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Posts Tagged ‘Durham Bulls’

Future Eligibles

October 29, 2014 | by

Finding a Hall of Fame for Dock Ellis.

Dock Ellis getting a manicure in a Detroit barbershop on July 13, 1971. He was starting pitcher later that day for the National League in tonight’s All-Star game with the American League.

Dock Ellis getting a manicure in a Detroit barbershop on July 13, 1971. He was starting pitcher later that day for the National League in the All-Star Game with the American League.

Let’s get Dock Ellis into the Hall of Fame. Oh, not really, of course—by the Hall’s statistical criteria, he isn’t even close. But after a visit to Cooperstown in September, I found myself imagining a Hall of Fame that would enshrine him.

Ellis is unquestionably famous, after all—infamous, too. He is the subject of No No: A Dockumentary, which headlined the Hall of Fame Film Festival I attended last month; a Society for American Baseball Research panel event a few weeks later; a psychedelic song, recorded in 1993, by Barbara Manning; and, especially, an excellent book, published in 1976, by The Paris Review’s own Donald Hall, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball. Evidence keeps mounting that Dock—always flamboyant, often controversial—was the emblematic player of his era, the seventies, with its dubious introduction of such artificialities as the designated hitter and Astroturf; the acrimonious battle for free agency; and all those drugs.

Ah, yes, drugs. Ellis, who died in 2008, is best known as the pitcher who, in 1970, threw a no-hitter while tripping on acid—appropriately, his name in a box score reads, “Ellis, D.”—but that freak feat is a red herring, and it’s not even his most freakish. On May 1, 1974, Dock decided to send a message to the Pirates’ archrivals, the intimidating Cincinnati Reds, who had cowed Pittsburgh into competitive docility. “We gonna get down,” Dock decided. “We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherfuckers.” Donald Hall recounts Ellis’s plan and its execution. The first guy Dock hit was Pete Rose (who should also be in the Hall of Fame, though for very different and far more genuine reasons). After he hit three batters, walked another who ducked and dodged four pitches, and threw two beanballs at future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, Ellis was mercifully removed from the game with this remarkable stat line: zero innings pitched, no hits, no strikes thrown, three hit batsmen, one walk, one run allowed. “Dock Ellis faced four batters in the first inning,” the box score decorously explains. Dock’s own explanation of himself in No No says more: “It’s not that you’ve got to watch how I pitch,” he insists. “You’ve got to watch how I play.” Read More »

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Bull City Redux

March 20, 2014 | by

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Kate Joyce, Pressbox, April 2013.

On view as part of the New York Public Library’s recent exhibition “Play Things”—on prints and photographs that deal in some way with games and recreation—was a series of nine baseball cards made in 1975 by artist Mike Mandel. Originally packaged with sticks of Topps gum, the cards feature some heavy hitters at bat, pitching, and fielding: Joel Meyerowitz (2), who prefers Kodachrome film; Aaron Siskind (66), whose favorite developer is Mircodol-X; and Betty Hahn (54), who likes to shoot with a Nikon. Oh, didn’t I mention—they’re photographer trading cards.

Mandel made them (there are 134 in all) in order to satirize, and frustrate, the commercial art market: the only way to collect all the cards is by making trades. Mandel’s link between photography and baseball is apt for another reason: baseball, a famously uneventful sport, is a game in which players and fans spend a lot of time observing—each other, the stands, the field, the sky—and what is photography if not the art of observing? Read More »

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The Church of Baseball

September 18, 2013 | by

Fireworks over the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Photo: Kate Joyce

Fireworks over the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Photo: Kate Joyce

On Saturday, the Bulls won the International League championship. They won the championship! We showed up to document them, and it’s as if they responded to the scrutiny, performed for the cameras. I can’t help thinking of the observer effect. Did we help cause this?

The series was tied at one win apiece after the Bulls and the Pawtucket Red Sox split a pair of 2-1 games in Durham. The run deprivation bottomed out in game three at Pawtucket: neither team scored for an incredible thirteen innings. The futility (or great pitching, if you prefer) went on for nearly six hours. It was dazing and gripping, by turns, with blurry, barren stretches punctuated by a few dramatically thwarted rallies.

Around midnight, it became clear that whoever won this game would go on to take the best-of-five series, for the blood would go right out of the loser of this marathon. Finally, in the fourteenth inning, the Bulls scored two runs—without getting a hit, naturally: Pawtucket coughed up two walks and two errors. Even though Durham closer Kirby Yates loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the fourteenth, there was no doubt he’d pitch out of the jam. A rousing strikeout on a full-count pitch ended the game and, essentially, the series. Read More »

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Seventeen Innings, Twenty-Nine Years

September 4, 2013 | by

The Old Durham Bulls Park. Photo: Kate Joyce

The old Durham Athletic Park. Photo: Kate Joyce.

