… and it’s gone!

August 10, 2009

GABBY HARNETT baseball card

GABBY HARNETT baseball card

The Boston Globe has a touching little story about Sara Bejoian, a Watertown woman who carried on a friendly baseball rivalry with her husband, Jim, who died last year when the couple had been married just shy of 54 years. Sara was a Red Sox fan and Jim rooted for the Yankees.

The point of the story was that Sara has agreed to throw out the first ball at an old-time baseball game, as a tribute to her late husband. The account by Peter DeMarco includes this sentence: “Jim Bejoian’s passion for the sport extended to the Oldtime Baseball Game, an annual charity game held at St. Peter’s Field in Cambridge in which local amateurs dress in uniforms from bygone teams and swing wooden bats in the gloaming of a late-summer night.”

What caught my eye in that sentence was the word “gloaming,” a favorite word of mine, but a word that has been neglected to the point that it is practically extinct. “Gloaming” means “twilight” or “dusk.” To my ear, each of those terms has its own connotation, each suggests a different atmosphere in those moments after sunset. Gloaming has a kind of a brooding sound.

Baseball fans — I mean fans — know that the word “gloaming” occupies a special place in the history of the game. It is associated with a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field on Sept. 28, 1938. The Cubs were a half game behind the Pirates in the National League pennant race, and their record for September up to that point was 18 wins, 3 losses, and a tie.

GABBY HARTNETT

GABBY HARTNETT

On Sept. 28, the teams were locked in a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the ninth inning. The sun had set, and night was coming on. There were no lights at Wrigley Field, so when Cubs playing manager Gabby Hartnett came to bat with two men out, it was clear to everyone that if he didn’t reach base, the umpires would end the game in a tie. With two strikes on him, Hartnett hit the ball into the darkness. The Cubs won and, three days later, clinched the pennant. The event has been known ever since as “the home run in the gloaming,” and what expression could capture it better?

I hope Hartnett is still an iconic figure in Chicago, where he played for 18 years. He certainly isn’t one in the everyday vernacular of baseball. He deserves better. He was one of the leading catchers of his time and an excellent hitter. He was a six-time All Star and an MVP, and he is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In addition to his outstanding record as a hitter and fielder, Hartnett took part in two more of baseball’s legendary moments, at least one of which actually happened. He was behind the plate in the 1934 All Star Game, when Carl Hubbell struck out in succession Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin. And Hartnett was the catcher in the 1932 World Series when Babe Ruth ostensibly called his own home run to centerfield.

I think I’ll start slipping “gloaming” into the conversation and see if I can inspire others to do the same.

The Globe story is at this link:

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/08/10/sox_loyalist_80_will_throw_pitch_for_her_beloved_yankees_fan/

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