Camera Day: César Tovar, 1970
“Can someone get these kids off me?” Chris, César Tovar and me; Met Stadium, 1970.
In my memory we went to many Camera Days at Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., but my father's old slides show it was just two: a sunny day in 1969, when I was 6 and Billy Martin was manager, and a cloudy day in 1970, when I was 7 and Bill Rigney was manager. I don't blame Bill Rigney for the clouds. Much.
This photo is from 1970.
At the time, the most beloved players on the Twins were Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva, but right behind them, particularly for me, was this guy, César Tovar, our leadoff hitter and center fielder from Caracas, Venezuela. There was something musical in the name. A family friend, Danny, used to emphasize the second syllable of each of Tovar's names, “See-SAARRRR Toh-VARRRRR,” while spreading his arms wide like an umpire calling “Safe!” Which makes sense: Tovar was speedy, and lean down to his cheekbones. When Martin was manager he stole 45 bases. Even under the more sedate and cautious Rigney he stole 30. The year above, 1970, he also led the league in doubles (36) and triples (13). The next year he'd lead the league in hits (204).
We used to play whiffle-ball in our small, south Minneapolis backyard, with bases represented by the sandbox (home plate), the tree (first), the garage (second), and the middle metal fencepost separating our property from the neighbors (third). Apparently we played before I'd ever seen a Major League game in person, because, according to family lore, after we came back from my first game, and after I hit a single, my father looked over at me next to the tree and began to laugh. Rather than continually keeping a hand on the tree, as I usually did, as if I was only safe on it, now I was several feet away, leading off with my hands on my knees. I was imitating César Tovar.
Why did I identify so much? Maybe because I could. Killebrew and Oliva were gods. How do you identify with a god who could clobber the ball into infinity? But slapping singles and being pesky and playing whatever position they needed you to play? That seemed closer to me. He seemed closer to me. He was a short guy out there, 5' 9“, and he made it work.
”The man was a dream to hit behind,“ Harmon Killebrew says in a book called ”The Greatest Team of All Time: As Selected by Baseball's Immortals, from Ty Cobb to Willie Mays.“ He adds: ”A truly great leadoff man who always seemed to be on base and who distracted the pitcher enough to benefit everyone who batted behind him.“ Killebrew calls him the teammate who never got enough credit.
He did with Billy Martin. ”Tovar was my little leader,“ Martin wrote in his 1981 autobiography, ”Number 1.“ ”He was the guy who got everyone going. When I wanted him to push Leo [Cárdenas] a little bit or if Rod [Carew] was getting down and I needed someone to give him a boost, I'd get César to do it.“
He hit for the cycle once, in 1970, finishing it with a walk-off homerun—only the second player in baseball history to do that. He kept breaking up no-hitters. Baseball Almanac counts five times he did this—providing the lone, often late hit in a pitcher's no-hit bid:
- April 30, 1967 vs. Washington Senators' Barry Moore (single in the 6th)
- May 15, 1969 vs. Baltimore Orioles' Dave McNally (single in the 9th, one out)
- August 10, 1969 vs. Baltimore Orioles' Mike Cuellar (single in the 9th, no outs)
- August 13, 1970 vs. Washington Senators' Dick Bosman (bunt single in the 1st)
- May 31, 1975 vs. New York Yankees' Catfish Hunter (single in the 6th)
He may be best known for being one of four men to play all nine positions in a nine-inning game. It was aping a stunt that Charlie Finely pulled off with Bert Campaneris in September 1965 when the Kansas City A's were no longer in the pennant hunt (which, in Kansas City, was every year). Finley was great at gimmicks and stunts, and Twins owner Calvin Griffith was great at copying other people's ideas, so he trotted out Tovar on Sept. 22, 1968. Campy started out at his natural position, shortstop, then went around the infield and outfield, before taking on pitcher and catcher. In the 9th, he bruised his shoulder in a collission at home plate and had to leave the game. The Twins went the opposite way. Tovar started out at pitcher, went to catcher, and then around the horn. It was against the A's, interestingly, so the first guy he faced was Campaneris. His inning of pitching went: foul out, stirke out (Reggie Jackson), walk (Danny Cater), balking Cater to second, foul out (Sal Bando). At the plate, he went 1-3 with a walk and a stolen base. The Twins won 2-1. Finley gave Campy a convertible for the effort. Tovar got a color TV set.
