Wednesday, April 8, 2015

National Poetry Month—Baseball Returneth…

Wrigley Field as you will never see it again.  Some one should write a poem about that.  Someone probably will.

Spring is in the air, baseball is back, and for a brief while at least, all is right in the world.  Folks usually think of sports and poetry as oil and water.  They don’t seem, at first glance to mix certainly, if one were to accept stereotypical convention the fans of each seem so different that it is no surprise that each is a bit contemptuous of the other.  But baseball, the nearly perfect game, is the epic poem of team sports.  It has always inspired bards, among them some of the most acclaimed names in American poetry.  So yes, beyond Casey at the Bat and Tinkers to Evans to Chance, there is a noble tradition.  Take these examples.
William Carlos Williams by Man Ray.

Dr. William Carlos Williams of Patterson, New Jersey was a careful observer of the human condition.  When he went to a ball game, his attention was as much on the crowd as on the playing field. 

The Crowd at the Ball Game
The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly 

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them —

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error the flash of genius —
all to no end save beauty

the eternal —
So in detail they, the crowd,

are beautiful
for this

to be warned against
saluted and defied —

It is alive, venomous
it smiles grimly

its words cut —
The flashy female with her

mother, gets it —
The Jew gets it straight - it

is deadly, terrifying —
It is the Inquisition, the

It is beauty itself

that lives
day by day in them idly —

This is
the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought

—William Carlos Williams

Grantland Rice.

Grantland Rice, by consensus one of the greatest sports writers of the 20th Century, filed this elegy for Babe Ruth in the New York Sun on August 17, 1948.  Later, he wrote what was essentially an entirely new poem under the same name which was included in The Fireside Book of Baseball.

Game Called

Game Called by darkness — let the curtain fall.
No more remembered thunder sweeps the field.
No more the ancient echoes hear the call
To one who wore so well both sword and shield:
The Big Guy’s left us with the night to face
And there is no one who can take his place.
Game Called — and silence settles on the plain.
Where is the crash of ash against the sphere?
Where is the mighty music, the refrain
That once brought joy to every waiting ear?
The Big Guy’s left us lonely in the dark
Forever waiting for the flaming spark.
Game Called — what more is there for us to say?
How dull and drab the field looks to the eye
For one who ruled it in a golden day
Has waved his cap to bid us all good-bye.
The Big Guy’s gone — by land or sea or foam
May the Great Umpire call him “safe at home.”

—Grantland Rice

Marianne Moore at Yankee Stadium.

Marianne More may have been the New York Yankee’s biggest fan.  She was a fixture in the stands in her signature tricorn hat and white hair.  The biggest thrill of her life was when she was invited by the team to throw out a first ball and Yankee Stadium.  More was near euphoria in 1961 when the Yanks won, again, the World Series.  She included virtually the entire team in this heartfelt salute.  It is a tribute to the greatness of that particular pinstripe squad that nearly 54 years later most of the names she mentions here are no strangers to even the most casual fan. 

Baseball and Writing

Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
generating excitement -
a fever in the victim -
pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
To whom does it apply?
Who is excited? Might it be I?

It’s a pitcher's battle all the way - a duel -
a catcher's, as, with cruel
puma paw,
Elston Howard lumbers lightly
back to plate. (His spring
de-winged a bat swing.)
They have that killer instinct;
yet Elston
- whose catching
arm has hurt them all with the bat -
when questioned, says, unenviously,
“I’m very satisfied. We won.”
Shorn of the batting crown, says, “We”;
robbed by a technicality.

When three players on a side play three positions
and modify conditions,
the massive run need not be everything.
“Going, going . . . “ Is
Roger Maris
has it, running fast. You will
never see a finer catch. Well . . .
“Mickey, leaping like the devil” - why
gild it, although deer sounds better -
snares what was speeding towards its treetop nest,
one-handing the souvenir-to-be
meant to be caught by you or me.

Assign Yogi Berra to Cape Canaveral;
he could handle any missile.
He is no feather. “Strike! . . . Strike two!”
Fouled back. A blur.
It’s gone. You would infer
that the bat had eyes.
He put the wood to that one.
Skowron says, “Thanks, Mel.
I think I helped a little bit.”
All business, each, and modesty.
Blanchard, Richardson, Kubek, Boyer
In that galaxy of nine, say which
won the pennant? Each. It was he.

Those two magnificent saves from the knee-throws
Boyer, finesses in twos -
Whitey’s three kinds of pitch and pre-
with pick-off psychosis.
Pitching is a large subject.
Your arm, too true at first, can learn to
catch your corners - even trouble
Mickey Mantle Mickey Mantle. (“Grazed a Yankee!
My baby pitcher,
With some pedagogy,
you'll be tough, premature prodigy.)

They crowd him and curve him and aim for the knees. Trying
indeed! The secret implying:
“I can stand here, bat held steady.”
One may suit him;
none has hit him.
Imponderables smite him.
Muscle kinks, infections, spike wounds
require food, rest, respite from ruffians. (Drat it!
Celebrity costs privacy!)
Cow’s milk, “tiger’s milk," soy milk, carrot juice,
brewer's yeast (high-potency -
concentrates presage victory

sped by Luis Arroyo, Hector Lopez -
deadly in a pinch. And “Yes,
it’s work; I want you to bear down,
but enjoy it
while you're doing it.”
Mr. Houk and Mr. Sain,
if you have a rummage sale,
don’t sell
Roland Sheldon or Tom Tresh.
Studded with stars in belt and crown,
the Stadium is an adastrium.
O flashing Orion,
your stars are muscled like the lion.

—Marianne Moore

Ogden Nash

In 1953 the old St. Louis Browns migrated east and were christened the Baltimore Orioles after the legendary, scrappy minor league team that seeded the  Big Leagues with stars and managers.  Comic poet and baseball fan Ogden Nash welcomed the new team to his adopted home town with this verse, which he read at a sports banquet.

You Can’t Kill an Oriole

Wee Willie Keeler
Runs through the town,
All along Charles Street,
In his nightgown.
Belling like a hound dog,
Gathering the pack:
Hey, Wilbert Robinson,
The Orioles are back!
Hey, Hughie Jennings!
Hey, John McGraw!
I got fire in my eye
And tobacco in my jaw!
Hughie, hold my halo.
I’m sick of being a saint:
Got to teach youngsters
To hit ‘em where they ain’t.

—Ogden Nash

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