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Today, on his 43rd birthday, I pay homage to the man, the myth, the legend that is Jim Walewander.

This is not a complicated story, but I'm going to tell it to you anyway. It's how Jim Walewander became one of my all-time favourite ballplayers, and how I cost the Blue Jays a pennant they couldn't possibly lose.

The mise-en-scene is the early summer of 1987. With the Blue Jays cruising at the top of the American League, and my interest in baseball at an all-time high, an issue of Sports Illustrated came sliding into the mailbox one day as I was eagerly anticipating the end of my ninth-grade year and the beginning of what promised to be as good a summer as I'd ever had. Flipping through SI (probably instead of studying for an exam), I came across one of the short pieces in their section up front. It was about a Tigers rookie by the name of Jim Walewander, recently brought up to the big club from Toledo.

Walewander, it seemed, had been making a name for himself as an eccentric as he zoomed through the minor leagues. A utility infielder, he was known for - among other things - his unabashed partisanship of a rock band by the name of The Dead Milkmen.

Dead Milkmen....

I knew that name. One of the much (*much*) cooler kids from the high school I'd recently started attending, had that name drawn in black magic marker on the green army-surplus satchel that he carried. Along with other names, equally foreign and strange-sounding to me: The Cult, Meat Puppets, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Dead Kennedys. All of which, of course, were a closed book to me.

For a 14-year-old suburban kid in the 1980s, particularly in a backwater like Nova Scotia, music (other than the mostly-processed cheese of the larger record conglomerates) was very much a foreign country. Other people, I knew, listened to offbeat stuff from bands with wild-sounding names that didn't get printed in the "Weekend Entertainment" section of the newspaper. But I certainly didn't. I wouldn't know where to begin, anyway, and besides, the record stores where I was just didn't have that stuff. Much safer to buy the same Iron Maiden and Def Leppard records that the other kids bought. Going to school in the city had piqued my curiosity about this music, but that was about it.

Meanwhile, here was Jim Walewander. Promising young infielder, the blurb said, stuck behind Trammell and Whitaker (those certain Hall of Famers) in Detroit but who had really made the Toledo residents take notice. Covered his windows in aluminum foil. Listens to the Dead Milkmen. The article spares no expense to get across the message that this guy's weird.

And I'm thinking, cool...

It wasn't that I *wanted* to be conventional. I yearned to be what I thought of as unconventional and different. I longed to get off the beaten track. I didn't want to wear shirts with little alligators and foxes on them. I wanted to be like... well, like Jim Walewander, I guess. I'd read maybe 250 words about him, and I already thought of him as The Epitome Of Cool.

I started to clip his boxscores. I did this for other players I liked, when they had a good outing - if Tony Fernandez went 3-for-4, or if Mitch Webster drove in some runs. For Walewander, I did it obsessively. Most of Jim Walewander's boxscore lines were pretty simple, "Wlwndr 2b 0 0 0 0", but I clipped them anyway, and put them in an envelope for eventual pasting in a scrapbook. Somehow, though, I knew that if I really wanted to be cool, or at least something slightly better than a completely pathetic geek, I was going to need to try something a little more daring than clipping Jim Walewander boxscores.

I would have to go and buy a Dead Milkmen record.

Well, I tried to. I really did! I went to every record store in every mall that I could get to, and looked through the bins under "D". But without success. You have to understand, that Sam The Record Man and A&A Records back then, and the other record shops, just didn't stock much that was off the beaten track. Finally, a year later, I was able to track down a Dead Milkmen record in a record store in downtown Halifax. But in the meantime, Jim Walewander and the anonymous SI writer had given me a little spark, to try something different. I'd read in a Rolling Stone that I'd seen in a waiting room, about a record by a band called Camper Van Beethoven that sounded pretty "weird" to me. That was the record (or tape, rather) I bought that day when I was looking for the Dead Milkmen. It became (with the 30 other punk, alternative, and rap records it spurred me to try) the soundtrack of that awkward, longing summer before the tenth grade, as I cut Tigers boxscores out of the newspaper. And as I was doing it, and my musical horizons were exploding past anything I'd thought possible, I couldn't help noticing that the Tigers kept winning. And winning. And winning.

So even as I was exulting with the news that Walewander had hit his first big league home run in a Tiger win over the Angels, it was becoming obvious that my twin passions were about to come rapidly into conflict. Because the Tigers had just passed the Jays, and the pennant chase was tightening. It was my favourite player against my favourite (AL) team.

"I don't care," I thought. "I just want Walewander to do well, and forget about the Tigers." The problem was, as I well knew, that Walewander usually only played as a defensive substitute when the Tigers were ahead late in games. Cheering him on was, indeed, tantamount to cheering on Detroit. I wasn't sure it would matter, anyway. But as I looked at the schedule, and anticipated the final two weeks. At the end of September, and the beginning of October, as the season closed, the Tigers were going to play the Blue Jays, and I'd get to see Jim Walewander on TV.

