Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Baseball in general has an uneasy relationship with the past and the stars of other generations. For example, one of the better ongoing bar debates these days centers on what the accomplishments of Major Leaguers and Negro Leaguers alike would have been if these two groups of ballplayers had played together in the same league. People often refer to players like Ruth and Cobb as "legendary" or legends of the game" despite the fact that their lifetime stats are readily accessible, box scores from every game they ever played in published and republished as the years go by. If they are legends then Gibson, Charleston, and other Negro Leaguers are "mythic" in the sense that many of their greatest accomplishments were passed down from word of mouth, many times  recorded after the fact or not recorded at all. Comparing the two groups of players according to stats is pretty useless and all we are left with is what might have been. Steroids and the contemporary era open up similar problems of comparison, a problem made all the worse by the MSM's decision to drop the ball on the issue. 

Anyway, all of this is to say that the current game is always measured against the backdrop of what the game has been in the past. Fans try to reconnect with this past, or to connect with it if they are younger, in a variety of ways. Baseball card companies have capitalized on this nostalgic impulse by releasing throwback sets (Heritage, Goudey, etc.) and including any number of old timers in their products. Occasionally these cards will sell for more than original issues of those old timers, which is pretty odd when you think about it. Some of these are nice, some are poorly done, but none really connect the game's present to its past quite like the photo in this card. Recycling a card design from the 50's or 30's does little to show how these players relate to the game's past or how they situate themselves in relation to it. Rather, recycled card designs just feed or desire for nostalgia. 

Here we have Crawford with his left foot on the outfield wall at a Yankee Stadium (the old one or a spring training facility?) going up after a long fly ball (a home run? a ball he pulls back?) in the shadow of monument park. The Rays are still the Devil Rays: a forlorn group of nobodies created to give the larger market teams in the AL East someone to kick around repeatedly thanks to the unbalanced schedule. The Yankees, the photo reminds us, are the Yankees. If you are a fan the larger numbers beyond the outfield wall say it all: 1 Billy Martin, 44 Reggie Jackson, 23 Don Mattingly. And there, clearing a space for himself, is number 13, Carl Crawford. We need the name on the jersey to know who he is (he began his career as number 8), but one day we might not. His face is turned away from us, completely focused on the ball, which looks to be out of reach. But he is going after it anyway, over the fence if he has to. The attempt must be made. As laughable as it was in 2005, the Rays DID chase down the Yankees and win the pennant. Crawford is chasing down myths and legends.

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