“It’s a Nice Game for a Poet or Orator”

18 Apr

Marcus C. “Brick” Pomeroy, publisher and editor of The La Crosse (WI) Democrat was no fan of President Abraham Lincoln—a Copperhead, who opposed the Civil War and desired an immediate peace settlement with the Confederacy—he called the president “fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism.”

 

brickpix

Brick Pomeroy

 

After the Civil War, he briefly turned his attention to baseball.  In 1867, he wrote in The Democrat about his experience with the game:

“The doctor said we need exercise.  Doctors know.  He told us to join base ball, we joined.  Bought a book of instructions, and for five days studied it wisely, if not too well.  Then we bought a sugar scoop cap, a red belt, a green shirt, yellow trousers, pumpkin colored shoes, a paper collar and a purple necktie, and with a lot of other delegates, moved gently to the ground.

“There were two nines.  These nines were antagonists.  The ball is a pretty little drop of softness, the size of a goose egg, and five degrees harder than a brick.  The two nines play against each other.  It is a quiet game, much like chess, only a little more chase than chess.

“There was an umpire.  His position is a hard one.  He sits on a box and yells ‘fowl.’ His duty is severe

“I took the bat.  It is a murderous plaything, descended from Pocahontas to the head of John Smith.  The man in front of me was a pitcher.  He was a nice pitcher, but he sent the balls hot.  The man behind me was a catcher.  He caught it too!

“The umpire said ‘play.’ It is the most radical play I know of, this base ball—Sawing cord wood in moonlight rambles beside base ball.  So the pitcher sent a ball towards me.  It looked pretty coming, so I let it come.  Then he sent another.  I hit it with the club and hove it gently upward.  Then I started to walk to the first base.  The ball lit in the pitcher, or his hands, and somebody said he caught a fly.  Alas, poor fly! I walked leisurely toward the base.  Another man took the bat.  I turned to see how he was making it, and a mule kicked me in the cheek.  The man said it was the ball.  It felt like a mule, and I reposed on the grass.  The ball went on!

“Pretty soon there were two more flies, and three of us flew out.  The other nine came in, and us nine went out.—This was better.  Just as I was standing on my dignity in the left field, a hot ball as they called it, came skyrocketing toward me.  My captain yelled ‘take it.’

“I hastened gently forward to where the ball was aiming to descend. I have a good eye to measure distances and saw at a glance where the little aerolite was to light.  I put up my hands.  How sweetly the ball descended. Everybody looked—I felt something warm in my eye!  ‘Muffin!’ yelled ninety fellers, ‘muffin be damned! It’s a canon ball!’  For three days I had two pounds of raw beef on that eye, and yet I paineth!

“Then I wanted to go home, but my gentle captain said ‘nay.’  So I stayed and stayed.  Pretty soon it was my strike.  ‘Brick to the bat!’ yelled the umpire.  I went, but not all serene as my wont.  The pitcher sent in one hip high.  I missed it.  He sent in another neck high. It struck me in the gullet.  ‘Fowl,’ yelled the umpire.  He sent in the ball again.  This time I took it square and sent it down the right field, through a parlor window—a kerosene lamp, and rip up against the head of an infant who was quietly taking it’s nap in his mother’s arms  Then I slung the bat and meandered forth to the first base.  I heard high words and looked.  When I slung the bat I had with it broken the jaw of the umpire and was fined 10 cents.”

 

1870

An 1870 Woodcut by Rogers and McCartney of Boston, which would have been an appropriate illustration for Pomeroy’s article

 

Pomeroy said the game was as dangerous to spectators as players:

“The game went on.  I liked it.  It is so much fun to run from base to base  just in time to be put out, or to chase a ball three-fourths of a mile down hill, while all the spectators yell ‘muffin!’ or ‘go round a dozen times!’ Base ball is a sweet little game. When it came my turn to bat again, I noticed everybody moved back about ten rods!  The umpire retreated twelve rods.  He was timid.  The pitcher sent ‘em in hot. Hot balls in time of war are good; but I don’t like ‘em too hot for fun.  After a while I got a fair clip at it., and you bet it went, cutting the daisies down the right field.  A fat man with his dog sat in the shade of an oak enjoying the game. The ball broke one leg of the dog and landed like a runaway engine in the corporosity of the fat man.  He was taken home to die.”

Back on defense, Pomeroy said:

“Then I went on a double quick to the field and tried to stop a hot ball.  It came toward me from the bat at the rate of nine miles a minute. I put up my hands, the ball went sweetly singing on its way with all of the skin from my palms with it.

“More raw beef!”

Pomeroy summed up his experience playing ball:

“That was an eventful chap who first invented baseball.  It’s such fun.  I’ve played five games, and this is the glowing result:

Twenty-seven dollars paid out for things.

One bunged eye, badly bunged

One broken little finger

One bump on the head.

A sore jaw.

One thumb dislocated.

Two sprained ankles

One dislocated shoulder, from trying to throw a ball a thousand yards

Two hands raw from trying to stop hot balls

A lump the size of a hornet’s nest on my left hip, well back.

A nose sweetly jammed, and five uniforms spoiled from rolling in the dirt at the bases.

“I have played two weeks, and don’t think I like the game.  There is not a square inch on, in or under me but aches.  I sleep nights dreaming of hot balls, ‘flys, and ‘fouls,’ and descending skyrockets.’  I never worked so hard since Ruth stole wheat, and never was so lame since the burning of Luther.

“I am proud of my proficiency in the game. It’s fine exercise—a little easier than running through a thrashing machine, and not much either.  It’s a nice game for a poet or orator—‘twill make one sore beyond all accounts.

“I’ve looked over the scorer’s book, and find that in two weeks I’ve broken seven bats, made one tally, broken one umpire’s jaw, broken ten windows in adjoining houses, killed a baby, broke the leg of a dog, and mortally injured the bread basket of a spectator, knocked five other players out of time by slinging my bat, and knocked the waterfall from a school marm who was standing twenty rods from the field, a quiet looker on.

“I’ve used up fifteen bottles of arnica liniment, five bottles of lotions, half a raw beef, and am so full of pain that it seems as if my bones were but broken bats, and my legs the limbs of a dead horse chestnut, instead of the once elegant trotters.

“P.S.  All ladies in favor of ‘universal suffering’ are invited to join our club”

After his brief interest in baseball, Pomeroy moved from Wisconsin to New York, to Chicago, and back to New York where he published various newspapers.  In 1880 he was president of a company that proposed to dig a tunnel through the Rocky Mountains; the company sold $7 million worth of stock, but eventually went bankrupt before and work on the project was begun.

He died in 1896.

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