Should anyone flatter us by asking us what we are searching for, we think immediately, almost instinctively, in vast terms—God, fulfillment, love—but our lives are actually made up of tiny searches for things … Add them together, and these things make up an epic quest. —Geoff Dyer

The playoffs begin in Durham tonight. It’s tempting to dismiss minor-league championships as dubious, if not entirely factitious, especially in Triple-A: major-league rosters expanded on September 1, so the Bulls and their competitors have been raided for some of their best players. The post-Labor Day games draw tiny crowds anyway. So who cares?

I do. The most exciting game I’ve ever seen was a Durham Bulls playoff game.

September 4, 1984. Twenty-nine years ago today, the Durham Bulls beat the Lynchburg Mets, 8-7 in seventeen innings, in game two of the Carolina League Championship series. I was at the game in a nominally official capacity. That year I was the “statistician” for Steve Pratt, the Bulls’ radio broadcaster. My job was also factitious: Steve kept his own stats; he was just carrying out a favor for the team owner, who was collegially friendly with my stepfather and humored him by taking me on. My pay was a free sandwich after the fifth inning. I had a calculator and crunched some numbers, but mostly I sat there all summer and watched baseball. Read More »

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Ground Down

August 21, 2013 | by

Shelley Duncan at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, on August 9, 2013. Wet-plate tintype by Leah Sobsey/Tim Telkamp.

Shelley Duncan at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, on August 9, 2013. Wet-plate tintype by Leah Sobsey/Tim Telkamp.

On his first night in Toledo, in his first at bat, Shelley Duncan cue-balled a dribbler to the pitcher. On contact, he yelled, “Shit,” and began his reflexive sprint down the line. When he returned to the dugout, nobody on the team said anything to him or even looked his way. On this road trip, he was 1-10, with a .217 average for the season. He arrived in Durham from Tampa on May 6, after hitting only .182 in twenty games with the big club. As he pulled off his helmet to reveal a tangle of blond, thinning hair, I noticed a far-off look in his eyes, as though they had been hollowed out. It’s a look familiar to anyone who has seen the photographs of Walker Evans: complete exhaustion meshed with pure confusion. He took his helmet in his right hand and walked down the steps, lightly tapping the plastic against the metal railing; his lips, as he spoke to himself, made only slight putters of admonishment. He carefully put the helmet away in its nook and sat down on the bench with his white batting gloves still velcroed at the wrists. Before I even got to know Shelley Duncan, I was already worried about his future in baseball.

I first became interested in Duncan a week earlier when, watching the team in Columbus, I had spotted his name in the Durham Bulls’ media guide as having the most major-league experience of the roster. He had two considerable stints with the Indians and, before that, had made his rookie debut with the Yankees. I was intrigued because, on the surface, he seemed the aging veteran with big-league time, now toiling in the purgatory of Triple-A where everyone is either on their way up or down, or out of baseball altogether. Watching him at the end of the bench, I had no idea that his mother had passed away from brain cancer earlier in the summer or that his brother had been diagnosed with the same disease. I didn’t know that his twin sons had been born last July and he’d been away from them for almost half their lives. He was just a player who seemed near the end. Read More »

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The Liminal Space

August 7, 2013 | by

Hiroshi Watanabe. Photo: Ivan Weiss

Hiroshi Watanabe. Photo: Ivan Weiss

For the past thirty years, the photographer Hiroshi Watanabe has split his time between Tokyo and Los Angeles. I met him at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park when he reported for his first day of work on the Bull City Summer project. He’s a compact man who moves carefully but fluidly; at age sixty-two, he resembles a boxing trainer or a retired gymnast. On meeting, he said to me, “I have a question—why did you invite me? I don’t follow baseball and I’ve never photographed it.” He already knew the answer—I think he wanted to find out if I did.

A few days later, during one of that week’s many rain delays, Hiroshi wandered into the dark, narrow room inside the left-field wall, behind the manually operated scoreboard on the thirty-foot Blue Monster. In this barnlike storage space, placard numerals are lifted and installed in the appropriate slots, facing outward into the stadium, to indicate runs, hits, and errors during games. Here’s how Hiroshi described what he found there:

I saw all these panels with numbers on them. I realized that the number zero had a certain translucent quality the other numbers didn’t have. The paint on the zero has been faded by more exposure to sunlight. This fading has made beautiful patterns—maplike, veinlike cracks. The passage of time offers different textures on different materials. In the scoreboard numbers, it’s just faded paint. Only zero shows the passing of time I’m looking for. Read More »

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