This haiku was first published in Full Count: The Book of Mets Poetry. One of the fun things about haiku is that a writer can cram a lot of imagery into three very short lines, and this piece does just that.
Sun shines on diamond, two birds on a citrus limb ball meets bat, a crack!
I re-watched Moneyball this weekend, the movie based on the book by Michael Lewis with the same title. Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane and Peter Brand during the 2002 season, and how they used a sabermetric approach to build a winning team on a limited budget.
Following the 2001 season, the Oakland A’s lost Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen to free agency, and general manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, finds himself needing to replace them. During a scouting trip to Cleveland, Beane meets Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), a Yale economics graduate who impresses Beane with his statistical analyses of ballplayers.
With Brand’s help, Beane built a low-budget team by focusing on players’ stats, such as on-base percentage. The start of the season was predictably rough, with the A’s finding themselves ten games back. Beane convinces team owner Stephen Schott to stick with the plan, and Beane then trades Giambi to the Phillies for John Mabry and Carlos Peña to the Tigers, leaving manager Art Howe no choice but to use the team Beane and Brand have designed. Three weeks later, the Athletics are only four games behind first.
The A’s launch into a winning streak that culminates in a dramatic victory over the Kansas City Royals, in which the A’s achieve a then record-breaking 20th consecutive win. The team falls short in the playoffs, however, when they lose to the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS.
Recognizing that sabermetrics is the future of baseball, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry first hires Bill James to the organization, then offers Billy Beane a $12.5 million salary to join Boston as well. Peter Brand tries to persuade Beane that he is worth the offer, however, not wanting to leave his daughter behind, Beane ultimately turns it down to stay with Oakland.
As a movie, I enjoy Moneyball. It’s dramatic, emotional, and there’s lots and lots of baseball. It sheds light on the idea behind sabermetrics. Critics argue that the movie is not an entirely accurate depiction of real-life events, excluding key players and portraying various relationships in a slanted light. It seems to me that the transition from real-life-story-to-movie presents the same challenges as book-to-movie situations: there’s just no way to be 100% true to the original without creating an hours-long film. As with any movie based on real life (or on a book), it’s worth doing your own research on the side in addition to enjoying the cinematic experience.
I never imagined that M.C. Hammer would make his way into this blog, but it turns out, Hammer Time has a connection to baseball.
Stanley Kirk Burrell (M.C. Hammer’s given name) once upon a time served as a batboy for the Oakland Athletics. After seeing the 11-year-old break dancing in the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum, A’s owner Charlie Finley offered him a role as a clubhouse assistant and batboy, and Burrell served as a “batboy” with the team from 1973 until he graduated from high school in 1980. Whenever Finley was out of town, young Stanley would be on the phone in the A’s dugout, relaying the play-by-play. Finley loved the boy so much, he gave Burrell the title of Executive Vice President for the organization, and Burrell was paid $7.25 per game.
As for Burrell’s future stage name, its origins come in part from Hank Aaron, a.k.a. Hammerin’ Hank, to whom many felt the young batboy bore a resemblance. Reggie Jackson, using the resemblance as inspiration, began calling Burrell “Hammer,” which stuck. He acquired the nickname “M.C.” for being a “master of ceremonies” when he began performing at various clubs while on the road with the A’s (and later in the military).
Burrell even tried to pursue a baseball career himself, having played second base for his high school team. He made it all the way to the final round of cuts with the San Franciso Giants. He did not make the team, however, and it was after this point that he turned his full attention to music and pursuing a career as a rapper. Nevertheless, Hammer has been a participant/player in the annual Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game wearing an A’s cap to represent Oakland and has returned to the Coliseum to throw out the first pitch on a number of occasions.
The 1927 New York Yankees featured the renowned Murderer’s Row, which included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri. The team won 110 games that year, and 1927 also happened to be the season when Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs.
This piece by Robert L. Harrison was first published in 1999.
Gather ’round you fans of baseball you lovers of season past, let me take you back to the greatest team that ever played on grass.
Guided by Miller Huggins known as “murderer’s row,” never was such a string of pearls so feared this side of Hell.
Greedy was this awesome bunch with Ruth and Gehrig leading the punch, and Hoyt and Moore on the mound shooting all the batters down.
Gasping crowds assemble like sinners in a tent, watching all the other teams trying to repent.
God blessed those boys of summer those pin-striped renegades, with a winning passion while others saw only the haze.
Gathering in the rosebuds by playing excellent ball, called the “five o’clock lightning” taking the pennant in the fall.
