Dear Ken, FDR wrote to Judge Landis
shortly after Pearl Harbor when it was
being decided whether major league games
should continue during the war,
America needs baseball as a recreational diversion for a nation
that will of necessity be working longer and harder than ever
before in the coming times.
My friend Rich, when I stood beside him
in his hospital bed during his last days,
echoed a similar sentiment,
asking me to talk about baseball
for a while. I knew, that despite having
the mathematical mind of the engineer
he was, it wasn’t the facts he normally
craved- standings, statistics, playoff probabilities
of each team (especially those of his beloved
Phils)- that he wanted, he had the newspaper
lying next to him for that.
I chose instead to talk about the beauty
of the game we loved beyond measure, its
history, the evolution of its
rules, some of the players we loved- Cobb, Wheat,
Ruth, Mathewson, Parker, Stargell, Omar
the Outmaker, Schmidt, Carlton, and Richie
(call me Dick) Allen, the fact that it had
brought us together, what we would do
after the final out was made, but more particularly
of the time Ferris Fain (of the other
Philadelphia team) went 5 for 5
against Vic Raschi for his team (including
a game-winning home run) in our
Strat-O-Matic baseball game.
Thank you for the diversion, he said,
looking up at me when I had finished.
I leaned over and kissed him good-bye.
Afterward, when asked by his wife to give
his eulogy, I declined. I couldn’t- wouldn’t-
discuss our friendship in front of strangers-
it was private, cherished, and ultimately ineffable.
I offer this elegy instead.
– for Richard Swiniuch (1952-2001)