Ephemera Found When You Move, Part III: Nolan Ryan Signed Baseball

Signed Nolan Ryan Ball--after the family dog had his way with it

Please humor me for a moment to follow (and perhaps check) my math here: according to Major League Baseball’s sanctified Official Baseball Rules, the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s plate at the mound is 60 feet and 6 inches or 60.5 feet. Now this means when Nolan Ryan hurled his fastest recorded pitch at 100.9 miles per hour in an official major league game that it took all of .408 of one second for the ball to travel from the origin of the mound to the destination of home plate.[1] You may also note that this time is not far off from the average blink of the human eye.

So while the length of time that the featured Nolan Ryan autographed baseball (above) remained in mint condition certainly exceeds that of Ryan’s official fastest pitch, this particular piece of memorabilia nonetheless existed in pristine form for a still relatively brief period.

The story goes that my physician father-in-law received the autographed ball as one of those curious gifts given by some traveling pharmaceutical salesperson. And whatever you may feel about that particular, perfectly legal and not uncommon practice and the lamentable ethics of the broader pharmaceutical industry, I can say with confidence in knowing this discriminating man (my father-in-law, that is, not the traveling pharmaceutical salesperson) that he more than likely said “why, thank you very much—that’s very generous,” while in the same breath, “but no thank you to that worthless poison you’re peddling.”

My father-in-law couldn’t care less about baseball or Nolan Ryan, though, so he in turn gave the signed ball to his teenage daughter (my future partner-in-crime). At the time, she was an avid sports enthusiast, immersed in all manner of scores and statistics, nightly basking in the glow of broadcasts from the soon-to-be imperial ESPN. In fact, she even once attended a Texas Rangers and New York Yankees baseball game.

This inked orb of ephemeral memorabilia did not remain long in her possession, however, before a younger sibling (of yet fully developed capacity for appreciating material values) looked up towards a lofty bedroom display shelf and gazed upon said perched orb. Of course, the first thought that popped into this young child’s noggin proved just too tempting to resist: now isn’t that the perfect little bauble for me to throw and to catch and to play with—with my dog. Thus shortly thereafter Nolan Ryan’s still freshly scrawled autograph met with much smudged and slobbered disaster in the jaws of the family dog. . . .

But the ball survived just fine, albeit a bit lopsided, smeared, and worse the wear.

[1] After much nocturnal, numeric agony and my own feeble math skills, the calculations first require conversion from mph to ftps, or miles per hour to feet per second; hence 100.9 is multiplied by 5280, since 5280 feet equal one mile, and then that product of 532752 is divided by the 3600 seconds that comprise one hour. This yields 147.986 ft./sec. Given this rate, then divide the distance of 60.5 feet by 147.986 ft./sec. (as t = d/r, or time = distance/rate), all to arrive at the .408 seconds travel time.

 

Poor Quisenberry

Quiz

Dan Quisenberry, in Memoriam
—on reading a Quisenberry baseball poem

smudge of a fruit-bearing shrub:
miniature lines aquiver, hookt—
bittersweet orbs to glove

♦ ♦ ♦

Honestly, I only recently heard about Dan Quisenberry’s story as pitcher-turned-poet. I first encountered the curious, redolent name when reading Roger Angell’s brief but remorseful account in “Penmen.” In this quintessential piece from his “Takes” column, Angell reflects how the aspiring writer turned to an all too dubious professional essayist and author in Angell himself, who would later come to regret his hasty skepticism. Later, “Quiz” resurfaced in my baseball reading—while amidst thumbing through some Aethlon back issues I stumbled upon Andrew Hazucha’s “An Elegy for Quiz: the Plaintive Verse of Baseball’s Best Poet.” Baseball and poetry: now I was hooked.

If you don’t know about Quisenberry’s delightful personality and lamentably abrupt end, “An Elegy for Quiz” is as good as any place to start. Hazucha’s prose conveys that often illusive, utterly heartfelt tonality without succumbing to those pitfalls of sentimentality. (An excerpt of the finely woven biographical narrative and poetic analysis follows below.) In fact, Hazucha’s informative essay compelled me to seek out more of Quisenberry’s poetry.

Indeed, I simply couldn’t resist the urge when I found a used copy of On Days Like This, Quisenberry’s collection of poetry. And the secondhand paperback isn’t too badly weathered either: a small tea or coffee stain mars the edge of the front cover, but the binding is tight. Anyway, it’s inside what matters. Albeit a little uneven—if not, understandably, underdeveloped in his poetic prowess—ultimately Quiz does not disappoint. The slim volume contains some stunning, fruitful efforts that in all likelihood only a former, experienced ballplayer could have crafted with such authenticity. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this close to the diamond’s evocative smells of bruised leather and freshly pulled dirt as Dan’s poetry so succeeds in bringing it to me.

