A Day Before Frank O’Hara’s 85th Birthday

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 12.03.58 PMBY CRAIG COTTER

Put a new bottle of pain meds on the shelf above my desk

knocking down a pile of mementos

including tickets to two Detroit Tiger games from 1976

 

one orange, one blue.

 

I Googled “Detroit Tiger past boxscores”

and got the page from the “Baseball Almanac.”

 

*

 

August 20th was a Friday.

The orange ticket meant lower deck.

I was in SECTION 21, ROW 7, SEAT 1.

 

The blue ticket

SECTION 31, ROW W, SEAT 15

is an UPPER DECK RESERVED seat.

 

*

 

I have no memory of going to Tiger Stadium twice the same week.

I always wanted to go more.

Used to nag my dad—

but he was a frugal and mostly exhausted GM engineer

who often worked in Detroit—and driving back there

from our home in Drayton Plains

somehow didn’t appeal to him.

Was it that he could never see his Brooklyn Dodgers in Tiger Stadium?

 

*

 

I remember Jerry Kitchen’s mother taking us.

I remember Gordy taking Jerry and me and Curt Toth.

 

*

 

I remember sitting in an upper-deck section between home and third

with my family

I’d gone to get hotdogs and drinks

I was 15—

the summer we moved from Michigan—

that worst summer of my life so far,

losing all my friends in one drive to Rochester, New York

for my dad’s promotion back to the mother-ship, Rochester Products.

Ben Oglivie was batting, and he fouled a ball back

that landed at my feet.

I could’ve got it instantly by dropping the food—

but didn’t do it—hands scrambled at my feet and one got the ball.

 

I think one of the games my dad took me to, and we saw Mark Fidrych win—

I seem to remember it being his 18th or 19th win—though late August seems too early for that

as I think he won 19 that rookie season, figure that last win must’ve been deep in September.

 

Maybe I got two games the same week because friends

were taking me for a good-bye game

and my dad too.

I wasn’t speaking much to my dad after he announced we were moving

with no conversation

after I’d complete my 10th grade year at Waterford Kettering High School.

I was fitting in, was doing lights in plays, had friends since earliest memories,

good grades.

Was a brain, was skinny, had friends with all the groups, jocks, stoners, rockers,

losers, nerds, without being in a group.

 

Mr. Tuttle did a test on our social studies class one day.

He walked in on a Monday with our pile of exams.

He apologized for not having time to grade them over the weekend.

He said we’d grade our own.

He passed them down the aisles, then read the answers.

We calculated our scores, then he called us one-by-one

to report our grades.

I had earned an A with 18 of 20 correct.  We had to give our grade and score.

I thought of saying A/19.  He got closer and closer to me as the scores and grades rang out.

I was sweating a bit. I thought I was going to say A/19.

But when he got to me I said, “A/18.”

He finished the verbal collection of the scores.

He sat and assessed the grade book.

 

He then announced this had been a test of honesty.

He had graded all the papers over the weekend, and recorded our scores and grades.

 

[As an interlude I want to say that AT&T is a totally corrupt company.

After I bought my two-year cell plan they took down most of the towers in my neighborhood

of Pasadena, California.  I've had no service within a four block radius of my apartment for two years.

When I call to request a new tower be opened, I have been lied to 20 times that a new tower

is to be installed on X date, but it never was.  My AT&T land-line is not fiber-optic cable

but copper wires wrapped with plastic buried underground in leaking pipes.

When it rains, like it’s been doing a lot lately, there is no land-line service.

Which is the case now—my phones are dead.  When I called them about the dead

land-line the guy said it would be at least 4 days because they don't work weekends.

He then asked me if there was anything else he could help me with.

No irony in his question.

Once the AT&T help person told me she could sell me a cell phone signal booster for $20 a month.

"So my phone doesn't work and you want to take $240 more dollars from me a year

so my phone works like it's supposed to?"

Throughout this two years of criminal corruption, AT&T sends me three flyers per week—

professionally printed—asking me to add high speed internet service

to my AT&T package, and that they would give me a bundled savings rate.

Sometimes when I call reporting no cell or land-line service they ask me if I want to buy their internet

package.

"When the two services I have from you don't work, how could you ever expect I would add a third?"

But enough of what a criminal, corrupt company AT&T is, back to our nostalgic look at my past.]

 

He said, “Everyone in class lied except for Craig and Kelly. Craig got an A/18, Kelly an F/4.”

 

I looked over at Kelley. She was a burn-out, obviously high—and terminally hot.

She smiled her lovely burn-out smile, proud of her F, I smiled back at her briefly

raising my eyebrows slightly.

I’d always liked Kelly.  Her falling asleep in class.  Her smart-ass comments when she

occasionally talked.  The dark circles under her eyes.  Her perfect body.  Her hunky boyfriends.

