Duke Snider – in memoriam

Snider_Topps--300x212Brooklyn Dodger great Duke Snider, who passed away this past weekend,  played his Hall of Fame career in the shadow of two of the only center fielders in history who could be called better than him, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

Bill James in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranks center fielders this way:

  1. Wille Mays
  2. Ty Cobb
  3. Mickey Mantle
  4. Tris Speaker
  5. Joe DiMaggio
  6. Duke Snider
  7. Ken Griffey Jr.
  8. Kirby Puckett
  9. Bill Hamilton
  10. Jimmy Wynn

Just imagine, New York City once had three of the greatest center fielders who ever lived all playing at the same time, potentially all on the very same day. And if the Giants were playing the Dodgers… well, baseball fans got their money’s worth that day.

Snider made the trip West in 1958 when the Dodgers migrated to Los Angeles. He retired from baseball after the 1964 season. He was the first of the three great center fielders to retire… but he was the last of the three to be voted into the Hall of Fame. It took him 10 years on the ballot to get inducted. One of the great travesties of Hall of Fame voting. It was just Snider’s bad luck that he had to play at the same time in the same city with Mays and Mantle.

Roger Kahn in The Boys of Summer writes a wonderful profile of Snider. Of the prominent players of those great Brooklyn Dodger Teams (Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Gil Hodges), Snider was the last living one. His passing is the end of an era, for New York baseball fans (real ones NOT Yankee fans), for all baseball fans.

requiescat in pace Duke Snider.

21 Days

Would the Duke have given in so easily?

Would the Duke have given in so easily?

On February 6th, with all the noble intentions of the naif, I posted here that I was making my FaceBook account officially inactive. Twenty-One days later, on this past Sunday, I caved into the pressure of technological modernity and made it active again.

When I made the decision to make it inactive – not terminated – I knew that at some point I would be reactivating it. I had just thought that it would be much further down the road. O the best laid plans of mice and men….

What happened?

Progress and a new world.

I was missing too many messages. I did not realized how many people use FaceBook as their primary form of communication, their only form of communication… more than email, certainly more than the phone. By making my FaceBook account inactive, I found myself suddenly out of the loop on many things. Even some that I care about.

So three weeks later, here I am. Still confounded by the whole FaceBook/Social Media thing, still suspicious of something so ubiquitous, still mystified by what people feel compelled to “share”… caving in, inevitably it seems, to a new reality that I know I may never make peace with.

Introvert or not… social media is here to stay. Whether I want it to be or not it seems that I have no choice, I must participate in some way.

And so dear reader, you can find me on Facebook again…just please don’t say I told you so ANDplease don’t poke me.

Music Monday: “Long, Long Time” by Pat McLaughlin

In the early 1980′s, my friend Bob was living and going to school in Nashville. When I was living in Chicago and Michigan I would hop on the Greyhound and go down to visit him. The change in culture and climate was wonderful.

Nashville was a great town: good food, nice people, and great music. All those studio musicians and songwriters needed places to play. It seemed like every place we went there was an excellent singer or band.

My favorite was Pat McLaughlin. Whenever I was in town we went to hear him play. I had a couple of his LPs and put them all onto cassettes that I wore out over the years traveling and bumming around the South and later Montana.

“Long, Long Time” is an old favorite of mine. The video is just an excuse by someone to get a great song out into the world again. That’s alright. When I hear the song I close my eyes anyway and imagine that I am young again, in a smokey bar in Nashville, and outside it is warm and humid,….

On the last day of February, it seems like the perfect song.

Enjoy!

On the Yankees and Other Crimes Against Humanity

Believe it or not: Teams like Kansas City could once keep their great players

Believe it or not: Teams like Kansas City could once keep their great players

Baseball, once the acknowledged “National Pastime,” continues to decline in television ratings, attendance, and influence. As a baseball fan, I am told by sports commentators like Bob Costas that I should be angry at the players who “cheated” the game by using steroids. These self-styled “baseball traditionalist” say that steroids and human growth hormones hurt the integrity of the game, contributing ultimately to competitive imbalance and a decline of interest in the game.

