“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.

*

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.


“Bad People,” by Mark Halliday

This poem is a bit of a deviation from what one usually finds in the world of baseball writing.  It doesn’t revolve around baseball per se, but around an imaginary back story to some pieces of broken glass found around home plate of a baseball diamond.  This piece was originally published in 1999 in Selfwolf.

*
The guys who drank quarts of Busch last night
here by the backstop of this baseball diamond
had names given them by their mothers and fathers—
“Jack” and “Kenny” let us say.

Jack might be
a skinny guy in a black fake-leather jacket,
he’s twenty-five, his gray pants are too loose on his hips,
his jaws always have these little black extra hairs,
his mother won’t talk to him on the phone,
she lives on french fries and ketchup,
he hasn’t been able to send her any cash
in the last two years, ever since he lost
his job unloading produce trucks at Pathmark;
Jack’s father disappeared when he was ten.
“No big deal,” Jack says, “he was a bastard anyway,
he used to flatten beer cans on the top of my head.”
Kenny offers a laugh-noise. He’s heard all that before.
Kenny is forty-eight, a flabby man with reddened skin,
he is employed at the Italian Market selling fish
just four hours a day but his shirts hold the smell;
his female companion Deena left him a note last month:
“You owe me $12 chocolate $31 wine $55 cable TV plus
donuts—I have had it—taking lamp and mirror
they are mine.” Kenny hasn’t seen her since.
He hangs with Jack because Jack talks loud
as if the world of cops and people with full-time jobs
could be kept at bay by talking, talking loud . . .

(I’m talking gently and imaginatively here
as if the world of bums and jerks could be kept far off—)

Jack and Kenny. (Or two other guys dark to me with wounds
oozing in Philadelphia ways less ready to narrate.)
Last night at midnight they got cheesesteaks at Casseloni’s
and bought four quarts at the Fireside Tavern
and wandered into this park. After one quart of Busch
Jack said he was Lenny Dykstra
and found a stick for his bat. “Pitch to me asshole” he said
so Kenny went to the mound and pitched his bottle
for want of anything better and Jack swung in the dark and missed;
Kenny’s bottle smashed on home plate and Jack heard in the sound
the absurdity of all his desiring since seventh grade,
absurdity of a skinny guy who blew everything since seventh
when he hit home runs and chased Joan Rundle around the gym
so Jack took his own empty bottle and smashed it down
amid the brown shards of Kenny’s bottle.
Then they leaned on the backstop to drink the other two quarts
and they both grew glum and silent
and when they smashed these bottles it was like
what else would they do? Next morning

Nick and I come to the park with a rubber ball
and a miniature bat. Nick is not quite three
but he knows the names of all the Phillies starters
and he knows the area around home plate is not supposed to be
covered with jagged pieces of brown glass. Like a good dad
I warn him not to touch it and we decide to establish
a new home plate closer to the mound (there’s no trash can
handy). “Who put that glass there?” Nick wants to know
and to make a long story short I say “Bad People.”
Nick says “Bad? How come?”

 

 


“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.


“Casey’s Comeback,” by Steve Humphrey

Every now and  then I come across a spin-off of Ernest Thayer’s “Casey At the Bat.”  It’s fun to read the different perspectives on what might have happened next for poor Casey after that infamous outing.  This piece was written in 2013 by Steve Humphrey of Pacifica, California.

*

Many years had come and gone since Mudville lost that game

To get that far and fall just short, twas Casey some would blame

But most the fans were faithful for years they endured the pain

Their cursed up strugglin’ franchise was an insult to the game

But thru this redwood valley and along the ocean shore

Could it be that Casey this mountain of a man

Would come on out of hiding and deal another hand

But would these fans accept him could he get another cheer

Or would they not forget the fear of yesteryear

But light is shinning on him now the scars they did heal

As Casey started working out to catch that former zeal

He had but months to ready himself as spring was getting near

The workouts were so intensified his mission would not veer

He said no no to candy and certainly no to fries

And munched down all his salad and pushed away the pies

Is Casey really coming back screamed a patron of many years

As 20 heads tuned around they couldn’t believe their ears

This word it traveled fast from the market to the pews

From Robby Joe the Blacksmith to Mike who sells the shoes

Opening day’s upon us now as Casey made the team

It’s been years since they’d seen him, he still looks lean and mean

The season starts out slow again it looks like dejavoo

The fans are all tensed up inside yet no one hears a boo

They find themselves in last again as a few fans they do frown

And some guys to find comfort read the standings upside down

But through this dirt and dust and palms of grimy spit

The Mudville fans were taking favor to their team that just won’t quit

Then one game they were down by 12 and defeat was right upon ’em

This team they said in unison we got’em where we want ’em

They rise up in the standings now this team keeps showing promise

As the crowds keep growing larger there is no doubting Thomas

And now the season’s winding down and one thing is for certain

If they keep up with this winning first place they’ll be a flirtin’

Oh now the final week is here they still are in the thicket

The hardcore fans are camping out to try and get a ticket

The team is oh so unified and have each other’s back

With Casey in the middle the leader of the pack

And now their rivals come to them it is the final game

To see who gets the glory to see who gets the fame

They gather on the hilltops and nearby houses too

Some will even climb the trees for a desperate kind of view

Others find a knothole or spy a vacant crack

Some are a top the train cars some stand on a back

Every Royal rooter is gathered here today

No matter what the cost they’ll find a way to pay

The fans are growing restless now they go from pale to white

Adrenaline keeps a rising no fingernail left in sight

And now they sing the Anthem as tension starts to build

And now they introduce the players as home team takes the field

At last the game is underway at last the game is here

Does Mudville have the fortitude can they persevere

The game it starts out slowly now as Mudville gets behind

Their pitcher is a reeling for the plate he cannot find

A flair to the left an error to the right and even a whimpy dinker

Says a fan up in the stands “this game might be a stinker”

