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“Writing is exciting and baseball is like writing”

August 29, 2010

In 1887, when poet Marianne Moore was born in St. Louis, the Cardinals, then known as the Brown Stockings, were five years old and fresh off their first trouncing of the team that would become the Chicago Cubs in the contest that would become the World Series. Moore—no dummy—grew up as a fan of sports in general and baseball in particular. Among her prized possessions was a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle, and in 1968, at age 80, she threw out the first pitch of the season at Yankee Stadium. A few years earlier, though, when the Brooklyn Dodgers headed west to Los Angeles, Moore had sent them off with an encouraging comic verse in their honor—which prompted Robert Cantwell to write this wonderfully quirky piece about the roots of her baseball passion for the February 15, 1960 issue of Sports Illustrated. (Beware: Some of the language used to refer to Native Americans a half-century ago feels pretty ugly today.) An excerpt:

…..it was….a jolt to see her, during the World Series last fall, on Jack Paar’s television show, calmly answering questions on this sport, which some highbrows, after all, consider rather lowbrow. “Who’s going to win it?” she was asked, and she replied, as confidently as though she had a private wire to the Muses, “The Dodgers”…..

Miss Moore, of course, was perfectly right (though she confessed to me later that she had had a momentary qualm, considering the strength the White Sox had been showing), and remembering her uncanny powers of prophecy, I went out to her Brooklyn home not long ago to see what she thought about the coming season. I also wanted to ask her, if the occasion arose, how she got to be a baseball fan in the first place. I found her somewhat disconsolate about the Dodgers’ prospects: she reluctantly admitted that she was interested in the White Sox and (with a faint trace of a frown, as if her thoughts were misquoting her) that she rather liked the Cardinals. As for her background in sports, which I had thought was probably of literary derivation, she told me, no, indeed; she had read very little on the subject, but she had, as a young girl, been a teacher for five years at the famous Carlisle Indian School, when Jim Thorpe, Gus Welch and other great Indian athletes were there.

If Miss Moore had said she learned about baseball as a catcher on the original All-Girls team, she could scarcely have astonished me more.

Read the whole thing, and for extra credit, check out her most famous sports poem, “Baseball and Writing.”

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