Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beckoning Bill Burroughs: Starring, Unbeknownst to Them, the Work of Chris Jones and Joe Posnanski

If you've ever dabbled in the work of the late William S. Burroughs, well -- Kudos to you for giving it a shot, and a gold star atop your kudos if you've gotten through more than Naked Lunch. If you haven't, give The Nova Trilogy -- The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express -- a shot. Also, consider Junky. In The Nova Trilogy, Burroughs took on the task of cutting established linear texts and folding them into one another to create a new manuscript. Since these works were crafted in the early 1960s, he literally would cut out words and phrases, then piece them together with paste, so the fact that he had the patience to do this, and the wit about him to put together something semi-sensible is impressive, but I reckon a closet full of heroin and whiskey can get a guy going.

In The Soft Machine, one can deduce -- and one must literally deduce what in the heck is happening -- that there is a character who is body jumping, and in doing so, time traveling, all in the name of thwarting tribes of Mayans who possess some sort of control over certain packs of humans. It's pretty intense. If memory serves, he used newspaper and magazine articles, which I'm not going to do; I'm going to use bloggers, and I will cut and paste like you do: with the help of an ordinary word-processing software.

Today, in our initial installment, we'll borrow from two of my favorite writers, Chris Jones, and Joe Posnanski.

The copied, pasted words of these fine fellows will help us run through a tiny speck of what has been one of the weirdest stretches in Kansas City Royals history. And make no mistake: There have been plenty of weird plots along the KCR timeline over 42 years of existence. In sum, though, Dayton Moore took over as General Manager nearly five years ago. He's been criticized, crushed, and crucified under Pontius Pilate for moves involving Jason Kendall, Jose Guillen, and Yuniesky Betancourt, just to name a few. He's been blasted for transactions, like signing Rick Ankiel for too much money, and trading David De Jesus for Vin Mazarro.

"Trust the Process," he has said all along. And slowly, quietly, he built the best farm system in professional baseball. At the start of this season, the mindset outside the organization was that 2011 would perhaps be the worst season for Kansas City since Moore took over; the club was one campaign away from being recognized as a potential contender. Somehow, though, the club started strong, and has managed to stay barely above .500 for the better part of seven weeks. This was puzzling.

To add to it, Moore surprised the baseball world, and pulled the trigger on bringing up number-one prospect Eric Hosmer. Suddenly, a beacon of hope flashed on the Royal horizon. Almost immediately after, Bruce Chen -- the best of five starters in the Royals rotation, got hurt, and Vin Mazarro was called up from AAA Omaha. He seemed to have recovered from a largely terrible Stormchaser debut, and managed to not go out and lose games for his club in each appearance since.

Since his callup, a contest between the inexplicably still-hot Cleveland Indians and the Royals occurred. It was not that long ago, you may recall. Kyle Davies was slated to start, and fans were scratching their heads about how many more times the Royals would trot Davies out to the mound before calling it a done deal with him and the club. Davies did not make it out of the first inning, and has since been placed on the Disabled List with an injury I believe was referred to as an Inflammed VORP.

By the time this contest was over, there was a 17-run differential between the victorious club, and the club that sent out Vin Mazarro to relieve a reliever in the third inning. Suffice it to say that Mazarro did not make it through the evening as a member of the Royals. He was designated for assignment, and called up to replace him was Danny Duffy, who, just over a year ago, quit baseball, but today is the best pitching prospect in the Kansas City system, which is the best system in all of baseball. He makes his big-league debut this evening.

In short, I can't make heads or tails of what will become of this ball club this season, so it was necessary to bring in some help to clarify. Now, these gents are not aware that their services have been recruited, which is kind of like Carl Peterson firing Gunther Cunningham via the Internet, only much less important. It's actually not like that at all. It's like using Burroughs to deliver the evening news to your deaf, illiterate Aunt Peg, only without as much focus on the auto-erotic asphyxiation and the sodomy. Or the murdering of a wife, or the death of an alcoholic, allegedly molested son. You catch my drift.

Thus entered Mazarro. I can’t really overstate the effect this story had on me. Once, when I was still in early minor-league work, I wrote an entire feature in sentence-by-sentence mimicry of how the Royals had traded David De Jesus to Oakland for Mazarro. My story was about when Bruce Chen got hurt; I was sitting in a similarly shitty first inning -- which I only mention to use a favorite verb “uncork” -- in a similarly shitting Midwestern city, and I really needed an inning-ending groundout.

You never would have guessed from that first inning that my editor dissuaded me from committing a very loving form of pseudo-plagiarism, and I re-wrote that thing about history. Still, having written my first version, I learned the rhythm of his story. You rarely see it coming. More than anything, this story has A single, a walk, a bloop…can happen to anyone.

Funnily enough, as I read it again tonight, that’s a 10-run inning. I can see how there’s a lot, really. Lots of relievers have given up 10 runs in an appearance. Jimmy Gobble did it less than three years ago. But…then he came out for the fifth inning. We can speculate all we want about why Royals manager Ned Yost sent Mazarro out there for the fifth inning. He very quickly tells about the work he’s done, the places he’s been. And he uses save some of his other arms…give Mazarro a chance to get some outs…just ticked off.

And so if critics want to register those complaints I’m not sure what there was to say if you read that opening and it didn’t sit right with you -– I couldn’t really argue. I like a good quest story, but I don’t like them every time out. And that’s history: No reliever since World War II has allowed 14 runs in a game.

There’s no telling what happens to Mazarro now. Yet, here I am, sitting alone in the dark, reading. It seems unlikely that he will stay in the big leagues. But you never know about the future. Maybe that’s partly because I know what follows this opening, the rewards that come; the retired to Quarryville , PA where he grew mushrooms and lived to be 94 years old. But I think it’s mostly because this opening does what every opening, ultimately, should do. It might break a lot of rules, but it follows the most important one: It makes it very, very hard for us to stop reading.

It seems pretty clear. Vin Mazarro –- through a combination of bad luck, bad pitching, and bad timing –- had the worst pitching performance in baseball history. It ends cinematically So that’s not too bad either.

And there you have it. Perfect clarification of just one fine evening in the life of the Kansas City Royals.


Greg D Metz said...

nice work