When the dark mood is upon me, and I brood Gnostic, I perceive a world owned and controlled by a fellow I call Mr. Ha-Ha. For reasons that passeth understanding, from that which causes others pain, this being seems to derive amusement. He gets his giggles in everything from so befuddling an electorate that it selects as president Richard Nixon, rather than George McGovern, to unleashing a thunderstorm as soon as a load of good dry seasoned wood is dumped in one’s driveway. Murphy’s Law—”anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”—is a Mr. Ha-Ha confection. “No good deed goes unpunished” is another. Whenever I read of an aging rocker who resolves to change his wayward ways, embarks upon the straight and narrow, and promptly drops dead, I know that Mr. Ha-Ha has walked the land.
He is most dastardly in “deliberate cruelty”—which, as Blanche DuBois has correctly observed, “is not forgivable.” To wit, James Joyce, afflicted all his life by terrible vision problems that eventually rendered him blind, attempted to protect his daughter from the same fate by naming her Lucia—”light.” Mr. Ha-Ha allowed Lucia to keep her sight, all right, but toyed with her name like a mischievous genie, flooding her with so much light that she went mad. Or my own daughter, a sunny child devoted to old pagan ways, whom he pushed down the stairs, breaking her back, on the Summer Solstice.
Nothing is beyond the realm of probability if it will furnish Mr. Ha-Ha with a laugh. And so there he was in the stands, in Philadelphia on August 17, 1957, when Richie Ashburn, veteran Phillies centerfielder, fouled a line drive into the box seats along the third base line, striking in the face Alice Roth, wife of the sports editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, bloodily breaking her nose. The game was stopped briefly as Roth was attended to. She was placed on a stretcher, and play resumed. On the next pitch, Ashburn fouled off another ball—which screamed into the stands, ploughing into Roth as she lay abed the stretcher.
Mr. Ha-Ha later decreed that Ashburn be drafted by the expansion New York Mets, for whom he played in 1962. The Mets that year were the worst team in the history of baseball, losing 120 games. Ashburn played well, hitting .306, but he’d had enough: he retired at the end of the season. In his final game, the Mets’ 120th loss, Ashburn was one of three Mets victims in a rare triple play, achieved by his former teammates on the Cubs.