The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Leaving It All On the Field

It wasn’t the mud, the stench, or even the corpses that got to him.  It was the rats.  No matter how many you killed, more would spill out of the sludge underfoot, tearing into the dead as if Hell had come north.

For most of World War I Allied Forces, predomi...

For most of World War I Allied Forces, predominantly those of France and the British Empire, were stalled at trenches on the Western Front. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Standing in a fetid stew eight inches deep, blood, bodies and spent bullets sloshed and swirled over his boots.  But whatever lie decomposing under his boots was preferable to that which lurked over the top.

Funny, that.  The sky above was a robin’s egg blue, the same hue he remembered from autumn’s evening sky over Harvard Yard not so many years ago.  Evening papers.  Pipe smoke. Brandy.

Yet, only the promise of a quick, impersonal death outside of this trench kept him planted down here among his pallid companions.  In the scrum-space between thinking and dreaming, shards of old poems gleamed like glazed glass in an apothecary shop, inertia spawning iambic pentameter.

“I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats / And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain / Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats / And mocked by hopeless longing to regain.”  – Siegfried Sassoon

Ancient Odysseus could inform on this particular point, the whole show was the getting back to Home, where the runs scored, recorded for all time in those mottled ledgers.  Pinch-running for McLean, sacrificed to second, then Matty driving him in, his only run scored in the Series.  Matty shutting the door on the Athletics in the bottom of the tenth, winning that second game, three-nil.  Stepping on home plate for Matty was all that mattered that afternoon.

[Eddie Grant, New York NL (baseball)]  (LOC)

[Eddie Grant, New York NL (baseball)] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

God, how he missed those boys.  Just five years ago, almost to the day.  McGraw’s Gang.  Drop that bunch in the Argonne, this whole, tired affair would long ago have ended.  Matty and the Doughboys – 1, the Kaiser – 0.  Another shutout.  He grabbed a handful of thick mud from the trench wall, and smiled silently.

The whistle would soon wreck the reverie, as over the top they’d go, each man marked in advance by a German machine-gunner, himself frozen to the bone.  Last letters pinned inside coat pockets, but for him, a scribbled scorecard, his last will and testament, evidence that his run did once count.

Now all was flashing muzzles, cries and blood.  Men tumbling over the wire and into ravines running red, now into the marshes, no longer marching, but tumbling ass over teat as the shells exploded all around, Eddie Grant, commissioned a captain back on Long Island, the last officer standing, directing his men onward into the thicket, never hearing the final blast that separated him from his men, from his Giants, from his Harvard Law School chums, forever.

Third baseman Eddie Grant, leaving it all on the field, going home once more.

Eddie Grant Memorial Plaque

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25 thoughts on “Leaving It All On the Field

  1. Terrific stuff here, just great.

    Keep it coming!

  2. I’m a sucker for WWI. What a tragic, senseless war (as opposed to the many “UN-tragic sensible wars” I suppose). I like how you were able to weave the two narratives together.

  3. glenrussellslater on said:

    I’m particularly impressed with the way you interwove his flashbacks to his baseball career with the battle that killed him.

    “Last letters pinned inside coat pockets, but for him, a scribbled scorecard, his last will and testament, evidence that his run did once count.” As W.K. mentioned, this is damn good writing.

    When you taught, Bill, did you teach history? Is that your primary interest? I’m very interested in history, although I’ll admit that I don’t know much about World War II. I slept through my 11th grade history teacher’s monotone. It’s a shame that history is presented so boringly in schools; if history in school was presented more like the way you write about it, or in the way that my father taught it in the New York Public Schools for 33 years, kids would be more interested in it and would value it in the way that it deserves to be valued.


    • Glen, Thank you very much. Yes, I was a history teacher for several years up in Maine. I tried really hard never to be boring. My kids seemed to respond mostly positively to my style of teaching. I do miss it sometimes, but not as much now as I did when I first left teaching. As for the importance of having a good teacher, Roger Daltry of The Who once sang, “It’s the singer not the song, that makes the music move along….”
      Take care,

      • glenrussellslater on said:

        “…although I’ll admit that I don’t know much about World War II.”

        I meant to write “World War I”, of course. I don’t want to come off as appearing to be TOO simpleminded!


      • No problem, Glen. I figured that’s what you meant.

  4. Fabulous writing! It tears at my heart to think what heroes wars steal from us.

  5. Allan G. Smorra on said:

    Reblogged this on Ohm Sweet Ohm and commented:
    Bill has knocked it out of the park once more. This post is worth your time and attention.

  6. Allan G. Smorra on said:

    “When the water reaches the upper level, follow the rats.” —Chuck Palahniuk


    The personal story of Eddie Grant tied into the bigger picture of WWI makes this memorable. I really like this story-telling style that you are using this year. Please keep it up.

    The rats got to me. We went to theatrical event years ago called “The Enola Remembered” and it dealt with the bombing of Europe through to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They talked about the rats in the bomb shelters and trenches—they ran for cover, too.

    I am going to reblog this one today.


    • Allan, I do enjoy doing this sort of piece. It allows me to try to get into the head of someone else from long ago. I’ll try to keep it rolling along. Baseball stats as a category to write about can only take you so far (not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

  7. “What passing bells for these who die as cattle?:–Wilfred Owen
    Great job, Bill.

  8. My God, this is terrific writing. world class stuff, nothing less.

  9. i hardly ever pay attention to memorial tributes. they feel too distant in terms of the horrible experience especially when compared to sounds on the peace side… “what!!my orange juice has pulp in it. i can’t drink this. that crud will be stuck between my teeth for three days.”

    You’ve kind of changed that Bill. i feel much closer to what war and trenches and dead ends must have felt like. i guess that makes it real. Excellent writing. That connecting mcgraw and grant with hopeless longing connected to rats in the trenches…memorable post.

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