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Michael R. Stevens


Baseball Extravaganza, Part 1

Forget sabermetrics; it's poetic meter that matters.

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Early April in Michigan, at the tail end of the harshest winter in anyone's memory, and not long ago it was 7 degrees when I awakened. My Little League team's first practice was held last week (after 3 cancellations based on low 30's and freezing rain). But today it's sunny and 50 degrees, with more of the same tomorrow, and, lo and behold, the MLB season is two weeks old! You must forgive me for only waking up slowly to this reality—the mood and the meteorology didn't quite fit, but now that they do, the season beckons, and we must respond.

On to the predictions, and this time I will summon the Muse to guide me. Amazingly, the subtleties of poetic scansion, applied to the expanded Spring Training rosters of each team, reveal a new vista of judgment, undreamed of by the sabermetrics crowd. Who needs Bill James's Baseball Abstract when I have my tattered copy of Paul Fussell's consummate text on prosody, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form?! Now I'm able to judge the poesy of each team.

Let me offer the briefest of primers on meter, then off to the AL East! Everyone has heard of the iamb (as in iambic pentameter), a poetic foot consisting of an unaccented syllable followed by one that is accented (written symbolically: U / ). The reverse of this is a foot called a trochee (/ U ). The heavier two-syllable foot is the spondee (/ / ); the unaccented two-syllable foot is the pyrrhic (U U). Some poetic feet have three syllables—the anapest (U U / ) and the dactyl (/ U U ) are the most prominent in English, but Greek and Latin verse include such iterations as the amphibrach ( U / U ) and the cretic ( / U / ), and, what the heck, why not mention the obscure molossus ( / / /)? There are even feet, in classical scansion, with four syllables, but that's enough for now—let's learn on the move.

Our first stop is Baltimore, where the Orioles are a team on the rise, not just because of the eye-popping power numbers of 1B Chris Davis, but also because of the vast metrical variations on the roster. From the strident rhythm of their manager Buck Showalter (/ / U U: a rare trochee, pyrrhic combo!) to the natural double amphibrach in pitching prospect Alfredo Aceves (U / U U / U ) to the sharp, alliterative spondee of pitcher Brad Brach ( / / ), this team shows a lyrical bent that may separate them from the pack in the talented and always-stacked AL East. Add to the mix an outfield of natural amphibrachs, led by their to-drawer free agent signee Nelson Cruz ( / U /), alongside the echoing OF's Adam Jones ( / U / ) and David Lough ( / U / ), and the sonority matches the right-handed power. But is all this enough for the divisional crown? In a word, molossus! Yes, the presence of Wei-Yin Chen ( / / /) on the pitching staff tips the scale and the O's contend into late September.

What about the World Champion Red Sox, you ask? They fade by mid-August. The best they can muster poetically is the triple trochee closer Koji Uehara ( / U / U / U ) (whose name also contains all the vowels, but hey, this isn't a phonics lesson), and the sharp, metallic spondee of Mike Carp ( / / ). I'd give a nod to the mellifluous Dustin Pedroia ( / U U / U ), but the scansion runs over by half a foot. I've suffered enough Red Sox success this past year, so I'm keeping this short and perhaps cruel.

And the Yankees, the beloved team of my youth in Upstate NY (and by coincidence, who should appear on my university's campus last fall to dedicate the new baseball stadium, but 1978 co-World Series MVP Brian Doyle), this team of massive payroll but paltry poetry-roll, looks to disappoint as well. The career has been brilliant but the scansion dull for double trochee Derek Jeter ( / U / U ), and though catcher and double amphibrach Francisco Cervelli ( U / U U / U ) offers possibilities, the pitching staff is just a little off, not in ERA or WHIP, but in allegiance to the accentual-syllabic foot: hence, Michael Pineda ( / U U / U) and CC Sabathia ( / / U / U U ) are a bit short (or long) in meter, and Ivan Nova ( U / / U ) has a forced accentuation on his first name that perhaps smudges together the alliterative possibility … you get the picture. The Yankees compete but fade late in the season (unless they call up the poetically named minor league infielder Zelous Wheeler—double trochee like the Captain, but with a fervor!—by August. Take note, Brian Cashman!

I've not forgotten Tampa and Toronto, but poetic odds are even at best up north and down south. The Rays lean on their pitching, and wisely so, but Heath Bell ( / / ) and Matt Moore ( / / ) don't stir much intrigue with their straight spondees. There is a ripple of action with the double dactyl of Jeremy Hellickson (/ U U / U U ) certainly, but the truly mellifluous hurler Braulio Lara ( / U U / U), with his doubling of alliteration and assonance, is a non-roster invitee destined for the minors. Not a good sign. Likewise, among the important position players, there are metrical fits and starts, with a tiresomely recurrent pattern for Ben Zobrist, James Loney, and Wil Myers ( / / U ). And the new closer Grant Balfour echoes this further. Tough times in Tampa.

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