John Albert's oddly joyous new book Wrecking Crew: The Really Bad News Griffith Park Pirates profiles what may or may not be an emerging subculture: The Born-Again Jock. These are the guys who shunned sports as teens because the coach didn't like their long hair, or because the idea of adult-supervised fun was no longer, um, fun. They might have lost their chance at a scholarship, but they never lost the love of the game, even as their adult lives fell apart.
Albert's Griffith Park Pirates baseball team is united by the kind of midlife narratives that typically elicit "sucks to be you" shrugs and by a repulsion toward the reigning careerist values of Los Angeles. Albert's life is typical of many of the Pirates'; as founder of the band Christian Death and former drummer for the legendary Bad Religion, he boasted a solid punk rock pedigree. And like many of his teammates', Albert's youth was awash in bad decisions.
"When the Sex Pistols sang about 'no future,' someone should have informed [us] that it was merely rebel agitprop and not a design for living," he writes. Now in his 40s, with a case of hepatitis C from years of casual syringing and a career writing screenplays you've never heard of, Albert is as unlikely a candidate for right field as anyone. As he puts it: "For someone like me, an anti-social intellectual who had spent his life sneering at any kind of middle class normalcy, joining a baseball team felt oddly subversive."
Most of Wrecking Crew is a series of intermittent profiles of the Griffith Park Pirates. Much to Albert's credit, these illuminating and often hilarious vignettes paint a complex portrait of a diversely dysfunctional team and their heartbreaking struggles for redemption.
Maybe the prospect of grown men playing baseball and taking it seriously seems downright pathetic. But as Albert shows, baseball is rarely about baseball alone. In a city where an entire servile class yearns for the TV pilot that turns into a sitcom or the gig that becomes a record deal, playing a sport for no other reason than the moment is as countercultural as any inner-lip tattoo. While the Pirates aren't about to bring down the class system, the possibility of seemingly washed-up guys creating community through baseball (and not an online or Playstation surrogate) is truly something to marvel at.
So punk might not be dead … maybe it's about to steal second.
By John Albert
(Scribner, 288 pages) firstname.lastname@example.org