Over at SB Nation’s Longform page check out this profile of Hector Espino–The Unknown Slugger–by our man Eric Nusbaum:
There is a joke told by Mexican baseball fans about Espino arriving at the pearly gates of heaven with much less fanfare. St. Peter doesn’t recognize Espino and asks God what he should do. “Don’t be a coward,” God says. “Pitch to him.”
Most American baseball fans wouldn’t recognize Héctor Espino either, even though he was the greatest hitter in Mexican history and by many accounts one of the best hitters of all time. Espino played from 1960 to 1984. He had wrists like the barrels of baseball bats and a body like a 5’11, 185-pound vending machine. He also hit somewhere between 755 and 796 professional home runs.
The exact total, like much about Espino’s career, is a matter of perspective.
Our pals Eric Nusbaum and Craig Robinson were on hand for the Caribbean Series championship in Mexico. They’ve got a five-part series over at Sports on Earth.
Don’t miss it.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I told somebody’s mother that I wouldn’t be attending her son’s funeral. I remember the moment, if not the conversation, with great clarity. I was working in my dad’s shop, filling orders for spare bike rack parts, when my phone rang. My hands were sticky with glue from the ancient packing-tape dispenser.
Here are some things I didn’t tell her: I never met your son. We only talked on the phone once or twice. He had my number in the first place because we played at being general managers in the same imaginary baseball league. When Chris and I did speak, it was about lineup exports.
Here is something I don’t remember if I told her: I’m so sorry.
I was 18. Chris, sick as he was, could not have been much older. I panicked. Our friendship was too convoluted and trivial to explain in the moment. Who was I to waste the time of a mother as she slogged dutifully from A through Z in her dead son’s contact list when I didn’t even know what her dead son looked like? But there was also another thing that was harder to admit: Chris’s death turned something fake into something real.
Our pal Eric Nusbaum says goodbye to his car:
When I say I drove my car for the last time, I mean that my car will never be driven again by anybody. It has a blown head gasket. (A head gasket is what prevents coolant and oil from leaking into the engine’s cylinders.) Fluids pouring into the engine have damaged it to the point of no sane return. In other words, the car would be more expensive to repair than it’s actually worth. My mechanic—his shop is actually called My Mechanic—all but refused to fix it. Replacing the gasket itself would cost about $1,500. And that would only be an appetizer to the ensuing main course of engine damage. For context, the Kelley Blue Book Value on the Legend in “fair condition” was $2,781. What about cars in poor condition? “Kelley Blue Book does not provide values for cars that meet this criteria.”
This was a long time coming. In the last two years, I’ve spent about a thousand dollars repairing cylinders, brakes, and other assorted parts. Meanwhile, much has been left in semi-intentional disrepair. The bumper was only about three-fourths attached. The driver-side window hadn’t shut properly since 2007; when I took the car over 40, air would stream in and whistle in my ear. Much of this is typical of Acura Legends, I’ve learned recently. They drive great, but their engines are set in such a way that makes them difficult to access, and costly to repair. Thousands upon thousands of words have been written in online forums about the regularity with which they blow their head gaskets.
I got my license when I was sixteen. My mother, a mechanic’s daughter, made sure I learned to drive a stick shift. I like driving fine but I’m 40-years-old and I’ve never owned a car. City living and all.
Consider Tim Raines. He is the poster-child for Hall of Fame advocacy in the age of the internet. He was an undeniably great ballplayer. In Rock, he had a cool nickname. If I voted, Tim Raines would have been inducted inducted already. But for whatever reason—maybe because he doesn’t have those 3,000 hits—Tim Raines remains a long ways from that 75 percent threshold. Leading Expos nostalgist and 21st century baseball maven Jonah Keri has made a million compelling arguments in favor of Raines’ nomination and even helped create a website dedicated to his Hall candidacy. As if anybody outside of a Port St. Lucie hotel bar in March ever had a kind thought about the Baseball Writers Association of America, Keri has called Raines’ stalled candidacy a “damning statement on the cognitive abilities and biases” of the voters.
What’s obvious in all this is that it should not require high-level statistical analysis to appreciate Tim Raines as a special ballplayer. Nor should Raines’ legacy require the paternalistic approval of a bunch of writers who after a long season spent spinning melodrama from banality make it their business in the winter to draw sacred lines at some arbitrary point between goodness and greatness. Like all of the awards in baseball, induction into the Hall of Fame is purely subjective. The wall that Keri and company are banging their heads against on behalf of Tim Raines is invisible. And the best outcome of all that banging exists entirely apart from the Hall of Fame. The best outcome is that baseball fans are reminded—or even informed for the first time—about the dynamo that was Tim Raines.
It’s not lost on me that if the Hall of Fame stakes weren’t there, the Tim Raines appreciation society might not get the same amount of public attention. But that’s exactly the problem. Instead of appreciating baseball for all it offers and enjoying its stars for all they give us—which really is so much—we chose to give ourselves ulcers over the injustices committed by the BBWA. Yes, there is something to be said for tradition. Ballplayers emoting on the podium in Cooperstown in August makes for stirring television. Though not nearly as stirring as the thought that Ron Santo, who by all accounts wanted enshrinement more than anything, had to die before finally getting enough attention to merit entry via the backdoor that is the Veteran’s Committee.
[Illustrations: Aislin, aka Terry Mosher]
Teddy Ted and E Nus of Pitchers n Poets had me on their podcast yesterday.
Check it out.
[Photo Credit: Wreckingballblog]
Jones, in his blog post, writes that “we are taught to believe that words have a value, a power, a weight.” I was lucky. I was taught by my father that for this very reason, words are to be dispensed with great care. If you can’t say something succinctly, don’t say it at all. Or as Ted reminds me sometimes when I send him drafts of long essays, “try harder.”
In this vein, we must all be careful not to use economy as a crutch. I know I have a tendency to do this. Instead of pushing an idea further, to the brink of collapse, I fall back on minimalism. The less you say, the less you are responsible for. This has mostly been an appreciation for Belth’s “power and beauty of restraint.” But I hope it can also be a warning to myself and to others: don’t use restraint as a tool for cheating. And don’t use it for gimmickry either.
When I was doing a lot of drawing, I had a linear style that bordered on minimalism. On one hand, I was interested in capturing gesture and feeling by indicating a figure with the fewest amount of lines possible. When it worked, as I think it does in the pictures here, I was pleased with the results. Eventually, though, I knew that I was cheating. I stopped looking at the subject, really looking, and let my hand do all the work. Then I’d get halfway through a drawing and stop. I’d fall in love with what I’d done and didn’t want to push myself, try harder. In other words, I became overly self-conscious, even precious, and the minimalism became an excuse to avoid failure.
I was more concerned with the finished product than the process, and ultimately, I hit a dead end. Which reminds me of something an old friend once said, “If it’s easy, you aren’t doing it right.” At times, a drawing or a sentence will come easily, and that’s fine, but if the process becomes too easy, you are probably cheating.
Good looking to Eric Nusbaum for hipping his readers to Reeves Wiedeman’s coverage of the US Open for the New Yorker. Wiedeman is doing a wonderful job blogging the tournament. Dig…