“Line-Up for Yesterday: An ABC of Baseball Immortals,” by Ogden Nash

I have a feeling that I have seen this particular poem before, though for the life of me, I do not recall where.  In any case, this piece by Ogden Nash was originally published in the January 1949 issue of SPORT Magazine.  Nash uses the letters of the alphabet to pay tribute to some of baseball’s most popular players.

You can find a chart listing the players each stanza stands for here.

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A is for Alex
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.

B is for Bresnahan
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren’t born.

D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When they asked, Who’s the tops?
Said correctly, I is.

E is for Evers,
His jaw in advance;
Never afraid
To Tinker with Chance.

F is for Fordham
And Frankie and Frisch;
I wish he were back
With the Giants, I wish.

G is for Gehrig,
The Pride of the Stadium;
His record pure gold,
His courage, pure radium.

H is for Hornsby;
When pitching to Rog,
The pitcher would pitch,
Then the pitcher would dodge.

I is for Me,
Not a hard-hitting man,
But an outstanding all-time
Incurable fan.

J is for Johnson
The Big Train in his prime
Was so fast he could throw
Three strikes at a time.

K is for Keeler,
As fresh as green paint,
The fastest and mostest
To hit where they ain’t.

L is for Lajoie
Whom Clevelanders love,
Napoleon himself,
With glue in his glove.

M is for Matty,
Who carried a charm
In the form of an extra
brain in his arm.

N is for Newsom,
Bobo’s favorite kin.
You ask how he’s here,
He talked himself in.

O is for Ott
Of the restless right foot.
When he leaned on the pellet,
The pellet stayed put.

P is for Plank,
The arm of the A’s;
When he tangled with Matty
Games lasted for days.

Q is for Don Quixote
Cornelius Mack;
Neither Yankees nor years
Can halt his attack.

R is for Ruth.
To tell you the truth,
There’s just no more to be said,
Just R is for Ruth.

S is for Speaker,
Swift center-field tender,
When the ball saw him coming,
It yelled, “I surrender.”

T is for Terry
The Giant from Memphis
Whose .400 average
You can’t overemphis.

U would be ‘Ubell
if Carl were a cockney;
We say Hubbell and Baseball
Like Football and Rockne.

V is for Vance
The Dodger’s very own Dazzy;
None of his rivals
Could throw as fast as he.

W is for Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.

X is the first
of two x’s in Foxx
Who was right behind Ruth
with his powerful soxx.

Y is for Young
The magnificent Cy;
People battled against him,
But I never knew why.

Z is for Zenith
The summit of fame.
These men are up there.
These men are the game.


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Fifth Inning

Continuing on with the journey through Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns brings us to the decade of the 1930s.  The United States, indeed, the world, was facing off against the Great Depression during the 1930s.  As a result of high unemployment rates and widespread poverty, few could afford the price of tickets to attend professional baseball games, and as a result, attendance fell drastically.  Baseball did what it could to try to draw fans back in, from the first All-Star game to the creation of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  However, the financial difficulties that faced the nation at this time were too great.

Even as the Depression was getting underway, the Yankees signed Babe Ruth to the biggest contract in baseball history in the early 1930s.  It was a move that seems only too-appropriate, given Ruth’s ostentatious lifestyle.  Meanwhile, Lou Gehrig continues to stay merely in the shadows of the spotlight, in spite of his consecutive game streak and consistent high level of play.shadow ball

Subtitled “Shadow Ball,” the Fifth Inning of this series by Ken Burns focuses on black baseball.  (The subtitle, by the way, is not a reference to race, but rather to the illusion that these games weren’t being played with a ball at all, because it could barely be seen.)  While white baseball suffered during the Depression, black baseball flourished.  Many black teams came under control of racketeers, as they were among the few who could afford to fund baseball during this time, but interestingly, this seemed to be to the advantage of the Negro Leagues.  And the crowds flocked to watch the black teams play.  Listening to the nostalgia in the voices of former negro leagues players, you can tell there was a true love for the game, even in spite of inequality, the hard road trips, and the racism they faced.

We learn about Satchel Paige, considered by some to be the greatest pitcher in all of baseball.  He had such an arsenal of pitches that few could hit off Paige.  Some saw him as black baseball’s equivalent of a Babe Ruth, in that he drew large crowds to ball games.  He even seemed to hold true to this comparison in his off-field personality.  He hated to drive slow and cultivated a persona for those around him.  Buck O’Neil, however, indicates there was much more to Paige than often met the eye.

