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.

In 1955 Brooklyn Dodger third-base coach Henry Miller shocked a hometown crowd of 22,000 when he walked out to the coach's box completely naked during the seventh-inning stretch. Though permitted to remain in the ballgame, Miller was later ejected when the first-base umpire caught him flashing obscene signs to a base runner. Miller was subsequently banned from baseball.

All-star Cincinnati shortstop Johnny P. Sartre in 1964 became the first major leaguer to refuse the Most Valuable Player Award. Sartre declined the prestigious award because of his long-standing opposition to the infield-fly rule. He denounced the rule, claiming that it severely limited human freedom and that it introduced into the game "a momentary paralysis in the midst of movement—all play suddenly assumes an automatic quality." The lifetime .350 hitter had made news several years earlier when he referred to the Ground Rule Double as an "absurd bourgeois convention."

In 1965 Twins player-manager Vladimir Nabokov obtained league permission to play a game in reverse, beginning with the ninth inning. Nabokov admitted that except for using his ace relief pitcher in a starting role, the game progressed no differently from any conventional game. It ended, however, in a tie that was never resolved, because the team managers failed to agree on how to number the extra innings. Nabokov's proposal that they employ negative innings was dismissed as frivolous.

Batting against the Yankees on August 12,1969, Indian centerfielder Gabriel García Márquez hit the longest home run in baseball history. According to fans in the left-field bleachers, as the ball reached the upper deck it suddenly sprouted wings and floated high over the stadium. The ball was reportedly picked up by a very old man in the parking lot who was never seen again.

During a 1978 contest for last place being played under protest in a constant drizzle Atlanta second baseman Harry Pinter signals time out and stoops to tie his shoelace. He misses a hard-hit ground ball and is charged with an error. Pinter (moving toward first) says that he called time. A long pause. The second-base umpire claims that he misunderstood Pinter's signal—he thought he was batting away a bug. Silence. Another hard grounder shoots past Pinter and a big E appears on the scoreboard. Pinter (moving toward second) says he thought play had been stopped to discuss the misunderstood signal. A long pause. The umpire maintains that Pinter did not call time out to do so. As Pinter (moving toward first) turns to ask the first-base umpire what is happening, another ground ball bounces by. A long silence. The few remaining fans begin drifting to the exits.