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A Horse That Was a Bird

Baltimore Orioles

It’s been a hell of a fertile period for the Grim Reaper, Pop Cult Dept, (in my movie, that part is played by Larry Blyden), with a run that included Alex Chilton, T-Bone Wolk, and Johnny Maestro along with Dixie Carter, Fess Parker, Robert Culp, and John Forsyth, never mind Meinhardt Rabbe, the munchkin coroner from The Wizard of Oz, and Malcolm McLaren, that genuine force of nature.  Wow, knock ‘em down  and drag ‘em out. Yet, when the brimstone stench dissipated, the semi-celeb’s loss I felt most tenderly was a sports figure from my baseball-crazed pre-adolescence, pitcher Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles.

As an eleven-year old in the summer of 1967, I made the full transformation into rabid Red Sox fan, following the ups down of that “Impossible Dream” season, all the while transfixed by the day-to-day heroics of Carl Yastrzemski, the one and only Yaz. Like most baseball obsessives,  I also underwent a quickie education about the sport, reading dusty book after book about the glories of baseball past, and digging into the sports page as soon as my father put the paper down each evening, and even going out and buying the up-to-date baseball guides available at the local newsstands.  Eventually familiarizing myself with the starting line-ups of nearly every major league team, I also learned that it was acceptable, at least for the sophisticated fan, to root for other cool daddy ballplayers that didn’t necessarily play for the home team.


Of all the major sports, baseball has always seemed to lend itself to the written word, with scores of analysis, history, reference, biography, ethnography, fantasy, and geez, even poetry constantly being devoted to America’s most hallowed pastime, a large portion of it from a scholarly or literally point of view. (Of course the sad, plain truth remains that football has truly become, outside of celebrity peepshowin’, real America’s real favorite pastime.)
 A lifetime baseball fan, I’ve scoured the collected work of the venerable Rogers (Kahn and Angel), devoured the reportage of Thomas Boswell and Dan Shaughnessy, sat perched upon the shoulders the of both Jim Bronsan and Jim Bouton, and dipped into the rosin-stained lives of everybuddy from Ty Cobb to Harry “Steamboat Johnson” to “Super Joe” Charbonneau, and been delighted by the fictional firepower of Robert Coover (The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.), Barry Beckham (Runner Mack), and Donald Hays (The Dixie Association).
Through it all, (and every year brings a new stream of publishings) the arguable best baseball read I’ve ever got my hands on is In the Country of Baseball (originally published in 1976, rereleased with a new epilogue in 1989 by Fireside), the story of the one and only Dock Ellis, a collaboration between the colorful pitcher and the poet Donald Hall.
dock ellis in uniform and hair curlers