Mapping Cy Young
By: Patrick Dubuque
There is something grotesque about Cy Young’s statistics. I do not like to look at them. 453 innings pitched in 1892, a 35-10 record in 1895, a 0% home run rate in his age-43 season with the Naps in 1910. They’re reminders that baseball wasn’t really baseball, or it isn’t still baseball today, that there’s some sort of divide between antiquity and modernity that cannot be crossed. It’s a failure of history. Cy Young was great, but in a way that I can’t comprehend.
Young, too, failed to adjust to the passing of time. Forty-five at retirement, he knew nothing but baseball. But he wasn’t destined to remain with the game; he didn’t have the mind of a manager. His role was to take the mound when his coach told him to, throw the pitches as his catchers signalled. So he took his earnings, prudently invested, and returned to his small Ohio farm, growing potatoes and breeding dogs and drinking at the local lodge, listening to baseball on the radio.
His only daughter died in childbirth, his wife passed away in 1933. And then the longevity that made Cy Young so much fortune took it away. As the Great Depression worsened, his farm failed and his investments faltered. He sold his home for a loss, unable to face living there alone. He tried to make money barnstorming in Augusta, pitching an inning each game to draw crowds; at age 68, the effort was too much for him. The venture failed and took much of his remaining fortune.
He returned to his home with only stock dividends, less than ten thousand a year in today’s dollars, to support him: no home, no job. Too proud to accept charity, he worked as a clerk in the local general store, like a caged lion. He was was taken in by a couple, John and Ruth Benedum, who had been cared for years ago by his wife. He stayed in a spare room, watched their daughter and worked odd jobs for them around the farm until he no longer could, wrote letters to distant well-wishers until he could only sign his name on them.
Cy Young, and John and Ruth Benedum, are gone. So is their daughter, Jane, whom he took into town, taught to farm, whom he played catch with in the empty fields. Eighty years later, the fields are still empty, and the house still stands, nestled in unincorporated county between four villages that are themselves between four towns. I myself am an urban man, a creation of concrete; the idea of Peoli, Ohio is as unthinkable as the 511 victories of the man who died there, both a cranky old man and a myth, two generations shy of being a celebrity and a millionaire.
Four Baseball Break-Ups
By: Emma Baccellieri
Baseball transactions are business moves, with the clinical vocabulary to match. Like all business moves, this doesn’t stop them from being very personal—most intensely and intimately and literally for the actual people involved, more abstractly for those involved only insofar as they are paying attention—and being dressed in a very personal vocabulary. These moves are generally not so often talked about in terms of what they are, but rather in terms of what they feel like. And so the business transaction gets discussed in the language of betrayal or intimacy or whatever else.
The following glossary has the opposite intention. These, instead, are personal transactions discussed in those business terms.
out of options: “It’s not that I don’t love you anymore, it isn’t that, I promise, it’s just—it’s just been so much back-and-forth, you know? And some of these breaks made so much sense at the time, I know, and you can keep saying that there’s a difference between breaking up and taking a break, but does it really make a difference at this point? It’s always the same, it’s felt the same every time, no matter why we get back together—if we’re doing it for any reason other than because you’re ready, then it’s not going to work, you know? And I’m not saying you’re not ready for anyone, just that you’re not ready for what I need right now, and don’t you just want to find a different choice here, anyway?”
designated for assignment: He thinks about telling her at her place, so that he can walk away whenever he needs to. He thinks about telling her at his place, so he doesn’t have to bother putting on shoes for it. He thinks about telling her at a coffee shop, or maybe over lunch somewhere, like it’s an informational interview or a networking session or some other calm adult conversation. He googles it. The advice is all stupid and it doesn’t apply, anyway. He knows it’s a bad choice, but he just calls her instead—they’re all kind of bad choices, aren’t they?
“No, of course not, I’m not breaking up with you,” he says, resting the phone between his ear and his shoulder for a moment so he can swing his arms out and up to stretch. “C’mon. You know I wouldn’t do that. Just—if you wanted to try dating other people, you should go ahead. Or we can just take a little break. Or maybe we should break up, I don’t know, you’re the one that brought that up. Is that what you want?”
ten-and-five rights: There are already hot, furious tears springing up in the corners of her eyes; she hates that she still cries so quickly when she’s angry, and she hates that after all this time, he still doesn’t seem to understand that she’s a mad crier and not just a sad one. Now he’s reaching out to stroke her shoulder, all soothing and paternalistic, and she snaps away rigid and tense. For a moment, it pierces her so awfully that she is sure she will bubble over; how stupid for him to assume that she can only be sad that he is leaving rather than furious at the simple fact that he thinks he can leave like this at all.
But instead she clasps her hands together, smiles tightly, says in a way that is too measured and clipped to feel remotely real, “But surely I deserve a little more say here—after all these years?”
placed on unconditional release waivers: The door slams and the lock clicks—cool and metallic—and he is strung tight and anxious and dry, waiting to hear the little bedroom window flung open and see everything he owns come sailing out of it. He waits. Nothing ever comes.
photo: Keith Allison
I wrote a lot as a little kid. I was overly energetic, frequently bored, always bouncing around, and writing was one of the ways I could expend that energy without hurting myself. I’m glad I wrote so much, because I wouldn’t remember— wouldn’t want to remember— the truth about how I felt about life as a little kid.
