Do Red Sox Fans Have to Hate Kevin Youkilis Now?
In Cardboard Gods, Josh Wilker’s baseball card-centric memoir, the author compares finding a Yankee in a pack to “finding a mold-blackened orange in your trick-or-treat bag. I valued the never realized (nor even approached) goal of completing the year’s collection too much to throw the offending cardboard in the garbage, as I would the orange, but I tried to get the Yankee cards away from the others as soon as possible and out of sight so I could engage in my time-dissolving card-aided daydreams without the sharp sliver of festering resentment in my nostrils.”
Unsurprisingly, Wilker, who grew up in Vermont, is a Red Sox fan. His book captures the bizarre, often irrational levels of emotion induced by sports. For example, when Thurman Munson died in a plane crash in 1979, Wilker’s 11-year-old self wasn’t exactly broken up about it. “When I was a kid, sports was no more and no less than another fantasy world for me to live in, like Star Wars or the Fantastic Four,” he said in an email. “A bad guy is a bad guy.”
This week, Wilker answered a few questions, and explained, among other things, why he’s not mad at Kevin Youkilis for deciding to join the Yankees.
So Kevin Youkilis just signed with the Yankees. I imagine Red Sox fans will now hate him forever.
I don’t hate Kevin Youkilis and won’t unless he gets up on a fucking horse. [Editor’s note: Ex-Red Sox Wade Boggs did that after he won the ’96 World Series with the Yankees.] I hate the Yankees. Youkilis going to the Yankees is sad, like when [Luis] Tiant joined them, but I generally don’t blame the players. In Youkilis’ case, the Red Sox traded him away. Anyway, I’ll never hate anyone in the 2004 team picture—they’re “made men” in my eyes. Cheaters, assholes, traitors, blowhards: irrelevant. They delivered.
In situations like these, is it just a little funny to you how far people, even adults, take their hatred?
I certainly understand channeling the hatred and dissatisfaction of life into sports. I personally don’t get as hateful as I used to, partly because I’m getting older, but also because I got my deepest wish—they won it all. The rest is gravy. But then again I still get mad enough—as when the team choked in 2011—to feel the childhood rage all over again. In Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby theorized that the freedom to feel miserable is the hidden true function of sports.
You’re a huge baseball card guy. Do you have a favorite Sox card (obscure or otherwise) from when you were younger?
I think I’ve discovered in all my meditating on cards that I love all my cards equally—it’s just a matter of whether I’ve paid attention to a given card enough for that love to come out. But my 1980 Yaz card was one of the first to fully show itself to me in that way.
With all his contorted facial expressions and weird batting stance, Youkilis seems like a guy who would’ve been right at home on a ’70s baseball card. Are there any other current players you kind of wish would’ve been in a Topps set back then?
You know, Jed Lowrie comes to mind. I love ectomorph utility infielders frozen in wax figure poses.
What kind of shape is your collection in now? Do you still have a lot of the cards you collected as a kid?
I have all the cards I collected as a kid except for a few my brother semi-accidentally siphoned off when he grabbed his cards from storage to sell them to buy some downhill skis. All the cards are in a shoebox, tied into rubber-band stacks by team. No Mylar or whatever that protective coating is. Same as I had them as a kid.
Is it a little sad to you that baseball cards aren’t the same kind of cultural touchstones that they were back in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s? I grew up mainly in the ’90s, and kids still loved them. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.
Ah, what are you gonna do? Things change. I do have a 16-month-old, and he owns cards from several packs of 2012 cards. We have a lot of fun with them. He likes to toss them over his head like leaves and gnaw on them and drop them one by one into a basket and grab them out of my hand and laugh whenever I try to read the “highlights” text. We play with them, just like I did as a kid. I don’t think anybody plays with cards anymore. Without that playfulness, forget it.