As we attempt to understand Marianne Moore’s baseball poems, it is important to see the contextual influence of her brother and their mutual interest in Pauline Christianity, a tradition they never abandoned. There is some mystery in the space between sport and religion that many Christian athletes inhabit and of which Marianne Moore is the poet.

Marianne Moore’s first baseball poem, “Hometown Piece for Msgrs. Alston and Reese,” set in Dodger Stadium, was published on the front page of the New York Herald Tribune on October 3, 1956, when she was in her late sixties.[1] It became her most famous poem. Ever afterward, the sly and slender Brooklyn modernist became known as the poet of New York baseball. A second New York baseball poem, “Baseball and Writing,” appeared on December 9, 1961 in The New Yorker.[2] The two poems, seemingly occasional, open a window into a lifelong relationship between the Christian poet and her naval pastor brother. The poems have never received very much academic study, but paradoxically have come to define her in the public sphere. This essay will reveal their thematic and formal depth, as well as provide a historical context for the many players mentioned. It will also draw attention toward an examination of their overall meaning and show that they are less slight than has been previously thought.

When the Brooklyn Dodgers poem appeared, Marianne Moore was in Los Angeles, and Moore’s brother sent a telegram to inform her of the publication: “Your picture and the Dodger poem appeared today on the front page of the NY Herald Tribune – your name bracketed with Homer and Vergil.”[3] A letter written the previous day by her brother Warner, exults: “next year you may be invited to meet Campy and Jackie Robinson and Duke Snyder at Ebbetts Field . . . I’d like to be along that day.”[4] The poem cites Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella (Campy), as well as Jim Gilliam, Sandy Amorós, and Don Newcombe. All five black players had been newly recruited into the organization (thanks to the moral insistence of the Dodgers’ Methodist manager, Branch Rickey), and can be seen as part of an enthusiasm for a more just society within America. Marianne Moore and her brother, as Christians, saw unity between races as an eventuality.

In 1955, the Dodgers had won the pennant on the pitching of Johnny Podres, who won two games, including the concluding seventh. The key play in the seventh game was a tremendous catch by Sandy Amorós, a black Cuban. Amorós chased down a long fly ball by Yogi Berra, which turned into a double-play when Amorós pegged the ball to shortstop Pee Wee Reese, who relayed the ball to first baseman Gil Hodges to put out the Yankees’ Gil McDougald, who had thought the ball would not be caught and couldn’t get back to first in time. The Brooklyn Dodgers won 2-0 for their only World Series title. Moore quotes a question asked by Yankees’ first baseman Joe Collins to pitcher Johnny Podres:

“How did you feel when Sandy Amoros made the catch?”[5]

The poem’s title is addressed to Pee Wee Reese and Walter Alston. Pee Wee Reese was a considerate player sensitive to Robinson’s situation. After a particularly horrid torrent of abuse directed at Robinson by a Cincinnati crowd, “The Dodger’s captain [Reese], disgusted by their behavior, walked from his shortstop position over to Robinson at first base. Placing an arm across his teammate’s shoulders, he gave him a simple word of encouragement, bringing a deafening silence to the crowd.”[6] Walter Alston was the manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid and late 1950s. In addition to helping to integrate the team and supporting its black players, Alston was later among the first “to break down the barriers for female sports journalists.” He permitted, in 1974, “the first female journalist allowed in any major league locker room.”[7]

Roy Campanella, a half-black catcher who tried to maintain amicable relations with all members of the team and management, including the press, and who rarely brought up race, was patient for peace between the races. While Jackie Robinson lashed out at any perceived abuse, including times in which he would rail at umpires who were guilty of nothing more than calling a strike a strike, Campanella maintained his equanimity. This led to a feud between the two black stars:

The feud had become a cold war, the two star players largely ignoring each other off the field and barely tolerating each other on it.[8]

Campanella was Moore’s favorite player on the team.[9] Campanella wrote in his autobiography, It’s Good To Be Alive, “They say some people are really bad. I haven’t run into one yet.”[10] Campanella explained, “I’ve had a struggle all my life. I’m a colored man. I know there are lots of things that I can do and things that I cannot do without stirring up some people. But a few years ago there were many more things that I could not do than is the case today. I’m willing to wait. I believe in not pushing things; in giving the other fellow a chance. A man’s got to do things the way he sees them. No other way.”[11] Marianne Moore had a copy of Campanella’s autobiography, which she heavily annotated. Her very last note on the last page of the flyleaf says simply, “Faith.”

