The hour is late. The party is winding down: the lutist is tired, the half-empty champagne glasses that litter the end tables are flat. In some distant water closet, a man is weakly vomiting. The guests are indolently drunken, somnambulant, gassy. Still, we lift our eyes and murmur a prayer for one last feast day, commemorating the sleeping giant, the man who lived: Jeff Heath.
Life: Heath was born a Canadian in 1915 and grew up in Seattle, where he played baseball. Signed by the Indigenous Peoples of Cleveland, he enjoyed a fourteen-year career of checkered brilliance, accumulating a higher OPS+ (137) than games per season (112). He was prone to both injury and holdout, bickered and fought with his teammates and managers, led the league twice in triples and was given away by three teams. A week before the 1948 World Series against his hated Indians, Heath broke his ankle sliding into Roy Campanella and his career quickly ended at the age of 34. Afterward he returned to Seattle to sponsor the Bar-S hot dog company, broadcast Seattle Rainiers games on the radio, and do celebrity things. Then, he died.
Spiritual Exercise: Heath was often lambasted by the media and his managers for a lack of effort, and an unwillingness to devote himself to the constant and often painful self-improvement that is synonymous with the life of the professional athlete. Manager Lou Boudreau complained that Heath “didn’t take life seriously enough,” which was probably more of a cutting remark then than it is now.
Now, eat a hot dog. Recognize that the hot dog does nothing for you in a sense of self-improvement; in fact, unless the hot dog is literally the only thing you have to eat, the processed meat particles and nitrates are solely deleterious. Yet you have eaten hot dogs before and will again, will have passed up the opportunity to eat healthier things. You will have spent hours on the couch watching terrible television without even doing any butt clenches, and will fall asleep tonight without having read, yet again, the philosophical works of Seneca. You have not even bothered learning the basics of whittling, despite the excess time and possible value of such an act. You don’t even know how to sew a button.
Ask yourself: how indebted are we to the citizens and the loved ones around us for self-improvement? Is there a balance between the useless acts that bring us happiness in our lives and those that provide utility? How do we find such a balance? Given the pathetic earnings that reinforced his contractual agreement toward baseballing, if Jeff Heath passed up a Hall of Fame career for the chance to eat thousands of hot dogs and enjoy a thousand nights on the town, to what extent can we judge?
A Prayer for Jeff Heath
You stood on a street corner
Wearing a sandwich board and shaking random hands,
Collecting signatures for a petition
To stop the Kingdome from being built.
You, who loved Seattle, and baseball.
“They’re lying,” you told strangers.
You felt no shame.
You were the Babe Ruth
That Babe Ruth ought to have been,
Hung over, paunchy, menacing,
Brilliant, self-destructive, and lost.
You socked the world in its jaw
And broke your hand in the process.
You, the Artful Dodger,
You, the Bridge of San Luis Rey,
Titus Andronicus and Lenny,
Quixote and Monte Cristo.
You were the required reading
That no one bothered to read.
You came home to sell hot dogs
Make jokes, drink beer,
Attend parties, swear into microphones
And throw producers down flights of stairs.
You felt no shame.
You were baseball.
You died in 1975,
One last ache in your left arm.
One anonymous hot dog too many.
The Kingdome outlived you
By a quarter of a century.
Its debt survives today.
They were lying.
The sandwich board
Lives in a garage somewhere,
Patrick Dubuque is a wastrel and a general layabout. Many of the sites he has written for are now dead. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.