So, yeah. Went ahead and wrote some increasingly fucked up shit. It's got something to do with this, in the sense of a precursor or whatnot, but I don't think you have to read that one to get this'un.
And I am going to have to once again blame this entirely on Rhod, who is such a bad influence I can barely even deal.
Goddamn it, it's six in the fucking morning, it's fucking dawn again, what the fuck is wrong with me.
By Candle Beck
And, what. Fuck it.
Billy Beane comes down to the clubhouse after games sometimes, but he doesn’t stick around too long. He’s got better things to do.
They call him Billy when he’s in the room and Beane when he’s not. They trust him implicitly. They knew before the book came out that something important was happening in Oakland, but nobody ever talks about that.
Beane picks at the spread, but he never eats much. He watches Hudson and Crosby playing on the arcade machine until one of them kills the other (usually it’s Crosby doing the killing; the kid’s a fucking savant when it comes to videogames). He talks to the trainers and asks Mark Mulder about his back, but Mulder’s back is fine, his back’s not the fucking problem. He has brief, intense conversations with Macha about line-up and strategy and Macha doesn’t like being ordered around by a guy twenty years younger than him, but he’s gotten better at hiding it.
Billy Beane leaves and sometimes, a few minutes later, Barry Zito follows.
Beane swears more than any other human being on the planet. Profanity is without a doubt his first language. There’s violence in this man like something inbred, Pavlov-trained, and it’s always strange to see him be still.
He’s on his feet and he’s moving, pacing the hallways. He shouts into his cell phone and every other general manager is kind of terrified of him, because he doesn’t play the same game they do.
Well. Not every general manager. Paul can still talk him down, occasionally even make him laugh that hoarse bitter laugh, which everyone thinks is sarcastic but really it’s as sincere as Billy Beane gets. Billy calls DePodesta a friend to the press, and says he’s proud of him, but DePodesta still owes him everything, and Beane rarely lets him forget it.
They all owe Billy Beane something. It’s just some owe him more than others.
Mark Mulder and Barry Zito used to be something like best friends, but they’re not anymore. It’s hard to say what happened. Chavez and Hudson, who know them best, have been trying to figure it out, and they’ve narrowed it down to Mulder getting hurt last year, but that’s just when it started to show.
Hollywood, California, and Zito had just won the Cy Young award. They were standing on the street, under the hills, and Mulder’d come out to see him. Mulder drove all day, west from Scottsdale and the sick orange-brown pollution over Los Angeles could be seen from thirty miles out.
The air’s clean in Arizona, but anyway, they’re on this street. Sidewalk. Busted up, chunks of concrete and the streetlight shadows were dim yellow and jagged. They’re pretty drunk.
Zito moves first, because he’s got a Cy Young award, even now waiting to be hung by his father over the mantle back home in San Diego. Zito’s got his arm around Mulder’s neck and he curls it back, gets his fingers on Mulder’s face, all twisted around like that.
Maybe really drunk.
Their faces are close because Zito’s arm is around his neck and Mulder puts his hand on Zito’s hip, cocks his head to the side curiously. Mulder blinks and licks his lips, and Zito doesn’t really kiss him so much as bite his lower lip. But, whatever. Works out to the same.
Smash-cut to five minutes later in the back of a cab, where they won’t be recognized because this is Hollywood not San Francisco, and it’s possible that Mulder’s got Zito half-pulled into his lap, long legs over Mulder’s knees and kicking at the car door. Mulder pushes and makes little jabs into Zito’s mouth with his tongue, kind of all over the place, and his hands are screwed in Zito’s shirt, so that Zito can feel his knuckles on his chest and stomach.
Unexpectedly, Mulder’s not very good at this. But it’s not like Zito minds.
This seems like the way it should be, you know. They’re both left-handed. So it’s, whatever, meant to be.
Except that, well, they’re barely through Zito’s apartment door and he’s trying to say something about wait, hang on, Sally might be home, but his hand is pushing under Mulder’s belt and he gets maybe two fingers on Mulder’s dick before Mulder jerks and small-boy cries and sinks his teeth into Zito’s shoulder.
Zito’s fingers are wet and Mulder’s sort of slumped against him with his chin digging into Zito’s collarbone, but he doesn’t quite believe it, and the second he says, “Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” incredulous and harshly disappointed, or disillusioned, or something, the second Zito says that, they stop being best friends or anything else, really, because it’s not like Mulder will ever look him in the eye again.
It’s unfortunate that they’re not as close as they once were, because Mark’s probably the only one in the world who could properly cuff him upside the head and get him thinking straight again.