In the ending to Moore’s poem, a third black player is referenced. This was the pitcher Don Newcombe. Newcombe is the only one of these three players not to be entered into the Hall of Fame, although his record of 20-5 in 1955, and 27-7 in 1956, and his being the first winner of the Cy Young award (given to the best pitcher in major league baseball), and a veteran All-Star, would have certainly qualified him for consideration.

Rifts had opened early on between Robinson and Campanella. In 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story, Ed Henry relates, in a chapter entitled, “The Uneasy Alliance with Roy Campanella,” that Robinson resented that Campanella seemed to be looking out for himself rather than his race. As one sportswriter put it, “Campanella wanted to be liked by everybody. He would not object or complain if he saw racial slights. I think it made Jackie feel like ‘I’m carrying this cross all by myself. I’m fighting for you, but you won’t share in the fight’.”[12] Marianne Moore lists these three major black stars without any apparent preference at the end of her poem or exhortation to the Dodgers to win the championship again in 1956.

You’ve got plenty: Jackie Robinson
and Campy and big Newk, and Dodgerdom again
watching everything you do.[13]

“Dodgerdom” was “watching everything” as the three star black players maneuvered their way through the embattled world of baseball in the 1950s. What they said, what they ate, with whom they associated, everything was noted. Everything was either celebrated or deplored, and each player had their own way of waiting or trying to speed things up or giving up in resignation. Robinson was often angry and it wore him out. He was dead at age 51. Newcombe turned to alcoholism. Campanella lived into his seventies.

Brooklyn’s manager Branch Rickey, a Methodist, used Christianity as a language of reconciliation between himself, the public, and his players. “Rickey actively avoided any association with left-oriented writers . . . who tended to filter integration through a radical lens that championed equality for all social and economic classes.”[14] Many of these writers were “more interested in social justice than in baseball.”[15] Some of those writers, such as socialist Roger Kahn, tended to prefer Jackie Robinson, as Robinson’s impatience resembled their own. Robinson said, “Don’t promise me equality for my children. Give it to me now so I know they’ll have it.”[16] Robinson was also Christian, which allowed him to endure the suffering meted out to him by white players, such as Enos Slaughter, who stepped on Robinson’s foot as he crossed first and made his ankle bleed. Robinson returned the favor by hitting Slaughter in the face with the baseball as he slid into second two years later, and knocked out three of his teeth. Robinson said, “I never forget.”[17] Although Christian, Robinson did not turn the other cheek.

By 1955, the year that the Dodgers beat the Yankees in their one World Series win, the Yankees had finally signed a black American, Elston Howard, but only on the condition that he sleep at separate hotels while the Yankees were on the road, not play in southern stadiums, and never utter a word about the prejudice he experienced. Compared to Robinson, and Robinson’s comparative acceptance within the Dodgers’ ball club, Howard was a token black. Peter Golenbock notes that, “Through it all Howard remained silent,” quietly focusing on personal excellence, and “in 1963 he became the first black in the American League to win the Most Valuable Player.”[18] Jackie Robinson was so incensed by the patient stoicism of black players like Elston Howard and Roy Campanella that he wanted little to do with them. This in turn wore out the black star, but it could be said that pacifism did no better. Howard also died from a heart attack at age 51. Campanella lived much longer and with far more cheerfulness than either.

