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Book Review: The Wax Pack

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I’ve had a review copy of the Wax Pack by Brad Balukjian for the past couple of weeks, but I’ve been a slow and easily distracted reader lately. You can order the book from Indigo here or order it from a local independent book store, I’m sure they could the business.

Balukjian has hit on a great premise, open an old pack of baseball cards, track down and talk to the players found within. In this case a 1986 pack of Topps baseball cards. I’m thinking there may have been a tiny bit of rigging going on, the author’s favorite player, Don Carman happened to be in the pack (although, as someone who collected baseball cards back in those days, I remember that Don Carman seemed to be in every pack.

The players in the pack were Al Cowens, Carlton Fisk, Don Carman, Dwight Gooden, Garry Templeton, Gary Pettis, Jaime Cocanower, Lee Mazzilli, Rance Mulliniks, Randy Ready, Richie Hebner, Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Yeager, and Vince Coleman. That’s a pretty decent group of players. And, for Blue Jays fans, Rance Mulliniks leads off the book, he’s the first player that Balukjian tracked down.

Balukjian drove around the US (over 18,000 km in a summer) to talk to these players. He was pretty lucky, the only ones who didn’t talk to him were Carlton Fisk and Dwight Gooden. Fisk (the one Hall of Famer in the group) seems to have a dislike of media people and Gooden? Well, I’m sure most of us know of his issues. Balukjian did talk to one of Gooden’s sons, who worked as his manager. And Al Cowens passed away in 2002, but Balukjian talked to his son and and got an interesting story.

But most seemed quite willing to talk to him. The underlining theme seemed to be that it is hard to walk away from baseball. And Balukjian was interested in their relationships with their fathers. Most didn’t seem to have the best of fathers. Part of his interest in the relationship each had with their father seems to have come out of the author’s want to come to terms with his relationship with his father.

The books is half baseball stories and half autobiography. We learn a lot about the author, his relationship with his divorced parents, his OCD, his relationship with a woman that ended for a reason he doesn’t share (I forgot, he did share the reason, I blanked on it went I wrote the review) but does say it was his fault. There were times I would have liked to hear more about the player he was talking to and less about him, but that’s a minor complaint. Learning about the author tied the book together.

You can’t expect too much for in-depth interviews when he only spent a couple of hours with most of these guys,

One of the things you notice is that most of the players have been divorced (some more than once). It seems that when players retire it is tough on marriages. And many had lousy (or no) relationships with their fathers. Some seemed to make it to the majors because they channeled the frustrations with their dads into anger they used on the field.

In the chapter about Rance he says that Mulliniks was “a scrappy overachiever with the physique of a librarian who managed to play sixteen seasons in the big leagues”. A very good description. Under stuff I didn’t know, Mulliniks is working as a Realtor now (or then, Balukjian did his tour of ‘wax-packers’ in the summer of 2014). And he had a ‘Baseball Academy in Visalia, California. His time as a TV Analyst doesn’t come up. Rance also gives relationship advice to the author.

Rance shows Balukjian his World Series ring and later says the 1985 team was the most talented team he ever played on. I think he was right, that 1985 team was great. I thought that Balukjian sold Rance’s career short by calling him a part-timer, I think there is a difference between a platoon player and a part-time player.

If you are my age and remember these players, it is fun to catch up on what they have been doing since the end of their playing years. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Gerry Templeton, Lee Mazzilli and Rich Hebner (who was batting coach for the Buffalo Bisons at the time).

If you are younger and don’t remember the players? You might enjoy seeing how players deal with the end of their careers. I do think it is likely a better read if you remember them, but then I was younger I read everything I could about players who were before my time. You aren’t going to get a deep biography of these players, but you get a look at where they are now. And, of course, no one is likely to write a biography on most of these guys, other than Dwight Gooden and Carlton Fisk.

It is a very enjoyable read.