Babe Ruth himself became the center of attention yet again during the 1932 World Series in Chicago when, in Game 3, he appeared to call his shot.  No one will ever know for certain whether he really did, or if Ruth was merely engaging in a different gesture altogether, but it was a moment that, as we all know, has remained a part of the baseball psyche for decades.  As the decade went on, however, Ruth’s level of play would decline, as it always does as a ballplayer gets older.  When the Yankees made it clear they would not offer him a manager position, he did a brief stint with the Boston Braves, then retired from baseball.  Meanwhile, new stars stepped into the spotlight.  Not just Lou Gehrig, but also figures like Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean, and Bob Feller.

As for home run hitters in the Negro Leagues, catcher Josh Gibson was well-known for this ability.  While many called him a black Babe Ruth, Burns notes, there were some who thought they had the comparison backwards, and that Babe Ruth was actually a white Josh Gibson.  Indeed, the list of accomplishments for Gibson certainly seems to pass those of Ruth, including a season with seventy home runs, some of which exceeded 575 feet in distance.  The Negro Leagues’ version of the Yankees were the Kansas City Monarchs, led by first baseman Buck O’Neil.  In his commentary, O’Neil speaks about the camaraderie between the players and the fans.

We learn about the 1930s Brooklyn Dodgers, “dem bums,” and we learn about the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, the “Gashouse Gang.”  In 1936, Joe DiMaggio made his first appearances as a rookie with the New York Yankees.  DiMaggio would help lead the Yankees to four World Series.  Also in the thirties, we see the first night game in Major League Baseball (though night games had been played in the Negro Leagues for some time) and the increasing popularity of radio broadcasts, especially those by Red Barber, created new fans, as more and more people came to understand the game.

During the off season, many black players traveled south to Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean.  In doing so, they were able to play baseball year round.  They also discovered that the racial attitudes south of the United States were very different.  They were paid more and welcomed more warmly by the locals than they were back home.

Discrimination didn’t stop with just the black population.  Hank Greenburg came into prominence as first baseman for the Detroit Tigers.  He wasn’t the first Jewish player in the game, but he was probably the first to really make a name for himself.  Greenburg faced a considerable backlash of anti-Semitism, but his stellar play eventually helped to win fans and players over.  Greenburg felt his role was of particular importance in light of the actions of one Adolf Hitler in Europe.

In 1939 came Lou Gehrig’s ALS diagnosis, and thus the end of his streak and his baseball career.  On July 4th of that year, Gehrig gave his “Luckiest Man” speech at Yankee Stadium.  Two years later, he passed away from the disease, which now bears his name.

1939 also saw the opening of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the induction of the first Hall of Fame class.  It was the 100-year anniversary of the myth of Abner Doubleday‘s founding of baseball in 1839.  The disc then ends with Buck O’Neil describing the long-awaited matchup between Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson — Negro League Baseball’s best pitcher versus it’s best hitter.  O’Neil’s account left me with a smile.


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Fourth Inning

ken burns
Continuing on our journey through Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns, we have now reached the Fourth Inning of this documentary series.  Subtitled “A National Heirloom,” this part of the series focuses primarily on Babe Ruth.  Bob Costas opens this disc with an anecdote about an argument between an American and a British man that comes to a head when the American man retorts childishly, “Screw the king!”  The Brit’s reply to this: “Yeah, well screw Babe Ruth!”  It’s a revealing anecdote, not only in terms of the greatness of the Great Bambino to the minds of American citizens, but also when thinking about the influence of baseball on American culture as a whole, even in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Prior to 1920, baseballs used in games weren’t changed out with the frequency that we see today.  At times, entire games could be played with a single baseball, if that ball never left the park.  Pitchers took it upon themselves to scuff, dirty, and otherwise sabotage the ball any way they could, thus ensuring it would fly erratically, making it more difficult to hit, and thus giving pitchers a distinct advantage.  However, the death of Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman, the victim of being hit in the head by a pitch, changed all that.  Umpires were now under orders to throw out a clean baseball the moment one showed any signs of dirt.  This, combined with a now more tightly-wound baseball, marked the dawn of new era in the game, in which home runs ruled the day.

Burns launches into a biographical segment of George Herman Ruth’s early life.  I was astonished to see that Ruth’s sister, Mamie Ruth Moberly, had survived long enough to contribute to the commentary of the documentary (she died in 1992).  Ruth’s introduction to baseball came in reform school, having been sent there by his parents, who declared him “incorrigible.”  His talent for the game, both as a hitter and as a pitcher, became quickly apparent, and he went on to be signed by the Baltimore Orioles.

From the Orioles, Ruth was soon sold to the Boston Red Sox, where he shined as a pitcher.  From 1919 to 1920, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth, and a number of other Red Sox players to the Yankees.  The sale of Ruth initiated what would become known as the Curse of the Bambino.

