One of the first images you come upon in Mikhail Horowitz’ new book, a slim volume entitled Ancient Baseball, depicts a beat up ball, stitches askew, its stuffing visible, with heretofore unseen markings on such an artifact. It’s caption reads: “One of the earliest maps to show the Earth as a sphere was apparently grafted, by some lost process, onto a baseball. The ball, fished out of the Aegean Sea by a Greek trawler, was later purchased at a yard sale in Lesbos, coincidentally enough, by a cameraperson for Antiques Roadshow. Alas, in deplorable condition, it sold for a mere five drachmas.”
As the book’s modest 39 pages unfold, we’re treated to images of baseball stadiums set in the shadow of a Sphinx in ancient Thebes (“Was this the prototype for the 20th-century ‘monster’ in Fenway Park?”); a Louisville Slugger bat label revealed in a “late Devonian limestone shelf”; a trio of baseball cards depicting John Moses, receiving tablets, Hank Aaron and Von Joshua, as the walls came tumbling down; a scorecard written in a scroll…
This sly recreation of baseball history produces laughs but has a deeper purpose knotted with a sleeve-worn affection for what Horowitz calls “the sacred game of threes and nines…”
“Ancient Baseball is a response, of sorts, to the way that Major League Baseball has ruined the game for me and so many others,” says Horowitz, who, clad in a cap that says ‘Yankees’ in Yiddish, will read from and sign copies of the book at 3 p.m. Sunday, October 6 at the Golden Notebook, 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock. “I mean, it used to be you could go to a ballgame, have a conversation with the person next to you, enjoy the pastoral, timeless quality of the game — but not anymore. Now, it’s all about bombarding you with noise, and relentlessly shoving product in your face. So even though my book flirts with absurdity, it’s also a critique of the way that MLB is killing the poetry of the game…it’s my way of constructing a parallel universe in which baseball is once again something poetic and sacred.”
Even the construction of the book hearkens back. “It consists of collages with explanatory captions. The collages are executed by hand, by the old-school method of scissors and paper cement. They are not photoshopped, even though they might appear to be,” he says.
“The target audience for this book is hyper-literate baseball fans who have graduate degrees in the cultures and mythologies of ancient civilizations — in other words, about 27 people,” he laughed.
Horowitz worked, in the 1990s, for almost two years as an editor at John Thorn’s Total Sports, “where I contributed copy to the seventh edition of Total Baseball, the official encyclopedia of MLB, as well as the Biographical Encyclopedia of Baseball and other door-stops.”
He’s also dipped into historical parody before.
“Back in 1978, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published my Big League Poets for City Lights Books. That little chapbook featured the heads of famous poets in the (mostly) Western canon collaged onto the bodies of baseball players, with their literary careers translated into baseball statistics and anecdotes. So 41 years later, Ancient Baseball can be seen as a companion piece to Big League Poets. Incidentally, the City Lights book sold for $2.50 when it was published, and today I’ve seen it listed on rare book sites or eBay for well over a hundred dollars in some places, making it the only thing I’ve ever done that has actually appreciated in value.”
Mikhail Horowitz is also the author of The Opus of Everything in Nothing Flat (Red Hill, 1993) and Rafting Into the Afterlife (Codhill). His performance work, solo and with Gilles Malkine and various musicians, is collected on a dozen CDs.
Mikhail Horowitz will read from Ancient Baseball at 3 p.m. Sunday, October 6 at the Golden Notebook, 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock. The event is free and open to the public.
The book is published by Alte Books, a new small-press publisher out of Accord. You can contact them at https://www.altegettingoldtogether.com/our-pushcart-1.