Mar 292011

JW: Two guys mentioned in the book most clearly represented those two poles for me, Bill Lee being someone who seemed like he could have easily walked through our mud room door alongside any of my parents’ friends, while Steve Garvey represented that far away ideal of a “real American.”

RTH: Former Expos reliever Don Stanhouse actually stumbled across your blog entry on one of his cards and contacted you. Have other present or former players found their way to your writing?

JW: Of course I can’t be 100% sure that it was the real Don Stanhouse who sent a vaguely intimidating message to my site, but it’s nice to think it was really him. Not much else has happened in the way of contact with the real world of baseball, though I think John Montefusco’s sister weighed in on a comments thread about the Count. I’ve also really enjoyed the periodic “brush with greatness” (or “brush with mediocrity”) stories from other baseball fans who read the blog. One of my favorites was a guy who emailed me to tell me that he was friends with Buzz Capra and that Capra is a nice guy and is still in possession of his Mets cap that Pedro Borbon gnawed on after the Capra vs. Borbon undercard to the Rose-Harrelson brawl during the ’73 playoffs.

RTH: Your peak card collecting years are about 2 or 3 years behind my own period (ie, 1971-1977), but you probably collected during some of the mid-’70s years that had anecdotes and little cartoons about the players on the back. If so, does any anecdote stand out for you after all these years? (For instance, on my deathbed, as my life flashes before my eyes, I will recall a mid-’70s John Lowenstein card that reported that he once hit 4 home runs in a Little League game.)

JW: My favorite was the cartoon on the back of Jeff Burroughs’ 1974 card—it said “Jeff likes watching TV” and had a cartoon of a guy in a baseball uniform holding a TV in his glove.

RTH: Can serious card collectors, the guys who hermetically seal their treasured mint-condition cards, commune with their cardboard gods the way those of us who still keep them loose and frayed in shoeboxes do?

JW: Yes, I’m sure they can, though the mode of communion is probably a little different. When I first noticed sometime in the 1980s that kids had begun treating their cards so carefully, I looked down on it as a joyless, economically motivated development, 10-year-olds protecting their investment like little stockbrokers instead of using the cards for fun. But taking care of cards is certainly not a bad thing, and I’m sure that anyone who keeps up that practice beyond childhood—who becomes a serious collector—has to have a passion for the cards that has forged as deep a connection as I ever could in my own much more card-ruining way. Dave Jamieson’s recent book Mint Condition offers a fascinating history of baseball cards that features enjoyable portraits of some of the more serious collectors through history, and these guys (yes, shockingly, they are all dudes) were and are all not just connected to the cards but in some deep way shaped by them, and they all took great care of whatever cards they got their hands on.

RTH: Have you read Robert Coover‘s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.? I know you’ve played Strat-o-Matic Baseball and other baseball board games. Did you ever give a particular player an extra roll of the dice or otherwise cheat, while playing by yourself, to give that favorite “god” a better chance of succeeding?

JW: Yes, I love Coover’s book. I played a lot of solitaire Strat-o-Matic as a kid, and somehow I knew that if I started cheating it would blow the whole deal. I mean, it would really be just me alone, rather than some situation that had some of the unpredictable elements of interactions with the actual world. So I adhered to the dice rolls and periodically had tantrums when the dice rolls weren’t going the way I wanted them to. I punched a dent into the sheetrock of my room one day when the 1982 Strat-o-Matic version of my favorite basketball team, the Celtics, were unaccountably getting slaughtered by the 1982 Kelly Tripucka-led Pistons.

The author as Stooges fan and cat lover.

RTH: When you got into your later teens and college years you also turned to record collecting, right? Does staring at album covers hold any similar godly insights for you? What’s an album cover that means something special to you?

JW: I actually started buying records as a kid, and one of my earliest purchases is among the most memorable in terms of album covers— KISS: Alive II, which featured shots of all four guys in the band, including my favorite, Ace Frehley, as well as, most spectacularly, Gene Simmons drooling blood. Records and the covers they came in do have a lot of meaning to me, and the novel I was working on for some years before turning to my cards was an earlier stab at telling the basic story of Cardboard Gods and was structured as a double album, my attempt to channel into fiction the multi-voiced “back to the land” albums of The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, and The Band. The first album by The Band is one from my childhood that I stared at a lot, the guys pictured on the front becoming extended parts of the family almost. I also felt this way about the very familiar longhairs on the cover of Let It Be.

NEXT: Josh Wilker sits down for a round of Dugout Chatter!


  8 Responses to “Cardboard Gods‘ Josh Wilker, Paperback Writer: The Rock Town Hall Interview”

  1. BigSteve

    I don’t share the interest in cards, but that was an interesting interview. Wilker definitely deserves RTH Good Egg status.

  2. ladymisskirroyale

    Very interesting interview, and Mr. Royale and I looking forward to checking out the blog. I never collected baseball cards but I do admit to avidly following the 70’s Dodgers (The Penguin!).

    As for the question about how do women share their closest childhood experiences without the aid of baseball cards, I would suggest that they 1. talk, talk, and talk, or 2. use clothes as a reference point. There is a lovely memoir, “Love, Loss and What I Wore” by Ilene Beckerman that I really liked, and although I don’t own a whole lot of (any?) designer labels, I can distinctly recall what I was wearing on certain big events (and conversely, a particular item of clothing brings me back to a moment sort of like how certain songs do). Also, for many women I know, clothing is a shorthand of a relationship’s importance, feelings of self-worth, particular emotions, etc.

    And I would LOVE to have a mp3 player in the shape of a Close N’ Play!

  3. misterioso

    That was great, and I am delighted to see that he has given Biff Pocaroba his due on the blog.

    Still, Mod, you needed to whip out the pince-nez when he referred to the “first album by the Band” when he plainly has in mind the second album.

  4. Yeah, I went back and forth on whether he was deserving of the pince-nez. At first I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking he meant the gatefold shot of the extended Band clan on Big Pink, then I questioned whether that’s what he meant, because he did say “on the front.” Shoot, now I’ve got to reevaluate whether I ever liked the guy, his book, and his blog in the first place…

  5. alexmagic

    You have to give Wilker a pass, Mod. He could have easily dropped the pince-nez on you during the Dugout Chatter portion where you claimed that the infamous Billy Ripken card featured him giving the finger, when it was something far more hilarious, but he let you slide.

    His answer to the four-man baseball band rotation was high quality and very hard to argue against.

  6. You’re right, alexmagic. What’s right is right. For the record, I did let the man slide as he let me slide. That’s what being a good egg is all about, isn’t it?

  7. Another contender for the “butcher cover'” is the 1969 Aurelio Rodriguez card, which actually features a shot of the hispanic bat boy “standing in” for Rodriguez.

    Sorry I missed this post the first time around. The recent prince-nez brought me back here.

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