The Baseball Encyclopedia, as thorough as it is, somehow left out a number of great names from the past, men like Gaylord Tennyson, Daffy Carroll and Whitey Whitman. These oversights have been cited in a delightful little book by Mikhail Horowitz entitled Big League Poets (City Lights Books, $2.50). In less-than-authentic thumbnail sketches and "daguerreotypes" of each player, Horowitz pays tribute to the Hall of Fame of Letters. He won't let the memories of Smokey Coleridge, Joker Joyce and candy cummings die.
Modern fans may not know, for instance, that the greatest player of them all, Casey Shakespeare, later became an umpire and would confuse everyone by yelling, "Fair is foul and foul is fair." Or that it was futility in-fielder Bugs Kafka who invented the infield-fly rule by turning into a giant insect.
Horowitz goes behind the scenes to reveal that when Wild Bill Byron played, every day was Ladies' Day, and that when Young Dog Thomas took the mound, both the bases and the pitcher were often loaded. Included in the book are the hard-luck stories of Stoney Poe of the Baltimore Nevermorioles, Doc Pasternak of the Zhivago White Sox and Long John Milton, who pitched for Paradise when it lost.
Sifting through these legends, the reader will be tempted to choose his own alltime all-star team. Golden Gloves Goethe would be on it for sure, because he had no rival at Faust Base. Second Baseman Wee Beastie Burns stole many a base and got away Scot-free. At shortstop, Shakespeare made every play look easy. The only choice for the hot corner would be Sparky Alighieri. One would be hard-pressed to find a better outfield than the one of Flake Blake, the Detroit Tygers' "Angel of the Outfield," in center; Skipper Melville, who could really whale the ball, in left; and Iron Horse Ginsberg, the greatest om run hitter of them all, in right. The catcher would have to be Sandy Sandburg, who chased foul pops on little cat feet. There were many great pitchers, but perhaps the best was Ode Keats, who led the Grecian Leagues in urned run average year after year. In bas-relief, call in none other than Vida Virgil.
Lest the joy of this book be dampened for readers, Big Bill Wordsworth, Simple-Simon Thoreau and Silky Rilke will be left alone for now. Suffice to say, Big League Poets is a celebration of literature and the most literary of all sports. After all, whom do you think the homer was named after?