Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoThese lyrics to a 1949 song by Woodrow Buddy Johnson, are offered to commemorate National Poetry Month, the opening of the 2016 baseball season, and this day 69 years ago when Jackie Robinson became the first black player in major-league history by playing in an exhibition game for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It went zoomin cross the left field wall.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

And when he swung his bat,
the crowd went wild,
because he knocked that ball a solid mile.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

Satchel Paige is mellow,
so is Campanella,
Newcombe and Doby, too.
But it’s a natural fact,
when Jackie comes to bat,
the other team is through.

Jackie-Robinson_Stealing Home2bDid you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain’t all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie’s real gone.
Jackie’s is a real gone guy.

 

Most of you know about Jackie Robinson, but you may not be familiar with Buddy Johnson, an African-American blues and jazz pianist, bandleader and songwriter.  His biggest hit as a tunesmith was Since I Fell for You, a standard recorded by many artists over the years, my favorite being Lenny Welsh’s 1963 hit.

Now, the best known recording of Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? is no doubt the one by Count Basie, done at the Victor studios in New York City on July 13, 1949, with “Taps” Miller as vocalist.  According to the Library of Congress, this version “has become synonymous with the song itself.”

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Two Roads and a Fork

We’re deep into the Major League Baseball post-season and I’ve seen some exciting games. It would be more exciting if my beloved Yankees were still playing. For a while I thought my guys might be able to go all the way, but it was not to be, not this year, again.

By the way, on this date in 1923 the NY Yankees beat the New York Giants 4 games to 2 and won their 1st World Series. They’ve won 27 since. In fact, again on this same day but in 1964, the Yanks beat the Cardinals to win 9 of the last 16 World Series. What a team . . .

A few weeks ago, we lost the great Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, who passed away at the age of 90. Besides a legendary ball player, he was also famous for his “Yogisms,” his little sayings that have become part of the American  lexicon, like “Déjà vu all over again” and “You can observe a lot by watching.”

fork-road4bAt first, they seem a bit fractured but sometimes they sound very Zen and Taoist. I think my favorite is “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I don’t believe this is to be confused with the “fork in the road” near the Slauson Cutoff in L.A. (a minor spur of the 405 to Marina Del Rey) that Art Fern, host of the old Tea Time Movie, points out in the photo.

But it does remind me of this story found in the Chuang Tzu:

One day, Tzu-ch’i said to Tzu-yu, “You know, you can wear out your brain trying to make things into one without knowing that they are all the same. I call this ‘three in the morning.’”

“What do you mean by ‘three in the morning’?” Tzu-yu asked.

“When the monkey trainer was handing out nuts, he told the monkeys ‘You get three in the morning and four at night.’ This made all the monkeys angry. ‘Okay, then,’ he said, ‘you get four in the morning and three at night.’ Hearing this, monkeys were happy. Now, they still got the same amount of nuts each day, he just changed the order around, and yet one way made the monkeys upset, the other joyful. “

“I don’t get it.”

“Instead of arguing with the monkeys, the trainer used skill and wisdom to placate them. You see, a wise man will keep everything equal, and harmonize with both right and wrong. I call it walking two roads.”

yogi-berra2c

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Re2pect

He was a boy with a simple dream. He just wanted to play ball for his favorite team. That team happened to be the greatest team in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees. And for the last 20 years, Derek Jeter has lived his dream. As shortstop and Captain of the team, he has earned a place as one of the best players in the history of the game.

Jeter practically invented the jump throw.
Jeter practically invented the jump throw.

Jeter, age 40, announced his retirement earlier this year. On Thursday, he donned the Yankees pin-striped uniform for the final time to play in his last home game. He could not have closed out his career any better. It was a perfect storybook ending:

The Yankees had been leading. Then in the top of the ninth, pitcher David Robertson allowed a pair of homers, and suddenly everything it was an entirely different ball game.  What had looked like a pretty sure thing for the Yanks was in jeopardy.

Bottom of the ninth. The Yankees last at-bats for the night. Jeter’s last professional at-bat for all time. And he hit a walkoff single that brought the winning run to the plate. It was more than perfect. It was a magical ending.  A miracle ending. It was New York Yankees ending.

Tomorrow, at Fenway Park in Boston, “out of respect for the Boston fans and the rivalry,” Derek Jeter will likely make an appearance as Designated Hitter, and then it’s over.  Sunday’s game will be the Yankees’ last for the season, sadly locked out of post-season play. For the team, there’s always next year.  For Jeter, it’s a wrap.

He has had an incredible career. As of Thursday: Five World Series rings, 3463 career hits (6th all time), 200 post-season hits, 2674 games at shortstop (2nd most all time). No player in the history of the NY Yankees has played more games, had more at-bats, more hits, more doubles, more stolen bases. It’s not just about statistics. Ability, integrity, loyalty, class, a leader, role model, a player admired by fans of all ages – he played clean during a time many players relied on performance enhancing drugs. It is all these things that has made Derek Jeter a great ballplayer and a great human being.