Her utter disdain for school as I studied and studied.

When we’d find each other side-by-side in a lunch line

there was always mutual respect.

I was never gonna get in her pants, she was never gonna want to hang out with me—

but we accepted the other for our life choices so far.

 

So maybe that Wednesday was Jerry’s mom taking me for a farewell game

and that Friday my dad?

 

I remember the Fidrych game being a sell-out.

And remember looking down at him on the mound—was he 19?—

just 4 years older than me?—talking to the ball, patting the mound with his hands.

And he probably pitched all 9 innings/didn’t Ralph Houk burn out his arm?

Though I remember Ralph later trying to get The Bird back to pitch a few games in Fenway

when he became the Sox manager so Mark could get a major league pension.

But he kept getting shelled and Houk couldn’t get him those last few innings needed.

And then when Mark sucked the next year, and his arm appeared wrecked,

there was also the rumor that he’d made a pass at a married guy’s wife

in a bar in Florida during spring training, and that the guy had screwed his arm up behind his back

tearing an important muscle that never healed.

This seemed like a more logical homeroom explanation for us sex-crazed boys

then that Ralph Houk and the Tiger organization blew out his young arm

by rarely bringing in a relief pitcher for him as the fans had paid to see The Bird.

 

Let’s check the boxscores:

 

It was a double-header with the Twins.  Above the first box score is this quote:

 

“The box score is the catechism of baseball, ready to surrender its truth to the knowing eye.” – Author Stanley Cohen in The Man in the Crowd (1981)

 

Wow, Lyman Bostock was leading off for the Twins,

went 0-for-4.

Wasn’t he the young phenom batting around .330

but got shot to death?  In Chicago?

Someone trying to kill the guy next to him

in the car he was riding in but shot Lyman

in the chest by accident?

I used to love his APBA card

when Jerry and I used to play.

I was wondering if he could develop to hit .400,

something I still want to see

as I wasn’t around for Williams in ’41.

Closest I got was a Brett .390 year and a Carew .376 year

or something like that.

 

And there’s Ron Leflore leading off.

The Tigers would barnstorm summers,

and I met him and several others when they swung through

and played our high school teachers in a softball game

on our baseball field.

The Tigers completely annihilated our teachers.

Norm Cash hit a softball I never saw land it went so far.

Ron LeFlore had a hot bombshell on each elbow

as he walked on the field.

I still have his autograph on a scrap of paper I picked up

from the ground.

 

Hardly anything left from our ’68 Series team.

But there’s Mickey Stanley batting second,

going 0-for-4 and playing first base.

Willie Horton, the man I copied my warm-up swings from,

going 2-for-4 batting clean-up.

Bill Freehan still there, going 0-for-3, batting 7th.

I did love Rusty Staub who bat third—

he was one of our great trades.

And learned to love Aurelio Rodriguez.

 

Roberts got the win and pitched all 9 innings,

and was then 12-12.  I don’t remember him.

No Fidrych and no Ben Oglivie.

Plus I am now vaguely remembering that my dad

took me to the Fidrych win.

 

Horton and LeFlore got doubles.

Willie was a slow runner, especially by then.

It probably would’ve been an inside-the-park homerun

for most other players. He’d often gap them into left-center

420 feet away and just barely make it to second.

I saw him hit a laser rocket into the Green Monster at Fenway

one day on TV—an instant homerun in Tiger Stadium.

It hit so hard it ricochet back to the shortstop and Willie

only got a single.

 

LeFlore stole 2 bases and got caught once.  Loved his speed.

Turns out he’d lied about his age and was older than we knew.

 

Just got a call on my landline—could only hear ringing and static.

 

I do remember the name Hisle in the first box score.

Larry I think his first name was.  Had good power, good average,

and I remember him being a slow base runner.

 

Game 2 of the double-header:

 

The fucking Twins beat us.

 

LeFlore 2 for 5 again.  He was our only .300 hitter.

Well, half way through that line I realized Staub used to do it

too or get close.  Danny Meyer was 2 for 5.  I hated him.

So inconsistent.  And there’s my boy Ben Oglivie, going

2 for 4 with 4 RBIs (we lost 8 to 5).  I loved Ben.

Good power.  We were stupid to trade him.

Mr. Staub DHed and went 1 for 4.

Oh Christ John Wockenfuss caught the second game.

Hated him too.  And the Johnson pinch-hitter—

was that Alex Johnson?  The Tigers were good at

picking up veterans at the end of their careers—

like Eddie Mathews.  I loved Alex Johnson.

He won a bunch of games for us.

 

Fuck, a giant, Rod Carew—he played first base.

