Book Review: Cooperstown Verses by Mark W. Schraf

While my own baseball poetry has been scarce, I recently came across a trove of someone else’s. Mark W. Schraf, a chemistry professor (!), wrote “Cooperstown Verses” in 2001–a book with one poem for each (then) member of the Hall of Fame.

The poems are arranged in alphabetical order, with a mix of styles ranging from acrostics and limericks to free verses, so we get Lou Brock and Morgan Bulkeley on facing pages. The index also has poems sorted by first lines and titles, so consecutive listings include “There once was a pitcher named Keefe,” “There once was a shortstop named Rabbit,” “There once was a thief name of Brock,” “There once was a Tiger called Goose.” On the other hand, you also get “Remember, “remember” (note alternate capitalization), “Remember That,” “Remembering the afternoon I bought,” which smacks of overkill. And then you get “what the hell happened” as distinguished from “what the hell happened Joe;” again, even after 200-some names I would hope for a bit more originality.

So, we have players and non-players mixed in, as well as players from different eras. We also have players who weren’t allowed in the Major Leagues listed alongside those who were. Schraf’s preoccupation with racism struck me–two of the seven previously-written pieces (on Roberto Clemente and Willie Wells) explicitly brought up these themes, so clearly it was a long-running theme. But after the wry treatments of Cap Anson and Ray Dandridge, this grew stale for me.

A “starting rotation” of some of the best pieces would be those on Frank Baker, Max Carey, King Kelly, Phil Rizzuto, and Casey Stengel. The “closers”–poems that really excelled in their last few lines–would be, besides Anson, those on Earle Combs, Pud Galvin, Mickey Mantle, and Phil Niekro (the latter one of the older poems). The need for strength at the finish is one of the areas where baseball’s current conventions would probably be better served in poetry than sports.