Gone were any pretenders to the throne no on stood wherever these Yankees roamed, twenty-five men made up this team and all had a year better than their dreams.
William DeWolf Hopper was an American actor, singer, comedian, and theatrical producer during the late-19th and into the early-20th centuries. Born in New York Citty, DeWolf Hopper grew to become a star of vaudeville and musical theater, but he became best known for performing the popular baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.”
A lifelong baseball enthusiast and New York Giants fan, Hopper first performed Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s then-unknown poem “Casey at the Bat” to the Giants and Chicago Cubs on August 14, 1888. Co-performer Digby Bell called Hopper “the biggest baseball crank that ever lived. Physically, of course, he is a corker, but when I say big I mean big morally and intellectually. Why, he goes up to the baseball [Polo] grounds at One Hundred and Fifty-fifth street after the matinees on Saturday, and he travels this six miles simply to see, perhaps, the two final innings, and any one can imagine the rapidity with which he must scrape off the makeup and get into his street clothes in order to secure even this much. But he says the Garrison finishes are worth it, and he is perfectly right. Hopper always was a baseball crank, long before the public knew anything about it.”
Hopper helped make Thayer’s poem famous and was often called upon to give his colorful, melodramatic recitation, which he did about 10,000 times over the course of his career.
I came across this movie, Bottom of the 9th, during my last trip to the library and decided I’d go ahead and check it out. This flick stars Joe Manganiello as Sonny Stano, once an up-and-coming star in the Yankees organization who finds himself spending 17 years in prison when an altercation results in the death of another young man.
The main plot of the film takes place following Stano’s release from prison back onto the streets of the Bronx. He is noticeably older-looking than the young man who had once been sentenced to prison, with a larger, more muscular build and hair graying at the temples. He is plagued with guilt over the mistakes from his youth and is determined to walk a straighter path going forward.
Stano begins his life after prison working in a fish market, but hates the work. He is drawn back to baseball and the Empires, a minor league affiliate of the Yankees. Before long, Stano quits his job at the fish market in order to join the staff of the Empires.
It quickly becomes apparent to the coaching staff of the Empires that Stano, in spite of his age and his time away from the game, still possesses no small amount of baseball talent. Stano is soon added to the Empires roster, much to the dismay of the other players on the team, the fans, and the media. Unsurprisingly, he suffers criticism over his past, every little move he now makes, and every statement he speaks.
From here, the movie is essentially a cliché redemption story (but if you’re not familiar with such cliché stories, stop reading here). Stano proves himself on the field, most people’s opinions eventually turn in his favor, he gets the girl, and he impresses the scouts from the Yankees organization who are considering calling him up to the big leagues.
Overall, this movie’s not bad. It’s not a magical home run classic baseball movie — there are no surprising twists in the story, no sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat moments of suspense. It’s mostly a laid back and predictable feel-good story.
Peter Balakian is an Armenian American writer and academic who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2016 for his collection, Ozone Journal. This collection includes the poem below, which shines a light on the fact that even as Roger Maris hit his historic 61st home run during the 1961 season, the world continued to move with myriad historic events simultaneously.
All summer the patio drifted in and out of light the color of margarine; days were blue, not always sky blue. At night the word Algeria circulated among the grown-ups.
A patient of my father had whooping cough, the words drifted into summer blue. The evenings spun into stadium lights. Kennedy’s hair blew across the screen. Castro was just a sofa.
I saw James Meredith’s face through a spread of leaves on the evening news. The fridge sweat with orangeade, the trees whooped some nights in rain—
a kid down the street kept coughing into his mitt. Static sounds from Comiskey and Fenway came though the vinyl, the plastic, the pillow—
So when it left Stallard’s hand, when Roger Maris’s arms whipped the bat and the bullet-arc carried into the chasm the disaffections at 344 ft. near the bullpen fence
under the green girder holding up the voices rising into the façade and over the river where a Baptist choir on Lenox Ave. was sending up a variation of Sweet Chariot into the traffic on the FDR that was jammed at the Triboro
where a derrick was broken and the cables of its arms picked up the star-blast of voices coming over the Stadium façade spilling down the black next-game sign into the vector of a tilted Coke bottle on a billboard
at the edge of the river where a cloud of pigeons rose over Roosevelt Island. It was evening by the time the cars unjammed and the green of the outfield unfroze and the white arc had faded into skyline before fall came
full of boys throwing themselves onto the turf with inexplicable desire for the thing promised. The going. Then gone.