This poem starts out nostalgic, and then becomes very serious very quickly. It points to some uncomfortable issues, including Sammy Sosa’s skin bleaching. This poem was originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner.
To this day I still remember sitting
on my abuelo’s lap watching the Yankees hit,
then run, a soft wind rounding the bases
every foot tap to the white pad gentle as a kiss.
How I loved those afternoons languidly
eating jamón sandwiches & drinking root beer.
Later, when I knew something about the blue collar
man—my father who worked with his hands & tumbled
into the house exhausted like heat in a rainstorm—
I became a Mets fan.
Something about their unclean faces
their mustaches seemed rough
to the touch. They had names like Wally & Dyskstra.
I was certain I would marry a man just like them
that is until Sammy Sosa came along
with his smile a reptile that only knew about lying in the sun.
His arms were cannons and his skin burnt cinnamon
that glistened in my dreams.
Everyone said he was not beautiful.
Out on the streets where the men set up shop playing dominoes
I’d hear them say between the yelling of capicu
“como juega, pero feo como el diablo.”
I knew nothing of my history
of the infighting on an island on which one side swore
it was only one thing: pallid, pristine. & I didn’t know
that Sammy carried this history like a tattoo.
That he wished everyday to be white.
It is a perfect game this race war, it is everywhere, living
in the American bayou as much as
the Dominican dirt roads.
It makes a man do something to his skin that seems unholy.
It makes that same man change eye color like a soft
summer dress slipped on slowly.
It makes a grandmother ask her granddaughter
if she’s suffering
from something feverish
because that could be the only excuse why
her hair has not been straightened
like a ballerina’s back dyed the color of wild
daffodils growing in an outfield.
Sammy hit 66 home runs one year
& that was still not enough
to make him feel handsome
or worthy of that blackness that I believe a gift
even today while black churches burn & black bodies
disappear from one day to the next the same as old
I think of him often barely remember what he looked like
but I can recall his hunched shoulders in the
dugout his perfect swing
& how maybe he spit out something black
from his mouth after
every single strike—
The Kansas City Cowboys were admitted to the American Association on January 17, 1888, after the New York Metropolitans folded. The Brooklyn Dodgers purchased what remained of the Mets, hoping to obtain the services of the now-unemployed New York players. The Cowboys, meanwhile, would have a rough inaugural season, finishing with a 43-89 record, putting them in last place in the AA.
Tom Seaver won the National League’s Rookie of the Year on November 20, 1967. The right-handed Seaver compiled a 16-13 record that season with a 2.76 ERA.
On November 17, 1964, Yogi Berra signed a two-year contract with the New York Mets as a player-coach for $35,000 per season. He played only four games with the Mets in 1965, collecting two hits.
Tom Seaver became the highest-paid pitcher in baseball pitcher on February 21, 1974 when he signed a one-year, $172,500 contract with the New York Mets. “He’s the best pitcher in baseball,” said Mets general manager Bob Scheffing, “and we’re paying him for what he is.” Seaver pitched in 32 games in 1974, posting an 11-11 record with a 3.20 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 236 innings pitched.
After a long hiatus, due to having to return the series to the library and wait for others to finish their turns with it before having my chance at checking it out again, I have finally made it back around to watching the Ninth Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns. This installment in the series covers the time period from 1970 to 1993, the ending representing present day at the time, as the series was originally released in 1994.
The Ninth Inning opens with a baseball game being played between a pair of Dominican teams. A couple players from one of the teams give interviews expressing the importance of baseball to the Dominican culture. “It’s like a religion,” one player says. “There’s never been a revolution or war during baseball season.” Historian Manuel Marquez-Sterling compares baseball to the opera, insisting the two are essentially the same kind of thing.
On this disc we learn about Brooks Robinson leading the Orioles to the 1970 World Series championship against Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds. In 1971, the Orioles found themselves on the losing side of the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Roberto Clemente of the Pirates made a name for himself during this period. He was an icon for both the black community and for the Puerto Rican community, and he gave back to society as much as he could. On New Years Eve of 1971, however, Clemente’s plane crashed in an effort to bring relief supplies to Nicaragua following an earthquake.
