In the first two parts of this series, we looked at mainly superficial things: hair, beards and mustaches, players that might have contributed to contemporary hipster trends, hats, spectacles, and one fine tush.
Today, because NotGraphs readership is comprised of sensitive, intelligent people who prefer to take a humanistic approach, and because many of the player photos featured in the 1986 Topps sets are so candid that they often provide great insight into players’ demeanors or preoccupations — their very souls, even — I’d like to explore a more personal side of the players appearing in these cards.
Here are some psychological themes that emerged as I examined the sets.
Someone has just told Bill Campbell that the world is round. Otis Nixon is attempting to make out an “eye chart” that someone in the dugout is holding up. The strained look on his face is not because of poor eyesight; rather, it is because he knows that the shapes that we call “letters” and “numbers” only hold meaning for us because we agree to those meanings collectively. He knows that this fragile meaning can fall away at any moment.
If someone were to lay a plate of french fries in front any one of these men the moment after his photo was taken, I imagine that, without missing a beat, each of them would lazily mop one of the fries through ketchup for several minutes with one hand while resting his head in the other, then drop the fry, stand up, and wander away — perhaps never to be seen again.
Or, consider this passion(less) play:
Harold: Whatever, I don’t care. I can’t care anymore.
Ben: Is that a ghost in the distance? Or all my imminent failures?
Manny: This concrete bench is cold . . .
Steve: Somehow the sky is green.
Wayne: I’m too exhausted to notice anything but the underside of my hat’s bill.
Mike: Peculiar: I can’t feel my feet.
Bill: I might drool soon — uh — there it is.
Edvard Munch has nothing on 1986 Topps.
I am almost relieved to know that Steve Lyons has recovered from ennui and launched into full-fledged crisis here. It might have something to do with getting traded. Billy Jo Robidoux‘s crisis is that he sucks, but that’s not his fault, as I explained back in December. Nelson Simmons? So scared shitless of live grass that he couldn’t even play in 1986. Has Death finally found Ron Kittle? He seems to think so, and he’s not ready to go. Gary Ward heard his estranged mother gained press credentials this spring.
Baseballs are like rabbits, George, and I will pet them with my little baseball bat.
Ok, ok, one instance does not make a theme, but I needed something to guide us out of these dire straights. Mike Easler has never lost his love of the little things: here, he looks upon a midget riding a dwarf pony.
Dennis: Do I even need to say that I am capable of throwing this ball through your face?
Dan: You know I don’t even play for the Orioles, right? I just killed this sucker down the way and took this shit off his still-warm corpse.
Dave: You will give me that hot dog.
Luis: Wrote my name on my coat. My coat.