Now, years later, I understand that I shouldn't have felt that. Shouldn't have even thought it. After all, we all know the massive effect our personal, innermost thoughts have on the outcome of our favourite team's ballgames. How we need to turn the TV off when we come in partway through and the opposition ignites a rally. How we must avoid speaking ill of that one player who starts a cold streak every time we curse him. I knew, I knew that wanting to see Jim Walewander on TV was trouble, because it meant that "our" main divisional rival was going to be winning crucial end-of-season games off us.

And you all know how 1987 ended, so I don't have to tell you. I did see Jim Walewander four times, in those seven fateful games, three of them excruciating one-run losses. He batted twice in all (walked and sacrificed) and frankly I remember nothing about them. Too late I had realized that I had trifled with some seriously bad mojo, stopped clipping "Wlwndr" out of the agate page, stopped even looking for his name, but it was indeed too late. The Tigers passed the Jays, Jim Walewander was left off the Tigers' playoff roster, and I learned, the hardest way possible, about the responsibility every fan bears for defeat.

By the time the miraculous, exciting, improbable Twins triumph in the World Series passed into memory (and yes, I still maintain against reason that if Jim Walewander had played in the ALCS instead of the horribly disappointing Alan Trammell, the Tigers might have won) I was back, completely, on the Jim Walewander bandwagon. When my Ouagadougou Anarchists stormed to the 1987 Soviet Strat-O-Matic League championship the following winter and spring, Jim Walewander's surprisingly competent bat and versatile defense helped enormously as my 25th man. And even as the next few years went by, Jim Walewander stayed with me, a name briefly glimpsed among occasional boxscores, and the minor league reports in the Sporting News. I still have that Strat-O-Matic card, and that Camper Van Beethoven tape. I sold the Dead Milkmen record (which I didn't like), and have lost the Sports Illustrated. And I'm back to being a total geek, if I ever ceased to be one.

Jim Walewander is 43 today, and I want to thank him for having been, well, so exceedingly random and so perfectly necessary. Apparently, it wasn't a particularly easy road for him either, as you can see from this terrific interview. But he made mine a little easier, and a lot more interesting, and one day I'll even forgive him - and myself - for 1987.

Thanks Wlwndr.

Happy Birthday Jim Walewander, or How I Learned About Real Music And Brought About The Disaster of '87 | 9 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mick Doherty - Monday, May 02 2005 @ 03:06 PM EDT (#114902) #
Awesome. And let me confirm for a moment ...

had really made the Toledo residents take notice.

As a suburban Toledo resident at the time, I can confirm that this, was in fact true. Wales was something of a (sub)urban legend in Northwest Ohio.

And my neighbor in college at the time was blasting the Dead Kennedys every night and I still haven't caught up on the sleep.

Coach - Monday, May 02 2005 @ 03:22 PM EDT (#114908) #
Wonderful, Craig. That's a lot of guilt to be carrying for 18 years. Hope it felt as good to release it as it did to read it. :)

I won't presume to speak for other Jays fans, but you and Walewander I can forgive. Madlock, not so much.
Dave Till - Monday, May 02 2005 @ 03:24 PM EDT (#114909) #
Yay! Camper Van Beethoven! My life has been immeasurably enriched by "Take The Skinheads Bowling".

And I've always wondered whom to blame for 1987 - now I know. :-)
Mike Green - Monday, May 02 2005 @ 03:27 PM EDT (#114910) #

Thanks Wlwndr.

If ever there were a natural for Gwyn's BBFL squad...Nice passage into adolescence piece, Craig. Mine involves skipping to Grade 7 in 1970, growing 6 inches in height and being unable to hit a baseball, and girls with way too much makeup. I think that every guy has one.

Magpie - Monday, May 02 2005 @ 03:35 PM EDT (#114911) #
Ego te absolvo

Go in peace, my son. This wonderful piece has surely cleansed your soul. And if it didn't, well at least it made my day. So go bathe in the radiant light of forgiveness or something, etc etc

Just don't do it again, OK?

Rob - Monday, May 02 2005 @ 03:48 PM EDT (#114913) #
In a similar vein, I think I'm responsible for the dearth of quality second basemen after Robbie Alomar when the 12-year-old me proclaimed Craig Grebeck the greatest human being ever in 1999.

And I was in Halifax two years ago; it was like stepping back in time.

A fine, fine piece, Craig.

westcoast dude - Monday, May 02 2005 @ 05:23 PM EDT (#114922) #
Thank you, Craig. My nineteen year marriage is busted, my Swedish sweetheart hooked up with a man 26 years younger than me, but you keep me grounded.
TangoTiger - Monday, May 02 2005 @ 05:30 PM EDT (#114923) #
I love reading Craig B stories, and this one is no exception.

However, I would like to read westcoast dude's story, too. Maybe Craig can interview, and give it the right backdrop. Who knows, he might be able to turn this into a "Sleeplees in Seattle", part 2.
jim walewander - Wednesday, May 04 2005 @ 04:50 PM EDT (#115641) #
Thanks for remembering.
Happy Birthday Jim Walewander, or How I Learned About Real Music And Brought About The Disaster of '87 | 9 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.