Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry and the Expansion Draft

The Phillies moved into a tie for first place in the NL East last night with the NY Mets. Philadelphia is going a little cuckoo this morning. But the events have prompted Ron Silliman to meditate on the relationship between baseball and poetry, without mentioning Bull Durham even once:

Baseball & poetry have a long, complementary history in the United States. Baseball is almost the official sport of poets, dating back at least to the writing of William Carlos Williams, if not to Whitman. Jack Spicer’s baseball poems are among his very best, and even Tom Clark has written eloquently of the late Roberto Clemente. Baseball’s sense of tradition for tradition’s sake even closely rhymes with the impulses of the School of Quietude, content forever to replicate this 19th century past-time. When change has come, it has largely been through expansion. Where I grew up with 16 major league teams, there are now over 30. 450+ creative writing programs have churned out thousands of MFAs. The lone publication in Ploughshares and a single small press volume is the poetry equivalent of the September call-up in baseball, when teams expand their rosters after the end of the minor league seasons around Labor Day. For more than a few ballplayers (and for more than a few poets), that’s a career.

The rest of the post is pure baseball -- Silliman's memories of learning the game with his grandfather and watching the Giants from across the bay in Oakland, and how the Phillies have great bats but no pitching.

However, when Silliman (indirectly) calls Chase Utley "the best second baseman in baseball, the best really since Joe Morgan was still a Red," my inner Walt from The Squid and the Whale shouts, "That's way off-base, Ron. That's way off-base." Ron may have grown up watching Willie Mays, and Chase Utley certainly is pretty, but anyone who grew up in Detroit in the 1980s would know that the best second baseman since Joe Morgan was, and is, Lou Whitaker. Nobody made ninety feet off of his back foot look so easy.


Ron said...

Lou Whitaker was a fine second baseman, but, at his best, he would be a bench-warmer on this Phillies club. Actually, the worst move the Phillies made in recent years was shipping Placido Polanco to the Tigers. Polanco wanted to play second, but he was a great third baseman and would have been an all-star at that position in the NL if he were still in the league.

Tim said...

I think that if a 25- to 30-year-old Lou Whitaker were playing in the National League today, he'd be regularly hitting 40HR a season and would still be pacing everyone defensively, whether he were playing second base or third. People forget what a strong offensive player he was. But I saw him hit the ball out of the park at Tiger Stadium, and watched the White Sox walk him with the bases loaded in 1989. Lou Whitaker was for real.

At any rate, who am I going to believe? Sparky Anderson, or Ron Silliman? :-)

angela said...

at the risk of sounding like a "every tiger is the best position player in the league"--i don't know that it gets better than placido polanco. the man hits well, his fielding is legendary (over 150 straight games without an error) and he is smart--he won't force the play is it isn't going to happen. his range is so incredible that i sometimes think, he has to be playing 80 feet away from the bag to get it. not a lot of highlight reel stuff, just (what i am a sucker for!) good, solid, fundamental baseball. with some genius thrown in.

forget tom emanski's drills--i'd but placido's "play second like polanco" tapes any day of the week!

angela said...

and by but, i mean "buy".

Tim said...

Pete Rose had a great hitting video that I used to watch all the time when I was a kid. (I was the geekiest nine-year-old -- dying to work counts, hit for contact, and learn how to throw splitters and circle change-ups).

As for the "every Tiger is the best," theory -- I think everyone knows that Joe Morgan was the best second baseman since Charlie Gehringer.