He was a lousy second baseman in his prime,

but became an excellent first baseman later in his career.

That man was an amazing hitter.  And he went

3 for 5 with 3 RBIs.  Bostock 2 for 5.  Will have to Google

him and see if I remember him dying young.

 

[Yeah—he was shot with a shotgun in the backseat

of a car by Leonard Smith.  Smith's wife was also in the back seat

and he was trying to shoot her.  He shot Lymon in the head.

He died 2 hours later.  Smith was found guilty by reason

of insanity.  He was released after 21 months, which caused the

Indiana legislature to change its laws about insanity defenses.

Lymon had been in Chicago, but went to Gary, Indiana

to visit his uncle.  You can read the rest on Wikipedia.

I remember being very sad because I liked Lymon.  And being

a closeted 15-year-old gay teen, I also thought he was cute.]

 

Horton and Stanley pinch-hit, but didn’t get hits.  John Hiller

worked some relief—he was one of our big stars.  Had a heart

attack as a player and returned.  Lemanczyk was our starter.

Our pitching sucked then.  Even Hiller gave up 2 earned runs

in 2 innings.  We were a shell of our World Series self.

 

Carew got a double off Hiller.  LeFlore got a triple.  He was so

fast, turned a lot of doubles into triples.  Hisle hit a tater.

Oglivie hit 2 homeruns!  Loved his power.  He got his in

the first and second innings—and now remember wanting

him to get 3 or 4.  Horton was actually intentionally

walked when he came in to pinch-hit.  Good decision by

the manager—Willie was a god.  Only 17,385 in the stands.

 

Wednesday, August 25, 1976:

 

Well, before opening the box score, we won 3-1, which

would’ve been a good Fidrych score.  But my dad—I have

no memory of him taking me to an evening game during

a work-week.  If we went, we went on weekends.  But maybe

this was to try and settle me down after announcing

he was taking all my friends away.

 

Here we go:

 

Yup, Fidrych pitched all 9 innings, giving up 1 run, walking 1

and striking out 1.  I remember he forced a lot of ground

balls.  Had excellent control.  And pitched fast.

 

We were playing the White Sox.  Remember a few of the

names—Hairston, Orta, Lemon, Dent.

 

LeFlore 0-for-4 for the Tigers.  Danny Meyer freaking me out

again with his mediocrity.  (Horton used to play left, now it

was Danny Meyer!)  Oglivie another 2 for 4 day.  Staub DH but

0 for 3.  Just can’t talk much about Jason Thompson.  He had

some power and was an OK firstbaseman.  But he wasn’t

Norm Cash so I never acclimated.  I think he had some bigger

homerun seasons after we traded him for not being Norm

Cash.

 

Bruce Kim catching—not Bill Freehan.

 

We didn’t have a Kaline or Lolich to push us over the top that year.

 

Hmmm, Ben Oglivie made 2 errors in right.  I never saw Al

Kaline make an error in right.  Though he certainly made a few

on his way to 10 Gold Gloves.

 

Jason Thompson stole a base?  He was like 6-5 and lumbering.

Have no memory of that.  Maybe a delayed double-steal?

But Martin wasn’t the manager.  Oglivie stole second in the

6th—he was very fast.

 

Hmm, and we didn’t sell out that day—39,884 in attendance.

Think Tiger Stadium held 45,000 or so people.  Lemme look.

 

[Tiger Stadium saw exactly 11,111 home runs, the last a right field, rooftop grand slam by Detroit’s Robert Fick as the last hit in the last game played there.

 

Only four of the game’s most powerful right-handed sluggers (Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard, Cecil Fielder and Mark McGwire) reached the left field rooftop.

In his career, Norm Cash hit four home runs over the Tiger Stadium roof in right field and is the all-time leader.

In Detroit on July 13, 1934, Babe Ruth hit his 700th career home run. As noted in Bill Jenkinson’s The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs, the ball sailed over the street behind the then single deck bleachers in right field, and is estimated to have traveled over 500 feet on the fly.

Ruth also had a good day in Detroit earlier in his career, on July 18, 1921, when he hit what is believed to be the verifiably longest home run in the history of major league baseball. It went to straightaway center, as many of Ruth’s longest homers did, easily clearing the then single deck bleacher and wall, landing almost on the far side of the street intersection. The distance of this blow has been estimated at between 575 and 600 feet on the fly.

On May 2, 1939, an ailing New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig voluntarily benched himself at Briggs Stadium, ending a streak of 2,130 consecutive games. Due to the progression of the disease named after him, it proved to be the final game in his career.]

Seems to have held, after last renovation, 54,500.  Though
I bet more got in—there were standing room only admissions

to some of the big games.

*

Time to get some breakfast.  See what’s going on in Los Angeles.