Personally, I think the late George Steinbrenner and the Yankees have done more harm to the game of baseball and the integrity of the game than Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Rafael Palmiero ever could.

The game of baseball is worse in 2011 than in 1991 because the current rules of baseball financing allow teams like the Yankees to begin each year with a decidedly unfair advantage over teams like Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Oakland…. At best, the Yankees begin each year truly competing against only one other team, the Red Sox.

Each year in the NFL, all teams (with the exception of the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns) have an equal chance of being in the Super Bowl. That is one of the reasons that football has become the most popular sport in the United States. The basis for football’s balance and success is rooted in its revenue sharing.

It is time for baseball to take a few lessons from the NFL and fix itself before it is too late. Below is my four-step solution for fixing baseball and returning competitive balance and integrity to the game.

  1. All local and national television and radio revenue for all baseball teams should go into one pot to be divided equally between all teams
  2. All stadium revenue (tickets, suites, seat licenses, advertising…) for all baseball teams should go into one pot to be divided equally between all teams
  3. All licensed apparel sales for all baseball teams should go into one pot to be divided equally between all teams
  4. George Steinbrenner’s name should be stricken from all baseball reference books and baseball histories and all Yankee victories since 1991 shall have an asterisk placed next to them acknowledging their dubious nature

This simple plan would restore overnight competitive balance to baseball, integrity to the game, and once and for all get Yankee fans to sit down and shut-the-hell-up. What, I ask you, could make the world a better place than that?

Book Review: “The Fabulous Clipjoint” by Fredric Brown

“Hardboiled crime fiction is a literary style distinguished by an unsentimental portrayal of crime, violence, and sex”

Fredric Brown wrote hundreds of science fiction and detective stories for pulp magazines like Black MaskThrilling Detective, andWeird Tales… he wrote screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock… he even had his stories adopted for Star Trek. But the most important thing you really need to know about Frederic Brown is that he was Mickey Spillane’s favorite writer.

The Fabulous Clipjoint was Brown’s first novel. In it, everything Brown learned over the years writing for various pulp magazines comes together beautifully to help him create the perfect hardboiled novel. In tone, attitude, and direction it is a noirmasterpiece.

When 18-year-old Ed’s alcoholic father is found dead in a Chicago alley, the suspects are many: his drunk and mean step-mother, his over-sexed and over-developed younger step-sister, local gangsters and criminals, out-of-state gangsters and criminals. Together with his Uncle Am, Ed unravels the “mystery” of his father’s life and death while becoming a detective and a man.

The writing is taut… crafted and honed to a fine edge. The atmosphere is pure noir. It is Chicago: rough and dirty and brass-knuckled. The characters are real, three dimensional… at once familiar, original, and unforgettable. Above all the story is a “cracking good yarn”: suspenseful, dramatic, moving.

For many reasons, hardboiled fiction still does not get the literary attention it deserves. In the year Fredric Brown published The Fabulous Clipjoint, 1947, Robert Penn Warren’s  All the King’s Men won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The following year James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific won it. Both are fine works. But neither can hold a candle to what Fredric Brown accomplishes in The Fabulous Clipjoint.

Poetry Review: “Baseball and Writing” by Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore throwing out the first pitch 1968

Marianne Moore throwing out the first pitch 1968

Marianne Moore  was a voracious reader. This encyclopedic nature of hers is at the heart of why she is a difficult poet. She brings more to a poem than any other poet and hence asks more of her readers than any other poet.

“Baseball and Writing” is one of my favorite Moore poems. When I wrote my own series of baseball poems called “Baseball Cards” I had this poem in the back of my mind… among some others.

In 1968, Moore threw out the first pitch of the year at Yankee Stadium. As any baseball fan knows, 1968 was Mantle’s last year in baseball. The Yankee roster she was looking at that day in 1968 is a far cry from the roster she features in her poem, “Baseball and Writing.”

