Friday, March 10, 2017

Robert Pinsky Ralph Branca

Robert Pinsky has published a superb poem in the New Yorker,

About that poem, it could be you need a bit of baseball lore for it to click. Branca was the Dodger pitcher Bobby Thompson hit the homerun off in the '51 playoff to give the Giants the pennant.

That historic homerun:

The Giants were 13 1/2 games behind Brooklyn at the beginning of September. Then came their comeback, ending with Branca's pitch to Bobby Thompson.

I love Pinsky's poem and also the Don DeLillo rendition in "Pafko at the Wall," the splendid novella he later integrates into "Underworld."

It's sublime that Pinsky has Jackie Robinson comforting Branca, Branca having been welcoming to 42, the first black major leaguer, and that Pinsky weaves in the story of Branca later discovering his Jewish heritage:

The Nazis killed the aunts and uncles Branca

Didn’t know existed until he was old.

An aside: Brooklyn would be different, NYC different, therefore the United States, therefore the world, had the Dodgers stayed, though I can't say how.

Turns out Robert Moses — the guy Jane Jacobs stopped from leveling Greenwich Village to build a throughway —  was a big factor in Dodgers leaving. O’Malley, Dodgers owner, wanted to stay if he could build a new ballpark to replace outmoded Ebbets field. Moses, out of arrogance and ignorance, made it clear that was never going to happen.

I wonder if I'm pushing it too far to suggest that Pinsky's version and DeLillo's have something in common.

Pinsky skillfully winds himself in and out of the poem:

The Dodgers were taken from Brooklyn by their owner:
I, Robert Pinsky, choose not to say his name.

As if there he were obeying a religious interdiction against uttering out loud the blasted name of Walter O'Malley.

DeLillo includes Jackie Gleason, Toots Shor and J. Edgar Hoover in the stands at the Polo Grounds, and in the course of his rendition tells how artful, how novelistic, baseball announcers had to be when, back in those days, they might be broadcasting without benefit of being at a game, working it up out of cryptic ticker tape:

Somebody hands you a piece of paper filled with letters and numbers and you have to make a ball game out of it. You create the weather, flesh out the players, you make them sweat and grouse and hitch up their pants. You construct the fiction of a distant city, making up everything but the stark facts of the evolving game. Now the umpire's dusting off the plate. Some wispy clouds hanging in the west–you are sitting in a windowless room, remember, with an oil company calendar on the wall–cirrus or stratus maybe, you are quick to admit you aren't sure, and Vernon knocks the dirt from his spikes and says something to the lanky veteran catcher, a son of the Old South is Bill Dickey. . .

I grew up close to Ebbets Field and went often  — I remember Aaron, I remember Mays. But somehow I was a Yankees fan, which was strange to be in Brooklyn.

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