to know when they’re eating partially hydrogenated soybean oil. A gang of fur-claden linguists will one day integrate the Inuktitut Inuit Language onto the back of the bar as well. I suspect they suffer from the same spatial proportion problem facing back of baseball card engineers – how to make batting average and BABIP and all the new stats get along and fit on the same card.
Anyway, i arrived to 1973 and fell in love all over again, not because the card corners were pin prick mint. That would skyrocket the fee and I’m cheap, would never spend more than 3 bucks on baseball cards or anything for that matter except a beer and a bag of potatoes, my rent too. The action is what got me.
I had never heard of Luis Alvarado, but the picture, the action picture got me, or more than action – automobiles in a parking lot, early 70’s Meatloaf muscle cars, red pinstripe White Sox uniforms. That ball mere inches away from first baseman venus fly trap! And is that an all dirt little league infield? And that fence! So simple and accessible and not all spring training moat fortification castle guards and 20 dollar entrance fees and what snot. It’s actually Ed Smith Field in Sarasota, Florida, dreamy.
The other card I removed was Ray Newman and I did this not knowing that Leo Durocher once called him a Kook for riding his bike to Wrigley Field and a few months later traded him. I found that out wikipedia later, after arriving home. I just liked Newman’s action wind up southpaw – Caldwell, Augustine, Travers and McLure and that familiar number 49, same number as the Brewers greatest southpaw – Teddy Higuera and Homeland – The County Stadium left field bleachers in the back round. It was under those bleachers I first witnessed smooching and punches. Is that John Briggs in left field?
The last card I pulled was the 1975 Brewers team card because of that guy wearing a plaid dress jacket in the lower right corner and also because on the back it says “Get all 24 team checklist cards. Send 40 cents plus one baseball wrapper to such and such address….expiration date – Dec 31, 1975.” Make mental note. Work on time machine.