In Memory of Baseball (a poem with a recording and a book review)

The 2020 baseball season was scheduled to kickoff this past weekend. Unfortunately, it has been postponed due to the current pandemic. So here is a poem I wrote this weekend (you can even listen to it–how neat is that) along with a review of a book I recently read with my book club on the 1949 baseball season. Enjoy and wash your hands!.

I am not sure why there is not the arrow to start in the strip below, but if you click just to the left of the 00:00, you can start the recording. It’s a minute and 16 seconds long. 

David Halberstam, Summer of ‘49, (1989, New York: HarperPerennial, 2002), 354 pages, with a bibliography, index, and some black and white photographs.

 

In the post wars years, as players returned from the war, baseball captured the imagination of Americans. It was America’s sport. Football and basketball prominence was still in the future. The ballpark was a place where the melting pot vision could be witnessed firsthand. Immigrant children like the DiMaggios (there were three brothers who played in the majors) were second generation Italians and stars. Then, staring in 1947 with Jackie Robinson, African-Americans were included in the roosters. Postwar ball reached a new height with the thrilling 1948 pennant race in the American League. In the days before playoff series, the top team in each league went to the World Series, and if there was a tie, there was a one game playoff. Three teams were in contention in ‘48: the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox’s and the New York Yankees. The Indians won, leaving the younger Red Sox’s and the older Yankees disappointed.

The 1949 season turned out to be just as exciting as the Yankees and Red Sox’s battled it out for the American League pennant. The season began with the Yankees great Joe DiMaggios (who’d bridged the team from the Ruth/Gehrig era to the Mantle/Maris era) being out with an injured foot. The other great hitter was the Red Sox’s Ted Williams. Also playing for the Red Sox’s was Joe’s brother, Dominic. It was an exciting season in which the Yankees won the pennant in the last inning of the last game as the two teams battled it out.

Halberstam, who was a teenager during this season, captures the excitement that came down to the final inning. Once again, the Red Sox’s are disappointed. The Yankees win. Halberstam tells the story of this season, providing insight into the financial workings of baseball as well the changes that were taking place. This was a time when players still mostly traveled in trains, but planes were making their debut. It was also a time that most games, which had previously not been broadcast locally, were being on the air and great names were emerging in the broadcast booth, many who would soon become the well-known reporters who overshadowed the previously honored sportswriters. Even television made an appearance during the World Series. And for the Yankees, new names were rising up such as their new manager, Casey Stengel, and their rookie catcher, Yogi Berra. Other players who would grow into greatness were also beginning to make themselves known such as Willie Mays (whom the Yankees took a pass on due to his race).

Although I have never liked the Yankees, I was impressed with their teams discipline and how they instilled hard playing in each member of the team. Joe DiMaggio exemplifies this when asked why he plays so hard in games in which little was at stake and he responded that there might be someone in the crowd who’d never seen him play. For anyone who enjoys baseball, this is a good read.


Comments

In Memory of Baseball (a poem with a recording and a book review) — 34 Comments

  1. Wonderful poem. It captures the resigned sadness we are all feeling as we discover the things we will miss this year. But yes, like the birds, there are things we will remember that we still have and love.

  2. What a treat to hear you read your poem, Jeff! You certainly captured the feeling of a baseball game and made me really miss my Rockies and Coors Field. Hopefully next spring will be much better for us all. Surely birdsong must be one of the loveliest sounds in the world. I enjoyed you review of “Summer of ’49.” I was pleasantly surprised to know all the people you were writing about, since I’m not much of a sports historian. Take care!

    • Thanks, Louise. I had planned to attend games this June in Boston and Baltimore. I’ve never been to Fenway Park and was looking forward to it–I have been to a game in Baltimore, but I think I was 10 or 11.

  3. What a great poem and great review! With each day that passes, I fear the cancellation of baseball more, and that saddens me beyond words.

    • I remember Clemente playing and when I went to Pittsburgh in the mid-80s for seminary, I joked that I chose Pittsburgh because Clemente had played ball there!

  4. We only really miss something when we’re denied it. I hear that loss in your poem. I never watch baseball, but I love listening to it on the radio. It must be because that’s how my grandfather and I used to spend our Sunday afternoons if we couldn’t actually go to a game.

  5. First, I just love your poem. Listening to you read it was even better!
    I LOVE baseball. I played as a girl and it was my passion. I would bet you’ve seen the movies “Moneyball” and “The Natural”? Also, how bout those ladies teams during the war? Ha…would have loved to be on a team like that. Great book review, Jeff.

  6. It’s strange that we have no baseball right now. Opening Day is the best. I am a Cardinals fan and the home opener at STL is pretty magnificent. Nicely done on the poem and I look forward to discussing actual baseball games with you in the near future. Take care.

    • Yes, may it be soon that the ball parks are filled with stands. I became a Pirate fan when I moved to Pittsburgh for seminary in the mid-80s. But in 1968, as a fifth grader, I was pulling for the Cardinals, but in 2006, I was living in Michigan, so was rooting for the Tigers.

  7. I remember going to one baseball game with my dad and my brother because I was jealous that my dad and brother always went to them together. I was bored, but enjoyed being there with them 🙂

    • In one of my more memorable sermons (this was given in Utah back around 2000), I told about Paul’s Place (in Rocky Point NC, just north of Wilmington) which my scout troop used to stop. I later learned a large group of folks for the church saw each other in the grocery store that afternoon buying hot dogs!

  8. I am learning to understand American great sports: baseball and football.
    I just familiar with basketball and tennis….

    Love to read your poem….thank you for sharing
    # Stay safe, healthy and virus free

    • Baseball isn’t a worldwide sport, yet, but it’s pretty popular in Latin America (especially the Caribbean) and Japan. As for football, I generally only watch the Superbowl.

  9. My husband would probably like this book. He is suffering from withdrawal this spring from his much loved baseball. He’s been watching some of the old games on TV, but it’s just not the same. He was especially disappointed because he had tickets for the season opener for the Cleveland Indians this year. I enjoyed your poem.

    • Connie, tell your husband that I was living in Western NY in 1993 and caught the season opener for the Indians’ last season in their old ballpark. It was against the Yankees. Bob Feller, who had pitched in that park, threw out the first ball.

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