Enjoy!

Baseball and Writing

Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
generating excitement–
a fever in the victim–
pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
To whom does it apply?
Who is excited?Might it be I?

It’s a pitcher’s battle all the way–a duel–
a catcher’s, as, with cruel
puma paw, Elston Howard lumbers lightly
back to plate.(His spring
de-winged a bat swing.)
They have that killer instinct;
yet Elston–whose catching
arm has hurt them all with the bat–
when questioned, says, unenviously,
“I’m very satisfied.We won.”
Shorn of the batting crown, says, “We”;
robbed by a technicality.

When three players on a side play three positions
and modify conditions,
the massive run need not be everything.
“Going, going . . . “Is
it?Roger Maris
has it, running fast.You will
never see a finer catch.Well . . .
“Mickey, leaping like the devil”–why
gild it, although deer sounds better–
snares what was speeding towards its treetop nest,
one-handing the souvenir-to-be
meant to be caught by you or me.

Assign Yogi Berra to Cape Canaveral;
he could handle any missile.
He is no feather.”Strike! . . . Strike two!”
Fouled back.A blur.
It’s gone.You would infer
that the bat had eyes.
He put the wood to that one.
Praised, Skowron says, “Thanks, Mel.
I think I helped a little bit.”
All business, each, and modesty.
Blanchard, Richardson, Kubek, Boyer.
In that galaxy of nine, say which
won the pennant?Each.It was he.

Those two magnificent saves from the knee-throws
by Boyer, finesses in twos–
like Whitey’s three kinds of pitch and pre-
diagnosis
with pick-off psychosis.
Pitching is a large subject.
Your arm, too true at first, can learn to
catch your corners–even trouble
Mickey Mantle.(“Grazed a Yankee!
My baby pitcher, Montejo!”
With some pedagogy,
you’ll be tough, premature prodigy.)

They crowd him and curve him and aim for the knees.Trying
indeed!The secret implying:
“I can stand here, bat held steady.”
One may suit him;
none has hit him.
Imponderables smite him.
Muscle kinks, infections, spike wounds
require food, rest, respite from ruffians.(Drat it!
Celebrity costs privacy!)
Cow’s milk, “tiger’s milk,” soy milk, carrot juice,
brewer’s yeast (high-potency–
concentrates presage victory

sped by Luis Arroyo, Hector Lopez–
deadly in a pinch.And “Yes,
it’s work; I want you to bear down,
but enjoy it
while you’re doing it.”
Mr. Houk and Mr. Sain,
if you have a rummage sale,
don’t sell Roland Sheldon or Tom Tresh.
Studded with stars in belt and crown,
the Stadium is an adastrium.
O flashing Orion,
your stars are muscled like the lion.

 

Life Distilled

T.S. Eliot Reading

T.S. Eliot Reading

One the many things I have collected over the years is quotes about poetry and poets. For years, I used to keep and record my favorite quotes about poetry in a leather-bound journal that I received as a gift. Now I keep and record them electronically. It is much easier to do it that way, though admittedly much less… romantic….

On the last “hump-day” in the longest February in memory, here are just a few of my favorites. I hope you find a few you like and maybe a few new ones for your own collection.

Quotes on Poetry and Poets

Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.  ~W.B. Yeats

Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.  ~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.  ~John Keats

Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.  ~Samuel Johnson

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.  ~Robert Frost

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.  ~T.S. Eliot

Poetry is life distilled.  ~Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve written some poetry I don’t understand myself.  ~Carl Sandburg

There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.
~Robert Graves

Poetry is not a civilizer, rather the reverse, for great poetry appeals to the most primitive instincts.  ~Robinson Jeffers

