Jun 08

Josh Wilker’s new book on an unlikely subject (well, not for him)

“The Bad News Bears” is my favorite baseball movie. “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” is … not.

Nevertheless, my interest in the sequel has shot through the roof thanks to the fact that Cardboard Gods author Josh Wilker has a new book out about it: “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (Deep Focus).” From the product description at Amazon:

In 1977, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training had a moment in the sun. A glowing junk sculpture of American genres—sports flick, coming-of-age story, family melodrama, after-school special, road narrative—the film cashed in on the previous year’s success of its predecessor, The Bad News Bears. Arguing against the sequel’s dismissal as a cultural afterthought, Josh Wilker lovingly rescues from the oblivion of cinema history a quintessential expression of American resilience and joy.

Rushed into theaters by Paramount when the beleaguered film industry was suffering from “acute sequelitis,” the (undeniably flawed) movie miraculously transcended its limitations to become a gathering point for heroic imagery drawn from American mythology. Considered in context, the film’s unreasonable optimism, rooted in its characters’ sincere desire to keep playing, is a powerful response to the political, economic, and social stresses of the late 1970s.

To Wilker’s surprise, despite repeated viewings, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training continues to move him. Its huge heart makes it not only the ultimate fantasy of the baseball-obsessed American boy, but a memorable iteration of that barbed vision of pure sunshine itself, the American dream.

For an example of what Wilker can do with this subject, just take a read of this piece at his website on Rudi Stein. And while you’re there, make sure you don’t miss the Chico’s Bears with Charlie’s Angels.

Jun 09

Cardboard Gods comes to town: Interview with Josh Wilker

Readers of this site will know of my evangelism for Josh Wilker’s website, Cardboard Gods. That appreciation redoubled when I read his book, Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards, which I couldn’t recommend more highly to you all. It is at once entertaining and deeply affecting – kind of magical, really.

Wilker’s book tour reaches Southern California on Thursday with his 7 p.m. appearance at the South Pasadena Library, co-hosted by the Baseball Reliquary. (This takes place in conjunction with the Reliquary’s exhibit, “Son of Cardboard Fetish.”) This seemed like a perfect time to talk with Wilker about a few of the many things that make his writing so compelling:

A big part of Cardboard Gods that migrated from the site to the book is the importance of what you think a player’s pose or expression on the card is telling you. Obviously, these are guesses on your part, but do you think the photos on the cards are nevertheless windows to the gods’ souls – a veritable truth you wouldn’t necessarily get any other way? Or are they more just windows to our own souls?


Lookin’ sharp, Steve

I don’t know if they get me to any truths, but they definitely have always been able to get me to start wondering. The moments captured in my cards from the ’70s would seem to most people to be flat and trivial, the kind of thing that no one, not the player, not the photographer, not the great majority of people who would ever look at the card, could ever care much about. But because I cared about them as a kid, the stiff poses and enigmatic expressions continue to have a hold on me now, especially because many of them seem to include the same element of aimlessness and absurdity that has threaded through my post-childhood years. So they exist in two worlds for me, the adult world and the child world, and so it’s no wonder I’m drawn to them, since I’m an adult who has been kind of perpetually haunted and fascinated by his own childhood.

Aimlessness is an important theme in the book, especially after your brother put up boundaries between the two of you as he got older. But one thing about your family is that it seemed passionate about intellectual pursuits – your dad, your mom, Tom, even Ian with all the reading he seemingly did. And even in your aimless days, you were thoughtful and imaginative to say the least. How come that didn’t translate for you into more interest or dedication to schoolwork as a kid? Was life just too painful to allow you to focus on school, to allow that to be an outlet?
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Mar 01

Must-own reading material

Here on this first day of March, I thought I might try to bulk up your reading lists.

First, if you haven’t already, please consider purchasing 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know and Do Before they Die. Other than missing Orlando Hudson’s cycle, Russell Martin’s stumbles and the latest drama surrounding Manny Ramirez and Frank and Jamie McCourt, everything’s still very much up to date and worth your reading. At a cost of barely $10 online, I really think it qualifies as a bargain.

Second, here’s a reminder to get the 2010 Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual. The first reader reviews have started to come in, and the reaction is as good as I expected, considering the first-rate content the writers and statisticians provided. (Here’s a link to some PDF excerpts.) You simply won’t find a better yearbook about the Dodgers anywhere.

Third, I got a copy of 2010 Baseball Prospectus, which offers insightful essays on all 30 teams plus detailed player capsules on roughly 1,000 major and minor-leaguers.  This book could keep you company all season, providing answers to almost any question you have about this year’s pros.

Finally, I’m most pleased to pass along the news that Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards, written by Josh Wilker, is available for pre-order. And it figures to be simply sensational.