Condensed Card Histories

One of the best descriptors of Curt Flood was sleepy eyed slapper.

One of the best descriptors of Curt Flood was sleepy eyed slapper.

Wandering the background of the 1968 Topps Ernie Banks

That’s me, just passing through the scene. But passing through Ernie’s scene ain’t like nothin’ else you ever seen. Matter of fact, it was so out of sight, they made two of that card: Let’s make two—they must’ve joked! This one’s from 1968, but they fixed it for ’69 and (mostly) cropped me out, which is the way it should be. After all, it’s Ernie’s card, not mine!

Still it seems kind of fortuitous, don’t you think? Like that story about Ernie’s daddy, Eddie, taking little Ernie down to Louisiana to see that fortune-teller lady to ascertain his destiny—whether for the Army or for baseball. So if Ernie had got a different fortune that day and never played, then I might just as easily not have been caught in his picture unaware.

Ernie Banks cardGotta problem with being in the background? Heck no! Besides, with him, in that city, on that team?! It gets just so—you get used to being in the background. It gets to where you almost kind of like being there, just feelin’ the warmth of the situation, the home game, the walk-off, the daylight doubleheader.

Ah, yeah, that refrain: “Let’s play two!” Some guys are all talk. But that crazy, gleefully smilin’ sonofagun meant it! Humph, play two?! He’d have played three and still would be standing out there, basking in all that blue. Oh, so much blue—bright blue sleeves & caps, powder-blue jerseys.

I suppose the sky must’ve been blue, too, but blue doesn’t seem to capture it right. Insufficient word to describe that glorious, free-floatin’ firmament aloft all that lush fescue, Bermuda grass, or whatever. Yeah, that canopy over the diamond’s reddish, at-times tawny, and sun-baked earth. And Ernie with his beamin’, orb-blastin’ bat so tall in his calm, firm hands—hands of a sculptor they were, and the ballpark and its throngs were his clay!

But, boy, that bat, that lovely piece of limber lumber slightly waggin’ and standin’ upright and parallel to those far-off stadium lights almost lost, steel poles near-invisible in that bright and blindin’ blue. Ernie, he’s beamin’, too. Greatest complement imaginable to the uniform emblazoned with that silly, blank-faced cub—to me, more like a hybrid koala-cub—but, because it’s Ernie, indelible still. Mr. Cub. Oh that creature’s stoopid, wonderful, cuddly face stuck to him. Embroidered lore tattooed just below his left shoulder…smiling cardboard god, Gawd-dammit! Ernie was always smiling—and brighter than any ochre, October sun! Now you ask me again, what the heck is wrong being in the background of all that?!

Curt Flood Encapsulated

Curt Flood card

sleepy-eyed slapper. warning track prowler. scaler of tall, outfield walls. renaissance man. playboy ballplayer. chaser of pop-ups. dreamcatcher always awake under powder blue skies. segregation sojourner. midnight, Midwest metropolitan raconteur. fedora connoisseur. collector of scarves and silkscreen silk shirts. trade deal holdout. artist. aficionado. art-forger, con artist. perpetually bold. perpetually red-sleeved line-driver, looper, bouncer, dribbler, bunter, play-maker. gold glover. outstretched, sun-cupping run-taker. bankrupted debtor. IRS-exiled Majorca-dweller. Palma bar owner, bar keeper. stool stumbler. balmy beach dozer. hangover hanger-on. sipper of cafè amb llet with sober firm thumb. Oakland play-caller. SPBA commissioner—short-lived. cloudy-eyed father and husband. philanderer. misty-eyed lover. antihero. reserve clause striker. compatriot to Vada and Frank. beneficiary of Jackie. torch receiver, relayer. free agent flood-maker.

1953 Topps, (Poor) Harry Simpson

Harry Simpson card

Hymn for the pocket-wrecked man. He of crooked teeth and eyebrows as wild as summer-lush patches of fescue grass. Sans oil on canvas, he’s all ink on cardstock. But you can’t ignore the veritable portrait in miniature; it’s like American Gothic, light.
There’s even counterpoint—and lamentable caricature, too: Chief Wahoo’s upward, grinning gaze appears in direct opposition to Harry’s own, less symmetrical and less sure. Then texture, as erosion’s artistry only adds weight to plight. Who knows how many rotations Harry endured in bicycle spokes, what violence witnessed in the washing machine’s spin cycle, or manifold ways the elements tried to dull the sun or camera’s flare barely reflected in those velvet-deep eyes?

Yet what palette, what brush could better convey the pained imprints of that weathered grin whose lines extend upwards to nearly converge on the claw marks of crow’s-feet? Ah, back in the days of Black, Robinson, Newcombe, and Paige. “No” can only echo so loudly for so long before the sound of triumph overtakes the surging lakefront crowd and fills the pale-blue slate of sky with force enough to carry Harry home.


M. G. Moscato’s work has appeared in CineAction, Spitball, Sports Collectors Digest, Aethlon, Stymie, Harpur Palate, among others. Read his blog Pulp Ephemera and follow him on Twitter @PulpEphemera.
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M. G. Moscato
Guest

Re. the caption below the top-most cropped image of Flood, “One of the best descriptors of Curt Flood was sleepy eyed slapper”: this is just an editorial highlight of one of the pieces here. To the best of my knowledge, Flood was never described as such in any known reports. . . .
In any case, it feels wonderful to have a Friday feature! Thanks again to Greg, Paul, & THT for running these!

Rosy
Guest
Rosy

What I find most interesting in these cards is the very different expressions of the players. Yes, the sleepy-eyed flood, but just the utter joy of Ernie Banks’ face. I can’t shake Tony Gwynn’s famous quote from this scene: “Remember two things: play hard and have fun.” Ironically, these “two things” are captured perfectly in baseball cards: one side captures how hard someone played and the other side, how much fun they had. Ephemeral history is more than brief and captures more than a moment. Enjoyed this one!

Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard

Curt Flood was a somewhat tragic figure, the forgotten man in the player’s fight for quasi free agency. Starting with mis playing Jim Northrup’s triple in game 7 of the ’68 series and then being traded to the Phillies in ’69 and onto losing his long and tortured legal battle with MLB, it was a long road downhill. He spiraled fast, becoming a heavy drinker while living in France. He died a few years ago and from what I remember, not one current player attended his funeral. For a definitive account of his legal and personal troubles, check out Brad… Read more »

Rosy
Guest
Rosy

Wow….my dad is a big Cardinals fan. I will need to tell him about this and this book.

M. G. Moscato
Guest

Thank you, Rosy! Kind words–and insightful observations.

And thanks, Dennis, for the book recommendation. That looks like an interesting read. It does seem like with books such as that and the documentary, The Curious Case of Curt Flood (2011), there’s been a lot of renewed interest in Flood in recent years.

Craig Tyle
Guest
Craig Tyle

That Ernie Banks card was in my very first pack of baseball cards. From then on, he was one of my favorite players.

M. G. Moscato
Guest

That would do it alright; what a fantastic card to pull in a first pack!