For years, I kept the December 1, 1972 newspaper with the headline, TOVAR TRADED FOR THREE PHILLIES, which felt like a death-knell on some part of my childhood. By then, Killebrew was old, Tony O injured, and now César Tovar, Pepito to his teammates, was gone, over to a team in the National League no one ever saw, while the big player we got in return had no music to his name: Joe Lis. It was barely a name at all. In one and a half years with the Twins, Lis hit .238 with 9 homers before being purchased by Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Tovar kept getting picked up by Billy Martin. ”Get me César Tovar,“ he told told Rangers ownership in December 1973. ”The little guy can beat you so many ways—his bat, his feet, his brains, his hustle.“ In '74, Tovar hit .292 for him, but after Martin was fired midway through the '75 season, Texas allowed him to be bought by the Oakland A's for their pennant run. In '76, same thing happened with the Yankees, now managed by Billy Martin, who picked up Tovar for another pennant hunt. But he hit only .154 in 13 games for them and was done. His last at-bat came on Sept. 29 vs. Boston. He flew out to center.
His last at-bat in the Majors, I should add. He kept playing—in Venezuela and in Mexico. Rory Costello over at SABR has a great bio on him that details his beginnings in the Cincinnati organization, his post-MLB career, and his death on July 14, 1994 of pancreatic cancer. ”Such was Tovar's stature in Venezuela,“ Costello writes, ”that the nation's president, Rafael Caldera, attended the funeral."
American Democracy was on the Honor System; Now with Trump It's on the Dishonor System
“During the campaign, and during his presidency, Trump has attempted—with considerable success—to transcend [the norm of answering questions from journalists], as with so many others. He responds instead with counterattacks and bold statements and accusations, knowing they will get more attention than subsequent fact-checks. It's one of many ways that Americans are learning from Trump that much of their democracy was run on the honor system, on agreed standards, not laws, and now there's someone who isn't going to play by those rules. It has very dangerous implications, especially since this is a theme that plays well with many of his supporters.”
-- Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion, during a Q&A with Michael Judge for the Columbia Journalism Review. He compares Trump with Putin, lays out that fake news = news in Russia, and that Putin calls any news he doesn't like “fake.” He adds, “The methodology of fake news isn't to convince anyone exactly what the truth is, but to make people doubt that the truth exists, or that it can ever be known.” Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Matt Drudge, Alex Jones, Breitbart, et al, have laid the groundwork for that in America. They are the existential threat.
'Justice League' Trailer: I'm Bored Already
In the mid-1980s, Newsweek magazine began running a chart on its opening pages called “Conventional Wisdom,” in which they'd rank how people/insitutions did for the week. Were they up? Down? The same? It was the Rotten Tomatoes of news 20 years before Rotten Tomatoes.
Here's the “conventional wisdom” for the superheroes in the new “Justice League” trailer that dropped today:
- ↑ : Aquaman: He was always a joke, a running gag on “Entourage”: blonde hair, orange and green tights, sitting astride a sea horse and communicating with sea creatures. There was nothing cool about him. Now he's Jason Momoa, dark-haired and glowering, tattooed and desired and a heavy drinker. It works in a trailer, but I worry he's simply been “300”ed by director Zack Snyder. That it's all more empty posturing by the worst director in the world.
- ↑ : Wonder Woman: Fanboys initially shrieked because they felt Gal Gadot wasn't bosomy enough for the role, but she couldn't be. The fanboys needed to be able to focus on her actions not her assets. Hell, she's probably less fetishized here, less objectified, than Aquaman is. Who saw that coming?
- ↔ : The Flash: One thing “Justice League” has is good casting. Ezra Miller, good choice. But we don't see much more here than we've seen in the past.
- ↓ : Batman: In a Justice League story, the reality of Batman sets in. “What are your super powers again?” asks Barry Allen. “I'm rich,” he responds. “Dressed like a bat; I dig it,” says Aquaman. And that's about the size of it: rich guy dressed like a bat, surrounded by gods. Worse, he's the guy who gathers them. It's not a good role. Ben Affleck already looks trapped by it. Batman needs to be obsessed, half-crazed, rather than a den mother.
- ? : Cyborg: Nobody gives a shit. Still.
