Baseball and Spring and Poetic Things
is no longer our national pastime. Football in the form of
the NFL, has long since usurped that role.
Baseball at its peak, never experienced the
collective gluttonous celebrations that we see on display
each year, in homes and sports bars across the country on
Super Bowl Sunday. (Or on any Sunday during the season for
that matter, though of course on a much smaller scale).
A record breaking 111.5 million people tuned in for game XLVIII
this year (115.3 million for the half time show!). The final
game of the World Series last fall drew 14.9 million. And
while one might argue that this sort of comparison is one
of apples-to-oranges, given all the obvious differences between
the two sports regarding the number of games played etcetera,
no one can dispute that Super Bowl Sunday has become de
facto, a national holiday. Baseball, even in its said
golden age of the 50’s, never achieved that sort of
stature. Though Bobby Tompson’s home run in ’51
was said to be “The shot heard round the world.”
A moment bordering on American history, it serves as a prologue
in Don DeLillo’s 1997 bestselling novel Underworld.
George Carlin offered a comparison between
the sports in a classic comedy bit, that also hit on an underlying
truth in our psyche, as to why perhaps football has become
our preferred sport (JUNE,
2013 Muse-letter A Riff on the Zeitgeist
of Modernism: George Carlin Remembered).
“In football the object is for
the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be
on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense
by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite
of the blitz, even if he has to use a shotgun. With short
bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into
enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a
sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward
wall of the enemy's defensive line.
In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe!
—I hope I'll be safe at home!”
Or, of a more poetic distinction, football
is The Iliad… baseball is The Odyssey.
Baseball means another spring. Even sports
atheists are aware each year of the advent of Spring Training
and the rebirth to follow, what with the throwing out of the
first ball on Opening Day, an almost sacramental rite.
Play Ball, 1982;
Michael Langenstein; Diamonds Are Forever: Artists
and Writers on Baseball 1987
Baseball lends itself to poetry in a way no
other sport does. Perhaps because, in addition to its Odyssean
journey, it is the only major team sport absent a clock (and
therefore timeless?). It lends itself to quirky nuance and
I got to experience that firsthand when a haiku of mine was
published in an anthology Line
Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poems many years
ago, in which I felt honored to appear on the same pages alongside
noted literary figures such as Charles Bukowski, Richard Brautigan,
Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa and the late
great Major League relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry, who wrote
a book of baseball poetry on the side.
In the book’s introduction, the editors
spent 400 words offering possible meanings buried within my
thirteen word haiku which read…
Nine men stand waiting
storm clouds that gather.
asks for time.
Their speculations covered a lot of ground,
but it is essentially a matter of how unforgiving “the
game” (life?) can sometimes be. Were it to be called
off due to rain having only reached its midpoint, a team trailing
at the time would be denied the chance to catch up and therefore
lose the game. So stalling, however fruitless, could be a
way of trying to avoid the inevitable (death?). Ah yes, rain.
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring, rain
The bigger point though, is can you imagine
a book of 100 poems dedicated to football? Basketball? Hockey?
Soccer? Curling? Not to mention having ongoing literary publications
exclusive to those sports, as has been the case for baseball,
with the likes of Spitball, Elysian Fields and Fan,
in which some of my work has also appeared.
And finally, beyond its transformative seasonal
associations—spring…an unwelcomed downpour (“I’ll
take a rain check on that”)… the dog days of summer
to follow— it is its pace that takes it to another place.
It is the very thing for which it is often criticized: too
slow moving. It is a contest in which time seems to stand
still. Not enough action. And that, like, OMG, is
I’ve never seen this criticism turned on its ear any
better, nor put in a more interesting perspective, than by
Chad Harbach in his novel, The Art of Fielding—a
New York Times Book Review’s “Best Book of the
Year” for 2011:
“Baseball, in its quiet way, was
an extravagantly harrowing game. Football, basketball, hockey,
lacrosse—these were melee sports. You could make yourself
useful by hustling and scrapping more than the other guy.
You could redeem yourself through sheer desire.
