The Wax Pack: Author Takes To The Open Road In Search Of Baseball's Afterlife

Rick Gregg
April 06, 2020 - 2:16 pm
The Wax Pack

Brad Balukjian

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- When author Brad Balukjian ripped open a pack of Topps Baseball Cards from 1986, he found:

  • A checklist
  • 14 faces from the past
  • And one stick of three-decade old gum.

So he chucked the checklist and ate the gum.

“I suffered,” Balukjian said.  “I mean, ‘eat’ is sort of a questionable verb, there.  More like ‘put in my mouth, and grimaced, and spat out’.  But yeah, I did sample it.”

And then he set out on an 11,341-mile, cross-country quest to find the faces.

“What ended up happening is...a story about growing up, about vulnerability,” he said.  “And what most impressed me was how these guys were so open with talking to me about things in their lives that have little to do with baseball and are all things that we can relate to.  I think as a result you get a really great book that allows you to realize that you and I have a lot more in common with these baseball players, with these professional athletes, than we ever realized.”

That story plays out across the pages of The Wax Pack, Balukjian’s new book, which features encounters with three ballplayers who spent most of their careers in Chicago.

  • Rick Sutcliffe: “Super open, super sweet, really,” Balukjian said. “I was impressed by how much he let me in so quickly and talked about his struggles with his own father, who was a race car driver, who basically abandoned him and the family when he was a kid.  Sutcliffe talks about how, as a result of that, nothing ever scared him, because he was so angry with his father. When he first met some of the most intimidating guys in baseball, like Koufax, or Drysale, they didn’t intimidate him at all. Because he knew...he was so upset with what happened with his father that he wasn’t afraid of anybody.”
  • Richie Hebner: “He’s an interesting story,” Balukjian said.  “He’s one of the only guys who kept his guard up a lot with me, and so I talk about why that might be.  But I was still able to go to Norwood, Massachusetts, where he grew up, and I found his brother, who I rode around with, and told me a lot of stories, and showed me their childhood.  So even where I didn’t get to a guy, I still managed to write about them, and write around that.”
  • Carlton Fisk:  “[He] just flat out wouldn’t talk to me,” Balukjian remembers.  “Those chapters are some of the most fun in the book, because they’re about how...I basically found out where he golfs in Sarasota, Florida, at this really private resort down there.  And I pretended to be a multi-millionaire interested in buying a home so I could sneak my way onto the golf course to try to ambush him! No bail bonds had to be posted in the making of this book, so that’s a good thing.”

In the end, Balukjian said, he learned the numbers on the backs of the baseball cards capture only who the players were, not who the men have become.

“When I was a little kid, they were my heroes because they were these larger-than-life figures.  But now, to get to meet them as adults, the question was...are they still heroic in our eyes? And I think the answer is 'yes', but for very different reasons.  Their heroism now is defined more by the courage it takes to be open and vulnerable, and to share some of that pain and some of those stories, rather than how many home runs you hit, or whatever you could do on a baseball field.”

The Wax Pack was released on April 1.  For more, visit https://waxpackbook.com/.