O Captain! My Captain! Saying goodbye to the New York fans Thursday
O Captain! My Captain! Saying goodbye to the New York fans Thursday

During his second year in the major leagues, Jeter established the Turn 2 Foundation, a charitable organization that helps children and teenagers avoid drug and alcohol addiction, and reward young people who show high academic achievement. I’ve always thought it said something very positive about the man that established his foundation so early in his career.

The last of the “Core 4” (Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera), the mighty sub-team that took the club to glory so many times during the Joe Torre years, and like Murderer’s Row, will be long remembered in the annals of Major League Baseball history. Last year Yankees fans bid goodbye to the Sandman, Mariano Rivera, and this year to the Captain . . . the end of an era.

Joe DiMaggio said once, “I’d like to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee.” I think what I have always liked best about Derek Jeter is that there was only one baseball team in this world for him. I’ve always felt the same way. No other ball club has had the magic, the history, or the thrills. As a Buddhist, I don’t know who to thank for the Yankees, but I’d sure like to thank Derek Jeter for the past 20 years.  It has been a treat to watch him play.

And as he retires, the Yanks are retiring his No. 2. That’s Re2pect.

Here’s something I saw on a fan sign during a recent games that really says it all:

Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened.

In the clip below, you’ll hear the voice of long time public address announcer for the Yankees, Bob Sheppard. When he died on July 11, 2010, Jeter asked that an audio recording of Sheppard’s introduction be used at Yankee Stadium whenever Jeter came to the plate. That’s Re2pect, too. You’ll also see a close-up of Jeter’s parents. And you’ll see a most amazing finale to a most amazing career.

 

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The Escape, The Error and The Flash of Genius

No joy in Mudville tonight, for mighty Casey has struck out . . .

And now, a few words from William Carlos Williams:

The Crowd at the Ball Game

(Published in The Dial, 1923)

William Carlos Williams in 1954

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them —

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius —

all to no end save beauty
the eternal –

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

for this
to be warned against

saluted and defied —
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut —

The flashy female with her
mother, gets it —

The Jew gets it straight – it
is deadly, terrifying —

It is the Inquisition, the
Revolution

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them
idly —

This is
the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought

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The Zen of Baseball

Here I am once again testing my theory that if you put the words “The Zen of” in the title of anything, tons of people will be interested in it. Since this is about Zen and Baseball both of which all people love, I expect to get many hits today, and let me tell you hits are foremost on my mind. While many are keeping their eye on and discussing the political races leading up to the November election, there is another race going on that is of paramount importance, and of course, I am referring to the race to the World Series.

The most important question in this race is what will be the fate of the New York Yankees. I don’t believe I need to tell any of the highly intelligent readers of this blog that the New York Yankees are the greatest baseball team in the history of the game, or that many of their players have actually walked on water. For those who may have been residing on another planet for most of their lives, I will list some of the major reasons why the NY Yankees are the world’s greatest baseball team: Babe Ruth, Lou Gerhig,  Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and the two greatest managers of all time, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre.

The Yanks are behind in the ALCS to the Rangers and that’s why I’m concerned about getting lots of hits today. The Bronx Bombers need to win the next two games to get into the World Series.  Can they do it? The world waits with bated breath . . .

So, what does baseball have to do with Zen? If you play baseball in Japan, a lot. It seems that the majority of Japanese baseball players are Buddhists, although they may not be Zen, it’s close enough.

Now the Yanks had a great Japanese player on the team for some years, Hideki Matsui, nicknamed “Godzilla.” I don’t know if he is a Buddhist or not, but as far as I am concerned he was a home run king in the true Yankees tradition and why they let him go is beyond me. He plays for the Angels now.

Sadaharu Oh

One of Japan’s best players was Sadaharu Oh, who at the age of 70 is retired. His 868 home runs set an all-time record in that country. In 1984 he wrote a book entitled A Zen Way of Baseball. I have not read it but I understand it’s very good and one doesn’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy it. Here is a review I found on ESPN.

I looked for but could not find any excerpts from the book online, however I did run across these quotes from Sadaharu Oh:

The efforts you make will surely be rewarded. If not, then you are simply not ready to call them efforts.

The opponents and I are really one. My strength and skills only half of the equation. The other half is theirs. An opponent is someone whose strength joined to yours creates a certain result.

My baseball career was a long, long initiation into a single secret: At the heart of all things is love.

I have to admit that it’s exciting to see the Rangers, on the brink of playing in their first World Series, doing so well. I just hope the Yankees do better.

Abner Doubleday by Mathew Brady

Of course, in order to prepare myself for the possible onslaught of suffering that will follow an unfavorable outcome for my team, I am keeping in mind the immortal words of Abner Doubleday, founder of baseball and existentialist thinker, who once said, “Don’t take the world serious.”

Get it?

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