Justice League started so much. In 1960, it united the remaining superheroes in the DC world, and it gave inspiration for Marvel to create its own team of superheroes. That turned out to be the Fantastic Four, which led to Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Dr. Strange, X-Men, et al. Now DC is playing catch up with Marvel, which, nearly 10 years ago, movie by movie, put together its team of superheroes, the Avengers, and made a mint. DC is trying the same here and it feels, well, the same. Just dumber. “We have to be ready. ... There's an attack coming—from far away.” Really? You couldn't think of another reason for the Justice League to come together besides another attack from outer space/other dimensions? Aren't we sick of this yet? Aren't we sick of Zack Snyder's cold climes, gray tones, and monosyllabic heroes leaping in the air in slow motion ready to strike? Jumping, landing, standing, posing?
I know I am. If Justice League started so much, maybe “Justice League” ends it?
I know. But one can hope.
Tim Allen, Hollywood Conservatives, Need to Stop
Yeah, I saw the Tim Allen thing a week ago. For folks who can ignore bullshit news for the real variety (and kudos to you for that), Allen, the voice of Buzz Lightyear, was on Jimmy Kimmel's talk show, and Kimmel asked about being at Trump's presidential inauguration in January. Allen stammered an answer, Kimmel said laughingly, “I'm not attacking you!,” and Allen, amid the laughs, said this:
You gotta be real careful around here so you don't get beat up—if you don't believe what everybody believes. It's like '30s Germany, I don't know what, I don't know what happens.
The Post's headline was incendiary, “For Tim Allen, being a non-liberal in Hollywood is like being in 1930s Germany,” but the clip itself? Eh. He's trying to make a joke. It's an awful comparison, sure, but he's milking it for humor and Kimmel is laughing along. So I didn't even bother to post about it. I know: Me, Mr. “What Liberal Hollywood?”
Then the right-wing sites chimed in:
- Fox News Insider: Tim Allen Calls Out Hollywood Liberals: 'This is Like 30s Germany'
- Heat Street: How Hollywood's Crusade Against Conservatives is Intensifying
They're perpetuating it. They know it's overblown but it fits into their narrative about what an awful place liberal Hollywood is.
Then The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect lambasted Allen, leading to headlines like “The Anne Frank Center is coming for Tim Allen,” which would be funny if, you know, Anne Frank hadn't been gassed to death at Bergen-Belsen at the age of 15. That fact alone brings home the idiocy of Allen's comparison. It brings home the whininess of Hollywood conservatives, who are not losing their rights as citizens, not being investigated by their government, not losing their lives. None of that is happening.
What is happening? What happens to liberals every day in, say, Montana or Kansas or Oklahoma or Miississippi: Your neighbors don't agree with your politics and let you know it. That's it.
Quote of the Day
“So, we just pulled it.”
-- Pres. Donald Trump to Washington Post reporter Robert Costa on the decision by Trump and the GOP to pull their plan (which pleased no one) to replace Obamacare. So it was a good day. Of course, Trump being Trump, he blamed the minority Democrats for not backing a proposal that no one liked (and few had seen in its most recent iteration), rather than majority Republicans with their 44-vote advantage, who could've passed the bill without a Democrat if the bill had been worth passing. But it wasn't. To anyone. And now my friends continue to have health care coverage. A good day.
I can't believe golfing every weekend & holding goofy campaign rallies in blue districts didn't lock this terrible repeal vote up for Trump.— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) March 24, 2017
Lancelot Links Confirms 'Incidental Surveillance' on Big Boy Driving Truckie Wuckie
This also happened: The president of the United States got into a parked truck on the White House driveway and made vroom vroom noises. Not embarrassing at all.
- Nazis in a beer hall in Portland, Oregon. Thanks, Trump.
- Anthony Kuhn has been a journalist in China for years, but this month he became a viral sensation for asking a question about President Xi Jingping's megaregion plans around Beijing and the relocation of businesses/residents there. Also because his Chinese is so good. I wrote more about it here.
- In hearings before the Intellgience Oversight Committee this week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) laid out the Russia/Trump connections. This is just the stuff we know and they stuff the representatives can say. He acted responsibly.
- Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) did not act responsibly. He condemned the leaks more than what they revealed, then, the next day, went to Trump, whose administration he's investigating, and gave up the goods. Then he staged a press conference on the White House lawn and gave out tidbits of more information—information Schiff didn't even have—and which amounted to smoke for Trump's idiotic charge that Pres. Obama wiretapped him. But it's only smoke. U.S. intelligence “incidentally” picked up communications from Trump's transition team because (unspoken), they were calling foreign officials we're investigating. Attempting to unethically clear Trump's team, he actually provided further evidence of its culpability. More than resign from the comittee, Nunes should be investigated himself.