Ty Cobb, we learn, despised Babe Ruth and the change in baseball’s style of play that came as a result of Ruth’s performance.  However, Ruth so dominated the game and the record books that Cobb’s disapproval fell on deaf ears.  But Ruth’s dominance didn’t end on the field.  Off the field, he proved a fan favorite as his rambunctious personality and eagerness to please made him a lovable individual.  His excesses, e.g. blowing his pay on luxuries and frequenting whorehouses, were kept out of the papers, as the press knew he was simply too popular with the fans.

After he set that famous record of sixty home runs in a single season in 1927, Babe Ruth’s fame exploded.  He became a mainstay in advertising, as companies sought to capitalize by attaching his image to their products.  Everyone wanted a piece of the Great Bambino.

Burns breaks from his coverage of Ruth to discuss racism further.  The Harlem Renaissance saw a flourishing of black culture, and Rube Foster established the Negro Leagues.  The style of baseball encouraged by Foster sounds exciting enough to make me wish I had been around to watch some Negro Leagues games.  Indeed, between Ruth in the MLB and style of the Negro Leagues, the 1920s must have a been a fun time to be a baseball fan.

During this time period, coverage of baseball underwent some changes.  The sports pages became a daily feature of urban newspapers, and the personalities of baseball writers varied widely.  Fans could also track games via animated scoreboards, displayed in the cities.  The development of radio broadcasts of baseball games allowed fans to follow along with the action as it happened.

Burns makes a passing mention of some of the other big hitters of the era, such as Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker, and George Sisler.  Of those sluggers mentioned, Hornsby got the most attention, but not nearly the amount of attention that Babe Ruth received.  Walter Johnson received a nod for his continuing domination as a pitcher in what had become a hitter’s game, and in 1924, he helped lead the Senators to a World Series victory over the Giants.  Lou Gehrig, a rookie during the 1925 season, received a nod as well, his consecutive games streak already underway.

During this time also, Buck O’Neil joined the Kansas City Monarchs, the best team in the Negro Leagues.  Branch Rickey, meanwhile, developed baseball’s first farm system with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Teams around the majors quickly followed suit and minor league baseball was thus born.

It was a booming decade for the sport.  However, the disc concludes in the year 1929, when the stock market collapsed and the onset of the Great Depression was upon the nation.


The Pride of the Yankees

I was a teenager when I first watched this movie and came across a copy while browsing around the library this weekend.  Feeling like I was overdue to re-watch it, I decided to check it out.

The Pride of the Yankees was released in 1942 and is subtitled “The Life of Lou Gehrig.”  Starring Gary Cooper as Gehrig, Teresa Wright as his wife Eleanor, and Babe Ruth as himself, it chronicles events of Gehrig’s life, from boyhood to his iconic speech at Yankee Stadium at the end of his career.  The movie is much more touchy-feely and relationship-focused than it is a baseball biography.  There is certainly baseball in the movie — after all, how could there not be? — but emphasis falls more on Gehrig’s relationships with his parents and with his wife.

The complete turnaround in Gehrig’s mother’s attitude towards baseball is certainly one of my favorite aspects of the plot.  In the beginning, Mrs. Gehrig is determined that her son will become an engineer, only wishing for him a better life than she had.  When Gehrig signs with the Yankees out of Columbia, she is naturally disappointed.  However, Gehrig’s solid play and eventual stardom win her over, and by the end, she insists that anybody can be an engineer, but there is only one Lou Gehrig.

Gehrig’s “luckiest man” speech, both the original and the movie version, is so moving that anybody with a heart can’t help but be moved to tears.  The movie as a whole revolves around the pulling of heart strings, from Gehrig’s too-good-to-be-true relationship with Eleanor, to the story of hitting two home runs for little Billy in the hospital, to the speech at the end.  Certainly it was intended much more as a feel-good tale than a baseball movie.  The movie ran a bit longer than I remembered it going (a little over two hours), but as a whole, was definitely worth watching once again.

Pride of the Yankees


This day in baseball: Gehrig’s 2,000th

Lou Gehrig played in his 2,000th consecutive game on May 31, 1938.  In the game, Gehrig hit an RBI single as the Yankees defeated the Boston Red Sox, 12-5, in the Bronx.

Lou Gehrig Holding Three Baseball Bats

glogster.com


This day in baseball: Gehrig’s new deal

On February 19, 1935, Lou Gehrig signed a one-year deal with the New York Yankees for $30,000.  The previous season, Gehrig hit .363, 49 homers, and led the American League with 165 RBIs.

lou_gehrig


This day in baseball: Gehrig’s monument

On July 6, 1941, the Yankees unveiled a center field monument dedicated to Lou Gehrig.  The memorial serves as a tribute by his teammates to Gehrig, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) the month before.

GehrigMonument

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