Baseball’s reserve clause met its end during this time period. Curt Flood’s battle in the courts against the clause at the start of the decade came away largely fruitless, though it did serve to bring the issue into the public spotlight. In 1975, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, with the help of Marvin Miller, took on the reserve clause by claiming free agency. In the end, the reserve clause was abolished and players were now eligible for free agency after six years. This, as we see through today, resulted in an explosion of baseball salaries. The collusion of baseball owners in the late-1980s threatened this newfound free agent market, in much the same way owners once had observed the “gentleman’s agreement” to never sign a black player. This collusion, however, would soon get exposed and would cost the owners a considerable sum.
The treatment of both Roberto Clemente and Curt Flood highlighted the points made by Jackie Robinson shortly before his death. Certainly, as Buck O’Neil mentions, a lot changed in baseball, and in American society, as a result of Robinson’s role in breaking the color barrier. Nevertheless, baseball still had a long way to go in terms of racial equality. Henry Aaron knew all about this reality, playing for the Braves and chasing Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record. The hate mail sent to Aaron, some of which gets read in this episode, sends chills down my spine. In 1974, Hank Aaron did break Ruth’s record, and deservedly so. The 1987 interview of Al Campanis regarding the reasons behind a lack of blacks in baseball management drove home the existence of the persisting prejudice.
The Oakland A’s of the 1970s drew attention, not only due to their excellent performance, but also due to the appearance of their players. Players were given bonuses to grow their hair out, and many went on to sport some quite interesting facial hair. Catfish Hunter’s pitching for Oakland was stellar, almost unfair in the eyes of some hitters, who noticed the strike zone seemed to grow larger whenever Hunter took the mound.
The Cincinnati Reds returned to the World Series in 1975, this time against the Boston Red Sox. Not only did the Reds have Pete Rose on their roster, but also boasted of names like Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, and Joe Morgan. Game 6 of this Series proved one for the history books, featuring Carlton Fisk’s dramatic walk-off home run for Boston in the twelfth inning to tie the Series at three. Cincinnati would win the Series, however, in Game 7. As a side note, I particularly enjoyed the various stories told by pitcher Bill Lee on this disc. The man was certainly a character. He speaks candidly and hilariously about his own experiences, blunders, and shortcomings, and his wild gesturing made it just as fun to watch him speak as it was to listen.
The 1970s saw the rise of George Steinbrenner as owner of the New York Yankees. Free agency worked in Steinbrenner’s favor, and he spent freely to build a winning organization. Though they lost the 1976 World Series, they won it in 1977 and 1978, led by Reggie Jackson. Steinbrenner became notorious for running through managers like a child runs through fads, bolstering his reputation for trying to buy his way to championships.
The 1979 Series featured Willie Stargell and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and then in 1980, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Kansas City Royals, led by Pete Rose, who had signed with them after becoming a free agent. Rose would return to the Reds later in his career. Nolan Ryan also took advantage of free agency, dominating from the pitcher’s mound with multiple teams. After the collusion among the owners was busted up, baseball contracts exploded, and player after player made headlines as the newest highest paid player.
After this point, the documentary ceased to cover every single World Series championship, but rather focused on the ones that would be deemed “most popular” in baseball history. The 1986 World Series saw a continuation of the Curse of the Bambino. The Boston Red Sox lost the Series in a stunning fashion to the New York Mets. After giving up what seemed like a sure victory in Game 6, the Red Sox also lost Game 7. The 1988 World Series went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a championship victory that included the unbelievable tale of Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 in spite of his injuries.
In August 1989, Pete Rose was banished from baseball. Bart Giamatti gave the announcement in a press conference, stating that Rose’s involvement in gambling had hurt the game, and that the game must be held to the highest standards. In spite of a depressing end to the 1980s, and in spite of all the scandals and other struggles in baseball, John Thorn and Buck O’Neil exalt the continuing survivalist spirit of baseball. Admittedly, the timing of these statement is a bit ironic, considering that the next World Series after this documentary was released, the 1994 Series, did not get played due to the players’ strike. In spite of that, baseball did come back, and I’d say the fact that so many baseball blogs, such as this one, exist is a testament to the continuing love and wonder that baseball brings.
The Brooklyn-based plant for Rheingold Beer was forced to close on January 5, 1974 due to heavy financial losses. As a result, the brewery was also forced to end its position as the primary radio-TV sponsor for the New York Mets. Rheingold as a whole shut down operations in 1976, when they found themselves unable to compete with the large national breweries.