Hal Chase, Douglas, Arizona, April 1926

 

 

It is, in its own fashion, a ballpark—there are dugouts,

(Though more kin to lean-tos if the truth be told)

A fence with advertisements, though its paint is cracked and faded,

And some of the businesses which testify to being tops in collars and canned foods

Have long since changed names or flat-out gone under,

But a ballpark nonetheless, and if you squint your eyes

Or find some other convenient method of self-delusion,

You can convince yourself it is a rather fine thing,

Happily oblivious to the fact that the infield is all bumps and tiny moraines

Covered with crownvetch and chickweed masquerading as grass,

The outfield rife with bark scorpions who frequently wander inside the lines.

Milling about this somewhat-short-of-pastoral greenish patch,

Wearing uniforms of a reasonable homogeny,

Is a curious (and potentially combustible) group of men:

Honest-to-goodness big leaguers whose off-field proclivities

Led Judge Landis to excuse them further participation,

Rope-muscled miners from Bisbee, carbide-lamp helmets tucked under their arms,

Callow boys taking a chance on this decidedly last-chance town,

One or two others with rather acute reasons

To stay in close proximity to the Mexican border.

Holding court in the midst of this collection

Is a man whose face was not visited by the smallpox

As much as it was wrapped up in its full embrace;

He says, It’s old Charlie Comiskey who should be in jail.

Man has more money’n he’ll ever need,

Hell, more than Stoneham or Ruppert.

No reason in the world he couldn’t pay his boys a fair wage,

But he treated ‘em like dogs, and if you starve it long enough,

Why, even the most loyal dog will turn on a man,

Ain’t that right boys?, and a pair of his listeners,

Men named Chick and Swede who know of Comiskey’s parsimony first-hand,

Vigorously nod their heads in agreement.

The speaker pauses for a moment, and as he does

He produces, seemingly from nowhere, a hip flask

(Brought forth like a magician pulling flowers from some gauzy handkerchief,

Or a card sharp finding an extra king in the very air itself)

And take a long draught before continuing.

Look, I love this game—hell, no man loves it more—but it’s still just a damn game,

Just entertainment, like the vaudeville or a rodeo.

Maybe we a took a few liberties with the outcome of a game here and there,

But, you know, I knew folks who’d go see the same Broadway show

Three, maybe even four times—they knew how it would turn out, I reckon,

But it didn’t keep them from spending four bucks a ticket.

Well, what’s a ballplayer but an entertainer?

We still put on a good show, and no one gets hurt,

But because it’s a ballgame, you’d think we’d spit on the cross.

With this, the circle breaks up, and men head to spots on the field

To field lazy fungoes and toss the ball around the infield,

And most of the on-lookers soon head back toward town

(Perhaps back to work at one of the smelters,

Their stacks blowing forlorn clouds into otherwise endless skies,

Or maybe to one of the sad houses on the far side of town

Where haunted-eyed Mexican whores mechanically light candles

In supplication to saints whose efficacy they’ve come to doubt)

But the stragglers who stay behind are treated to the first baseman

Make a marvelous, almost magical, pickup of a short-hop throw

With the easy nonchalant brilliance which at one time

Brought hundreds, no thousands, of men to their feet in disbelief,

And as he sweeps his glove upward, he laughs

(Though with just a touch of restraint, a trace of the rehearsed)

And says See, boys? Once you are big league,

You are always big league.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Hal Chase, Douglas, Arizona, April 1926

  1. I liked this a LOT, W.K, especially knowing the history of Hal Chase and Swede Risberg and Chick Gandil! This is poignant. I enjoyed it. Is it true, though? Did Hal Chase actually manage a small-time team in Douglas, Arizona in 1926?

    Glen

    1. I don’t think he managed there (although Chase did manage in the bigs–those most have been some interesting clubhouses), but he did play outlaw ball in Douglas, along with Gandil and Risberg, back in 1926.

      1. a little tinkering with videos and scouting report numbers might force the the lawn chair, hawaii button downs and seeing prospects play out of retirement.

  2. As I have no background in the history of baseball, I am not sure which is an historical character and which the product of imagination, but your narrative voice always holds me through each tale you tell.

    1. There is another version of this which fills in a lot of the background, a lot of the detail and back-story–and, frankly, it’s never going to see the light of day, because it isn’t any good. Often, especially when the subject matter is the Great American Game, I struggle trying to balance the baseball of it and making it something that isn’t straight historical fiction; sometimes it works, sometimes I leave people behind, and I hate that.

      (As an aside–I was surprised (and a bit dismayed) how many people skipped right over the Duncan reference in your Mandela poem. A lot of people read that as a purely valedictory mode, and I’m guessing that’s not where you were going.)

  3. Would have stood and clapped, but am seated comfortably so just clapping. Really great piece – would like to see the not-fit-to-read longer version.

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