Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Dave Baldwin, turned by the Topps
photographer into the spittin' image of
Howdy Doody...
We're a few years late to the party, but Dave Baldwin's work is timeless and its level of entertainment (in all senses of the word) is unflagging. A man who fearlessly explores his inner resources, Baldwin is a living paradigm shift, and his transformation continues apace. The reader can glimpse and reach/grasp it in his more-than-baseball memoir, Snake Jazz--a book that every baseball fan, no matter their orientation, should read in order that its wisdom and humor can seep into as many mental pores as possible.

The title of our entry pays homage to Baldwin's hilarious leitmotif that recurs (which, of course, is what a leitmotif does...) throughout his memoir. (Hint: the well-traveled Baldwin heard this phrase on a frequent basis during his baseball-related peregrinations.) The hardest thing that I've had to do was to have to put down Baldwin's book in order to take care of other pressing matters that kept encroaching on my reading time; it's a virtual certainty that you, dear reader, will have the same reaction once you begin reading it.

Baldwin's baseball journey was long and circuitous, beginning as a child and wafting through sixteen years in what the insiders still like to call "O.B." (though Baldwin shows that the word "organized" is, in many ways, a mere concession to wishful thinking). Relating tales that touch upon so many aspects of the game that have been argued about in "advanced" circles, Baldwin connects science (the field he transformed himself into as his baseball career moved past middle age) with myth (the region where art and poetry converge, an area that Baldwin has gone on to explore and practice with uncommon skill) in order to celebrate baseball as a rite of random passage in the mere mystery of life itself.

Dave Baldwin, Third Base Coach: phantasmagoric
as his own journey through (and beyond) the game
As a scientist and as someone who was a long-time baseball insider, Baldwin offers a mild perspectival correction for those of us who would--as Wordsworth said--"murder to dissect" (here at BBB, we plead half-innocent):

The gears and wheels of the baseball game machine are wonderfully wobbly, however. Many skewing factors prejudice the data this machine produces--managers (either cunning or pigheaded), extreme infields (either tall grass or slippery turf), loaded equipment (either carpentered bats or manicured balls), and even an unscrupulous Tacoma sportswriter are beyond the purview of those who track stats. And there's no reason to expect things to "even out"... There are more wriggly things in heaven and earth, for ratios, than are dreamt of in your statistics.

The hardest thing I have to say, actually, is something that I hope won't dampen Dave Baldwin's spirits. My copy of Snake Jazz, purchased second-hand, contains evidence of abandonment by someone who was more than a passing acquaintance...the individual to whom the book was inscribed by Baldwin, and who received a personal letter from Dave's wife (enclosed in the copy of the book when it arrived in my mailbox), for some reason decided to give up his copy. Such an occurrence, whether out of callousness or desperation, is a sad fact to note, as Snake Jazz (which is given a full and satisfying definition in the book's glossary) is precious cargo. It will take something truly cataclysmic to pry this volume from my bookshelf.

Let's be the first to nominate Dave Baldwin--painter, poet, writer, scientist, and pitcher--for the Baseball Reliquary's Tony Salin Memorial Award. Here's hoping we will see him in Pasadena in 2013.