Larry Merchant (b. 1931)
From The Great American Sport Page: A Century of Classic Columns
As the Major League playoffs continue we find ourselves thinking about baseball, poetry, and Marianne Moore.
On the first day of the World Series in 1956, The New York Herald Tribune did something unusual: the front page of the paper prominently featured a new poem by Marianne Moore. Her “Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese” was a 54-line homage to the Brooklyn Dodgers, team manager Walt Alston, and beloved shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Already a well-known (and widely admired) poet, Moore was suddenly famous—especially among New Yorkers.
“Virtually every newspaper article and interview with Moore printed after the publication of ‘Hometown Piece’ mentioned the poet’s interest in baseball,” writes her biographer Charles Molesworth. “These two elements—Brooklyn and baseball—would be linked with her name every time her audience extended beyond those who read her primarily as a modernist poet.”
Her beloved home team, for the record, lost the Series, and two years later the team became the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When the Dodgers left New York, Moore became a fervent Yankees fan. In 1961 she wrote a new poem, “Baseball and Writing,” which compared the act of writing to the pleasure and unpredictability of a Yankees game. (This time, the poem appeared in The New Yorker.) Seven years later, the Yankees honored her in return, when she threw the first ball of the 1968 season. Sportswriter Larry Merchant came up with the idea of interviewing her days before the game, and we present his column as our Story of the Week selection.