A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.  ~Wallace Stevens

A poem is never finished, only abandoned.  ~Paul Valéry

It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.  ~W.H. Auden

What is a Professor of Poetry?  How can poetry be professed?  ~W.H. Auden

To have great poets there must be great audiences too.  ~Walt Whitman

The true poet is all the time a visionary and whether with friends or not, as much alone as a man on his death bed.  ~W.B. Yeats

Poetry Review: “To Wordsworth” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley_Works_coverIn 1813, poet William Wordsworth, tired of being the starving artist, took a government job as stamp distributor in Westmorland. Shelley, among others (Browning wrote of Wordsworth’s decision to work for the government that he had once criticized, “Just for a handful of silver he left us.”),  saw this as a form of “selling out” that would ultimately diminish Wordsworth poetic powers, and hence diminish poetry.

The poem “To Wordsworth” is a poetic “back-handed” compliment, written as a lament. The poetic argument is straightforward as is the form. Shelley on the one hand lauds Wordsworth as the great “Poet of Nature” and on the other accuses him of being too worldly and foolish to understand what he is giving up…and what the world is losing.

Discussions in Washington, D.C., of public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts remind us of the historical relationship between power and art. Artists have long courted members of the court – those with power, money, and influence – to fund and support their life and work. The artist needs to eat after all, and feed his or her family. And society needs art to remain civilized. It is a relationship and controversy as old as the arts themselves.

This is the kind of poem that ultimately only a poet as great as Shelley could get away with writing.

Enjoy!

To Wordsworth

Poet of Nature, thou hast wept to know
That things depart which never may return:
Childhood and youth, friendship and love’s first glow,
Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn.
These common woes I feel. One loss is mine
Which thou too feel’st, yet I alone deplore.
Thou wert as a lone star, whose light did shine
On some frail bark in winter’s midnight roar:
Thou hast like to a rock-built refuge stood
Above the blind and battling multitude:
In honored poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty,–
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.

Music Monday: “Who Were You Thinking of” by The Texas Tornandos

Enduring yet another blizzard in the North Country, my thoughts are turned inevitably south to warmer climes, and more civilized ways of living.

I first read about the Texas Tornados in 1990 in Time or Newsweek in the waiting room of my dentist office. It was a very brief article. I don’t know if I even finished it.  But I do know that I left the dentist’s office and drove right to a music store and bought the CD that very afternoon. All I had to see to know that I wanted the album were the names: Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez, Augie Meyers, and Doug Sahm. Names I knew from a very brief sojourn in Texas and from friends of mine who had put “cassettes” together for me over the years.

I loved Texas Tornados instantly. It is easily one of my Top 25 albums of all time. This live version of “Who Were You Thinking of” is great. Just the thing to make you think warm thoughts on a cold February day.

Enjoy!

 

Poetry Review: “Considering the Snail” by Thom Gunn

Thom_Gunn_PoemsThom Gunn was born in Britain but is associated more often with San Francisco and the excesses of American bohemianism than with the country of his birth. Yet his poetry has always seemed to me to be uniquely influenced by his British roots. It is something in both his word choice and his perspective.

Gunn wrote in both traditional poetic forms and free verse. He seems equally at home in either… remarkably so. One of the many signs marking Gunn as a very good poet.

Gunn suffered through many tragedies and many demons. These sufferings and demons are reflected in his work in the usual ways. Yet what shines through in his poetry is his poetic ability: his ear and eye.

“Considering the Snail” is typical of one kind of Gunn poem. The rhyme scheme is so loose and lightly rendered  that a first you do not notice it. And yet it holds the poem together,  like the unseen frame of a house, hidden behind sheet rock and stucco: “green” rhymed with “rain,” “progress” with “across.”

The words Gunn chooses to describe “the life” of the snail complete the poem: desire, passion, fury, stirring…. so much emotional language and urgency for a creature so utterly without urgency and passion. In an ordinary moment recreated by the poem, observer and the observed, reader and snail, merge into one in an extraordinary way.

Enjoy!

Considering the Snail

The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth’s dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,

pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail’s fury? All
I think is that if later

I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.