DUNCANSTEIN'S MONSTER: A VIVA EL BIRDOS PLAY IN ONE ACT
We are in a dark room. There is a man narrating, all avant garde-like, and in a chair next to him, obscured by darkness, another man, shivering and stubbly, who seems about to speak. The narrating man reads his letters.
Memphis, May 28, 20—
TO Mr. Brendan Ryan, St. Louis
You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I arrived here recently, and my first task is to assure my roomie of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking. (Bro! The wrist feels great. I'm hitting Dennys Reyes's weight.)
Memphis, June 30, 20—
In the morning, as soon as it was light, I came out upon the practice fields to see my fellow Redbirds engaged at one side of the bullpen, apparently talking to someone outside the ballpark. It was, in fact, a bullpen car, like that we had seen before, which had drifted toward us in the night. There was a human being within it whom the players were persuading to enter the vessel. He was not a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island (is this racist? let me know) but a pitching coach. His bullpen car rattled and coughed; his hair was arranged in a rough mullet, his face gotten up in a permanent sneer. When I appeared on deck the manager said, "Here is Joe Mather, and he will not allow you to perish on the open sea." (Guy is weird.)
On perceiving me, the stranger addressed me in English, although with a strange accent. "Before I come on board your vessel," said he, "will you have the kindness to inform me what kind of pitching strategy you favor?"
You may conceive my astonishment on hearing such a question addressed to me from a man on the brink of destruction. I mean, did he see me pitch? But we talked, and he told me a story you might want to pass along to Tony.
DUNCANSTEIN: I am by birth a pitching coach, and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic. Growing up I was fond of all the classical works of pitching theory—Agrippa, Sain, Lasorda. I passed my childhood and my apprenticeship in the calm, pleasant worlds of these masters, until one day my father chanced to look upon the title page of one of them—I Live For This. "Ah, Lasorda?" He said. "My dear Duncanstein, don't look at this—it is sad trash."
MATHER: None of this means anything to me. But go on.
DUNCANSTEIN: If he had only taken a moment to explain to me that defense-independent statistics had long ago exploded other ways of looking at pitching I should have gone on to other things, furthered my other studies. But his cursory glance only made me read with greater ardor. While my brothers worked on other things I disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the pitcher's frame.
MATHER: I'm detecting some some worrisome literary allusions here. But Brendan's not responding to the bro signal!
DUNCANSTEIN: I had created a being that only knew groundballs—not nuance, not command, certainly not control. Not even I, its creator. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. So what I'm saying is, watch out for that.
In the CARDINALS CLUBHOUSE morale is low. BRAD PENNY hasn't made a pun on his own name in months. ALBERT PUJOLS occasionally forgets to put on the accent. MATT HOLLIDAY's agoraphobia has led him to abandon Twitter and bases-loaded situations entirely. When BRENDAN RYAN reads JOE MATHER's letters he is often not sure how to respond—one can only so many times talk about shaving or growing a mustache. But Mather's latest missive brings a cold chill down the shortstop's spine. A monster is coming.
RYAN: Brad—hey, Brad. Have you noticed anything weird today?
PENNY: Normally I have a—a sixth cents about these things, but—I'm sorry, man. My heart just isn't in it.
RYAN: I'm sorry to hear that, I guess. Frank, what about you?
FRANKLIN: Jump from the upper deck, what do you mean? That's preposterous! It was just one inning! I've got a lot to live for! I'm so over it.
RYAN: See a counselor, please. Okay. Okay.
[From his locker BRENDAN RYAN removes a large novelty megaphone.]
RYAN: All right. Has anybody here noticed a large, artificial human being shambling philosophically through the locker room?
LOHSE [sipping a frozen coke.]: I think I know who you're after. But you have to ask me the right way.
RYAN: Can you please help me find the monster that's been sent to ruin our pitching staff?
LOHSE: Try harder.
RYAN: Kyle, I need you to help me find the monster that's been sent to ruin our pitching staff.
LOHSE: More badass!
RYAN: Bring me to the monster that's been sent to ruin our pitching staff!
LOHSE [flipping down his sunglasses.]: I can do it... but it won't be pretty.
LOHSE: He's in Tony's office.
TONY LA RUSSA's office is lit, today, by a single incandescent light bulb—some well-meaning interior designer must have removed the fixture for a more atmospheric, morose effect. A lanky pitcher with a feathery beard, long arms, and exposed bolts arrayed around his neck is just barely lit, standing to the right of TONY's desk. In shadow DAVE DUNCAN can be seen, casting a pokerfaced glance.
LOHSE: Oh, God—it's—it's Duncanstein!
MONSTER: It is I, Dun—
RYAN: Duncanstein's monster, Kyle. I mean, think about—it should be easy to figure this out when you're looking right at it. Is that Dave Duncan's evil brother?
LOHSE [kicks dirt, mutters into his cap]: Well, no...
RYAN: Is it a monster he built from spare parts to prove that he, like God, could create groundballs?
RYAN: Okay. Good.
MONSTER: —It is I, Duncanstein's Monster! Mike MacDougal!
DUNCAN: Brandon Webb's groundball rate, Brandon Morrow's walk rate, Brandon Lyon's strikeout rate. This is my brother's work, all right. He has the Duncan madness—and the Duncan genius. It's... it's beautiful.
LOHSE: Come on! I have Brandon Lyon's strikeout rate, too.
LA RUSSA: Duncanstein's Monster, you had something you wanted to say?
MONSTER: I was sent here for nefarious reasons, to be sure. To destroy an impure bullpen; to repay in vengeance what I've gotten from humanity in indifference. But when I came upon your sad clubhouse I realized I was here, really and truly here, to be a warning. It will be the first and only time I've found purpose in this cruel world, estranged from my creator, my nickname, and even the Royals. I am... a counterexample. You, sane Duncan. Uncle—Uncle Dave.
DUNCAN: Don't call me that. What do you want?
MONSTER: I am as single-purposed a creature as has ever been tormented on this earth. And before I go wandering forevermore I'd like to tell you, as the Duncan who can—nay, who must be reformed, that you'll gain nothing from closing your mind to other ways of building a pitching staff.
MONSTER: And you, Tony La Russa. I've long admired your ability to keep a team of human beings motivated and on edge, whether up 10 games or down 15. And your capacity for turning 80 win teams into 90 win teams, and 95 win teams into 90 win teams, is justifiably legendary. But don't hesitate to loosen your hold on the reins if pieces aren't working like they're supposed to—don't turn your players and relievers into one-trick automatons like I am doomed to be. On a team struggling as this one struggles, the only way out of the morass is to find the right balance between letting the old things work and trying new ones.
LOHSE: Duncanstein... you're—you're the most profound person I've ever met. You wanna go play PS2 and talk about... about life stuff?
MONSTER: I'm afraid not. My time here, in torment, is at an end. I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. My spirit will sleep in peace, or if it thinks, it will not surely think thus. Farewell.
RYAN [affecting a British accent]: It's only Memphis.
RYAN: (Monty Python.)
LA RUSSA: Anything else, or are we good?
MONSTER: Oh, yeah. Waive Aaron Miles.
MONSTER: Farewell, again.