Foully Played

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.

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1 Response to “Foully Played”


  1. 1 Julia Rain (the daughter) September 3, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Perhaps Mr. Ha-ha is just a way of bestowing irony on terrible situations. I myself greatly appreciate irony, and if something is going to go wrong for me, I at least want to be able to make a darkly ironic joke about it. It’s the best way I have to deal with it.

    There are many beautifully ironic things about my injury besides the fact that it occurred on the Summer Solstice. There is the fact that I only discovered that I liked high heels two months before I became unable to wear them. Add to that the fact that I then shrunk to be half an inch shorter, a problem that could be remedied by the high heels I can no longer wear. Or the fact that I used to curse my muscular thighs and wish they were smaller (they certainly made things easier for me, post-injury). Or just the fact that, as a teenage girl, I was never really a fan of my body. It’s like Mr. Ha-ha just poked his head around ans said “You think it’s bad NOW”. I suppose he has brainwashed me, for I thrive on his irony. I am glad that I have the irony to dwell upon, so that I don’t have to dwell so much upon the things that wouldn’t even make Mr. Ha-ha laugh, because they’re just sad, and not remotely ironic.

    In the past few years I have just learned to assume that at least one thing will go wrong, and then I do not need to be shocked when it does. Last Tuesday I spent the entire day running around to various appointments in order to get things squared away for my kidney removal surgery, and on the way back up to the third floor, for my last stop, to give my CT results to the surgeon so he could sign off on my procedure, the elevators weren’t working. Any of them. And so I had to walk up three flights of non air-conditioned stairs. My father-in-law, who has taken me to this appointment, was very indignant about it and informed all of the doctors and nurses of my ordeal. They were all very sorry and sympathetic. I simply told everyone, truthfully, that I was glad, because if that was the thing that chose to go wrong that day, out of the many possible options, I had actually really lucked out.


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