Yes, he really did sign this one for me. Photograph by Edward B. Davis.
As the Good Book says, God made the whole world in the big inning. Note that “inning” is singular, not plural—it was baseball, not cricket, that the Angels were playing at the time. Of course it was. Everyone knows that God invented baseball, long before the Fall. Indeed, it was Spring. It was only later that Eve stole first, and Adam second, and then they were both thrown out.
Given that God created baseball, then one of his greatest creatures was surely Mickey Mantle. The name has a certain musical ring to it—literally. Back in 1956, the year in which Mantle won the coveted Triple Crown, pop singer Teresa Brewer wrote the lyrics for a hit record, “I Love Mickey,” taking full advantage of his fame to enhance her own. This was long before his many falls from grace were published in the streets of Ashkelon, and seemingly every little boy wanted to be Mickey Mantle. This little boy surely did, and believe me I had plenty of company.
Simply put, no one could hit a baseball farther than Mickey could. Indeed, one fine spring day in 1953, Mantle hit a titanic shot completely out of Griffith Stadium in Washington that has gone down as one of the longest homeruns in history. There was no steroid effect to worry about then, but he did benefit from a strong wind blowing out, which added considerably to the distance. Even without any help from the wind, however, the ball would still have travelled more than 450 feet, equivalent to several homeruns that Mantle hit to dead centerfield in the old Yankee Stadium. “The House That Ruth Built” was cavernous, but as they liked to say, Mantle could hit it out of any park—including Yellowstone.
In honor of the season, then, I offer this tribute to that feat, with apologies to John Keats. I’ve long felt that his great poem might have been even better, if he’d slipped a comma into the title, so on another fine spring day sixty years after Mantle’s homer I decided to have another look at Chapman’s. Anyone care for a little pastiche with their coffee this morning?
On First, Looking into Chapman’s Homer
By Ted Davis (aka “Teddy Ballgame”), May 15, 2013
Much have I travell’d in the realms of green,
And many goodly ballparks have I seen;
Round many storied base paths have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft on first base, there would I behold
The deep-browed batter gaze on his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman’s bat speak loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Mantle, when with eagle eyes
He star’d out at the distant fence — and then
Watch’d his ball just rise and rise and rise —
Silent, above a park in Washington.
Ol’ Ted doesn’t hit ’em quite as hard as Mickey. Like Willie Keeler, he tries to hit ’em where they ain’t. Who ever said that ballplayers don’t wear glasses?!
Play ball! One of these days, maybe I’ll share my proof that God is left-handed….