But at the Walnut Creek house, they sit and drink beer and Bobby Crosby is inside switching Mulder’s clothes in the washer to the dryer. It’s really not fair that Mulder’s got two rookies sharing the house with him, and Christ knows Harden would still get on his knees in a very polite, Canadian sort of way if Mulder ever asked him to, but what can you do.
They drink and they’re waiting for Bobby to come back out because they don’t really talk, just the two of them, not anymore.
Maybe Zito smirks at him a little bit more than he should, these days. Whatever. Lots of things are on the surface.
Zito’s sort of gnawing on the bottle, squealing the glass against his teeth, because he’s just that bored, and Mulder starts talking about what’ll happen when Zito gets traded. It’s not even, if you get traded, man, it’s, so when they get rid of you. And so on and so forth.
Mulder’s talking about the Dodgers and at least Zito will be closer to his family, and if they ever mentioned Hollywood, he’d certainly fucking mention it now, if only to get Mulder to shut his motherfucking mouth, but they don’t mention Hollywood.
Zito talks shit too, about Mulder’s hip and Mulder’s back and Mulder’s own little self-implosion, and they’re not looking at each other. They’re saying all this terrible stuff, honestly trying to break each other up, but they’re doing it with their eyes on the shimmer of the pool, profiled and not even cheating glances.
When Zito hears himself saying, “Billy’s kinda hot,” it’s out of nowhere, and he is as surprised as Mulder is.
“The fuck did you just say?”
Zito swallows and his mouth feels slick. He runs his tongue over his teeth and maybe he’s starting to get a headache. “I didn’t say nothing.” Because there’s no way he would say something like that out loud, right?
Mulder’s hand is so tight around the arm of the patio chair Zito can hear the plastic whining, about to crack. “You fuckin’ . . . you, you better not, motherfucker, you just better fucking not.”
Zito’s lip sneers up, but he doesn’t answer and he doesn’t look over and then the rookie’s back and they both shut the fuck up.
Zito used to be scared of Billy Beane, that’s true. What, he’s supposed to be immune?
And for the week after Beane punched him, whenever they were in the same room, Beane was always glaring at Zito, but not really. It was . . . fuck. The cut on the side of Zito’s mouth, the corner of his lip. Where Billy’s fist cracked and the shock-clear pain of his teeth spearing into his lip.
Billy Beane kept glaring at Zito, not his eyes, but the cut on his lip. Watching it heal and fade and eventually disappear. Maybe because Zito couldn’t keep his tongue away from it, kept poking and worrying it, making it worse.
He kind of liked it. It made him look tough.
There was a moment there, in the stadium tunnel, his head aching from slamming back against the wall, when Zito’s hands were on Beane’s chest and Beane’s hand was on the back of his neck. Zito’s nails ticking on the buttons of Beane’s shirt, and Zito’s hair over Beane’s fingers.
Blood on his teeth, man.
Zito’s not so scared of him anymore, though. A season like this one, there are better things to be scared of than Billy fucking Beane.
See, what happened was that Mulder had already lost the game for them and it was only the third. So Zito went down to the weight room, and yeah, Beane was in there, on the treadmill. Violence, right, you gotta beat it out somehow.
Beane’s on the treadmill and there’s a dark column of sweat soaking the back of his T-shirt, stretching down between his shoulder blades to his waist. He’s got the machine turned up high enough that’d it give Zito a heart attack if he were the one running, but he’s not, so whatever.
The fact that Beane’s in better shape than half the team is kind of odd, but then, the whole team is kind of fucking odd.
The door’s closed behind him and Zito’s listening to Beane breathe, deep controlled breaths, dragged in and shot out like curses. He’s watching Beane’s back, the pump of his arms. Zito touches the tip of his tongue to the corner of his mouth, but the cut’s long gone.
Beane stops and steps off the treadmill, takes the towel off the bench and slings it around his neck, swiping it across his face, breathing hard. Zito doesn’t make a sound, but Beane’s smarter than that.
“You want something?”
Beane doesn’t even glance over at him as he asks, and Zito thinks maybe he’s talking to someone else, though of course there’s no one else in the room. Zito thinks about going over there and Beane will be slippery and hot as steam, and motherfucker, man, what the fuck.
Beane finally looks up when Zito doesn’t answer, and his eyes are this crazy kind of dark that Zito should be used to by now.
Beane studies him, quick mind flashing and working like computer circuits, and Zito’s standing there in his uniform because there’s still a game going on up above the concrete, and Zito’s frozen with one thumb hooked in a belt loop, his ducking throat’s the only part of him that’s moving.
After a long moment, Billy Beane lets a slow cruel smile slide across his face, and Billy Beane can see everything.
So, like, seriously, dude, what the fuck.