- More on Trump/Russia from Pasquino. “Remember, Remember/The 8th of November.” Like I could forget.
- Actually this is better: Mother Jones gives us the long history of connections and deals between Trump and Russia.
- A more pointed version from earlier in the week, courtesy of David Leonhardt: “All the President's Lies.”
- RIP Jimmy Breslin, who died earlier this week. Any man who runs with Norman is OK by me. Here's Breslin's column from Dec. 9, 1980. The day after the day the music died.
- A reason you shouldn't be behind Neil Gorsuch for SCOTUS (besides Merick Garland)? The NRA is for him.
- Q&A with my man Jim Walsh on the beautiful inexplicability of music, and the experience of sitting with Prince who is going over your column on him line by line.
- Bodybuilder Oliver Lee Bateman takes on the nerd-to-he-man mythos of everyone from Charles Atlas to Arnold Schwartzenegger, and discovers the true purpose in “making a man out of Mac”: “to create a suit of armor behind which one might conceal a real self, in the hopes that no one would ever bother inquiring its whereabouts.” Cf., “Moonlight,” Act III.
- Sometimes I think Eyal Press should be the conscience of our nation. We certainly need one.
- I think this new Frank Rich column, “No Sympathy for the Hillbilly: Democrats need to stop trying to feel everyone's pain, and hold on to their own anger,” is a turning point in a good way. Or maybe he's just saying what I've long felt.
3,000 Hit Club By Decade
1910s, '70s, '90s, '20s, '70s again.
There are 30 members of the 3,000 hit club, and we'll probably have another, Adrian Beltre (2,942) this year and most likely Albert Pujols (2,825) in 2018. Next up would be Miguel Cabrera, who is at 2,519. Barring catastrophe, he seems a lock. I've also got fingers crossed for Robinson Cano, who is at 2,210 and a young 34. Plus he's signed for seven more years. If he plays all of those years, he'll just have to average 113 per, and he's never hit fewer than 155—and that was his rookie season. (Last year he hit 195.) In fact, if all goes well, he'll probably be the first guy to join the club in the 2020s.
This used to be a pretty exclusive club. From the 1860s to 1969, there were only eight members. Then, in one decade, the 1970s, we almost doubled that total with seven more.
- 1890s: Cap Anson
- 1910s: Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie
- 1920s: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins
- 1940s: Paul Waner
- 1950s: Stan Musial
- 1970s: Hank Aaron, Wilie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Pete Rose, Lou Brock, Carl Yastrzemski
- 1980s: Rod Carew
- 1990s: Robin Yount, George Brett, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs
- 2000s: Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio
- 2010s: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki
I'm old enough to remember that one of the arguments against free agency—or maybe it was hand-wringing once free agency came into existence—was that players wouldn't play into their dotage; they'd take the money and run. They wouldn't join these exclusive clubs. That certainly hasn't happened.
Other bits of 3,000-hit trivia:
- Team most represented? Cleveland. Kinda. Two players were wearing Indians jerseys (Tris Speaker and Eddie Murray), one was wearing a Cleveland Naps jersey (Nap Lajoie). But it's all the same franchise.
- Lowest batting average? Cal Ripken, Jr. at .276, followed by Rickey Henderson at .279.
- Five 3,000-hit members who aren't in the Hall of Fame? Pete Rose (gambling), Rafael Palmeiro (PEDs), and three guys who aren't eligible yet: Jeter, A-Rod, and Ichiro. Jeter and Ichiro will get in. It's less certain about A-Rod.
- Homeruns for No. 3,000? Three, by Jeter, A-Rod and Wade Boggs.
Movie Review: Moonlight (2016)
There is an early exchange between our main character, a kid called Little (Alex R. Hibbert), and Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer who has begun to act as his big brother. We wonder for a time whether Juan has an ulterior motive. Is he trying to turn Little into a corner kid? Something worse? But doubts about Juan are extinguished by the doubt we see in Juan’s own face. Even he can’t fathom why he’s doing it. He seems confused by his own actions. Sure, the kid reminds him of himself as a boy, but don’t others? Why this one? I guess that’s the question all of us ask ourselves when we fall in love: Why this one?
The exchange is mostly monologue—Juan’s. That’s true of most of Little’s exchanges. He doesn’t say much. But when he does it has impact. It hits you in the gut.