The baseball Gods that are out today have really pulled the rug out

As the Mudville players keep praying “just get us in the dugout”

Now the Mudville team is batting and are looking for a hero

And when the inning ends it’s just another zero

The game it Soldiers on, have the fans lost their glee

It’s the bottom of the ninth and Mudville’s down by three

But a spark deep down ignites them and soon the bags are loaded

The fan are going crazy, the older ones have coded

But when Taylor pops it up and Daniels does the same

Another at bat like that could end this chilling game

The Mudville fans are reeling now, could this be their fate

As Casey leaves the deck and taps his bat upon the plate

The pitchers name is Johnny, his face does show the look

As catcher signals him to throw that 12/6 hook

Now the ball comes spinning in it’s bending like a bow

As Casey looks upon it and decides to let it go

The ump he calls strike 1 the fans don’t think it’s true

’til Casey takes that same ol’ pitch and now it’s 0 and 2

But Casey keeps his faith, the fat lady she ain’t sing’n

Just one mistake from Johnny and Casey he’ll be swing’n

In eager anticipation no desire to be the bum

Casey waits in ready, in hopes of what’s to come

His hands are clenched around the bat his knuckles are snowy white

If this pitcher serves it up he’ll swing with all his might

“Come on” said Haley who was Casey’s longtime girl

“The heater may be coming, focus on the pearl”

And now the pitch is coming it’s looking like a beam

It’s smoking like a comet it’s followed by some steam

And just like that this pitch puts Johnny’s team in peril

As Casey hits the ball right upon the barrel

The sound it makes is different in fact it’s kind of eerie

How can a human being unleash this kind of fury

10,000 jaws were dropping they couldn’t believe their eyes

For when that ball had left the park it still was on the rise

The fans they jumped they hugged they cried then fell into a scream

Then poured onto the field to greet their Mudville team

They carried Casey on their shoulders for at least an hour or two

So never give up fight the fight and your dreams may come true


“We’re Human Beings,” by Jill McDonough

It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that the players we watch from the stands or from the comfort of our own homes are just as much flesh and blood and bone as we are.  Julio Lugo was certainly no stranger to criticism during his career, and admittedly, it was his own fault oftentimes.  The thing about being in the spotlight is that your mistakes get magnified ten-fold.  That doesn’t excuse them, of course, but I do still think it’s important for us as fans to remember that we all know folks in our own immediate lives who make the same kinds of mistakes, but are fortunate enough to not have a spotlight shone on them.

*

That’s why we’re here, said Julio Lugo
to the Globe. Sox fans booed
poor Lugo, booed his at-bat after
he dropped the ball in the pivotal fifth.

That ball, I got to it, I just
couldn’t come up with it.

Lugo wants you to know
he is fast: a slower player
wouldn’t even get close
enough to get booed. Lugo
wants you to know he’s only
human: We’re human beings.
That’s why we’re here. If not,

I would have wings.
I’d be beside God right now.
I’d be an angel.

But I’m not an angel.
I’m a human being that lives right here.

Next day, all
is forgiven. Lugo’s home run, Lugo’s
sweet comment to the press.

I wanted to make a poster like the ones that say
It’s my birthday! or First Time at Fenway! or, pathetic, ESPN.
Posterboard, permanent marker to say Lugo: me, too.
I’m a human being that lives right here
, decided
it’s too esoteric, too ephemeral a reference, but it’s true:
Oh, Lugo, Julio Lugo, I’m here with you.


“Voices of the Game,” by Joe Kyle

There is definitely a difference between watching a game on TV and listening to it on the radio that extends beyond the visual aspect of it.  The auditory experience of catching a game via radio is incredibly rich, and in my opinion, seems to mimic actually being at the ballpark more than watching it on television does.

*

You see fans holding their radios here and over there,
Intently watching the game, yet listening with care.
Some think us strange that we bring our transistorized friend,
Then they sit too close, and try to listen in.

So many, many voices of baseball present and past,
A very select few can make you feel that home run blast.
The team in the booth at times is the best,
The fans can hope for along with the rest.

Some of these voices have now faded away,
Going, going, gone to their final play.
The restless nights they talked us to sleep,
Just waiting for someone to take one deep.

Harry was the greatest Cub there ever could be,
There will never be another like him at ol’ Wrigley.
Vin Scully still bleeds that Dodger blue,
While Scooter will always be a Yankee too.

Nuxhall and Brennaman are my favorite radio men,
They have been a duo since way back when.
I was a boy when I first heard that familiar winning call,
“This one belongs to the Reds” now has its own place in the Hall.

So the next time you search for the game on TV,
Turn the volume way down, grab a radio, and you will soon see.
The voices of the game do much more than that old screen,
They bring you the nation’s game in a fashion unseen.


“Nolan Ryan,” by Gene Fehler

Hitting a Major League fastball is a difficult feat against any pitcher, but against Nolan Ryan, the task was even harder.  Gene Fehler captures the difficulty of doing so when he compares it to hitting a pea with a toothpick in this poem published in 1991.

*

He threw a white pea
fast faster faster fastest
of them all,
Try hitting a pea
with a toothpick
and you’ll see what it’s like
to bat against the
fast faster faster fastest
of them all.