Kirk Gibson and Charles Olson

Monday, August 19, 2013

The approaching 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run has coincided with the Los Angeles Dodgers winning an astonishing number of games in the second half of this season. Although it’s been decades since I’ve cheered with any enthusiasm for the Dodgers, I am pleased to see the team doing well, if only because Vin Scully has endured more mediocrity in recent years than any Hall–of-Famer broadcaster should be saddled with. For his sake, I would be pleased to see the Dodgers do well in the postseaon playoffs.

In the drumbeat boosterism that is beginning to build towards what the local economy hopes will be a Dodger triumph in the World Series, this quarter-century celebration of Gibson’s limp-off dinger is an all too obvious item on the restaurant menu. Sure enough, the Los Angeles Times trotted out a long column by Bill Plaschke the other day that reviews some of the background contributions to Gibson’s sole at bat in that series. Most of the key elements in the story, however, are not particularly insightful revelations. In particular, Gibson’s use of a scouting report to anticipate the pitch that Dennis Eckersley was going to throw is fairly common knowledge, and anyone who has followed the game at all knows that Gibson has previously credited Mike Davis’s steal of second base with helping him settle in at the plate and focus on the basic task of getting a single and simply tying the game at 3-3. A pinch-runner could then have been used to finish off the job of rattling the Oakland A’s confidence in their odds-on status of being the team favored to win the Series.

There’s been at least one game this year, in fact, in which a similar comment to the one Gibson made years ago about how Davis’s steal affected his equanimity at the plate. In mid-May, the Cleveland Indians were playing the Seattle Mariners in Cleveland in an extra-innings game that was tied at 3-3. According to Jordan Bastian’s coverage of the game, a two-out walk to Drew Stubbs (who has struck out 113 times in 354 Abs this season and drawn only 28 bases on balls) proved to an unforgiving extension of the inning by the Mariners’ pitcher. As with Mike Davis’s two-out walk in the 1988 game, the subsequent stolen base altered the approach of Jason Kipnis, whose comment after hitting a home to win the game was very similar to Gibson’s recollection of his most famous at-bat: “I knew that I had to go up there and just get a single — just slap it,” Kipnis said. “That approach may have helped me stay back on his offspeed.”

In other words, as with writing a poem, don’t try to do more than needs to be done to resolve an immediate adversity. That’s easier advice to follow, of course, about a conservative game, such a baseball, as opposed to choosing a course of “self-action with Whitehead’s important corollary: that no event / is not penetrated, in intersection or collision with, an eternal / event.” Furthermore, the hyper-masculine environment of professional baseball remains a problem in drawing any analogous permutations of potential choices with outcomes. The word missing from Olson’s reminder at the end of “A Later Note on Letter #15” is one of gender assignment: Are “the poetics of such a situation … yet to be found out” patriarchal or matriarchal, or is there a new androgyny yet to articulate its plural capacities? (In one of the poems called “Elements” in “Great Slave Lake Suite,” Leland Hickman included a slight variation on Olson, describing his context at Fort Providence in Canada as the “poetics of this situation not yet figured out.”)

Nevertheless, the intersection of familiar cycles with a seemingly infinite variety of personal circumstances makes both baseball and poetry prime subjects of my daily meditations.