Again, though, Hazucha says as much in reviving this notable baseball poet, and I’m very glad he does.

Appendix

Excerpt from “An Elegy for Quiz: the Plaintive Verse of Baseball’s Best Poet”:

September 2010 marks the twelfth anniversary of the death of Dan Quisenberry. Although he was the most dominant relief pitcher in baseball from 1980 to 1985 and the recipient of numerous pitching awards during his playing days with the Kansas City Royals, it is Quisenberry the poet who continues to surprise and delight those who are fortunate enough to come across his numerous forays into free verse. (1) Although legions of other baseball players have dabbled in literature, the most famous of whom is Jim Bouton in his tell-all memoir Ball Foul; precious few have aspired to write poetry, and none so studiously and successfully as Quisenberry. (2) After his baseball career ended in 1990, Quisenberry enrolled in multi-genre writing workshops in the Kansas City area and quickly found his niche with poetry. His second career as a poet was just beginning to take off, with frequent public readings and a book contract, when he was cut down by cancer at the age of 45.

A good introduction to Quisenberry’s verse is “Ode to Dick Howser,” first published in the spring 1996 issue of the poetry journal New Letters. In this poem Quisenberry honors the former manager of the Kansas City Royals not by sentimentalizing his memories of the man or dwelling on the brain tumor that killed him, but instead noting Howser’s very human shortcomings: the pet phrases Howser liked to repeat to his team ad nauseum, his stubborn habit of almost never dipping into his bench to relieve the same nine men he played every day, and the careful emotional distance he maintained between himself and his players, symbolized by the dark sunglasses he perpetually wore that gave him “shadows for his eyes” (3). Yet, despite his refusal to let his players get to know him, Howser somehow managed to win until the very end, when a malignant brain tumor finished his 1986 season at the All-Star break. The following spring, writes Quisenberry, Howser abandoned a comeback attempt at managing the team and gave a final speech to his players. As Quisenberry describes the scene, Howser had now discarded his sunglasses:

   this small man
   who fought big
   now looked us in the eyes
   just a man
   who no longer talked of winning
   but hinted at life beyond champagne. (78-83)

Two years after the publication of this poem, Quisenberry was himself dead of a malignant brain tumor, a disease that took his life a few short months after his first full-length book of poems, a volume entitled On Days Like This, was published by Helicon Nine Editions, a small Kansas City press. When he was writing these poems, Quisenberry had no idea that he would share the fate of his old manager because he was asymptomatic until the book was nearing completion. (3) Yet, despite Quisenberry’s ignorance of his own impending and early death, several poems in the collection treat not only the passage of time and the poet’s own aging, but also the figurative death that awaits him beyond baseball. In a sense, then, Dick Howser’s sunglasses become for the poet a metaphor for false bravado in the face of the unknown. The bare-faced skipper is more authentic than the bespectacled one for Quisenberry, whose ars poetica is his own fierce refusal to put on masks, his insistence always on his own ordinariness, and his assertion that, when used with the proper reverence and humility, language itself has more power than the arm of the closer, who so often stands on the mound “scared, lonely, surrounded.” (4)

Works Cited

Angell, Roger, and Steve Kettmann. “Penmen.” Game Time: A Baseball Companion. San Diego: Harcourt, 2003. 238-?.

Hazucha, Andrew. “An elegy for quiz: the plaintive verse of baseball’s best poet.” Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature 26.2 (2009): 103-?.

*Visit the Dan Quisenberry Wikipedia entry here.

Poor Nolan–or Poor Koosman

HALF 1968 TOPPS 177 NOLAN RYAN, JERRY KOOSMAN - METS ROOKIE STARS Damaged

1968 TOPPS 177 NOLAN RYAN, JERRY KOOSMAN - METS ROOKIE STARS Damaged

Jerry Koosman was a pretty darn good pitcher in his own right: two-time All-Star, career strikeout total of over 2,500, and a World Series championship. Of course he shared that 1969 World Series victory on the Miracle Mets with the same fellow he shared some space with on his 1968 Topps rookie card–Nolan Ryan. Now I’m not exactly sure about the mentality involved in the destruction (or “damage,” as the online auction descriptions put it with such fine understatement for both of these artifacts) of a Nolan Ryan rookie card. Suffice to say, though, that Koosman certainly looks to have suffered for the worse in this cardboard havoc; in fact, he’s not even present in the first.

And if pressed, my personal favorite would have to be the uppermost example–especially since Nolan is now an “Ookie Star”!

*SABR entry for Jerry Koosman.