Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Better Late Than....

The Autograph Man
A baseball player answers his fan mail 15 years later.
By Bryan Curtis
Posted Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, at 4:33 PM ET

....When I got my hands on the envelope, it immediately became one of my favorite possessions. To look at my penmanship is to see a child who has labored just to write his Fort Worth, Texas, return address in a straight line. The envelope has a brown rectangular stain where a baseball card rested against it for years. Carman has affixed his return-address label—he lives in Naples, Fla.—and, touchingly, added additional postage, since I had included a then-current 29-cent stamp. The card, No. 154 in the 1989 Topps set, bears his big, looping signature, signed with a bright-blue Sharpie.

Fifteen years ago, I figured Carman as a good candidate for a quick response. With the Phillies, he was a reliable southpaw who chewed up starts (35 in 1987, good for fourth in the National League), before leaving the majors for good in 1993. Where Carman showed greater promise was as a wit, a more cerebral version of Jay Johnstone. After enduring years worth of questions from benighted sports writers ("How'd it feel out there today, Don?"), Carman compiled a list of 37 suitably vapid answers that could be applied to almost any query. These included: "Baseball's a funny game"; "I just want to help the club any way I can"; "I didn't have my good stuff, but I battled 'em"; and, a personal favorite, "We have a different hero every day." Carman posted the list above his locker with a note that told writers, "You saw the game … take what you need."

As it turns out, I am not Carman 's only recent correspondent. In October, a Philadelphia TV station reported that Doug Ferraro, 23, received an autographed card from Carman in response to a letter that he had mailed out 16 years before. This was now a legitimate mystery, so I called Carman in Florida to find out what happened.

"My wife told me it was time to clean the garage," Carman said. "So, I started digging through the stuff and found a box behind my tools. I opened it up and saw it was a bunch of fan mail, 200 to 250 letters." For Carman, this was a slight embarrassment. During his career, Carman had worked diligently to sign and return every one of the two or three letters he received each day. Judging from the date of Ferraro's card and the price of my stamp, he must have gotten our batch of letters some time in 1991, the year he left the Phillies for the Cincinnati Reds. "That year was the year I moved; I got a different house," he said. "I even remember putting them in the box, because it was unusual for me to do that. I thought I'd watch a football game and leisurely do them. It never got done."

Carman could hardly bear to throw the letters away. But at age 47, he didn't have the enthusiasm to pick through them, either. So he paid his son Jackson, who is 8 years old, $4 to open and sort them. Then they sat down together, with Jackson, who never saw his father play, marveling at the rapturous odes inside. ("Dear Mr. Carman: You are my favorite baseball player. … ") At first content with merely signing the cards, Carman got caught up in the spirit and started writing notes to the now-grown kids. He lugged the envelopes down to the Naples post office, where he discovered that most of them included 25-cent stamps. "I told the postman I needed 250 10-cent stamps, and 250 4-cent stamps, and he just looked at me like, 'What are you doing?' "

Only one of the letters gave Carman pause. Like nearly every other ballplayer, he made regular visits to local hospitals to see the terminally ill. It turned out that one letter was from a man whose wife Carman had visited. The woman had died, the man wrote, and he thanked Carman for brightening her final days. That lovely sentiment was now at least 15 years old. Carman perched over a piece of stationery for 20 minutes before he carefully scratched out his opening lines: "I know it's far in your past, but it's something that meant a lot to you. I know you carry her with you still." He wound up writing three pages. He's still waiting to hear from the woman's husband.

After his playing career, Carman earned a degree in sports psychology from Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. He now works for Scott Boras, baseball's most rambunctious player agent, tending to the psychological demands of his clients. Even though he's been out of the game for more than a decade, new fan letters arrive in his Naples mailbox two or three times per week. The letters—presumably from grown-ups trying to recapture some small ecstasy from their childhood, when there was nothing more wonderful than receiving a piece of mail from a major-league ballplayer—contain the same platitudes. "Most of them say, 'You're one of my favorite players,' " Carman says. He is trying to answer them in a timely fashion.Bryan Curtis is a Slate staff writer. You can e-mail him at curtisb@slate.com.


(Nod to MM, our man in Europe)

I Like Big Gaffes, You Know I Cannot Lie....

NDP Leader Jack Layton, a little overshadowed yesterday by the arrival in the Commons of the new Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, still managed to bring things to a hilarious halt when demanding that the government stop subsidies to large energy companies. It all went wrong when Layton tried to say "big gas."

"Will the Prime Minister finally get something done and do something the former government would not, and cancel the subsidies to big oil and big ass — big gas — and start putting ..." That's as far as Layton got — before the Commons dissolved in laughter.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, deadpan, managed to reply: "I promise to get to the bottom of it."

Then, in an apparent nod to his own issues with weight, Harper added: "I am really not sure whether I should take what the leader of the NDP says personally."

Layton had no explanation for his big-ass gaffe."Mr. Speaker, my apologies. I have no idea what was crossing my mind today. This House is in a strange place today."


(Nod to RL, who knows from gaffes)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Brother Blogger Down!

Lord Sutch, author of "Signifying Nothing," is off-line in St. Louis, as many of his fans have no doubt noticed.

(may be back up by the time you read this, of course).

But I pinged him on email, and learned that his power had been out for more than 50 hours, following the winter storm that hit St. Loo this week. He runs the site on his home machine as a web server.

I asked for details, and got this back:

I'm fine, except for being a little bit cold (I've been camping out in
my office, which has heat but isn't all that comfortable). I just
booked a hotel room for tonight in case my power isn't back - the
power company's estimates for when power will be back are pretty much
useless, although they said Friday that some customers might not have
power for 5 days (i.e. until Wednesday).

At worst, about 1/2 million Ameren customers were without power; as of
now, that's down to just under 400,000. In my zip code, the number
of outages actually went up since Friday before finally coming down a
little in the past couple of hours. What's most irritating is that
there is power within 2 blocks of my apartment (there's a large
shopping mall within 1/4 mile that briefly lost some of its power on
Saturday, but the power company had them fixed very quickly), but for
some reason they seemed to have skipped over my neighborhood.

Yikes! For details on the storm, you can see this, or this. I hope Ameren's motto, "365 and then some," is not an estimate how many hours it will take to restore power....

Be strong, Lord Sutch. The crack staff of Ameren is on their way!