Great Moments in Literary Baseball

The centrefielder cannot hold....

—Willie Yeats

New York mound artist Henry James, Jr., made baseball history in the first game of the 1910 season when he became the only pitcher ever to issue an intentional walk to the lead-off batter, Said James, "I prefer the extra complication."

In the second game of a double-header in Detroit in 1919, the Boston firstbase coach began pointing his finger at the mound and gesturing wildly as Detroit pitcher Frank Kafka started his delivery. The home-plate umpire went out to the mound to ask Kafka what the hell he thought he was doing. Kafka protested that he had not committed a balk. The umpire said that a balk was not the issue and ejected Kafka from the game. The following day, after a short inquiry conducted by the American League commissioner, Kafka was permanently suspended from organized baseball. The commissioner never disclosed the nature of Kafka's violation.

At the hour of twilight on a soft summer day toward the end of June in the year of Our Lord 1929, towering, barrel-chested St. Louis slugger Tommy Wolfe marched to the plate with the score, incredibly, tied in the bottom of the ninth inning and two outs. With a furious swing that thundered with the sound of a million bats hitting a million baseballs, Wolfe drove the ball high into the all-engulfing American sky. It seemed to take an eternity both for the left fielder to retrieve the exhausted baseball and for Wolfe to pursue, despite his rapid, loping strides, the always terrifying journey around the illimitable diamond. Then, for a reason that no one has ever completely understood, Tommy Wolfe stopped dead at third. "Home! Go home!" screamed a million voices. But Wolfe knew better. The next day he retired from baseball.

Hit in the shoulder by a pitch during an exhibition game in Key West, Florida, in 1933, Cubs catcher Ernie Hemingway refused to take first base. The next pitch hit Hemingway in the nose. Hemingway stood his ground. The third and fourth pitches hit him in the shin and the ear respectively. He dug in deeper, though in noticeable pain. The fifth pitch felled him. The home-plate umpire allowed the seriously injured Hemingway to be carried to first base on a stretcher.

In 1936 Jorge Luis Borges, pitching for the Washington Senators, threw a slow curve ball to the first hitter he faced in relief. The ball never arrived at the plate. In 1945 a ball clearly not thrown by the pitcher was swung on and missed by Brooklyn left fielder Luis Olmo. Olmo later testified that it was definitely an American League baseball.

Pittsburgh right fielder "Lucky" Sam Beckett, in his first major-league game, in 1949 set the National League record for the longest wait in the on-deck circle. Beckett never did get up to bat, the game being called on account of rain. The next day Beckett was sent back down to the International League. As a result his name has never appeared in the record books.

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