The earliest diary entry I have is from when I was six. I wrote, “Nobody understands me. Everyone in the whole world hates me. I am so alone.” There are tear stains on the page. And I know exactly where I was when I wrote it: curled up on the bathroom floor, where I did all my writing. Where I am, incidentally, right now.
Most of the entries are like that. I had a bad brain. I still do.
I don’t remember when I first saw Roy Halladay pitch, because I don’t have to. For my entire childhood, Roy Halladay was the Toronto Blue Jays. The Toronto Blue Jays were my brother’s favorite baseball team, and they never did very well in the standings, but I didn’t care. Because Doc was the entire team. He was the only one that mattered. And he always did well. As far as my young eyes could tell, he was always perfect.
It was hard for me, back then, to sit through an entire baseball game. I watched him, though, every start I could. I was constantly in awe. He never got injured. He never got tired. None of the other pitchers ever seemed go for as long as he did.
The most amazing thing about Doc to me, though, was the finesse with which he placed the ball, squarely in the catcher’s glove. He threw so hard, but located like he was painting with the tiniest, gentlest of brushstrokes. And when the batters did manage to get to him, he never seemed shaken. He never screamed or cried like I did. He was always in control.
I wished I could be like that. I so badly wanted embody what I saw in Doc’s pitching. My world was so chaotic: Everyone around me was in conflict. My own mind was in conflict. Everything was completely out of my control. I hated it. I wanted it to stop. But I couldn’t do anything about anything. I was just a kid.
So I would go out, a too-tall six- or seven-year old with a gross scuffed baseball and hand-me-down clothes, and throw against a fence, as hard as I could, trying to pinpoint a location in my imaginary strike zone. Exactly like I thought Doc would. I’d do it again and again for hours, until my arm hurt, and then I would keep on going until someone made me come inside. And I would be frustrated, because Doc wouldn’t have had to come inside. Doc always finished what he started. He always went the distance.
I don’t think I was ever happier than when I hit my spots.
I always tear up when I think about Roy Halladay. I tear up when they mention him on Jays broadcasts, when they bring him on the field for celebrations. I teared up writing a piece about his last game with the Jays. Because Roy Halladay gave my unhappy childhood the pure, transcendent joy of being in control. That feeling has always been what baseball means to me, truly, at its core. It’s the feeling I chase when I’m watching the sport, and it’s the feeling I chase when writing about it.
Doc is there in all the ways I interact with baseball. And when I need inspiration, when I feel myself spiralling, I always go back and watch his old starts. They were, until today, just as comforting as they’d been when I was six.
Until today, I’d never existed in a world without Roy Halladay. I don’t know what this means, and I don’t know what to do about it. I am writing about it, and crying, the same way I’ve always processed things.
But I can’t go and throw a ball against the fence. I’m too old for that. I’m not a kid anymore. I have no spots to hit. It’s November, and it’s cold, and I’m 20. And Roy Halladay is gone.
The Fallacy of Baseball as Peacemaker
By: Mary Craig
Thirty years later, the story of its final game was hidden in the crevices of the ballpark, obscured by the thick layers of dust and cobwebs coating it. The metal bleachers that once housed proud parents were covered in rust and could barely hold the weight of one small child, let alone the weight of 18 different hopes and dreams. No bases marked the infield, and if one did not carefully comb the dry, weed-covered dirt to find the slight divots remaining from the holes in which the bases sat, one would not know these bases existed at all.
Inside one dugout, nestled underneath the jagged slats of a broken bench lay a solitary black baseball glove that had been dropped in the chaotic aftermath of the game. Though it was in its natural habitat, it, and the ballpark itself, could not have felt more out of place. In this new world, baseball existed only in story form, as a hushed reminder of a better life.
Those few who lived long enough to make baseball a memory spoke of a time in which this game was played daily by millions of boys and girls, men and women in a country called America. The game sounded fantastical to those lucky enough to learn about it. It was said to have represented the best of that life. It taught America’s citizens–another fantastical notion–important values and created peace. Instead of using fear and violence to establish order, people took out their aggression on the ball and base paths until they were able to civilly and rationally discuss their qualms.
To the storytellers and their audience, this way of life seemed like a dream. But as the 1930s became the 1940s, it turned into a nightmare. While British and French soldiers were fighting for freedom and justice on battlefields across Europe and Africa, American soldiers were fighting for base hits and the home run crown. Every time they received distress calls from their European allies and thought about joining the fight, they just couldn’t muster up the necessary aggression. These young men had spent so much of their youth killing pitchers with bats that they could neither mentally nor physically kill Nazis with guns.
Europe and Africa swiftly fell, and America stood as humanity’s last hope. But American soldiers could do nothing but play catch as first the Kriegsmarine lined America’s coast, then the soldiers patrolled American cities. As residents of aggressive, baseball-free Europe, no German agreed to a winner-take-all game, instead taking all while the Americans watched on, clinging to their gloves and bats.
Thirty years later, there sat the decrepit baseball field, responsible for America’s life and death.