“Sign for My Father, Who Stressed the Bunt,” by David Bottoms

There’s no argument that the home run is popular, especially in today’s game.  Babe Ruth didn’t become a legend by bunting, after all.  That doesn’t mean the bunt isn’t important.  If you look at it the right way, a well-executed bunt can be just as awe-inspiring, if not more so, as a knock over the outfield fence.

The piece was published in 1995 in Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems.

*

On the rough diamond,
the hand-cut field below the dog lot and barn,
we rehearsed the strict technique
of bunting. I watched from the infield,
the mound, the backstop
as your left hand climbed the bat, your legs
and shoulders squared toward the pitcher.
You could drop it like a seed
down either base line. I admired your style,
but not enough to take my eyes off the bank
that served as our center-field fence.

Years passed, three leagues of organized ball,
no few lives. I could homer
into the left-field lot of Carmichael Motors,
and still you stressed the same technique,
the crouch and spring, the lead arm absorbing
just enough impact. That whole tiresome pitch
about basics never changing,
and I never learned what you were laying down.

Like a hand brushed across the bill of a cap,
let this be the sign
I’m getting a grip on the sacrifice.


Some Sox-Yankees rivalry humor

The Yankees really are a popular target.  I’m no Red Sox fan, either, but somehow, I still struggle to feel bad for the Yankees.

*

‘I am a Yankees fan,’ a first-grade teacher explains to her class. ‘Who likes the Yankees?’
Everyone raises a hand except one little girl. ‘Janie,’ the teacher says, surprised. ‘Why didn’t you raise your hand?’
‘I’m not a Yankees fan.’
‘Well, if you are not a Yankees fan, then what team do you like?’
‘The Red Sox,’ Janie answers.
‘Why in the world are you a Red Sox fan?’
‘Because my mom and dad are Red Sox fans.’
‘That’s no reason to be a Red Sox fan,’ the teacher replies, annoyed. ‘You don’t always have to be just like your parents. What if your mom and dad were morons? What would you be then?’
‘A Yankees fan.’

~*~

The Red Sox get into the Series thanks to the fact that the Yankees – who were leading the American League championships three games to none, and have all-stars at every position, not to mention a payroll larger than the gross national product of Sweden – chose that particular time to execute the most spectacular choke in all of sports history, an unbelievable Gag-o-Rama, a noxious nosedive, a pathetic gut-check failure of such epic dimensions that every thinking human outside of the New York metropolitan area experiences a near-orgasmic level of happiness. But there is no need to rub it in.

~ Dave Barry (2004 year in review)

red sox yanks


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Second Inning

Gushing with patriotism, the Second Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns begins with proclamations of the game of baseball being America’s “safety valve” and a montage of old baseball photos being scrolled to the sound of the national anthem and a spoken list of various American accomplishments during the early twentieth century.

Not all was perfect in the country, however, as Burns also points to an increase in racism across America, the growth of tenements, and a decline in baseball’s popularity.  As it always does, however, baseball managed to recover.  It was a time when small ball dominated the style of play, and pitchers like Christy Mathewson, “Three Finger” Brown, and Walter Johnson became legends on the mound.

Major league baseball entered the twentieth century in trouble, beset by declining attendance, rowdyism, unhappy players, and feuding, greedy club owners, but then divided itself in two, cleaned itself up, and succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. The World Series began, and season after season more than five million fans filled stadiums to see their heroes play, and countless millions more, who had never been lucky enough to watch them in person, followed their every move in the sports pages.

In part two of this documentary series, we see the rise of players like Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, two of the most diametrically different players as the game has ever seen.  We meet player-manager John McGraw, who approached the game with a furious kind of passion recognized throughout baseball.  The “Christian Gentleman,” Christy Mathewson, also appeared on the scene playing for McGraw, and his precise pitching captured the attention of teams and fans across America.  Together, Mathewson and McGraw’s Giants dominated the sport.

2nd inningWe also see the rise of Ban Johnson and the American League.  The National Agreement brought peace between the new AL and the older National League, though the reserve clause remained intact, leaving ballplayers themselves with no voice in the administrative side of the game.  And to no one’s surprise, I’m sure, overpriced concessions have been a staple of ballparks since the game became a business.  This time period saw the introduction of hot dogs, served to fans in buns to allow them to hold them while watching baseball.

Once again, we see descriptions of racism in baseball followed closely by an update on the life of Branch Rickey.  Burns hints at the impact of seeing discrimination on Rickey’s views.  Later in this disc, there is a more in-depth discussion of black baseball, including the creation of the Negro Leagues led by Rube Foster.  The documentary also introduces (though it really doesn’t dive much into) the concept of “bloomer girls,” women playing baseball during this time period.