Moore had a small circle of friends and people with whom she followed sports. Among the most important was her African-American maid, Gladys Berry. Moore writes to J. Randall Williams, the Vice-President of Little, Brown and Company on October 10, 1959, “you have sent me Roy Campanella’s It’s Good to Be Alive. I read to Chapter SIXTEEN, unable to lay it down. (I am sending it to my nephew, to my brother, and to Gladys Berry, my housekeeper twice a week – a Negro who has followed Roy Campanella’s career; and very closely, his recovery. Her little boy – ten in 1947 – was drowned trying to save another child. She hoped on Thursday that Roy Campanella was watching Johnny Roseboro catch, and could see the Dodgers win. I said, ‘forget the curtains,’ – which we were washing – ‘sit down and watch this game.’ ”[19] Moore knew there was prejudice, but she also believed that the good in America would eventually triumph.

Moore continues, “Mr. Williams, this book is more persuasive – inherently – in emphasizing the injustice, indeed hatefulness, of race prejudice, than any book I know; and what an incentive to accept grief and disability, not just stoically, but with joy.”[20] Because she saw eternity as a certainty, she had a larger time frame than the temporal activists.

In the Yankees poem, “Baseball and Writing,” which appeared in 1961, Moore writes of the wonder of a physical mastery that she herself would never know. Of the 125 poems in Complete Poems, only two are about baseball, but many others reference sport or dance or movement and take an ardent interest in what various animals and humans are trying to achieve and the style in which they achieve it. Unlike an Aesop’s fable, there is often no obvious moral message, but one always has the teasing sense that one exists.

In Moore’s second baseball poem, she describes an ephemeral Cuban pitcher, Manny Montejo (who played in twelve games over a period of six weeks for the Detroit Tigers in 1961). Montejo is the only non-New York player mentioned in the Yankees poem. He played for the Tigers.

Pitching is a large subject.
Your arm, too true at first, can learn to
catch the corners – even trouble
Mickey Mantle. (“Grazed a Yankee!
My baby pitcher, Montejo!”[21]

What was the relevance of Manny Montejo? It seems that it was about patience. Slowly, he would learn to catch the corners. Montejo was a relative newbie pitching against Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest veteran hitters in baseball. He was gone from the majors after twelve games and no wins or losses. Because the poem is based on a specific occasion, it may not have any larger significance, and then again it may.

Her Yankees poem opens:

Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
generating excitement –[22]

Moore sees herself as an athlete when she is engaged in writing. Like the athlete, the poet is experimenting, and like the athlete, the experiment takes place within a closed unity, and it takes time and is played within a strict format. A baseball game has nine innings, and four bases, and nine players on each team. A lot of the game, especially for the offense, is based on waiting for the defense to release the ball.

The poem is 85 lines in length, but fourteen lines are in quotes. About a sixth of the poem is a pastiche of various quoted sources, but much of the rest of it is a gallimaufry of lines suggested by sportscasters. There are seven stanzas in the poem, but the only player to get an entire stanza to himself is Elston Howard, the first black player on the Yankees. Howard was Moore’s favorite player on the Yankees.[23] At Marianne Moore’s apartment, she maintained a stuffed alligator as a pet. She had nicknamed it, “Elston Howard.”[24] “The boys in her neighborhood would often ring her doorbell and ask to see it.”[25] Moore’s special affection for Howard comes through in her poem:

It’s a pitcher’s battle all the way – a duel
– a catcher’s, as, with cruel
puma paw, Elston Howard lumbers lightly
back to plate. (His spring
de-winged a bat swing.)
They have that killer instinct;
yet Elston – whose catching
arm has hurt them all with the bat –
when questioned, says, unenviously,
“I’m very satisfied. We won.”
Shorn of the batting crown, says, ‘We’;
robbed by a technicality.[26]

It appears that Howard is the hero of this poem as Campanella is the hero of the first. Is she arguing for the essentiality of these two players, both catchers, to the overall unity? Perhaps, as one of the only women in the big leagues of modernist poetry, Moore could see herself in the position of having to be diplomatic that was also a necessity for the two black catchers, and to do this, like them, she had to rely upon the stoicism that was taught within her religion. Moore’s final lines in the Yankees’ poem draw upon the astronomical realm:

Studded with stars in belt and crown,
the Stadium is an adastrium [pun in Latin for ad astra or “to the stars”?]
O flashing Orion,
Your stars are muscled like the lion.[27]

The last line’s “muscled,” brings up the notion that to succeed, one must not only aspire, but have the muscles, which brings the poem toward the “Muscular Christianity” that Marianne Moore’s brother championed, and which I will shortly address. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus appears as a powerful and vengeful Pantocrator, as the “lion of Judah.” Lions lived in Israel in ancient times and are often used as an image of the king. Such lines seem to prefigure the coming of the Messiah in Revelation as a powerful leader. Being a Christian is about endless waiting for what never seems to come. The idea is to never lose hope.

The imagery of Revelation circles back to the number seven (666 is a repeating decimal that is stuck just short of seven and appears to be connected with Satan). Marianne Moore’s poem has seven stanzas. The light of heaven is in those final verses, and they reverberate back through Biblical imagery and Greek imagery to recall the pantheon of sports and religious greats from the Olympics through the Christian era. The poems offer a complex canopy of information, and it is difficult to see down through them to the essential. They celebrate striving within the secular world of time.

John Warner Moore, a naval chaplain, was asked to fact-check his sister’s baseball poems. She refers to her brother in her Brooklyn Dodgers’ draft in a marginal note: “Bible [her nickname for him] sees nothing amiss in the baseball of it.” According to critic Patricia Willis, Warner Moore was head chaplain for the entire Pacific Fleet during World War II.[28] The duties of a Naval Chaplain included that he “organizes sports.”[29]

Whenever Marianne and her brother were separated by time and distance, letter writing became their way of keeping in touch. Moore biographer Charles Molesworth notes that one such letter, dated May 21, 1913, “is perhaps the highest expression of his muscular Christianity, as he describes himself as rock-ribbed and soldier-like, willing to demonstrate how manly a Christian can be.”[30]

Warner’s Muscular Christianity is part of a larger clerical movement sketched out in Clifford Putney’s volume Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920. Sports and war were used to pull Americans into a manly sphere that sought to elevate the passage in First Corinthians 6: 19-20 that cited the “body is a temple,” in order to emphasize that Christians were not weak or had nothing to do in this world.[31] Warner was introduced to the philosophy of Muscular Christianity in 1914 when he was “in the seminary at Princeton.”[32] Princeton had been a historical center of the movement. In 1886, “a cadre of Princeton men” led a group of 100 men “to take the ‘Princeton Pledge’ and commit themselves to a lifetime of missionary service.”[33] These men dreamed of “wars of conquest” and looked to athletes as models for military chaplains.[34] This movement led in turn to a five-fold increase in the number of naval chaplains.

In April of 1916, “Warner wrote home about an incident on board his ship; apparently as part of a bit of horseplay, he engaged a Navy lieutenant in a wrestling match in front of the other members of the crew. Warner won the match and wrote about it proudly. His muscular Christianity often supplied him with a great many of his figures of speech” and Marianne Moore herself, Dr. Molesworth goes on to say, “was shaped by these attitudes.”[35] In a letter to her brother while he was away at seminary she writes to him of their philosophy in an apparent joking reference, that, “I play tennis every day now and am more the man, for doing it.”[36]

Warner Moore was “Director of Education” in American Samoa in 1932, as part of his work as a Lieutenant Commander and chaplain for the U.S. Navy.[37] In papers published by the Frederick Barstow Foundation in Hawaii, Moore wrote a “Prospectus of an Experimental Senior School for American Samoa.” His description is somewhat conciliatory between the two nations: “In the period of transition from ancient Samoan customs to life in a world largely dominated by western civilization, it is important that the young men maintain respect for their native heritage while learning Western knowledge.”[38]

