Monday, April 16, 2012

Lost in Eden: TTM from Johnny Schmitz

Sometimes incongruous landscapes make the most sense, to the point they become natural, almost preferred, and the impossibilities we can conceive of unmoor us permanently from our surroundings.

Which leads me to ask: where the Hell is Johnny Schmitz on this 1951 Bowman? He's looming up in a clearing in these anonymous woods, playing baseball with no one in particular and yet not in the least self conscious about it. Like a lot of cards in the set, as observers we're asked not to inquire overmuch about Schmidtz in these fantastic surroundings. 
But where else would we find someone nicknamed "Bear Tracks"? It's oddly appropriate that a man best known for shuffling around on the mound with size-14 feet is silhouetted against the salmon mountains, peering in at a batter somewhere down and to our left. Delivering the pitch Schmitz is huge, dominant, leering, our primary focus. Yet he's dwarfed by the mountains in the distance, their presence rupturing our attention and inviting us to something beyond Johnny Schmitz, to something like life beyond baseball.
Many folks have posted about the fact that Schmitz passed away this past October 1. I was fortunate to have sent this card to him over the summer and received it back in no time flat. It makes me sad when the older players I've heard from pass away, because since I was a kid I've always thought of guys from that generation as eternal, our legacy as fans.

Of course they left baseball, married, divorced, had kids, were triumphant, were failures, and did things largely like the rest of us. Adulating baseball players for their accomplishments is like taking snapshots of someone's life through a keyhole. And yet, if we're honest, that's how all of us want to be remembered, how all of us want to be judged: as being who nonetheless shined while dwelling in the shadow of the mountain. 

It's a baseball card, but it speaks to me the same way that may favorite paintings, poems, and novels do. There is no field like the field on the card, and Johnny Schmitz never played on the edge of these woods. But we can put him there, then and now, painting the black in the twilight. If there's a heaven, Johnny Schmitz is pitching on this field. If there's not, Johnny Schmitz is pitching on this field. This field that only exists because we said it did. He's there because we put him there, because the world is a thing of our own creation.

Thanks again for the ttm Mr. Schmitz. Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!


  1. The picture was taken at the Cubs spring training site which was Catalina Island during the 1940's and early '50.

  2. It's Catalina Island!!! He did pitch there. See above comment.