In 1999, I was teaching advanced dialectical history at a small northeastern liberal arts college whose name I will not mention here. The season of that year that stands out the most in my own memory is Autumn. The Autumn of 1999. I remember, that Autumn, getting home from the last class of the day, putting on the kettle, and turning on the radio to listen to a baseball game. One thing in particular stands out when I remember those afternoons: the sound, over the small speakers of my compact radio, of the brutal smack of a strong fucking home run slam.
The strong fucking home run slam is the only constant in my life. I seek the slam in places you have never heard of, realms you have not considered, zones you would do well to avoid. I am not proud of what I have done. I have never claimed to be a moral person. I have never claimed to be anything other than a simple genius with a profound knowledge of the science of baseball dialectics.
This autumn, I became nostalgic for those waning days of 1999, the days before the WWW was what it is today, when the light fell differently, when the colors of the setting sun were softer and more diffuse, when the fucking home run smack shook the windows and the strong baseball bat smashed the white circle into smoking smithereens and the drooling fans extinguished its remains with long ropes of bloodlustrous hungry saliva, begging and praying for the strong power to overwhelm their senses, sending them into a sort of trance in which the only thing that mattered was the crack of the bat to the ball and the long arc slicing through the thick air like a sperm cell diving upwards towards the sun.
And it was thus that I came to find myself embarking on a journey to Baseball Mecca: that’s right, none other than the Official Baseball Hall of Fame, where I found myself discovering truth where others have found falsehoods, shame where others have found honor, honor where others have found numbered shirts housed in glass cases, and snacks where others have found lunch.
With my steel-gray eyes, I dared the ticket clerk to prevent me from paying the $29.95 entrance fee with tarnished dollar coins. Of course the lanky loser allowed me ingress without incident, and I commenced what would be a grueling and personally traumatic penetration into the bowels of baseball infamy.
It was not a hall, reader, so much as a series of rooms. One passes through the Hall of Fame much as a morsel of bread passes through the small and large intestines: slowly, while disintegrating. Foul men from the past glare at you as you squeeze past display after pointless display. Their cruel smiles dare you to enjoy the vulgar, grotesque mementos put on display by The Hall.
You will see a catching glove that was used to extinguish a small trash fire in a trench during the Great War. Its owner would later die of dysentery on the banks of a river in the South of France after deserting his regiment. The dysentery arrived suddenly and killed him quickly. He had just made love to a poet in a sun-dappled glen. He’d met her in Strasbourg, a beautiful girl of 19. After their rendezvous, he decided to bathe in a nearby stream. As the cool water washed over his shoulders and then his face, he felt he had been freed from the experiences and visions that had haunted him. The blown-off faces, the severed limbs, the blistered skin, the disturbingly neat and round bullet holes washed clean by the rain; all of this he felt swept away by the current. After his swim, he exited the river, eager to return to his new lover. But then he shit his guts out into a Rawlings baseball glove and died. La grande mort. C’est la vie!
• Here! Look at this! This jersey was once worn by the manager of a team that has not existed for 150 years. He burned down his own shirt factory with 40 workers inside.
• Here we see a chicken bone that was sucked clean by Ty Cobb during an exhibition game attended by none other than Joseph Goebbels.
• A bloodstained rag once used to clean a cut above Babe Ruth’s left eye. A rag that belonged to the man who would later electrocute Babe Ruth to death in 1948.
• Leon Trotsky’s handkerchief. The placard tells us that Trotsky was a “rabid baseball fan.” No sources are cited. The handiwork of a desperate archivist.
• Several bloodstained baseballs presented, apparently, without comment.
A Great War-era Gatling gun used by Ty Cobb to massacre most of the inhabitants of a peaceful German farming village. Ty Cobb’s first baseball bat. Ty Cobb’s first home run ball. Ty Cobb’s catching glove. Ty Cobb’s manifesto. Ty Cobb’s trench knife, caked with dried, black blood.
After I had had my fill of the exhibits, I made my way to the snack bar. The fries were crispy, if under-salted. My requests for Cajun seasoning went unheeded. The “Yankee Stadium Italian Sausage n’ Peppers” reminded me of my serene, traditional childhood. The Coca-Cola was cold and effervescent, and gave me a wild case of the hiccups. After finishing my meal, I was rewarded with a complimentary miniature box of Cracker Jack-brand crispy sugar-corn snack, which I took into the men’s room, opened, dumped into the commode, and urinated on, before flushing it down, prize and all.
We do not choose what parts of history we celebrate. History is a cruel mistress. Autumn is my favorite season. Autumn is a time of death and beauty. Shadows get longer this month. Baseball is our nation’s sport. The Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes. I went there, and I left feeling as if I had not seen a Hall of Fame, so much as I had seen, perhaps, dear reader ... a Hall of Infamy?
Mr. Baseball is a baseball historian and fan. He lives and works in the United States.
Illustration by Jim Cooke