Juan is telling Little about his experience coming to Miami from Cuba, running around, not knowing any better. He recalls a time when an old lady stopped him and said she would call him “Blue,” because, she says, in the moonlight black boys look blue.
Little: Is your name Blue?
Juan [laughs]: Nah. At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.
Much of the rest of the movie is how Little lets everyone else make that decision for him.
Who he’s going to be
The movie is split into three parts, each named for either the nickname or real name of our main character:
In the first, he’s about 10. The second ... 16 or so? By the time he’s Black, he’s in his late 20s and no longer little.
Does it lose something in the third act? For me, for a time, it does. For a time, Chiron lost my sympathy. He had it in the first two.
He’s small and picked-upon, living in the housing projects of Liberty City in Miami with his mom, Paula (Naomie Harris), a crack addict who is too busy looking for her next fix to look after, or even care about, her own son. It’s up to others to do it for her: Juan, who teaches him to swim, and his girl, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who feeds him and cares for him, and Little’s friend Kevin, who gives him advice: “See, you just gotta show them niggas you ain’t soft.” That’s the key to Kevin, who’s bigger, louder, occupies his space in the world. Little retreats from the world. He takes baths. I identified.
One of Little’s hit-you-in-the-guts lines is near the end of the first act. Juan has just had a showdown with Teresa, who, against neighborhood etiquette and common sense, is smoking crack in a car near the drug dealers, and Juan is ready to rip her a new one. But she senses his vulnerability; her son is his vulnerability, and she uses it. She uses the fact that he cares and she doesn’t, and back at his place, Juan and Teresa and Little sitting around the dining table like a family, Little drops a non sequitur like a bomb: “Am I a faggot?” I thought Juan’s response was a little cautious, a little PC, but then he’s hit in the gut with the next question: “Do you sell drugs?” Little is making sense of the world. The man saving him is the man destroying his mother. Juan owns to it but the admission, and Little’s quick exit, crumples him.
By the next act Juan is gone—a funeral is mentioned in passing—and his place in the story is taken by what Juan kept at bay: the bullies of the world, specifically Terrel (Patrick Decile) and his toadies, who pick on Chiron (Ashton Saunders) in class and in the schoolyard and follow him home, mocking his mother, his pants, his supposed sexual preference. Kevin isn’t part of that; he’s just nearby, bragging about this or that girl he did this or that with; then suddenly he’s at the beach with Chiron, who fled there at night, and the two share a joint and a sexual moment. You sense the world opening up to Chiron: Maybe it can be this; maybe it can be beautiful. The next day it slams shut. Terrel demands Kevin pick a fight with Chiron, and he does. Kevin gives in to the demands of the world, Chiron doesn’t and gets hurt for it—both physically and emotionally—and he snaps. I had friends in high school who snapped in similar ways, but less violent ways. Chiron busts a chair over Terrel’s back, and the authorities, who never acted throughout Terrel’s long reign of terror, now act: They put Chiron in juvey.
By the third act, the skinny kid is gone. Now he’s got a body like a superhero, and a grill like a drug dealer. He is a drug dealer. In Atlanta. It’s how he survived. We get the story piecemeal after Kevin (Andre Holland, Wendell Smith in “42”) phones out of the blue, and Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), now Black—Kevin’s nickname for him in Act II—goes to see him in the Cuban restaurant Kevin runs in Miami. It’s a small place but I like the atmosphere of it and Kevin’s pride in it. That said, this part drags a bit. Maybe because I don’t identify with Black here? We don’t know exactly what he’s up to—Love? Revenge? Both?—and it’s pulling teeth getting anything out of him. I wonder where the kid I identified with went.
Where did he go? He went to a harder place and became a person who could survive there. That, too, when I figured it out, I identified with. The hardest thing is to remain sensitive in a hard world. The world closes you off, bit by bit, or all at once. It happened to me on some level and it happened to Chiron.
Eventually, back at Kevin’s place, he reveals where Little and Chiron are—still inside—when he says the most devastating line of the year:
You’re the only man who’s ever touched me. The only one. I haven’t really touched anyone, since.
The mind reels at the sadness of it all.
And the Oscar goes to...
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, from a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight” is as beautifully structured as a short story or novella. It deserves its accolades and awards. It’s even more powerful during the second viewing.
I particularly like how intimately it’s photographed. We’re never far away from our lead—Little, Chiron, Black. We often seem to be following right behind him as if we’re bullies following him home from school or guardian angels looking after him. Helpless guardian angels.