Some of the most recognizable pieces in baseball pop culture also came into existence in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  Franklin Pierce Adams’s poem, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” also known as “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” was written in 1910, Ernest Thayer’s iconic poem “Casey At the Bat” (1888) was recited frequently by performers, and Jack Norworth’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” became the game’s anthem.

The Second Inning ends at the conclusion of the 1909 season, following a discussion of Fred Merkle’s 1908 boner and a more direct rivalry between Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner in the 1909 World Series.  It’s hard to tell if Burns is particularly fascinated by Cobb, or if there are just too many good stories there to ignore, but Cobb does garner a fair amount of attention in this inning.  Not that I’m complaining — I wouldn’t have wanted to play against him (and probably not even with him), but Cobb does add some color to the game’s history.


Quote of the day

This is a game to be savored, not gulped.  There’s time to discuss everything between pitches or between innings.

~Bill Veeck

bv13

thethirdcity.org


Baseball throws

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We now break from our usual array of posts to share/brag about my new throw pillow covers!  They arrived in the mail a couple days ago, and every time I look at my couch now, I can’t help but smile.  You can find these on Amazon here and here, if you’re interested.  No, I am not working for Amazon, and yes, that is a Kansas City Royals throw blanket hanging on the back of the couch.


This day in baseball: Muddy lucky

On October 10, 1924, the Washington Senators and the New York Giants were tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the twelfth inning in Game 7 of the World Series.  Senators catcher Herold “Muddy” Ruel came to bat and hit a high, foul ball directly over home plate.  Giants’ catcher, Hank Gowdy, removed his protective mask to field the ball, but neglected to toss the mask aside.  Gowdy stumbled over the mask and dropped the ball, thus allowing Ruel to continue his at-bat.  Ruel proceeded to hit a double, then scored the winning run of the Series on a ground ball by Earl McNeely that made its way past the third baseman.

muddy ruel

Goudey baseball cards, 1933


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The First Inning

In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing base, a certain game of ball…Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms…the game of ball is glorious.  ~Walt Whitman

Thus begins the first disc of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns.  This is a series that I’ve checked out from the library and started watching multiple times, yet never managed to finish.  In an effort to change this, I’ve decided to commit myself to writing about each “Inning” of the series here.  This way, I have a form of accountability to encourage me to get through the whole thing.

Approximately the first twenty minutes of the first disc serve as kind of a nostalgic, feel-good introduction to the series and the game.  Images of Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, and several others flash across the screen to a background of melodic music and various speakers ruminating about what an incredible game baseball is.

The First Inning then begins with the myth of baseball’s founding by Abner Doubleday.  Burns describes the story behind Doubleday’s supposed invention of the game, then immediately refutes it, asserting that Doubleday likely never even saw a professional game.  Baseball, rather, is most likely a direct descendant of two British sports: rounders and cricket.  The game went through multiple variations until the founding of the New York Knickerbockers and the codification of rules by Alexander Cartwright.  Henry Chadwick soon appears on the scene and becomes instantly enamored with baseball.  Chadwick went on to invent the box score, using statistics to track players’ performances.  The National Association of Base Ball Players was then formed to help maintain control over the sport and further codify the rules.

The outbreak of the American Civil War presented a disruption to organized baseball.  On the other hand, it also served to help spread the game’s popularity as soldiers returning home at the end of the war took knowledge of the sport with them.  In spite of the end of slavery, black teams found themselves banned from organized leagues.  Women and girls, also, struggled for the right to play ball, as it was deemed too violent and dangerous for the fairer sex.

Burns chronicles the evolution of baseball from its status as an amateur pastime to a professional sport — a business.  It is evident from his focus on the establishment of the reserve clause that Burns intends to delve into the subject further.  It only makes sense to do so, of course, given the impact that this clause would have on the occurrence of so many events throughout the game’s history.  Burns also puts some attention on gambling, which, as we know, would also impact baseball’s timeline of events.

The First Inning covers the development of the NL, the AA, the Players’ League, and the rise of Albert Spalding.  A number of players are introduced, including Cy Young, Cap Anson, King Kelly, and John McGraw.  We also meet Moses Fleetwood Walker and the bigotry he faced in the big leagues as a black player.  This, followed closely by a discussion of Branch Rickey’s early life, present a foreshadowing recognizable by anyone familiar with the game’s history.

Most histories I have seen covering this period in baseball seem to treat the game with a kind of veneration.  Personally, this is perhaps my favorite period in the game’s history to learn about, possibly in part due to this sense of awe that it brings out about baseball.  So much of what happens next has already been established, yet there is still something pure and clean about baseball during the 19th century.