More than any other sport, baseball has enthralled American writers. As far back as the 1840s Walt Whitman, then a Brooklyn newspaper editor, wrote about the game. Several of Robert Frost's poems touched upon aspects of baseball, and he once contributed an article on the sport to SI. Baseball inspired two celebrated American poems, Ernest L. Thayer's "Casey at the Bat" and Franklin P. Adams's "Baseball's Sad Lexicon." William Carlos Williams, Thomas Wolfe, Ring Lardner, Carl Sandburg, James Thurber, Mark Harris and John Updike have written about the sport. As the poet Marianne Moore once observed, "Writing is exciting and baseball is like writing."
Mike Shannon and Jim Harrison of Covington, Ky. couldn't agree more with Moore. Both men are diehard fans who share an interest in the literature of the game. Five years ago they published the first issue of Spitball, a quarterly magazine devoted to baseball fiction and poetry. In it the two editors wrote, "There are few things we enjoy more than baseball, but one of them is poetry."
Shannon, 34, who was reared by his mother, Willie Mae, has always adored Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants. He pitched some high school ball in Jacksonville, Fla., where his father worked for the railroad, then played outfield at North Carolina Wesleyan. By Shannon's own admission he has just recently realized that he is "not going to make it to the big leagues." He has high hopes, however, for his son Mickey, named, of course, after Mickey Mantle. He is hoping for a Duke and a Willie to one day complete his backyard dream outfield.
In 1979 Shannon submitted a short story, "The Autograph Seeker," to a Cincinnati literary magazine, The Pike Street Review. Jim Harrison, now 43, a longtime Cleveland Indians fan, was the magazine's editor. He and Shannon got to talking and each was delighted to find a kindred spirit. Spitball was born.
Spitball contains an editors' column named The Parnassian Pressbox (the title alludes to the Greek mountain sacred to the Muses), poetry and short stories. There are occasional interviews with the likes of author and former Reds pitcher Jim Brosnan and Charles C. Alexander, author of the definitive biography of Ty Cobb.
The magazine also takes on the estimable task of reviewing the many baseball books published each year. And every January, Shannon and Harrison award the "Casey," Spitball's literary trophy. Roger Kahn won this past January for his book Good Enough to Dream and made the trip out to the awards banquet in Covington, where he ate hot dogs, basked in the accolades of the 125 gathered poesyophiles and ended the evening by hoisting a few with Shannon at a watering hole on Pete Rose Way across the state line in Cincinnati.
Although the writing in Spitball is uneven, there is always something to savor—original poetry, including one poem on the reflections of Pete Rose's father on his son's early career and another in which two fans reminisce about former Tiger heroes as they stand in a Detroit bar and gaze at a cracked team photograph; variations on the poetry of William Carlos Williams; and short stories by such writers as W.P. Kinsella. Quite a variety considering that Shannon and Harrison have not until recently been able to afford payment of any kind.
Here is a brief sample from Spitball, an excerpt from the poem "The Ghost of Edd Roush Visits Johnny Bench in a Dream" by Jim Palana:
We leave our own time soon enough
for a plaque in the Hall
and rocking chair reveries.
Always some new young buck appears
to invite comparisons.
It doesn't have to be a hard lesson.
Except for those Cubs,
what we've done is take a child's game
and light it up,
and for that we are given
the colors we wore
and endless summer days
in our own time.
For a subscription to the magazine, send $8 to Spitball magazine, 1721 Scott Blvd., Covington, Ky. 41 Oil.