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POETRY

An Octina for Wally Pip
By Michael Cantor

This starts with New York Yankee Wally Pipp,
who loved each moment of each baseball game—
the grass and sweat, tobacco juice, the pitch,
the spirits that meant Wally came to play
wherever fist hit glove and ball met bat.
Broad-shouldered, tall, his voice a manly bass,
he wooed true fans from Beantown to St. Lou',
and thrilled to hear the crowd's ecstatic bawl

exploding as the umpire called, "PLAY BALL!"
But then a migraine's grip felled Wally Pipp
and Coach told him, No need to stew. In lieu
of you that college kid can start a game
or two. We'll test the rookie at first base;
see how he does against a big league pitch.
The fact is that he ain't no acrobat,
and talks just like he's in some Broadway play—

maybe not the guy you want to play
when the pennant hangs on every ball
but, hey, they say he swings a nasty bat.

The kid dug in—he outweighed Wally Pipp!—
bestrode the plate, admired a chest-high pitch,
then rocked his hips, uncocked thick wrists—HALLOO!—
a rocket ship roared wide of second base,
and skied to play a slap-bang crashing game

of tag with empty bleacher seats. The game
became the kid's—he handled every play
at first as if he'd always owned the base,
each swing just tore the cover off the ball,
and fans began to scream his name, Big Lou!!
He had the legs, ran bases like a big-assed bat
from second basemen's hell, crushed every pitch—
a horsehide whip, a battleship, a pip!

And that was all she wrote for Wally Pipp,
who didn't start another Yankee game.
He shared the bench with washed-up vets whose pitch
to him each day—that kid needs dirty play;
piss in his shoes and h
at, chop up his bat
for firewood—
was the bitter rant of base
old men who'd plot a rookie's Waterloo:
we'll take him out and get him drunk and ball

some five buck whore—for five bucks more she'll bawl
to all that it was rape—
but Wally Pipp
already knew that greatness lived in Lou
and wouldn't play that sick old-timer's game.
He praised the man who took away his base
and led the cheers for him to slug each pitch,
while tycoons, heartless as a cork-plugged bat,
had Wally quickly sold away, to play

for Cinci'—small-town Cinci'—where the play-
by-play announcers peddle hay; and ball-
field summer heat can scorch a wooden bat;
and that became the end of Wally Pipp.
He left to run a bar and grill; would pitch
in nights, and lift a few and talk of Lou:
how sure it was that he would make the Base-
ball Hall of Fame, an All-Star of the game,

the Iron Horse, who never missed a game
in fourteen years. Bad calls can ruin the play
of life, and Wally found he was off base
once more: he thought some day they'd name a ball-
park after Lou—not a disease—then Lou
fell ill. The Scoreboard marked his last at bat.
When millions mourned him on the final pitch,
the saddest man of all was Wally Pipp.

At every New York game the ghost of Lou
is said to grab a bat and try to play;
smash back a pitch, bring home the men on base,
for baseball fellowship—and Wally Pipp.

—EFQ


MICHAEL CANTOR, who cheered the Yankees on from nearby Bronx rooftops as a child, now lives on Plum Island, north of Boston on the Massachusetts coast, where he shares the beach with gulls, sandpipers, and embittered Red Sox fans. His work has been published during the past year (or is awaiting publication) in The Atlanta Review, Candelabrum (UK), The Cumberland Poetry Review, Lyric, Light, The Larcom Review, Medicinal Purposes, Orbis (UK), and The Comstock Review.

© 2003 Michael Cantor

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