A lot of shit goes on in this clubhouse. True of any clubhouse, but these boys have got a kind of specialized brand of fucked-upedness happening as August becomes September and everything starts to go wrong.
Nobody talks about it. Unwritten rule, don’tcha know. You talk about chemistry and you talk about loyalty and nobody ever wants to leave Oakland, although most all of them probably will. So, what, an addictive sort of dysfunction. One that seems to suit them nicely.
Everybody’s a little fucked up, right?
And anyway, it’s not like the other guys even have a clue. Like Chavez and Hudson not being able to figure out what the fuck is up with Mulder and Zito, despite both of them knowing firsthand what Mulder and Zito are likely to get up to after a hard night.
Look, a blowjob’s a blowjob, all right? Especially in Minnesota. Or Kansas City. Or where-the-fuck-ever they were that wasn’t Oakland. Anyway, that shit’s in the past.
They’ve always been a bit too close, this team. They live in each other’s pockets, even back in California, they have a hard time staying away from each other.
But if the others idly look the other way when Mulder keeps his hand on the back of Crosby’s neck for too long, or hike their eyebrows subtly when Zito wraps his hand in the back of Hudson’s jersey and tugs it out of his belt, just messing around during warm-ups, if they are askance at these everyday, five-years-running habits of their closer-than-brothers teammates, somehow no one even notices when Zito disappears in the direction of the executive suite elevators and comes back twenty minutes later with scuff marks on his knees.
Beane says to him, “You think this’ll keep me from trading you if I have to?”
His hand’s on Zito’s shoulder, but he’s not pushing him down, not yet. Zito shakes his head. His hair’s grown long again, biting into his eyes.
It’s not like Beane cares, either way. He knows how it works in major league clubhouses, the stuff you don’t talk about. He knows Zito shakes his head instead of answering because Zito thinks Beane will be able to hear the lie if he says it out loud.
Fucking whatever, man. It’s just added incentive for Zito to be good at what he does. The threat of Tampa Bay. No teeth, learn it fast.
He brushes the hair off Zito’s forehead, and it’d be a sweet gesture except for Beane asking at the same time, “You still fucking Mulder, Zito?”
Zito’s eyes flash and Beane always knows what’s going on in his clubhouse. “Never was,” Zito answers, and he’s pushing his tongue at the ghost-scarred corner of his lip unconsciously.
“Sure, sure,” Beane says, and he’s got that mean smile back on his face. He leans in and Zito flinches back, but Beane just licks the corner of Zito’s lip.
This, you know what, it’s not as weird as it should be.
The many ways in which Billy Beane is not like other GMs.
He gets away with this shit because his payroll is still in the cellar of the league but his team never is. Because everyone’s watching him to see what he’s doing now, trying to guess what he’s gonna do next, is he looking at fielding percentage, is he looking at switch-hitting catchers, is he keeping this a secret like he kept Bill James a secret?
Fuck. It’s not like Bill James was locked in his fucking basement or something. It’s not like Beane was the only one in the game with copies of Baseball Abstract, he’s just the first to give it form and action and life outside the statistics. Now everybody’s watching his every move and he’s shaken the game to its foundations and he can do whatever the fuck he wants.
Everybody’s playing Billyball, these days.
Hudson corners him outside the hotel in Seattle.
Zito’s just, what, it’s nothing. He’s looking at the stars. That’s allowed, for Christ’s sake. But he still looks kind of caught when Hudson punches out through the door. Cars scroll by and the headlights drench across them, making Zito hiss and squint his eyes shut.
Tim Hudson’s negative image nailed to the backs of his eyelids like an atom bomb’s been dropped, ash seared onto the stone. Hudson in his pegged jeans and white T-shirt tucked tightly in and Zito thinking about how cowboys always die bloody.
It’s pretty late.
“You’re fucking up again, Zito, aren’t you,” Hudson says and doesn’t wait for a response. “Jesus Christ, you’re not a goddamn kid anymore.”
Zito jams his hands in his pockets and Billy doesn’t travel with the team, except for sometimes when he does. He’s upstairs, that’s certain enough. But he’s not waiting or anything.
“Well, fuck, dude, if you know so well what’s wrong with me, how should I fix it?” Zito asks sullenly, and he’s thinking about that bar fight last year, those fucking asshole Red Sox fans talking about Huddy’s little girl and maybe Zito didn’t get his boy’s back that night, but only because he didn’t know how to. What the fuck for loyalty, man, right?
Hudson doesn’t know shit about what’s going on, of course, but he can talk a good game. “Stop thinking about getting traded and just pitch, kid.”
Zito doesn’t answer. He’s looking for a particular constellation. This city’s as dim as any city in the country. Or any city with a major league baseball team, anyway. Hudson was hurt for way too long this year, and that’s only one excuse.