But baseball was different…not a scrum but a series
of isolated contests. Batter versus pitcher, fielder versus
ball. You couldn’t storm around, snorting and slapping
people the way you did while playing football. You stood
and waited and tried to still your mind.”
And so another spring… another opening
day…another return to Yankee Stadium, wherein once waxing
poetic, I mused…
And I sat there rocking to the gentle rhythm
of the you and the me and the bat and the ball.
I’ll be there yet again. Batter up!
Quote of the Month
design by Ron Vazzano©
Their Mark) Over Broadway
The Farrow family is not going to like this. Woody Allen has
done it again. Another hit. This time on Broadway. See you
at the Tony Awards.
All a bit premature perhaps as the show doesn’t even
officially open until April 10th and there might still be
a few kinks to be worked out, but having seen Bullets
Over Broadway in preview last month, it has “can’t
miss” written all over it. The packed house seemed to
think so as well. A hearty applause and cheering followed
the many emphatic moments in the show—particularly at
one point over the demise of a rather overbearing character.
Yes, it is a comedy. And still one more musical adapted from
a straight (i.e. non-musical) movie, in what seems to be the
latest trend on Broadway. Other such adaptations currently
enjoying success at the box office and with critics, include
Rocky, The Bridges of Madison County and Matilda.
While four such plays running simultaneously might be new,
the concept itself really isn’t, when you consider the
many hit musicals born of straight movies over the years:
Sunset Boulevard, The Color Purple, The Full Monty, Sister
Act, Hairspray, Young Frankenstein, Billy Eliot, Sugar
(i.e. Some Like It Hot), Promises, Promises
(i.e. The Apartment) and Catch Me If You Can,
come to mind.
But the real template for Allen’s return
to Broadway through this rather unlikely door, is The
Producers; a show that made history winning a record
breaking 12 Tony awards with its six year run of 2,502 performances.
The success of Bullets Over Broadway will nowhere
match that of The Producers. Few shows could. Still,
they share an interesting pedigree.
Both productions have a similar premise: “a
play (and a bad one at that) within a play.” Both have
been adapted for the stage by their original comic-genius
creators, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. Such is not usually
the case in adaptations. And both have the same five-time
Tony Award winner Susan Stroman, operating in the double barrel
role of Director/Choreographer.
Of course, BOB doesn’t pack
the star power heat of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.
Instead it must take aim through the steady, though more modest
hand of Zach Braff, who is making his Broadway debut. Most
noted for Scrubs, a medical comedy-drama that ran
for nine seasons on network TV, he does display much talent
in a role for which he was so “goodly” cast, that
of a struggling playwright named David Shayne.
Interestingly, Braff was outside at the front door of the
theater—not the stage door— immediately following
the curtain call, autographing Playbills before the
audience had a chance to clear out. In all my years of Broadway
theater going, I had never seen that particular sort of audience
bonding, and wondered afterwards if it isn’t part of
some goodwill strategy designed to help spread word-of-mouth
during the previews on how charming the entire experience
of going to this show can be. And in so doing, perhaps offsetting
the less than charming associations many make with Woody Allen,
that could potentially keep some of them away? In any case,
Braff exudes a boyish charm that obviously doesn’t end
after the curtain comes down, and his energetic, and seemingly
impromptu autograph session, certainly couldn’t hurt
The only other recognizable name in the cast, might be Vincent
Pastore, who played Big Pussy on The Sopranos, until
he was unceremoniously bumped off. (Spoiler alert…he
plays another hood here and lives to tell— and even
But a notable difference between the two plays, is that while
The Producers could cut across generational lines
with its irreverent black comedy as personified in the outrageous
musical number “Springtime for Hitler,” BOB
is content to skew older in resurrecting old pop and show
tune standards, while putting them in a much tamer 1929 storyline—
all gangster bullets aside. Though that old chestnut of a
song, “Up a Lazy River,” does take on a menacing
and memorable implication in its new context.
