h2h Corner ~ Cardboard Gods, an interview with Josh Wilker Pt. I

The biggest benefit for a nerd like me having a side job like this is the access to the luminaries in baseball. Last year I was able to interview the fantastic Jonah Keri.

This year I am equally privileged to have received an early copy of Josh Wilker’s book “Cardboard Gods.” As Rob Neyer is an infinitely better writer than myself, I’ll let his words capture my thoughts upon finishing the enthralling read (it took me four days): “Josh Wilker writes as beautifully about baseball and life as anyone ever has.” Perfect. Just like the book.

Thankfully, I was further blessed to be able to converse with Josh, who writes the blog Cardboard Gods, and ask him a few questions about the book, his life, baseball, Lost, facial hair, wood-chippers, and the Red Sox.

You mention that you did fantasy basketball, what about baseball? What are your thoughts about fantasy baseball? Or is your fantasy and baseball combination relegated to the Cardboard Gods?

I’ve played fantasy baseball for several years, though this year I decided not to do it because I was a little swamped with other stuff. As fantasy baseball has gotten more sophisticated, I find myself getting my ass beat on a much more regular basis. A few years ago I switched most of my fantasy baseball energies over to Strat-O-Matic online baseball. Unsurprisingly, I mostly play the 1970s game. I do fairly well there. I like universes that don’t change.

How do you feel about the “stat geeks” that are taking over baseball or trying to solve baseball methodically, as if it is a math equation? What do you think about the Red Sox defensive approach to 2010?

I have no problem with that trend, though my eyes tend to glaze over whenever the conversation progresses beyond the more rudimentary of the newer stats. When Bill James or Rob Neyer is breaking it down for me in compelling narrative-based terms, I’m along for the ride, but when baseball is being explained as if it is a trigonometry equation, I’m lost. As for the Red Sox, I’m very glad that they have Bill James in the fold. Their emphasis on building a good-fielding team has so far been a bust (as of this interview they are off to their worst start in over a decade), but I can’t say I was against it before the season began. As I said, I’m not a guy with a great grasp of the more complicated stats, but as I also said I do play a lot of Strat, and I tend to build teams very much like the 2010 Red Sox, with strong fielding, good pitching, and a lineup that gets on base from one through nine; these teams generally do pretty well in the simulated world. In the real world, the lack of a true Alpha slugger, like Manny, might make things a little hard. These are human beings, after all, and when a team goes into a gigantic slump in terms of hitting with runners in scoring position, as the Sox are doing now, they will tend to start pressing, I would think, and then just make things worse. It’d be nice if they still had Manny to carry them psychically through such droughts.

Is it Wilbur Wood’s and not Tony LaRussa’s fault that the loogy was invented?

Maybe Wilbur Wood is like Odysseus, away from his kingdom for years and years as all the one-batter specialists move in and despoil his majestic digs to try to get into his wife’s toga. Someday Wilbur Wood will return and slaughter all these lesser men and the kingdom will again be a place where a man can pitch nine innings in the first game of a doubleheader and come back to record the save in the nightcap.

One of the greatest ideas from your book is the chance that Bucky Dent somehow met a Fargo-esque wood chipper fate. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my own Bucky Dent – Derek Jeter – since reading that part. What is it about singular home runs that remain haunting? Did Bucky Dent’s fate change when the Sox won the World Series?

I can’t, nor would I ever want to, speak for Bucky Dent, or ruminate on his fate. I just know that he lost his power over me in 2004.

Did Charlie Finley pay you for your goatee? Have you always had facial hair?

In a way, Charlie Finley did contribute to the goatee. I grew it like a Stanley Cup playoffs beard while in the harried and hollow-eyed latter stages of my work on the book, then I decided to keep it. I’d never had any facial hair before that, besides the oft-used three-days-without shaving hobo look.

Do you collect cards anymore or buy new ones? I read your GQ piece on the Topps 2010 set and I agree with it – although I am probably more in favor of the set than you are. I recently got back into collecting…buying cheap packs on line (just got a 1991 Upper Deck Mo Vaughn rookie).

I didn’t mean to denigrate the 2010 set at all but more just wanted to say that I can’t connect to cards like I used to, partly because the cards are of such high quality that they don’t invite me in to fill in the gaps the way the flawed creations of my youth once did. As for collecting, the main “set” of cards I collect are the ones I find on the ground, and I have found several, my favorite being a mud-encrusted version of doomed prodigy Steve Howe. I also get a stack of random cards from my wife’s aunt every year for Christmas, and I absolutely love that gift. I love sorting through new cards and discovering who I got. But I try not to push the love of that feeling beyond a once-a-year thing for fear that I’ll kill it.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. […] you miss part I of my discussion with Josh Wilker, author of “Cardboard Gods,” the book? If so, check it out, […]


  2. Posted by Michael Lisman on April 26, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Shame on you — you should know that Vaughn’s rookie card was not the 1991 Bowman card, but rather the 1990 Bowman and Score versions.

    Lesson: a “star rookie” logo does not a rookie card make
    (just ask the young Gregg Jeffries, Danny Tartabull, or Mark McGwire).


  3. Posted by Albert Lang on April 26, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    You are dead right, Michael. My bad – thanks for pointing out.

    I have the Mo Bowman rookie as well, and the Chipper version — whoops.

    Thanks for reading!


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