Category Archives: Literature

Giving the Kurt Vonnegut Treatment to Baseball Writing

There’s this story out there, most likely true, that Kurt Vonnegut worked for Sports Illustrated for a short time. A very short time. Maybe you’ve heard this before, maybe you haven’t, it’s a good story nonetheless. Mr. Vonnegut was told to write an article about a racehorse that had jumped over a fence in an attempt to escape from wherever or whoever or whatever it had grown tired of being around. Horses do this from time to time. A self described writer who “didn’t care or known squat about sports,” Vonnegut sat for a while, contemplating what he might write. The whole thing bored him to pieces. He grew restless. He decided to quit. He wrote “the horse jumped over the fucking fence” and walked out of the office. Ideas or the lack of them can cause disease.

And so, with maybe the sincerest gratitude I’m capable of, I’d like to submit my own humble contribution to this fine tradition. It’s going to be a terrible piece of blasphemy, so please forgive me. In what follows, I would like to consider some of the more popular pieces of current baseball news and give them the Kurt Vonnegut treatment.

  • The right fielder threw the fucking ball.
  • The prospect smoked the fucking marijuana.
  • The third baseman broke his fucking hamate bone.
  • The outfielder insulted the fucking Jews.
  • The team traded for a fucking reliever.
  • The jury listened to the fucking pitcher.
  • The basketball player bought the fucking Dodgers.
  • The pitcher threw a fucking no hitter.
  • The base runner stole the fucking base.
  • The former player appealed his fucking conviction.
  • The infielders turned a fucking double play.
  • The team signed the old fucking outfielder.
  • The batter hit a fucking home run.
  • The closer tore his fucking ACL.
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The New Yorker Archive: John Updike on Ted Williams

There’s something going on at Fenway Park today. I’m not really sure what but everyone seems to be really excited about it. To mark whatever the occasion may be, The New Yorker has opened up it’s archives and allowed us peasants to access John Updike’s article about Ted Williams’ final game at Fenway. It’s rather wonderful, in my estimation. You should read it. You should read all the really good combinations of words that are in it. And you better move fast, because the free ride is good for today only, and is well worth the time, I promise. How strange and refreshing to read a bit of earnest sports writing for a change. I remember what it was like to be earnest. I should be more earnest. For posterity, I’ve taken the liberty of shamelessly plagiarizing some of the passages that spoke to me most. All credit is due to my wife for alerting me to this whole thing. She’s a smart lady.

… indeed, for Williams to have distributed all his hits so they did nobody else any good would constitute a feat of placement unparalleled in the annals of selfishness.

_

Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual games is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upon, but by players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a sportswriter’s myth, he is a vulgarity. Like a writer who writes only for money.

_

All baseball fans believe in miracles; the question is, how many do you believe in?

_

… the second baseman turned ever grounder into a juggling act, while the shortstop did a breathtaking impersonation of an open window.

_

The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning the arc lights were turned on—always a wan sight in the daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession.

_

Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in a continuous succession like the pushes of a surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment.

_

Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, and indefensible hope, and this was one of those times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.

_

He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of.

_

Every true story has an anticlimax.

_

So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.

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Call to the Pen: Book Review: “21” The Story of Roberto Clemente

My most recent post over at Call to the Pen is about the graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente. I learned about this book some months ago on the internet, added it to my list, and then purchased it last week after receiving an Amazon gift card for taking a survey online about my preferred brand of watches (Nixon, of course). Quite the strange sequence of events. I also purchased Michael Showalter’s Mr. Funnypants. I will not be reviewing Mr. Funnypants.

21 was a very good book. You should click on this text right here and go see why I think so.

