Monday, December 28, 2009

Harry Chiti: The Ultimate PTBNL

I know. It's debatable whether or not Harry Chiti was actually traded for himself. Still, there are stories that are larger than the truth to the extent that they are are more important and more essentially true than what actually happened. Many baseball stories are like that. Does it really matter if the Babe called his shot? Was Norm Cash really the first guy to use the infamous "pictures of your wife" pick-off move, doing so on no less a star than Mickey Mantle? Who cares? Those stories convey deeper truths about the game and how we relate to it as fans than anything found in the box scores. 

If you read the sponsor's comment on Chiti's BB Reference page (linked above) it's pretty apparent that he was the kind of guy you'd have to be to be traded for yourself and not lose your sanity: "A big ole guy with a catcher's mitt." Sure, he bounced about, but you get the feeling Chiti played ball because he enjoyed it, not because he expected to be a star or make a million dollars. A lifetime .238 hitter, Chiti's best year might have been 1958 when he batter .268 with 9 HR and 44 RBI in  103 games for the A's. Not stellar, but a lot of guys have had solid careers as backup catchers. 

He bounced around a lot, but is most famous for having been purchased by the Mets from the Indians in 1962, then being sent back to the Indians for cash. It's not being "traded for himself," but "traded for himself" is a much better story:  "Chiti was traded for a PTBNL, then was sent back as that same PTBNL." It resists the notion that what we do, at home or in our jobs, is reducible to a simple sum or collection of physical objects. And let's not forget that John Odom, the minor leaguer traded for some bats, had a hard time coping with the trade's aftermath and never quite got over it, sadly taking his own life only six months later.

In this 1960 we have a close up Chiti looking rather hopeful. I love the texture of the green-painted concrete of the dugout roof behind him and the blurred flat-top of the kid in the stands hovering over his right shoulder. Just a big ole guy with a catcher's mitt traveling city to city, a few towns and several years before the end of his sojourning and the situation for which he'll forever be remembered.

Sorry if this post was a bit of a downer. On a brighter note, I have a stack of cards to trade when I get back up north, so those will be posted soon.

Have a good one and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are (I think I have your address, so be expecting a letter!).

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