Friday, April 03, 2009 4/3/09--Spring Training

In today's excerpt--as baseball's spring training draws to its close and opening day looms, we look back on Ernest Hemingway at the 1942 spring training camp of the Brooklyn Dodgers:

"In February of 1942, the Brooklyn Dodgers went to spring training camp in Havana, [Cuba] in a subdued mood [after the bombing of Pearl Harbor]. As fighting forces were mobilized, young men were drafted and resources were shifted to military purposes. Future Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller joined the service over the winter. Dodger Don Padgett spent just a few days in spring camp before he left for the Army.

"Ballplayers being ballplayers, those who remained on the team managed to enjoy themselves in their tropical training grounds. Havana's casinos, night-clubs, and recently opened Tropicana cabaret offered more distractions per square mile than any other spring training site. Games at La Tropical Stadium were casual affairs that attracted prominent vacationers and locals. Ernest Hemingway attended almost every day and befriended several players. He took them to a shooting club where they fired on both real and clay pigeons and then to dinner at his country house with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, the famous war correspondent.

"The after-dinner conversation at the Hemingway house focused on the war and battles in Burma, where the Japanese were sweeping aside Allied defenders on their way toward China. (Hemingway had once reported from Burma and predicted that China's last overland supply route would be severed.) Sometime after Gellhorn went to bed and he gave the players signed copies of For Whom the Bell Tolls, a thoroughly drunk Hemingway challenged the man nearest his size, [Dodger pitcher] Apple Cheeks Casey, to play his favorite game: fighting."Casey was more like Hemingway than the writer could have imagined. He was plagued by self-doubt and dark moods and drank to great excess. When Hemingway challenged him, he demurred at first. He was fourteen years younger than Hemingway and had boxed competitively. He didn't want to show up the man in his own house. But the old writer kept pushing until Casey agreed.

"Hemingway disappeared and returned with two sets of red boxing gloves. He laced on one pair and Casey put on the other. When all was ready, Hemingway attacked Casey with all his might, throwing kicks along with punches. Finally a bookcase came crashing onto the floor, making a sound like an explosion. Gellhorn came downstairs and, as one of the players remembered it, Hemingway said, 'Oh, we are just playing. Go to bed, honey.' The fight continued until Casey knocked Hemingway down for good. Soon afterward, the gathering broke up. If the two men ever met again, no record of the event was made, but they were joined, in a way, in death. Casey, distraught over a series of tragedies, would commit suicide by shotgun on July 2,1951. Exactly ten years and one day later, Hemingway would do the same."

Michael D'Antonio, Forever Blue, Riverhead, Copyright 2009 by Michael D'Antonio, pp. 56-57


Blogger MDA said...

Just this morning I was reading in The Don Honig Reader about Billy Herman's account of this incident. A bit different than what you have presented.

A search on Google Books shows even more variety in the story.

11:23 PM  

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