No, the Farrows won’t be going to see this show. But
enough others will. And they will be buying up those seats
that might have otherwise been taken by that eight hundred
pound gorilla that was addressed yet again, as recently as
two weeks ago in The New York Times Magazine by Chuck
Klosterman in his “The Ethicist” column.
One might now come to call it, “The Woody Allen question.”
In effect: do you support the art of the allegedly immoral
artist who has created it, if you believe the allegations
to be true? It is a question that might find its mark
one day in a rather interesting Broadway musical all its own.
Something Sondheimesque? But until then, “Bullets…”
The killing of time.
Is there a word for that?
May I suggest
So I sat there committing
chronocide and wondered:
can you do time
for killing it?
Then do more time
for the time spent
doing nothing but
the days till release?
And if so could there ever be
a chance for parole?
Animals murder it.
And re-murder it.
Then play with it
for good measure.
The cat takes pleasure
in 21 hours of sleep a day.
Then walks away.
Free as the bird
he has swallowed in his dreams.
An Ad Man on Mad Men and
a Final Season
What first made me aware that this was Mad
Men’s seventh and final season (beginning on the
13th of this month), was reading that legendary graphic designer
Milton Glaser had been hired to create ads and posters to
promote it. I am a fan. His classic Bob Dylan poster still
hangs on my wall—an original though now somewhat faded.
And what he created for Mad Men was fabulous. Coming
to a bus near you.
What I am not a fan of, is the show itself. Maybe that’s
because I actually did work at a major ad agency
on Madison Avenue in the 60’s?
I started in January of 1968, which coincides with the year
depicted in Mad Men’s 6th season. I realize
this puts me in a minority, and shades my contrary opinion
of a show that everyone seems to love. In short, its over-the-top
exaggerations (an apropos redundancy) did not ring true to
me, having well remembered the thirty years I spent in that
industry. They lost me with the very first episode.
It was filled with so many icky cardboard characters, speaking
incessantly in corporate macho clichés—when they
weren’t making sexist and anti-Semitic remarks, while
chain smoking and “chain drinking” —that
it was laughable. Or would have been, if written and being
played for laughs, or at least with any satirical sense of
irony. But no, they were dead serious in what they saw as
an accurate re-creation of a typical day in the lives of these
so called mad men. Wall to wall atrocious behavior, in but
a single day! Imagine what a full week would be like.
But the worst, and the coup de gras for me, was a client meeting
in that first episode that had to do with finding an advertising
positioning for the Lucky Strike cigarette brand. For want
of a better descriptive, I can only call it… impossibly
The head honcho of the American Tobacco Company—Sterling
Cooper Draper Pryce’s prized account— begins
to head out the door in disgust. Not only has his heavyweight
agency failed to come up with any feasible ad concept, but
they also have obviously come unprepared. Don Drapper, who
has been at a loss for words during this entire, yet very
short meeting, suddenly pulls an idea out of the air (or his
butt), which stops everyone in their tracks with its brilliance:
“Lucky Strikes are toasted.” And in an instant,
he goes from being a goat to a hero. The client returns to
his seat enthralled and buys into the idea on the spot. And
of course, drinks all around afterwards.
be fair, I’m told the show has gotten much better over
time, and that its characters have expanded beyond their original
two dimensions. And I’m aware of the cult status the
show has reached in many quarters. And admittedly, from time
to time, I have caught an episode, such as the one containing
a signature moment in the series when Jessica Paré
as Megan Drapper, sang that French song to open the fifth
season. How could you miss it? It wound up all over mass and
social media. And now, with the promotional teaser tagline
“It’s all up in the air,” and that captivating
Milton Glaser artwork for this final season, my curiosity
has once again been piqued. How will it all end?
There has been some buzz, that that falling man tableau that
opens each show, foretells some great tragedy to come. And
it has not been without its own controversy, what with being
criticized for evoking that harrowing photo taken of a man
who had jumped to his death from a burning World Trade Center
building on 9/11. And in so doing, being insensitive to the
families of the victims of that great tragedy.
I’ll close here, having spent 654 words on a show I
care nothing about. Funny how advertising works.