Did you miss part I of my discussion with Josh Wilker, author of “Cardboard Gods,” the book? If so, check it out, you don’t want to miss his thoughts on fantasy baseball, baseball cards, facial hair and stat geeks.
You know numbers, you know history, you know greatness. What do you think about how the current record book sits?
The record book was my favorite bedtime story when I was a kid, and I mean that literally. As you can read in Cardboard Gods, my knowledge of and love of baseball records actually helped me get through some very tough nights. I think what’s happening now is that the record book is being revealed for the bedtime story it always was. Barry Bonds is at the top of the lifetime home run list. Everyone now agrees that this no longer means he is the Home Run King. But was there ever an inarguable Home Run King? I thought there was when I was a kid, but each era has its own standards, and the best the record book can do is just list what actually happened, and the rest is all up for grabs.
The one thing I’ve loved about baseball, that I think few if any other sports, can claim, is a calming, but intense setting. Your “Come On, Yaz” almost reminds me of a mantra. Did you find it particularly soothing? Did you invoke it when Yaz wasn’t batting?
I don’t know if I found it soothing to say “Come on, Yaz” all those times when I was saying it, because I really wanted and needed him to come through, and it being baseball, that game ruled by failure, he usually didn’t. But certainly in the writing (i.e., reimagining) of my life I can see that plea as a mantra-like thread through events that otherwise might not add up to anything. It was also definitely a mantra that I used to help write the story.
Do you watch Lost? Specifically, the intro to the Luis Gomez section seems like a beautiful summation of that show. Did this book answer that question for you (whether life is “a battle between good and evil or an inconsequential rest stop between oblivions”)?
I don’t watch Lost—I missed the first few episodes and then it was too late to know what was going on. As for that question and any other questions—I’m actually not so interested in answers. Certainly I’m not good at ever pinning anything down.
[h2h Corner’s note: I’ve watched every episode, some twice, and I still have no idea what is going on with Lost, but I think Josh’s introduction to the Luis Gomez section sums it up perfectly].
Was it as bizarre to you as it was to me when Dewey Evans joined the Orioles for one season?
I don’t know what you’re talking about. Dewey Evans was never a member of the Baltimore Orioles. Mind you, I have nothing at all against the Orioles, but the thought of Dewey Evans in anything but a Red Sox uniform is so preposterous as to be beyond the realm of the possible. This never happened in my world.
Do you think there is something unique about the Red Sox that would elicit such love and hatred from fans at the same time? Is it the weather? Was it the dramatic fashion in which the club lost?
I’m hesitant to make any generalizations about Red Sox fans, especially those that could be construed as arguments that Red Sox fans somehow care more, or even care better, than fans of other teams. I just know what made me care, and it was a love of the players and the park and the history (of course, as I got older I realized that part of that history was pretty heinous and that the so-called curse was not of the Bambino but, in part, simple and fitting payback for racist avoidance of players that could have helped them win). The crushing close calls certainly tested that love, and possibly made it stronger. But that’s just me, and I don’t want to speak for anyone else. I find the whole notion of “Red Sox Nation” to be a little pompous, frankly. Let’s just be Red Sox fans, you know? That was actually one of the beautiful things about finally winning, as Simmons pointed out. We could just be regular fans now, no better or worse than anybody else. That’s how I’d prefer it to be.
Do you have any writing influences outside of those you mention in the book (Kerouac predominantly)? Maybe someone like John McPhee? Or Frank Conroy (I’m specifically harkening to the section on Thurman Munson)?
I liked John McPhee’s book about Bill Bradley a lot, but I don’t really know his work that well. But Frank Conroy’s book Stop Time helped point me the way to go in my life. After I got kicked out of boarding school and got my GED and was trying to figure out what to do next I read Stop Time and two other huge books for me (The Catcher in the Rye, which I had read before but which had had an increased resonance, what with my expulsion, and On the Road). Of the three, Conroy’s book seemed closest to my own life, and it seemed miraculous that something like my life could be in a book. Besides the three authors of those books, my favorite writers include (and I could go on way past this list) Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, Bruce Jay Friedman, and Frederick Exley. Exley is a particularly big influence on Cardboard Gods, which as a friend observed is my attempt at a synthesis of A Fan’s Notes and Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris’s hilarious and poignant tour through the baseball cards of the 1950s and early 1960s, The Great American Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book.