Warner Moore arrived in American Samoa in June 1932. He writes to his sister on July 4th of that year,

The glorious fourth . . . was duly celebrated by a baseball game between the Chief Petty Officers and the Commissioned Officers. I played second base and made two put-outs for our side, got on base once, hit once, and got struck out once. I enjoyed the game. The entire family was on hand to witness the affair. Our team lost 9-4, or thereabouts.[39]

The Moore family in Samoa spent at least an hour every day playing sports, and also hiked and canoed and swam. Warner’s influence through the Naval Station, where he worked, was to ensure that native Samoans also had access to sports equipment and good quality playing fields. The discourse between Warner and Marianne Moore on baseball and other sports continued after they were both living in Brooklyn—where he worked at the Naval Base, and where she lived a few blocks away—and even more so when he moved to Connecticut to work at a boys’ school.

After Marianne’s mother’s death in 1947, Moore became closer to her brother. In February 1964, Marianne Moore asked her brother to collaborate with her and George Plimpton on an article about baseball. Warner contributed two sketches of several pages in length and suggested a poem about Casey Stengel. Marianne took some of the most striking lines from Warner’s letter and arranged them in lines. This third New York baseball poem might have completed a trilogy of poems about New York’s major league teams (Stengel was then the manager of the Mets), but it was never completed. One stanza reads:

That familiar 37 trudging
To the mound to confer with umpires
Is what the fans pay to see

Casey Stengel was number 37. Another stanza references the surreal moment when Casey Stengel hit a double in a contest in the 1920s. Arriving at second base, he took off his cap and a sparrow flew out.

In 1967, Warner and Marianne attended opening day together at the bequest of the Yankees’ president, Michael Burke.[40] Warner was 79, and Marianne, one year younger, was 78. Their lives had been spent in tandem with baseball and other sports as well as with Christianity. Throughout her copious notes kept at the Rosenbach, one can find in her later notebooks round by round descriptions of boxing matches between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, and of a shoestring catch by Roger Maris written on the back of an envelope. Moore scholar Nancy Knutson writes, “Once she noted how a certain pitcher cupped his genitals at the end of each pitch. She wrote her impressions in a little notebook she carried with her.”[41]

As we attempt to understand Moore’s baseball poems, it is important to see the contextual influence of her brother and their mutual interest in Pauline Christianity, a tradition they never abandoned. How do Paul’s wrestling metaphors segue into the promise of everlasting life? Paul writes in First Corinthians 9:25: “Everyone who competes in the [Olympic] games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” There is some mystery in the space between sport and religion that many Christian athletes inhabit and of which Marianne Moore is the poet. Much of baseball as well as writing, she seems to say, is about learning to wait in an attitude of cheerful faith.

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Works Cited:

Abbott, Craig. Marianne Moore: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977.

Campanella, Roy. It’s Good to be Alive. Boston: Little & Brown, 1959.

Chapman, Charles T. The Message of the Book of Revelation. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1995.

Golenbock, Peter. Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1975.

Gray, Captain A.C. America Samoa: A History of American Samoa and Its United States Naval Administration. Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1960.

Henry, Ed. Foreword by Larry King. 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.
Kahn, Roger. The Boys of Summer. New York: Harper Perennial, 1971.

Kashatus, William C. Jackie and Campy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.

Kelly, John D. “Baseball and De-Colonization: The Caribbean, 1945-1975.” In Muscular Christianity in Colonial and Post-Colonial Worlds. Ed. John MacAloon. New York: Routledge, 2008.

King, Larry. Foreword to 42 Faith by Ed Henry. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017).

Knutsen, Nancy. “Baseball and Writing.” The Iowa Review. Vol. 17, No. 3, Fall 1987, 164-166.

MacAloon, John J. Muscular Christianity In Colonial and Post-Colonial Worlds. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Molesworth, Charles. Marianne Moore: A Literary Life. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1991.

