Bardball didn't start from a deep love of poetry, but from a swelling revulsion of Barry Bonds.
In 2007, friends were emailing scathing limericks back and forth about the chemically enhanced slugger. They were too funny to waste, so Stuart Shea and I were inspired to build a website for fans' poetry. While some diamond devotees like to crunch batting averages and ERAs, we thought it would be fun to commemorate an entire season — games, players, oddities, hot dogs and all — in verse.
Baseball and poetry have a long history. After "The Night Before Christmas," one could argue that "Casey at the Bat" is America's best known piece of doggerel. (Doggerel is defined as "crudely or irregularly fashioned verse, often of a humorous or burlesque nature." Tell that to our contributors, who include Canada's first poet laureate.) Ray Bradbury once wrote a parody of "Casey" based on Ahab and Moby-Dick. As he explored the verse form, Jack Kerouac not only penned many haiku about the game but also managed several fantasy baseball teams.
Back in the early 20th century, when professional sports consisted of baseball, boxing and horse racing, newspaper writers needed to fill column inches to sate fans' hunger. Ring Lardner filled his Chicago Tribune column, "In the Wake of the News," with gossip, jokes, cartoons and doggerel about penny-pinching owners and heroes with feet of clay. That column still occasionally appears in the Tribune.
It's easy to see why baseball attracts poetic efforts. The long games and season provide many gaps to fill with chinwag and jabber. It has the heroic figure of the lone batter (again, "Casey"), the tense duel between batter and pitcher, and the balletic moves of the best fielders. It's also a game of failure, in which the top hitters fail in two out of three at-bats. Failure can give birth to art; happiness inspires Hallmark cards.
Could other sports inspire poetic flights of fancy? It's doubtful. Football poetry would employ too many single-syllable words. In basketball poetry, the final two lines of the piece would have too much importance. Hockey bards would have a devil of a time rhyming words like "concussion" and "Niklas Hjalmarsson." And forget about soccer: Even in poetry, something needs to happen.
Ballplayers' names, on the other hand, are almost poetry themselves, especially for Latin American players. Recite "Vladimir Guerrero," "Jose Valverde" or "Alejandro De Aza," and a poem begins to write itself. Likewise A.J. Pierzynski, Ivan Nova, Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus. Last year Bardball published a parody of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" inspired by former catcher John Wockenfuss.
Non-player events also deserve the poet's touch: Pittsburgh's "Racing Pierogi" scandal, the Madoff-spawned financial problems of the Mets, the fan tasered by a guard in Philadelphia, the Dodgers' near-bankruptcy. These flubs are often better remembered by verse than by analysis.
Some of the most moving poems Bardball has posted have been about passings, like the tragic death of Mark Fidrych and the demolition of Yankee Stadium. Cubs great Ron Santo received touching send-offs upon his death — and biting commentaries when the Hall of Fame deigned to induct him.
But one poem stands out in my mind, written by a teenager I know. When he was 9, he hit his first Little League home run. As soon as he got home, he grabbed some paper and wrote a free verse about the feeling of contact and the thrill of touching each base. Simple and heartfelt, now it's recorded for the ages, for all fans to relive.
James Finn Garner is the author of "Politically Correct Bedtime Stories" and "Honk Honk, My Darling: A Rex Koko, Private Clown Mystery."
First Home Run
By Buster Browne
Not a thwack
Not a pow
just a tap
soars through the air
first hit of the season
first home run
2012 Chicago Rebuilding Checklist
By James Finn Garner
First, install a cornerstone
(Try not to leave the payroll blown),
Then festoon with fresh young faces
To mask the loss of former aces
Pray for rebound years for some,
Like ALL the Cubbies, Rios, Dunn
Arrange a massive ad campaign
Learn to say Dale Sveum's name
Keep hoping Theo is the guy, and
Steer Robin clear of Nolan Ryan.Copyright © 2015, CT Now