TO THE ROOKIES, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME
Fatten your average while you can, Old Time is still a-shaking; And those young legs that sprint today Tomorrow will be aching.
You think the hits will never stop, Your stardom never fading; The more your average starts to drop, The nearer you’re to trading.
That age is best before you’re cursed, When youth (and bats) are eager; But being spent, it’s worse and worst ‘Til you’re a minor leaguer.
Then go, my boys, enjoy your time, And while you can, deliver; For having passed what was your prime, You’ll ride the bench forever.
EARL BYRON CONTEMPLATES FREE AGENCY
When a man has no pennant to play for by June, Let him play for the prospect of riches. Let him think of the glory of off-season boons (The hell with the fans—sons of bitches!)
To do good for the team is the Manager’s plan; A ridiculous way to be graded. If you play for the pennant, perform for the fan, Unless you’re a star—you’ll get traded!
HOW SOON HATH TY, THAT SUBTLE THIEF...
How soon hath Ty, that subtle thief, a youth, Stol’n (on my wing) his twenty-third this year! My last few days fly by, a dull career, And my last spring a dud of loss and ruth. Perhaps my knuckler may deceive some youth That must for manhood wait another year. But late at night, though fortified with beer, No knuckler of the mind may fool the truth. So, be it on the corner, fast or slow, Or smack dab down the middle of the plate, Or low and in the dirt, or hard and high, Towards Death Time leads me, down the well of Fate: Into the Hall of Fame I’ll never go, But ever know that glory passed me by.
LINES Composed in the clubhouse in Charleston, West Virginia, on being shipped back to the minors. July 13, 1978.
Five years have passed; five summers with the stench Of five losing seasons! And again I hear These catcalls rolling from the dollar seats With a hard, drunken mutter. –-Once again Do I behold these grim and empty stands, That in a bush-league baseball park impress Thoughts of a more deep exclusion; and connect My silence with the quiet of the sky. The day is come when I again relieve Here, upon this flat, muddy mound, and view These rookie infielders, these scrawny kids, Who in this season, with their unripe skills Are mired in one long slump, and lose themselves In whores and barrooms. Once again I see These basepaths, hardly basepaths, little trails Of pebbled dirt run wild: these eroded dirt paths Sloped to the very bags; and wreaths of dust Kicked up, in silence from the batter’s box With some uncertain menace as might seem Of rookie prospect staring at the fence Or at the pitcher’s mound, where on the hill The Pitcher stands alone. These hideous forms Through a long absence, have not been to me As is a spitball to a blind ump’s eyes: But oft in Hilton rooms, and ‘board the cabs Of big-league cities, I have owed to them In hours of triumph the joy of fame Heard in the ear and felt along the heart And passing into Tuesday morning’s stats With glad accomplishment:----feelings too Of oft-remembered failures: such perhaps As have no slight or trivial influence On that best portion of a pitcher’s book, His wins and saves, well-remembered feats Of pitching out of jams. Nor less, I trust, To them I may have owed another boon Of aspect more sublime; that blessed groove In which the burthen of the minor leagues, In which the bus rides and the cheap motels And all that unimaginable crap Are disremembered; that serene and blessed groove In which the headlines lead us on Until the years of Doubledaysian fame And even the twilight of our coaching days Almost finished, we hang up our spikes For good and become a living legend, While with an arm made longer by the years Of fastballs and a hundred thousand curves, We make it to the Hall of Fame. If this Be but a vain belief, yet oh! How oft— In extra innings with the bases full Of pin-striped Yankees, when the homer-hitting Center-fielder bats, and all my tired curve balls Have hung across the center of the plate— How oft, in spirit, have I thought of thee, O minor leagues! Thou graveyard of my hopes, How often have my thoughts recoiled from thee!
And now with globs of hidden Vaseline, And many change-of-paces soft and slow, And something of a shaky knuckleball, The pitcher of the past relieves again, While here I stand, not only with the fear Of present failure but with fright’ning thoughts That in this inning is my life--and food-- In future years. And so I dare to hurl, Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first I came among these bushes; when like Schoolboy Rowe, I blazened through the line-ups, fanned the side Of better clubs and the lowly teams, Wherever baseball led; more like a kid Enduring something that he dreads than one Who loved the thing he did. Yet baseball then (The quicker pitches of my boyish days And their glad animal movements all gone by) To me was all there was. –--I cannot pitch As then I could. The loud smack of a glove Haunted me like a passion; the sharp curve, The slider and the hard, high fastball, Their rotation and their breaks were then to me An appetite; a confidence and zest That had no need for wobbly knuckleballs Or grease supplies, nor any interest In sneaky, off-speed stuff. –--That time is past, And all its blazing fastballs are no more, And all its wicked sliders. Not for this Fail I, nor mourn nor murmur; other tricks Have followed; for such loss, I would believe Apparent recompense. For I have learned To look on batters, not as in the hour Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes The shrill, sad booing of seventh place, Both harsh and grating, and of ample power To hasten our remove….
(Note: Here the manuscript breaks off, first into semi-coherent scribblings about “august benevolences” and then into doodling, before this final sentence, done later in a shaky handwriting and with a leaky fountain pen: “Exterminate all the brutes!”)
--- Gary C. LaPointe