Moore, John Warner. “Prospectus of an Experimental Senior School for American Samoa.” In Papers of the Barstow Foundation. Honolulu, HI: 1933.

Moore, Marianne. Complete Prose. New York: Penguin, 1987.

Moore, Marianne. Complete Poems. New York: Macmillan/Penguin. 1994.

Moore, Marianne. Selected Letters. Ed. Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge and Cristanne Miller. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Plimpton, George. “The World Series with Marianne Moore.” Harper’s. October 1964: 50-58.

Putney, Clifford. Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2001.

Wikipedia. S.v. “Sports in American Samoa.”

Wikipedia. S.v. “Walter Alston.”

All quotations from the Marianne Moore Archives at the Rosenbach Museum and Library are listed using their own system of references. Thanks as ever to Elizabeth Fuller, the chief librarian of the archive, who led me to many insightful documents within the repository.

Notes:

[1] Craig Abbott, Marianne Moore: A Descriptive Bibliography (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977): 165.

[2] Ibid., 168.

[3] Telegram stapled by Marianne Moore in her carbon of a letter to her brother, on October 4, 1956, kept in Family Correspondence (VI: 40: 23).

[4] Letter of October 3, 1956, kept in Family Correspondence for October, 1956.

[5] Line 6, annotated by Moore on page 291.

[6] William C. Kashatus, Jackie and Campy (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2014): 102.

[7] Wikipedia, s.v. “Walter Alston.”

[8] William C. Kashatus, Jackie and Campy, 163.

[9] Nancy Knutsen, “Baseball and Writing,” The Iowa Review 17, no. 3, (Fall 1987): 165

[10] Roy Campanella, It’s Good to be Alive (Boston, MA: Little & Brown, 1959): 282.

[11] Ibid., 271.

[12] Cited in Ed Henry, 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017): 275.

[13] Marianne Moore, “ ,“ in Complete Poems (New York, NY: Macmillan/Penguin, 1994): 184.

[14] William C. Kashatus, Jackie and Campy, 47.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Larry King, foreword to 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story, 1.

[17] Quoted in ibid., 3.

[18] Peter, Golenbock, Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964 (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1975): 299-300.

[19] Letter folded into Moore’s heavily annotated copy of Campanella’s book at the Rosenbach Library.

[20] Carbon copy of letter folded into flyleaf of Campanella’s book.

[21] Marianne Moore, “Baseball and Writing,” in Complete Poems, lines 55-59.

[22] Ibid., p. 221.

[23] Nancy Knutsen, “Baseball and Writing,” The Iowa Review, 165.

[24] Charles Molesworth, Marianne Moore: A Literary Life (Boston, MA: Northeastern UP, 1991): 429.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Marianne Moore, “Baseball and Writing,” lines 13-24.

[27] Ibid., lines 82-85.

[28] Kirby Olson, “Chaplain John Warner Moore, USN,” Marianne Moore: Poetry (blog), n.d.

[29] Seagoing Men of God, 77.

[30] Charles Molesworth, Marianne Moore: A Literary Life, 95.

[31] Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001): 56.

[32] Marianne Moore, Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, ed. Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge and Cristanne Miller (New York, NY: Knopf, 1997): 72.

[33] Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity, 135.

[34] Ibid., 136.

[35] Charles Molesworth, Marianne Moore: A Literary Life, 131.

[36] Marianne Moore, Selected Letters, 96.

[37] Charles Molesworth, Marianne Moore: A Literary Life, 266.

[38] John Warner Moore, “Prospectus of an Experimental Senior School for American Samoa,” in Papers of the Barstow Foundation (Honolulu, HI: 1933): 1.

[39] Letter dated 4 pm, 4 July 1932 in Family Correspondence, (VI:31:29).

[40] Charles Molesworth, Marianne Moore: A Literary Life, 433.

[41] Nancy Knutsen, “Baseball and Writing,” The Iowa Review, 165.

The featured image is a photograph of Marianne Moore (1935) and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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