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Literal Mailbag: The Politics of Glory by Bill James

When bored at work, I’ve been known to order things online that I don’t really need in order to spark up my life with a momentary flash of excitement. This usually happens on Fridays, and especially on the every-other-Fridays that I get paid. I’ll be sitting there, doing all sorts of important things—clicking and typing and uploading and submitting, and after a while, I’ll just be sick of it, you know? So I’ll hit up Etsy or Ebay for a minute or two (don’t tell anybody) and browse around looking for reasonably priced Nixon wrist watches or books or cool-but-not-overtly-hipster retro memorabilia of Seattle sports teams. The usual. And apparently I had one of those days sometime last week, because to my surprise, I was greeted this evening with a package containing the book The Politics of Glory: How Baseball’s Hall of Fame Really Works by Mr. Bill James as I arrived home. This was kind of news to me, as I had all but forgot about my little six dollar spending spree the week before. God, now I have to leave feedback. How annoying.

I was quite pleased to have received this book on this particular night. I’ve been planning on writing about my experiences in San Francisco last year when the Giants won the World Series, what with the anniversary of the event passing a couple of days ago and all, but that post feels to me like it might take some time. I’ll have to look at pictures and video and whatnot—rub some brain cells together in order to conjure up memories the best I can. I might even have to do research to recall certain key moments of Game 5 (spoiler alert: I think there were like, maybe two). This is not something I’m interested in doing tonight. As much as I absolutely love writing about quirky little baseball tidbits to an audience of tens, even twenties, it’s Thursday night, and I’d like to watch my Comedy Programs. So this Bill James book falling into my lap was perfect. My post subject was quite literally mailed to my doorstep. It was fucking meant to be, you guys!

So I bought this Bill James book, The Politics of Glory, and it came in the mail today. I believe I ordered this book as a result of a footnote by Jonah Keri in a Grantland piece about whatever baseball was going down at the time. I thought to myself, hey, I like Bill James, and I like getting all riled up about the stupidity of the Hall of Fame and it’s machinations, this book is for me! Ebay provided a reasonable price, and I ordered it. Done deal. Now that the book is in my possession, there are some details about it that I find to be lovely, despite the fact that I haven’t read it or even plan on reading it any time soon. First, The Politics of Glory, that’s one hell of a title. Next, this particular book used to belong to a library. The Pennington Library to be exact. They’re located in New Jersey. Imagine that. The dust jacket is still covered with a thin layer of protective plastic. There’s a Dewey Decimal Classification sticker on the spine that reads “796.367 JAM.” An old-school style checkout card and pocket are even inside the front cover. I find all of these details to be very charming. There’s something innately neat about owning a book that used to belong to a Library—maybe on some level it makes me feel like I stole the book and got away with it. Because I’m a goddamn romantic who studied literature and holds books and their institutions in high regard (seriously, fuck the Kindle), I can only hope the Library didn’t sell this book out of necessity, but rather due to excess, or a standard cycling process that happens regularly. I wouldn’t wish ill on the good folks in Pennington—you can believe that.

The book’s cover art is also very interesting, what with it’s American theme in red while and blue, and mitt with a baseball inside of it that reads “Vote for Rizzuto.” This makes me wonder a bit. I don’t know much about old Phil, but a career WAR of 47.2 isn’t doing much for me. I see he was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1994. The same year this book was published. Using a little bit of deductive reasoning, I have to believe that Rizzuto will be used by James as an example of the spurious dealings that go about in the Hall of Fame voting process. That, or Bill James totally loves him some Phil Rizzuto and all of you that have already read the book know that I’m being an idiot right now. I plan on finding this out, one vague and non-specific day when I’m finally diving into this thing and come across the parts that mention Rizzuto. I can’t wait.

A couple final observations before I go eat dinner and get ready for all of the Comedy (and yes, this post has taken a good chunk of time to write, making my big plan for brevity a totally shitty plan, thank you very much). Inside the back cover of the book, there’s a black and white photograph of James that looks rather 1990′s, and a mention in his bio that he lives “in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, Susan McCarthy, and three little ‘uns,” (emphahsis mine). Who doesn’t love that, huh? In a similar vein, the book is dedicated to “Rachel McCarthy James, who is a big girl now and can read books with no pictures.” Susan McCarthy James is no doubt one of the aforementioned “little ‘uns,” and that dedication is no doubt fucking adorable.

Enjoy Community, Parks and Recreation, and It’s Always Sunny everyone! I bet The Office will be terrible.

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