Anyway, he should stay out here and talk with Hudson some more, because maybe once upon a time Hudson was gonna be his favorite older brother, but yeah, not so much anymore. Zito pushes his shoulder off the wall and goes back inside, and he makes sure Hudson’s not behind him before he gets in the elevator and presses the button for the floor above the one the players are staying on.
When Zito’s on his knees, he’s not thinking about baseball. It’s pretty much the only time that’s the case, so, okay, good. Take a break from the fucking game, he’s certainly earned it.
He’d rather not see Billy Beane’s face when it happens, but it turns out that’s not really true either.
Zito can see it sometimes, that kid Beane was once, who had everything and was gonna be as good as anyone has ever been. There’s a picture on the shelf in Beane’s office at the Coliseum, him at seventeen years old with his arms around the shoulders of two of his high school teammates, grinning brash and cocky with his unruly hair crashing darkly in front of his eyes.
But Zito tries not to think about that kid too much.
As their division lead is carved down and the end of the season telescopes in on them, Beane slams Zito against the wall again, bruises and crescent-moon indentations, but only in places that Zito’s jersey covers.
Beane fights him all the way down, which probably should have been expected, and Zito should definitely be embarrassed by the fact that Beane’s much stronger than he is, but, well. Hell with it.
Zito will never be a power pitcher, he’s all about control.
So, whatever, Beane holds him down and his hands are up under Zito’s shirt, flared warmly on Zito’s back. The hem of Zito’s shirt keeps catching on Beane’s watchband, but there’s already a hole there so all that happens is that it’s ripped a little bigger.
Beane gets his mouth onto the place where Zito’s neck runs into his shoulder and the rough of his face sandpapers on Zito’s skin, so that when Beane flattens his tongue against the shallow scraped red marks, it’s that much more sensitive and Zito, yeah, what the fuck, control, right, control.
He keeps thinking that at least Beane’s better in bed than Mulder is, and then he’s got to remember, all over again, that he never actually got Mulder into bed, and the refrain of ‘what the fuck’ gets so loud in Zito’s ears that he doesn’t really think you could call him sane anymore, if you ever could.
Okay, Christ, all right. And Zito says, “please,” and Beane laughs, the same laugh as always, broken bitter happy, bares his teeth against Zito’s throat and pushes his hand around to Zito’s stomach.
Zito’s face, by the way, is against the fucking hotel room wall. There’s a bed right behind them, but no. This wall is apparently good enough. Zito can taste wallpaper, gluey and dull and the curly flower pattern will be on his cheekbone for fucking days.
It’s true, that Zito would do anything to keep from being traded. But he’s not entirely sure that’s what’s going on, here. If it was, he’d feel more like a whore than he does, right?
He thinks bizarrely about Mata Hari. Fucking for the good of the Third Reich. Fucking for the good of the Oakland Athletics.
This is such a weird month.
They’re not going to pick up Jermaine Dye’s contract for next year, which means they need a right-handed stick with power, and hopefully one that can keep from getting injured for at least one full year.
A veteran second baseman is on Billy Beane’s Christmas list. The whole fucking ‘pen is going to be routed, as they fucking well deserve.
Joe Blanton’s showing everybody something, up with the September call-ups and doing his very best to keep them in games that Mulder’s already lost.
Blanton’s a starter, and it looks like he’ll be ready for a spot in the rotation come spring training.
Someone’s gonna be unnecessary, come spring training, and Mark Mulder’s only gone crazy once.
Barry Zito’s under Beane’s desk at the Coliseum, scrunched in with his legs folded uncomfortably against his chest and his head wedged at a slight tilt against the wood. Zito chews on the denim of his jeans, fitting his teeth into the curve of his kneecap.
He hears the door open and Beane yelling something to his secretary about get me fucking Cashman, and Zito pictures himself in pinstripes. The door claps shut and Beane’s legs stalk around the desk, collapse into the chair. The chair rolls back a couple of feet and Beane is bending down, peering at his former ace pretzeled under the desk.
“Hello,” Beane says dryly, but his eyes are kind of amused, kind of homicidal, you know, it’s about that time of day.
“Hi,” Zito says back, and his hair’s in his eyes again but he can’t flick his head because his head is canted and pressing hard on the underside of the desk. He blinks through the fringe and this isn’t weird, or at least, not in the scheme of things.
“Hiding from something?” and Beane’s not smiling, mouth drawn tight, hand rapping a short abbreviated riff on the desk, reverberating through the wood.
Zito gets his elbows back against the desk and pushes, scoots down and slides out. He rises to his knees and rests his hands on Beane’s legs.
“Yeah,” Zito answers, and then gets back to work.
I hope you're goddamn happy now.