Umpire Tom Dunn, forever in a poem.

May 7, 2015 § 3 Comments

It’s been a whopping THREE YEARS since I posted anything to the blog; I should be ashamed…! But, there’s no better way to get back into things then with a post about baseball. Enjoy…

It’s one of the funny things that can happen in family history – you discover facts or stories contained in information that you already have, or have been exposed to, but didn’t realize or see it at first. That’s just what happened recently.

A few years ago I learned that a well-known and regarded Major League umpire from the 1940’s, Tom Dunn (in the Majors from 1939-1946), was in fact a distant relative of mine – my third cousin, once removed to be exact. I’ve done a fair amount of looking into his career, even discovering little mentions in books about notable events he was involved in during games. Perhaps one of the most notable games that transpired in his career was his first in the Big Leagues; the then Boston Bees (later to become the Braves) played against the Brooklyn Dodgers in a game that lasted 23 innings and resulted in a tie game, 2 to 2. Tom Dunn officiated at third base. It is one of the top 10 longest games ever played, by innings, in MLB history.

A couple of years ago my father gave me a CD collection entitled, “Selected Shorts – Baseball!” It is a recording of readings of baseball-inspired literature that were performed at Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York City. I’ve listened to the CD several times, but recently one listening brought something to my attention that I had been missing. The third track is a reading of Rolfe Humphries’ poem Polo Grounds, originally published in The New Yorker in 1942, and performed by Fritz Weaver. The second half is a rather esoteric reminiscence of baseball’s past and great players, but the first half describes a game played between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. He names several of the players, including the home plate umpire, who he calls by the name Dunn (who is described handing a new ball to the catcher, Danning). When I first really heard this I thought maybe I got it wrong, but sure enough, that’s the name – Dunn. So then I began to wonder if it was in fact my ancestor, Tom Dunn.

So I spent some time diving into old game records and fact sheets, and jumping between amazing baseball history sites such as Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com. What I can say is that it is undoubtedly my ancestor Tom Dunn that is being referred to; there simply are no other MLB umpires named Dunn, or anything close to that, who were working at that time. However, I believe the game described in the poem is a fictional one, or at least inspired by the players and events of the 1941 and 1942 seasons. This is because Tom Dunn never officiated – so far as his record shows – any games played between the Giants and the Dodgers in 1942. He most certainly did in 1941, even working as home plate umpire. However, one of the players mentioned in the poem, Johnny Mize, didn’t start playing for the Giants until the 1942 season, having played for St. Louis prior to that. I have also tried to verify some of the actual plays described in the poem (Camili’s flyout to outfielder Ott, for example) but that has also proved difficult.

It’s my feeling that Humphries used some poetic license when writing the poem, and that the characters and players he describes are meant to capture an archetypal moment in time, rather than record the events of an actual event. Either way, it’s tremendously cool to have Tom Dunn immortalized in not just a beautiful poem about baseball, but also an excellent recording of it.

Link to Fritz Weaver’s reading on YouTube : https://youtu.be/rZ1qcHslsjM

Link to poem as appeared in The New Yorker: http://pitchersandpoets.com/2009/05/26/poem-of-the-week-polo-grounds/

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